A sermon for the Transfiguration of Christ. The Bible readings were 2 Corinthians 3 v 12 - 4 v2 and Luke 9, 28-36
What does ‘Glory’ mean?
We use the word a lot – over the summer last year our Team GB athletes were ‘covered in glory’ and the Queen’s Diamond jubilee mean that 2012 was described as a year of glorious events (if not glorious sunshine). And no we will not be singing ‘glory glory Man Utd’ any time soon [pause to wash mouth out with soap]
But does this usage of the term actually help us to understand what glory is when it comes to the glory of God?
The transfiguration of Jesus which we heard about in the gospel reading today is the moment when his true identity is made clear to Peter James and John who accompanied him up the mountain. Verse 32 of Luke chapter 9 tells us that those three disciples saw Jesus’ glory. What is that?
Well, on one level we have a description of what they saw – Jesus’ appearance changed, his clothes were a bright as a flash of lightening, and all this happened in a cloud. So we can see that there is a connection between ‘glory’ and a bright shining light. This is consistent with what we read in 2 Corinthians about Moses’ encounter with God – up a mountain, in a cloud and involving a bright light that made Moses’ face glow. He wore the veil, Paul tells us, to hide the fact that the reflected glory faded. The revelation of God’s being, nature and presence to humanity – a dictionary definition of glory – clearly involves physical phenomena – as here and elsewhere a bright light, a voice from heaven – which we also have at Jesus’ baptism.
Sometimes too the Bible tells us Jesus does things- miracles such as the water into wine at the wedding in Cana in order to reveal his glory. There wasn’t a bright light at Cana, so glory is not limited to that kind of thing, but in supernaturally influencing the natural world Jesus does reveal that he is go – he reveals his true nature.
So when we talk about God’s glory, it means ‘who he really is, his presence’. That’s pretty amazing, right?
But we don’t tend to see Glory in that way today, at least not all the time.
But what if I told you that the glory of God was clearly visible right here in this room? We always acknowledge the presence of God in our worship, and his presence is part of who he really is, is part of his glory, but here’s the thing, in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul teaches that the glory of God in the face of Christ is reflected in the life of the church, just as it was reflected in the face of Moses.
The glory of God is here in you and me. Look around you, see the glory of God.
St Irenaus, a 2nd century Christian teacher said that ‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive’. Jesus came so that we might have life in all its fullness – having that life then gives glory to God – reveals who he is to us and to others.
And in the 1640’s in the English Reformation’s Westminster shorter catechism, we learn that the chief end of man – i.e. the principle purpose of the human race – is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
These two profound truths tell us that we, the church, are meant to reveal the glory of God to others – we’re supposed to show people who he really is. That’s quite a task especially since there is a lot of rubbish out there about who God is and what he thinks and does.
But I want to end by encouraging us all to seek the glory of God. That is an ambiguous phrase and I use it deliberately. We need to aim to give glory to God – to tell his worth as the song puts it. And we can do that not just by singing about it in church, but by living it out for the other 6 days fo the week.
And the other sense in which we need to seek God’s glory is indeed in the sense that Peter and James and John did – not to be looking all the time for bright shiny lights and so on (but never rule that out), but by walking with Jesus – by making the effort to stay in an intimate relationship with him, and being fed by that. I mentioned last week that during Lent our sermons and home group material will be looking at the scriptural resources for doing this, but let me just also say that it is quite hard to get to a place where you experience the glory of God in intimate encounter with Jesus; climbing a mountain takes effort – no wonder PJ&J were sleepy. We need to be aware that amazing visions of glory don’t just happen willy nilly, we need to make the effort to climb that mountain – more likely to be figurative I guess, to get to a place of intimacy.
This takes practice – and time. It can mean sacrifice – perhaps giving up something so that we have time and space in our lives to meet with God. It can mean pain – sometimes it is hard to leave behind the things of the old life, as we take on the new life of the Spirit. It can also mean we need to learn to focus on God instead of the hundreds of other influences competing for our attention.
You can visit the mount of transfiguration today in the Holy land, but the bright shiny light isn’t there any more – that was a one off for the benefit of Jesus’ close companions. Now to seek the glory of God we need to go deeper into intimate relationship with Jesus, and we probably need to do that together. I think our June school of prayer may well help with that.
In the words of Bishop Stephen Cottrell, whether you like it or not you are an evangelist, a reflection of God’s glory