Sunday, January 20, 2013

Looking for God's Glory

A sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 20, 2013.  The lectionary readings are Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, and John 2:1-11.

In Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous last speech, he ended it by saying he wasn’t worried.  He was happy, he wasn’t afraid of anybody.  “Mine eyes have seen the glory,” he said.  “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

He was quoting a hymn, of course, the hymn some of us know as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  Both he was doing more than simply quoting a hymn, since its tune and its words had strong, powerful associations with them.  The tune was a folk tune, from an old spiritual especially loved and sung by African American soldiers in the Union Army during the Civil War.  There were a number of different words to the song, and the soldiers would change them, depending on the context and the audience.  Whichever words were used, no matter the context, when other African Americans and people yearning for freedom heard the tune, they recognized it as a freedom song, and heard notes for a new day. 

That tradition continued, but in 1861, Julia Ward Howe visited Washington and met Abraham Lincoln.  Based on that trip and on her own passion for peace, abolition, and women’s suffrage, Howe wrote new words to the tune, making the hymn that is familiar to many today.  Whether it was the songs sung by soldiers, or Howe’s words, or words used since, the refrain is the same:  “Glory, glory, hallelujah.“

Glory becomes a prayer.  There’s an urgency to it, like a fight song for a victory you can almost taste, for wanting it so bad.  But in that same cry for glory there’s also a sense of already having tasted a bit of what is to come.  As Dr. King said, he’d been to the mountaintop and looked over.  His faith told him what was possible.  His faith helped him see what was inevitable, and the idea of “glory” helped get him there. 

If we notice, a the of glory goes right through our worship, like a great chorus singing underneath everything else we do or say. We join that chorus when we echo the Christmas angels in our opening song of praise, “Glory be to God on high.” Later in the Eucharist sing along with Isaiah and the whole heavenly host, again singing, “Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”  

But what is the “glory” of God?  What do we mean?  What are we singing about?

Today’s Gospel gives us a hint.  There, in the midst of a crowd, in the midst of a huge party, a wedding with lots of in-laws, and probably a few out-laws and wedding-crashers, there is Jesus.  Jesus is there and also his mother, Mary.  A crisis occurs when it appears there’s no more wine. So Mary urges Jesus to do something.  Though he seems almost to talk back to her (the interchange sounds more abrupt in English than intended) Jesus does it.  He acts.  He goes through with what John the Evangelist describes as the first of his “signs.”  And then John puts all of this into context. 

Repurposing the jars that were set aside for Jewish purification rites, turning water into wine, putting marriage in the context of a communal relation--- all of this works together as a sign “that reveals his glory.” It reveals not only Christ’s glory, but the glory of God.   

The glory of God shimmers at the edges of perception. At first glance, looking dead-on at a situation, things seem to be one way.  In the Gospel, the problem is clear: there’s no more wine.  But the Virgin Mary can see that just at the edge of things, a little to the side, something is ready to break in, and that something is not of this world—it’s beyond the ordinary, beyond our hoping, beyond our imagining.  It’s something that comes from a place of faith in “what can be.”  What ought to be.  What might be.
In our first reading from Isaiah, the prophet tells the people of Judah about God’s work of restoration and renewal.  They’re going to be called by a new name, a name already known by God.  No longer forsaken, but beautiful.  No longer desolate, but delightful.  And yet, the people of Judah just aren’t there yet.  They can’t hear Isaiah.  They can’t see the possibilities because they’re stuck in fear and funk.  They’re stuck in their own sadness and the daily grind of their situation. They only see clouds, while the whole time, Isaiah knows the sun is about to break through.

St. Paul talks about glory too, in his Letter to the Corinthians. Paul sees God’s glory in what first appears to be those mundane, ordinary, petty differences between people—those same differences that make us individuals, but also sometimes annoy and bother. But Paul sees these as opportunities for God’s glory to go to work—in the grace of God, with the eyes of faith, the particular characteristics of each one of us are taken up by God’s glory and transformed into spiritual gifts.  God’s glory takes babble and makes it eloquence.  God’s glory takes miserliness and makes it good stewardship.  God’s glory takes water and turns it into wine.

In the Gospel, it’s Mary who first point to glory.  She sees it in Jesus, but it’s that same glimmer she must have seen when Gabriel first hovered overhead.  She saw it in the humble love of Joseph, who believed not only the angel, but also believed Mary.  She saw glory shine in the faces of Anna and Simeon as they held the Christ.   Mary saw glory at Cana, and she would see it again on Calvary: the glory of God to become more than we might otherwise.  The glory of God that enables us to become more loving, more giving, more believing. 

Isaiah, John the Evangelist, Mary the Mother of God, and Martin Luther King, Jr. are all saying a similar thing:  They’re saying, “don’t get stuck looking down.  Don’t get stuck looking at yourself.  Don’t get stuck counting the cards you’ve been dealt.  There’s more…. Look for the glory and live into it.”

Mary shows us how to spot it.  She says to the servants, the waiters, the stewards…  She says, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Look to Jesus and follow him, wherever that takes you.   

Gerard Manley Hopkins saw God’s glory in “dappled things,” in the multitude of God’s making:  in trout and fire-coals, in farmlands and trades.  He sees God’s glory in

All things counter, original, spare, strange; 
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)   
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:  Praise him.

God’s glory comes to us so that it might reverberate, spread out, and return to God in an ongoing energy of praise and love. 
But sometimes, in our lives, we can’t see God’s glory in the dappled things or in much of anything.   And yet, it’s there, in potential and possibility.
For the scientist, it might come at that point of refusing to settle for the same old way of doing things, for the given answer and the obvious solution—and so you say a prayer and look for God’s glory to help. 

For the businessperson it might come with risk—not the kind of risk to make more simply for the sake of more, but a risk on an entrepreneur, a start-up, an investment that stands a chance of overflowing into social good—so you make your move, say a prayer, and allow God’s glory to do its work. 

Wherever you may be stuck—whether in a relationship, a habit, an outlook ,… whether you’re looking for a job or stuck in the one you have, we can all of us follow the Virgin Mary’s lead—look to Christ and follow him.  Do what he tells us.  Do the next right thing in faith, and let God’s glory move and make, love and live. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. said his eyes had seen the glory of the Lord.  But it was more than that—he saw, and pointed to, and lived into God’s glory with his whole being.  On this weekend of celebrations and beginnings, may we allow God to use everything we’ve got-- our eyes, our mouths, our hearts and hands—everything we are, have been, and may be—to perceive and point to God’s ever-unfolding glory, glory that moves us over the mountaintop, that frees, and that saves into eternal life.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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