December 11, 2022
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
On a Sunday morning in 1942, C.S. Lewis climbed into the pulpit of St. Mary’s Church in Oxford, England and delivered what became one of his most important sermons of his career. It was titled The Weight of Glory. “ He said, “Either glory means to me fame, or it means luminosity. As for the first, since to be famous means to be better know than other people, the desire for fame appears to me as a competitive passion and therefore of hell rather than heaven. As for the second, who wishes to become a kind of living electric light bulb?
But then he begins looking at the understanding of glory and starts making a case for why glory is the secret to our deepest need as human beings. For by its very definition, glory is something of weight and value that secures life like an anchor.
As I mentioned last week there are two Old Testament words used for glory. One is shekinah which Pastor Jevon taught us in the first week of this series. It means dwelling, as in God’s dwelling with us. Shekkinah is often symbolized in bright, dazzling fashion, hence the luminosity of which C.S. Lewis spoke of.
The other word is khabod, part of the name Ichabod, as in Ichabod Crane. That was also the name of a son of Eli who was priest in Israel. At the moment Eli heard the ark of God had been captured by the Philistines, he fell over and died and right at that same moment his grandson was born, and he was named Ichabod meaning “the glory has departed Israel.” So I am really glad my daughter and son-in-law did not name their son Ichabod.
Khabod is the part of the name that is translated “glory” in the 200 times it is used. But the word actually means “weight or heaviness.” It was a description of value like a purse string. The more coins in the purse the heavier it is. Glory conveys of sense of value and worth.
One such use of glory is from Isaiah, the passage that is used in the Gospels to describe John Baptist. “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God…and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” Isaiah was speaking to the exiles of Israel who had been taken away to Babylon. The wilderness was the desert between them and their native country. Claus Westermann described the wilderness as “that which separates the people from their homeland.” Someone else described the wilderness with even greater force as “the place of destruction’s aftermath.”
Anyone ever lived through a hurricane or tornado before? If so, you know how scary it is to be in the middle of the storm. You’re just hoping to survive. But then the storm passes, and you go outside and look at the devastation. And you see everything gone, like this picture from Hurricane Ian a couple months ago. You see the devastation and your fear becomes futility. It’s a hopeless feeling like “how am I ever going to recover?”
That’s what the Israelites felt. But the prophet comes along and speaks of glory, that God has taken notice of their situation, and will prepare a way to get back home again. God values them too much to let them remain desolate. Their glory is knowing how much they matter to God.
This is what the angels sang over the shepherds. “Glory to God in the highest…” and what? “Peace to those whom God favors.” We will come back to the shepherds on Christmas Eve and think more about their experience of glory, but for now, just consider that glory means being favored.
When you favor one leg over the other, what are you doing? You’re shifting your weight, aren’t you? You lean to one side so that one leg is favored, more weight is placed upon it. This is why the Bible uses a word, khabod, that means weight or heaviness to describe glory. Our glory is found in experiencing the favor of God. Glory is something God brings to us, and this makes a most important point about glory. Glory is something given not gotten.
We cannot get glory for ourselves. We can try. And we may actually get glory in glimpses but it never lasts. In the early part of the 20th century there was a young man from Italy who desperately wanted glory for himself. He wanted to be popular and have fame. He came to America and to learn about a new business called the film industry. His dark features stood out and he quickly became a hit in silent films. Producers started calling him “The Latin Lover.” And his fame took off. You might know by now that I’m talking about Rudolf Valentino. He was Hollywood’s first sex symbol.
Bu then he went back home, and movies had not made it to his hometown. Nobody knew of his fame. His good looks didn’t even stand out there like they did in America. He was just an average person, and it drove him crazy that in a place where it mattered most to him to have glory he was just Rudolf. He died at the age of 31.
I read an interesting statistic this week, that celebrities in America are four times more like to take their lives than average citizens.
We might get a taste of glory on our own, but its usually short lived. Glory has to be given that is what God brought to the world in His son Jesus Christ. God wants us to know that God throws his weight toward us. God favors us.
Baptizing my grandson this morning was an experience of glory. It is a glory every time we baptize a child, because we are letting children know they are favored by God. That’s the aim of our children’s ministry. You can’t start too early at this work. You can’t begin too soon to form within a child the knowledge that they are favored by God, that their glory is something God gives. There will be many temptations in life to find glory in lesser things, things that make them feel important or recognized or worthy. But the real value that lasts comes from God.
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, makes the point to his congregation just how important this notion of glory is by sharing a quote from British theologian Martyn Lloyd Jones. He commented on the scripture verse John 17:22 where Jesus prays: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may…know that you sent me and have loved them, even as you love me.” (John 17:22-23)
So thinking about the power of this idea that Jesus offers us the same love that the Father has for Jesus, Lloyd-Jones says:
“More and more it seems to me that most of our problems, indeed if not all of them, arise from the simple fact that we fail to realize, understand and appreciate, what is the real truth about us…We read these things in the scripture without meditating on them. So we don’t realize that these are not abstract truths, but truths about us. If we did that our entire lives we would be revolutionized.”
After reading that quote Keller says to his congregation, “Do you believe this?” And then answers, “No you don’t. Because if you did you would be happier. If you did, you wouldn’t be so undone by criticism.” And he says, “Neither would I. If we all believed this, how much God truly loves us, we would be happier.”
But how does one become happier? It’s not by willpower he says. Willpower is never enough to change us. We have to change our loves. If a person is told by the doctor, “you’re working to hard. You’ve got to cutback or you’re going to give yourself a heart attack.” He says willpower alone won’t change you, if you deep down you love success or power or money. You have to replace that love with something you love more, something that gives you meaning and acceptance.
He said if you are someone who says “I can’t let go of the rejection I have felt and the betrayal,” willpower alone won’t change you, because underlying those emotions may be a love for your reputation or a love for affirmation. The love has to be changed to a source of approval and self-worth that doesn’t fluctuate.
Our loves change as we focus on the glory of God. When we worship, when we pray, when we read scriptures that remind us we are favored by God, we are shaped by this revolutionary idea that God throws God’s weight around on our behalf. The same love the Father had for Jesus, He has for you and me.
Look at what Paul said, “And we who contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV)
As we contemplate, as we give attention to just what God says about us and to us, it inspires something within us.
At the start of the service we lit the candle for this third Sunday in Advent, the candle of joy. On a website called Artandtheology.com, a piece of art by Gill Sakakini has been used to capture pure joy. (pic) Its kind of a modern, impressionist image of Mary, alone after receiving the news from the angel that she is the one chosen to be the mother of Jesus. It’s called Eclat, which is a French word for joy. Mary has this moment of pure joy, even in the uncertainty of what this will all mean, there is exuberant joy, that God chooses her. Eclat. Glory. (remove pic)
But, of course, glory is given not gotten, so just like Mary who will give birth to glory, we are also called to give glory in our lives. Glory is something we give away. It is something we express, we share.
The Westminster Catechism, that guided the faith of early Puritans who came to this country, had as the first teaching, that the chief end of humanity is to glorify God. That’s our chief purpose. But what does that mean? What does it mean to glorify God? Certainly our worship glorifies God. When we express value, weight, for who God is, that glorifies God.
But remember, God’s glory is directed toward humanity. God gives glory to people God favors. When we help favor others, it gives glory to God.
Go back to that sermon by CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory. Lewis teases out the implications of glory through the sermon and then he comes to this conclusion toward the end:
It may be possible for each to think too much of one’s own glory; it is hardly possible for one to think too often or too deeply about (the glory) of one’s neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken…There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.
We who celebrate Christmas, and not just mark a holiday—Not just put up trees and give gifts to those who already have more than they need; and not just go to parties and each and drink too much with those we like, but really celebrate the meaning of Christmas—We are the ones who know the secret. We know the secret of happiness in life, that it comes from glory we can never get on our own. It is a glory God brings to us in which we feel the value, the weight, our own significance to God, but then, even better, we share in the work of God to give glory, to show God’s favoring of others.
Do you want to know glory? Look for ways to give it.
Let me close with this. Our former pastor Carver McGriff, who turned 98 this year, and was just honored with an induction to the Indiana Veterans Hall of Fame, where he was the only surviving World War II vet, tells about discovering the power of giving glory as a boy.
He was about 8 or 9, and his mother’s birthday was coming up. He and his brother, Stuart, who was 2 years younger than Carver, wondered what they could do to show they mother how much she meant to them. So they decided to bake her a cake. Now they knew nothing about baking a cake. They got the box of mix and made mess of the kitchen mixing the batter and pouring it in the pan and putting it in the over. It didn’t really rise, they smeared icing on it. They were proud of their creation, but Carver says it was certainly not an impressive sight.
But that night of her birthday, after dinner, he and his brother went to the kitchen, put a candle in their attempted effort, and walked through the door and yelled, “Surprise.” Carver said their mother who seldom ever showed any kind of emotion, just stared at the cake, and then all of a sudden started crying. And he is brother looked at each other wondering, “Was it that bad?”
But then they realized it wasn’t about the quality of the cake. It was something else. It was…glory.