Sermon Archives

Sunday, February 11, 2018
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany (Year B)
The Reverend Canon Ronald Spann
The Good News of Glory

For we do not proclaim ourselves. We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus sake. For it is the God who said let light shine out of darkness who has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Good morning, Church. This is the last Sunday after epiphany in the Christian Liturgical Calendar, and the Second Sunday of Black History Month in the calendar of American Civil Society. A calendar helps a community to celebrate the glory of its history and identity. Knowing the truth of our American identity and the meaning of our common life is impossible apart from knowing as well the history of African America to learn about its glories.

With that we come to the business of today's sermon, which is brought to you by the word glory. It's everywhere in our readings today. What is it about glory?

I'm sure that I'm not the only one who keeps sneaking a look at the TV screen to see if Team America is racking up Olympic medal performances at Pyongyang. Isn't it always a thrill to see Olympic athletes honored for their disciplined practice and Skilled performances? The admiring attention, the respect paid, the honors bestowed are the stuff of glory.

We speak of giving credit To those we honor For what they've done, that is to say, a new kind of credibility, deserving our respect and hearing. That extra measure of credibility becomes part of their glory.

Glory has a radiant and reflective quality. If an American Olympian receives the glory of a medal we feel that it reflects on us, and in some way we share the sense of glory.

Approaching this on a more profound basis, the glory of America is its identity as a republic that founded itself as a democracy. There are so many glorious things about democracy: it extends equality of status to all its citizens, it acknowledges their inalienable rights, it guarantees equal access to justice and to power through the right to vote, and above all else it guarantees the Liberty of its citizens to do all these things.

It is also America's glory to be the first of many generations of nations to establish themselves as democracies. And as Christians we certainly believe it is to America's credit that its expression of democracy is deeply colored by the gospel message of human dignity as God-given. Such glories as these have qualified America as a voice to be listened to.

I think there is a very important clarification to make at this point. And that is that we must be careful not to confuse glory with celebrity. Celebrity is our 15 minutes of fame. Celebrity is something you can get for doing things that you posted on Facebook but now wish you never did. Celebrity sits very light.

But not glory. There's something weighty about glory. In Biblical Hebrew the word for weight, kabod, is also the word for glory. It is pretty hefty stuff. The heftiest of All glories is that which God bestows upon the son of God, who only chose to speak of himself as the son of man. It is the glory that Peter, James and John beheld in the Transfiguration of Jesus.

True glory generates a profound sense of well-being, triumph and mastery; it is totally opposite to the experience of shame, defeat and failure. What makes the Divine glory so elusive to understand is that paradoxically it has been achieved precisely through the path of shame and defeat in the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. What makes the glory of God so hard to get our minds around is that the Divine Way was to take that things were nothing in the world and used them to defeat what was mighty and powerful according to the wisdom of the world. [cf. 1Cor. 1:27-28]

That is what Paul is referring to in today's epistle where he says

even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the God of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

The Corinthians were still in process of shedding the baggage they brought from the world into their life in Christ, and Paul was strengthening their faith against making a disconnect between the truth of the apostolic gospel and the deception of the world's values. The way of the Cross comes with a steep learning curve. Paul is saying that gospel isn't so much veiled as it is just demanding. It is heard as foolishness by those who choose the voice of the god of this world, and with that choice put themselves in jeopardy of their own destruction.

Who, or what is the god of this world? In the Gospels there is only one other god of whom Jesus ever speaks besides the God he calls Father, and that is the god called Mammon, a name that means wealth. With unmistakable intentionality Jesus names Mammon and states an unalterable truth: you cannot serve God and Mammon. Try it and you will end up hating the one or loving the other. It is widely accepted in the Anabaptist tradition of our faith that Mammon is in fact the god of this world.

Our reading today from 2nd Corinthians Continues with these words:

For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus sake.

Very simply, Paul says, “it's not about me not about you and all about Jesus. The grace of the vision of his glory is enough to free me to become a slave.”

This is precisely the point where we need to draw on the history of African America if we are to apply these words from 2nd Corinthians to our situation today as American Christians. Very simply, as we have entered the 21st century neither American Civil Society nor American Christianity have come to terms with a fatal contradiction In the founding of this Republic. In that moment America chose to Covenant with the god of this world in the Sordid business of trafficking In African lives as the massive foundation of the market economy on which this nation would be built.

The consequence of this craving for wealth, America's Original Sin, was to legislate the dehumanization of an entire people and by so doing, to pollute the soul of America and the meaning of the so-called American dream. Through its collusion American Christianity placed a compromising veil on its own Gospel. Christians, and not their government, were sent to proclaim Jesus, and him crucified. America only proclaims itself.

If the consequences of Americas covenant with the god of this world are to be redeemed, on whom can God rely to undertake the labor of becoming slaves to the common good for Jesus sake?

It is not a labor without hope, however. Over and against American unfaithfulness listen to the faithfulness of the God

who said let light shine out of Darkness, who has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

David Walker Was an Enlightenment writer and a contemporary of Absalom Jones. He was a free black born of a free mother in North Carolina in the late 18th century. Walker became a self-taught scholar and penetrating commentator on the condition of free and enslaved Africans in America, considered by William Lloyd Garrison, the renowned abolitionist, to be restlessly brilliant. When Walker read Thomas Jefferson's Notes On Virginia, he mounted a withering rebuttal to Jefferson's strong insinuations about the presumed inferiority of African peoples. He recognized the sinister implications and the enduring damage of Jefferson's words, as evidenced by the fact that even the United States Constitution defines African Humanity as only 3/5 the equivalent of European Humanity.] Listen to Walker's elegant statement of the truth of all human nature, Africans included:

Man, in all ages and all nations of the Earth, is the same. Man is a peculiar creature - he is the image of his God, though he may be subjected to the most wretched condition upon Earth, yet the spirit and feeling which constitute the creature, man, can never be entirely erased from his breast, because God who made him after his own image, planted it in his heart; he cannot get rid of it.

Listen to these words of the second century Bishop from Asia Minor, Irenaeus of Lyons:

The glory of God is man and woman fully alive. The life of woman and man is the vision of God.

Finally, listen to words of Saint Paul from the same second letter to the Corinthians in an earlier chapter. The identical word used in the Transfiguration story about the transformation of Jesus appears in the following verses from chapter 3 of 2 Corinthians, where Paul says that we are being transformed into Jesus’ image.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And ALL OF US [emphasis added], with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

[You can read those very words engraved in gold behind the sculpture of the Spirit of Detroit.]

I guess the question for us is whether we believe in that hope, and if so, how shall we act upon it?