Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Know God - The Glory

Preached on Sunday, May 3, 2015

Scripture readings: Exodus 33:12-34:9; 2 Corinthians 3:16-4:15

Moses said to the Lord, “Show me your glory.” (Exodus 33:18)
Have you ever thought about what Moses really wanted from God; what he meant by God showing his glory?
Walking & Driving near Mattawa/Desert Aire, WA
March 2015
You don’t have to read much in the Bible before you find lots of places where the Lord shows someone something about himself. The person who is learning about God sees God, and it’s generally pretty strange. There seems to be light, and lightning, and color, and wings, and choirs singing, and trumpets blaring, and fire, and clouds, and wheels, and people throwing crowns on the ground, and people having trouble standing on their feet without fainting or their ankles buckling. If this is the glory of God, it seems very complicated, and strange, and foreign to us.
Make a different kind of list, though, and it may seem simpler. There is something wonderful. There is something powerful: something almost unbearably intense. There is a fearful joy, and a joyful fear. There is amazement, and anticipation, and encouragement, and transformation, and understanding. And it is always because of something wonderful. This is better. This is a part of glory.
What is there in our world that shows us glory? There are sunrises and sunsets. There are rainbows. Every day I see that this valley where we live shows us glory.
What shows us glory in the world of human beings? If you are a music lover of any kind, then you have some glory music. You know what I mean. There is Beethoven. Or there is “The Star Spangled Banner” played smartly, or sung straight. There is another piece of music: “Here Comes the Bride”. There’s glory for you. But that doesn’t even touch the surface.
There’s a touch. There’s a pair of eyes, looking at you while you are looking back into those eyes. There’s a hand in yours. There is a baby in your arms. It may be your baby; or your son’s or daughter’s baby.
There’s a harvest. There’s a job well done. There is a mission accomplished.
There is a gift or a miracle in such things. The greatest miracle is that these are a part of you. They are who you are and they are what you have done, with God’s help. This is glory.
What is God’s glory? What is the Lord’s glory; and what does that glory mean for us, in our lives?
First I’m going to complicate it in order to make it simple. When it comes to the Lord, there are a lot of words that refer to his glory. The presence of the Lord, the name of the Lord, the honor of the Lord, the angel of the Lord, the goodness of the Lord, the face of the Lord, the image of the Lord: all of these refer back to the glory of the Lord. There are lots of glory words. We don’t have to separate each of these from the others and give them separate, fancy definitions in order to understand that they are telling us about glory.
God is big, great, high, strong, mighty, and almighty: these all mean the same thing, there’s no need to get fancy if you simply want to get to the heart of it.
Glory is a good word to make the key word (the central word) of all the other glory words, if we want to understand who God is and what that means for our lives.
The foundation of the word glory, in the Bible, is weight; as in “carrying a lot of weight”. Well, not all the time. Glory comes from the concept of weight. Some weight doesn’t weigh very much. A feather has weight; but not very much. Human beings have glory, but not so much when compared with God. In his first letter, Peter summarized the prophet Isaiah when he wrote this: “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” (1 Peter 1:24; Isaiah 40:6-8)
We are all lightweights compared with God. The amazing thing is that (in some real sense) God does not intend for us to stay that way. Paul wrote this: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
If we read later in the fourth chapter of Second Corinthians we would read this: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” We could call this “an eternal weight of glory. (2 Corinthians 4:17)
What is God’s glory and what does it mean for our lives?
Moses asked God: “Show me your glory.” Moses didn’t say to God: “Dazzle me, Lord.” Moses didn’t want a display of special effects. Moses had already seen what we would call the glory of special effects, without asking or even wanting to see it.
This time it was different, and God respected that and God responded accordingly. This time, there were not any special effects that we are told about. More than that, the glory that we are told about, in this story, is not something that we could possibly see. The glory we hear about is the glory of what God said and Moses heard.
This is what the Lord said that Moses could expect as his answer. The Lord said, “I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.” (Exodus 33:19) What we get is a description. The glory is that God describes his true self to a human being.
What we get is the chance to hear God tell Moses (and us) who he is. We should say, first: remember that the real Hebrew behind the name LORD, which is spelled in most English Bibles in four capital letters, is not a name like Henrietta, or Gregory. The Lord’s name is a verb of being. The LORD, as a name, is based on a strange phrase that can be both present tense and future tense. The LORD means: “I Am”. The LORD means: “I Will Be”.
Here is what we hear the LORD say: “The LORD, the LORD (“I am; I will be”) the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands (or maintaining love to thousands of generations) and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7)
There’s more, but that’s enough.
Moses asked to be shown the glory of the Lord, and the Lord showed it to him in these words. The glory of the Lord is not razzle-dazzle. The glory of the Lord is not the ability to show himself in special effects.
The glory of the Lord consists of who God is and what God does. The glory of the Lord is compassion, grace, slowness to anger, and abundant love and faithfulness. God’s glory is a love that reaches out to crowds of people and goes on, and on, and on. The glory of the Lord is that he forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin. This is God’s glory. If we could properly see and hear it, it would shine and thunder.
This is the answer to what Moses wanted and needed. Moses was ashamed of his own people. There was so much that God’s people had to be ashamed of, in the light of God leading them out of slavery in Egypt. They were constantly doubting, constantly complaining, constantly angry. After all that they had seen along the way, when Moses was on the mountain top with God, and it took so, so, so long, they gave up and made a statue of God in a form that pleased them: a golden calf.
In light of this, Moses saw nothing but failure ahead. When he said, “Show me your glory,” he meant to say, “Show me that I can trust you to not give up on us. Show me that you are a God who will see this through to the finish, no matter what it takes.”
What is the heaviest and weightiest part of God and his actions: is it righteous anger, or is it faithfulness, forgiveness, and grace? Is the glory of God a love that goes on, and on, and on, and does what needs to be done, no matter what it takes? The weightiest part of God (the center of gravity of God) is faithfulness and steadfast love.
There is more than one word for love in both the Old and New Testaments. In this case, the center of gravity of God is the love that is redemptive and saving. That is what Moses needed to know, before he took one more step. The glory of God is that his identity, his face, his honor, his name, and his very image find their center in saving love. It is love as an unbreakable vow. That is where it meets the test.
So, when we ask what the glory of God is, and what it means for our lives: there it is. It is saving love and, if we could only see it as it is, the sight of that saving love would be like a pillar of fire and a blaring of trumpets. That seems to answer our question. We can live with that. In fact, if saving love were not the glory of God, what’s the use?
There is much more we need to know about God’s glory. We humans were created in God’s image. (Genesis 1:27)
We are commanded not to make an image of God. One reason for this is that God took the initiative to make the only acceptable image of himself. He made that image when he made us.
We were created to be the image and glory of God. We were created to be (on the level of created beings in this world) what God is (in his eternal being beyond all time and space).
Sometimes it was hard for Moses and for God’s people in the wilderness to see beyond the special effects of glory. They didn’t see the heart of God: the face of God. They didn’t see the compassion of God or the forgiveness of God very well. They were too angry to see the heart of God. They were angry all the time, and so they only saw the anger of God.
If we had started just a few verses earlier in the Book of Exodus we would have read this: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” But, somehow, this “face to face” showed Moses less of God’s face than he wanted to see.
Moses saw what God called his back. Maybe it’s clearer if we say that, whatever God promised to show Moses, it would have to be whatever it was that could be seen when God had passed by. In a sense, Moses was able to see where God had been. Moses saw God’s trail.
It’s the same with us. We often don’t see God in the present. We don’t see what God is doing. We don’t see what God will do. We often don’t see God until we see what he has done. We see where God has been. We see his tracks in the sand. We see that God has been with us. That is like seeing only the back of God.
The Bible tells us that Christ is the face of God: “The glory of Christ, who is the image of God”; “The knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)
In a way, Moses couldn’t see the true face of God until God became human in Jesus: and neither can we.
We are lightweights because we are rebels who are descended from rebels. Adam and Eve chose to be like God and they asserted their choice independently. They were creatures making their own glory instead of receiving it by faith from God. Their version of glory was light as a feather. They made it without God, and it had very little of God in it. It had pride, and envy, and rivalry in it.
Our self-made glory has sin in it. God’s glory, as an identity of compassion, and forgiveness, and love, doesn’t carry nearly enough weight with us. Compassion, and forgiveness, and love don’t serve to put us at the center of things; and so we want more. We want more, but we get less. Paul said, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
Jesus died for us, and for our sins. As he lived those hours on the cross, under the burden of our sins, he was unable to see the glory of his Father. So he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” (Matthew 27:46) Our sins made Jesus unable to see the heart and glory of God.
In Jesus, God adopted our identity so that he could adopt us into our lost identity, and into a new identity. Paul wrote: “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
The truth is that when we look into the depths of the face of God in Christ we do truly die. To look God in the face, on the cross, in Christ, we cannot truly see him and stay the same. We die to ourselves. We die with Christ on the cross, and we live from that moment, and forever, in the resurrection of Christ. In Galatians Paul wrote this: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
In Christ we die, and we rise from the dead, and so we become Christ every day. We become the image of God, in our creation and in our salvation.
John Calvin wrote, “For it is certain that Adam, the father of us all, was created in the image and likeness of God. By that is shown that he was made a participant in the divine wisdom, righteousness, power, holiness, and truth.” (“Institutes of the Christian Religion” 1541)
God’s glory is his true identity and what he does comes from that center of gravity. It’s very important to know his glory. It’s very important to be able to live by faith in the weight of his glory.
It’s very important for us to be what God has saved us to be, through Christ, and to live out what we are in Christ. So where will anyone in this world find compassion? If we are the glory of God, the world will find compassion with us. Where will anyone in this world find forgiveness? If we are in Christ, the glory of God, then they will find forgiveness in us. And all the rest is true.

What is the glory of God, and what does it mean for our lives? It means that God can be counted on to help us live for his glory. God will help us to be (to the core of our being) what he himself is, in this world.

1 comment:

  1. "To live by faith in the weight of his glory".
    Words to remember!