Another word for God's Glory
Text: Isaiah 42:6-8

An ‘epiphany’—we are in the season of Epiphany; last Sunday was the festival of the Epiphany—an ‘epiphany’ is a ‘revelation’, a ‘revealing’. In the structure of the church year Epiphany is the season where Jesus has been born, God is with his people, and the implications of this, what this means, needs to be known! needs to be revealed! From the confines of a dingy stable in the tiny town of Bethlehem, in tiny Judea, the fact of God’s presence and the implications of God’s presence for us needs to be known throughout the world. On the night of the birth the angels announce to the local shepherds that their Saviour is born. Immediately God also places a further beacon in the heavens, a star, to draw not just the locals, but those beyond the borders of nation and race and religion—and the magi come to know this King who rules over all the world.

And the noise of the angels, and the pomp and pageantry of the magi is then followed up by….

Jesus begins his ministry in the Jordan River, in what was a common act among Jews of the time, a ceremony of washing; a ritual representing repentance, a turning away from all that was wrong, and turning towards God’s truth, God’s will, God’s love, God’s Law. And when John objects and suggests that he should not be baptizing Jesus, but the other way around, Jesus insists. Jesus identifies himself with the common, everyday man and woman and boy and girl. Jesus begins his ministry not with a crash and thunder and fanfare but with identification that he is ‘God with us’ and ‘God for us’—just common, ordinary, everyday us.

This passage from Isaiah is the first of the ‘servant songs’ as we know them. We regularly revisit these passages for the way they describe, rather beautifully, the ministry of Jesus. Best known, perhaps, are the words from Isaiah 53:
“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

In today’s reading God says, through the prophet, “I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols.” I am the Lord. This emphatic statement makes it clear that God claims all glory—there is no other creator, no other divinity, no other providence, no other great mind or great power or great will or great spirit, no other Saviour, no other ruler, no other judge, no other…God! And you can build huge idols, cover them in gold, declare them sacred, charge them up with a million volts of zapping power, surround them with silks and jewels and servants and musicians and smoking sacrifices…but you don’t see God’s glory.

You see God’s glory in the servant: “I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” This servant, in Jesus, begins his ministry of revealing the glory of God, of the great Epiphany, in the water of the Jordan. He picks up, continues it, in the common worship, prayer and study of the synagogue. He personalises it, makes it real for the everyday person, in sharing a meal, in touching the sick and the injured, in feeding the hungry. Ultimately, he reveals the glory of God’s only begotten, beloved Son, in the love he shows on the cross.

There are some spectacular moments, too! In a few weeks we will hear again the story of the Transfiguration, where Jesus is revealed alongside Moses and Elijah in a spectacle too glorious to look at, yet too glorious to look away from! And then…Jesus walks down the mountain and heads towards the cross of Jerusalem.

Where do you see the glory of God, the glory of Jesus, the glory of the Lord and Saviour and King? It is interesting that, in the time of the Reformation, this was a fairly key question. And it showed up in some interesting places. One of those was in understanding the nature of Holy Communion. Martin Bucer was one who argued that in Holy Communion you could not have the true body and blood of Christ because, as he said, “We must, shutting out all carnal fancies, raise our hearts to heaven on high, not thinking that the Lord Jesus is so abased as to be enclosed under any corruptible elements [referring to bread and wine]”. The risen Saviour Jesus is seated in glory at the right hand of God, and therefore cannot be somehow contained within the simple bread and wine—it was a fairly common argument at the time. Martin Luther reads the Scriptures very differently and says, “But the glory of our God is precisely that for our sakes he comes down to the very depth, into human flesh, into the bread, into our mouth, our heart, our bosom; moreover for our sakes he allows himself to be treated ingloriously both on the cross and on the altar…. Yet though he unceasingly permits his Word, his works, and all that he has to be persecuted, blasphemed, profaned, and misused before his divine eyes, he is nevertheless seated in his glory.” God’s glory is to be found in his presence with sinners, common, everyday, men and women and children, receiving his grace; in lukewarm water in the font, in tasteless wafers and sweet wine, in simple words, and prayers, and songs; and indeed in the ordinary and not always spectacular ministry of his people, his church, in homes and courts and communities wherever the need for love, for grace is to be found.

Grace, I suppose, is another word for God’s glory. And where we need God’s grace that is where we are likely to find his glory.

Many of us will have opportunities in worship and ministry to sense the glory of God in the company of a huge choir or congregation raising the roof in praise, with sounds and symbols that lift the spirits beyond the ordinary!

But be aware, too, of how the glory of God is also seen in the simple relaxing of the shoulders, a sigh, even a tear, when a word of forgiveness is spoken and a shadow clears to reveal acceptance, faithfulness, and a new beginning. To be loved is no less glorious than to be ‘blown away’!

I’ve printed in the News a little poem about a little church in a community of people. It was written by an American poet, E E Cummings, who liked to experiment with poetry in a way that means his poems don’t always make immediate sense.

But I like this poem for the way it reminds me, as a pastor, and perhaps you, as God’s little church, of our connection with God’s glory.

i am a little church

i am a little church (no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying) children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope, and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church (far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish) at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring, i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

Text: Isaiah 42:6-8

An ‘epiphany’—we are in the season of Epiphany; last Sunday was the festival of the Epiphany—an ‘epiphany’ is a ‘revelation’, a ‘revealing’. In the structure of the church year Epiphany is the season where Jesus has been born, God is with his people, and the implications of this, what this means, needs to be known! needs to be revealed! From the confines of a dingy stable in the tiny town of Bethlehem, in tiny Judea, the fact of God’s presence and the implications of God’s presence for us needs to be known throughout the world. On the night of the birth the angels announce to the local shepherds that their Saviour is born. Immediately God also places a further beacon in the heavens, a star, to draw not just the locals, but those beyond the borders of nation and race and religion—and the magi come to know this King who rules over all the world.

And the noise of the angels, and the pomp and pageantry of the magi is then followed up by….

Jesus begins his ministry in the Jordan River, in what was a common act among Jews of the time, a ceremony of washing; a ritual representing repentance, a turning away from all that was wrong, and turning towards God’s truth, God’s will, God’s love, God’s Law. And when John objects and suggests that he should not be baptizing Jesus, but the other way around, Jesus insists. Jesus identifies himself with the common, everyday man and woman and boy and girl. Jesus begins his ministry not with a crash and thunder and fanfare but with identification that he is ‘God with us’ and ‘God for us’—just common, ordinary, everyday us.

This passage from Isaiah is the first of the ‘servant songs’ as we know them. We regularly revisit these passages for the way they describe, rather beautifully, the ministry of Jesus. Best known, perhaps, are the words from Isaiah 53:
“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

In today’s reading God says, through the prophet, “I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols.” I am the Lord. This emphatic statement makes it clear that God claims all glory—there is no other creator, no other divinity, no other providence, no other great mind or great power or great will or great spirit, no other Saviour, no other ruler, no other judge, no other…God! And you can build huge idols, cover them in gold, declare them sacred, charge them up with a million volts of zapping power, surround them with silks and jewels and servants and musicians and smoking sacrifices…but you don’t see God’s glory.

You see God’s glory in the servant: “I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” This servant, in Jesus, begins his ministry of revealing the glory of God, of the great Epiphany, in the water of the Jordan. He picks up, continues it, in the common worship, prayer and study of the synagogue. He personalises it, makes it real for the everyday person, in sharing a meal, in touching the sick and the injured, in feeding the hungry. Ultimately, he reveals the glory of God’s only begotten, beloved Son, in the love he shows on the cross.

There are some spectacular moments, too! In a few weeks we will hear again the story of the Transfiguration, where Jesus is revealed alongside Moses and Elijah in a spectacle too glorious to look at, yet too glorious to look away from! And then…Jesus walks down the mountain and heads towards the cross of Jerusalem.

Where do you see the glory of God, the glory of Jesus, the glory of the Lord and Saviour and King? It is interesting that, in the time of the Reformation, this was a fairly key question. And it showed up in some interesting places. One of those was in understanding the nature of Holy Communion. Martin Bucer was one who argued that in Holy Communion you could not have the true body and blood of Christ because, as he said, “We must, shutting out all carnal fancies, raise our hearts to heaven on high, not thinking that the Lord Jesus is so abased as to be enclosed under any corruptible elements [referring to bread and wine]”. The risen Saviour Jesus is seated in glory at the right hand of God, and therefore cannot be somehow contained within the simple bread and wine—it was a fairly common argument at the time. Martin Luther reads the Scriptures very differently and says, “But the glory of our God is precisely that for our sakes he comes down to the very depth, into human flesh, into the bread, into our mouth, our heart, our bosom; moreover for our sakes he allows himself to be treated ingloriously both on the cross and on the altar…. Yet though he unceasingly permits his Word, his works, and all that he has to be persecuted, blasphemed, profaned, and misused before his divine eyes, he is nevertheless seated in his glory.” God’s glory is to be found in his presence with sinners, common, everyday, men and women and children, receiving his grace; in lukewarm water in the font, in tasteless wafers and sweet wine, in simple words, and prayers, and songs; and indeed in the ordinary and not always spectacular ministry of his people, his church, in homes and courts and communities wherever the need for love, for grace is to be found.

Grace, I suppose, is another word for God’s glory. And where we need God’s grace that is where we are likely to find his glory.

Many of us will have opportunities in worship and ministry to sense the glory of God in the company of a huge choir or congregation raising the roof in praise, with sounds and symbols that lift the spirits beyond the ordinary!

But be aware, too, of how the glory of God is also seen in the simple relaxing of the shoulders, a sigh, even a tear, when a word of forgiveness is spoken and a shadow clears to reveal acceptance, faithfulness, and a new beginning. To be loved is no less glorious than to be ‘blown away’!

I’ve printed in the News a little poem about a little church in a community of people. It was written by an American poet, E E Cummings, who liked to experiment with poetry in a way that means his poems don’t always make immediate sense.

But I like this poem for the way it reminds me, as a pastor, and perhaps you, as God’s little church, of our connection with God’s glory.

i am a little church

i am a little church (no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying) children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope, and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church (far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish) at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring, i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)