20 December 2018

Have we seen his glory?

If you want to hear a true story about what made the Devil sweat, listen to this sermon by Matt Boswell (Camas Friends Church, last Sunday). On the page I just linked to, you can also read the Bible passage Matt referred to, and the query which led us into the period of open worship.

These words from that morning's reading grabbed me and haven't let me go: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory...."

What did John the Evangelist mean by asserting that "we" have seen his glory? Was it John referring to being present at the Transfiguration?* Or are you and I included in the "we" by virtue of the previous verse, where "to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God..."?

I'd like to assume that John meant the second interpretation, the one that includes me. But then I'm face to face with the challenge: have I in fact seen this glory which he refers to? And what is "glory," anyway? Augustine defines it as "brilliant renown accompanied by praise." "Glory" can be associated with God or with humans (and if we're addicted to it, it becomes "vainglory"). In either case, glory seems to refer to qualities that are so amazing and transformative that they rightly evoke gratitude and praise.

Have I "seen" this glory of the Word become flesh? Not if you mean something as visually spectacular as the Mount of Transfiguration. But I love the "seeing" that Charles Spurgeon defines (sermon 414, 1861):
Why, faith sees it! Faith looks back to the man who lived and died for us, and sees glory in His shame, honor in His disgraces, riches in His poverty, might in His weakness, triumph in His conflict, and immortality in His death! No, Faith is sometimes assisted by Experience; and Experience sees His glory—it sees the glory of His grace in rolling away all our sins; the preciousness of His blood in giving us reconciliation with the Father; the power of the Spirit in subduing the will; the love of His heart in constantly remembering us upon the throne; and the power of His plea in its perpetual prevalence with God! 
After this soaring rhetoric, my own version of this testimony might be a letdown, but I can honestly say that my becoming one of "those who received him" has made all the difference in my life. Any sense of purpose and meaning in life can be traced back to that decision. Having been formally disowned by my biological parents, becoming an adopted child of the Word had an immediate practical consequence: I gained a worldwide family. (That's not a metaphor; specific people -- Deborah Haight, Gordon Browne, and others -- patiently ministered to some of the gaps in my upbringing.) Thanks to the diversity and generosity of that family, I could begin healing from the violence, race poison, and anger that cramped my adolescence. Healings and miracles and reconciliations are certainly part of my story, but even my worst encounters with boring administrative tasks and messy church politics, and confrontations with failure, had a redemptive edge that the eyes of prayer could detect.

That's enough glory for me.

* The fact that the events of the Transfiguration were not described in John's Gospel doesn't mean John wasn't part of that story, as Paul Anderson argues in proposing his "Bi-Optic Hypothesis," in which John is aware of and augments Mark's Gospel, rather than forming an independent account. For a fun summary, see this article.

The U.S. president announces a withdrawal of forces from Syria. For a pacifist like me, what's not to like about the prospect of reducing our military presence in the Middle East?

In this particular case, the order may have been the last straw for his Pentagon chief, Jim Mattis. I read the Mattis resignation letter attentively, and found myself in substantial agreement with the first principles he lists there -- security based on global network of friendships, and a recognition of the threats to those friendships from authoritarians. (My words, not his!) The Christian peace community may disagree with Mattis on the role of lethal weapons in upholding those principles, but the principles seem sound in themselves. I don't see Trump's decisions to sandbag Mattis with this sudden withdrawal announcement as serving those principles at all.

Why putting Christ back into Christmas is not enough.

Mercy is foundational to our understanding of the person of God.

Yonat Shimron on the tensions among American evangelical organizations over protections for LGBTQ rights.

My survey on trustworthy and untrustworthy churches is still gathering responses. I'll close it at the end of the year and publish some of what I'm learning early in January.

More blues next week. But this week, one of my favorite Christmas carols in its Oslo Gospel Choir version:

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