We just heard Jesus prayerfully say that believers have been given glory. We have been given glory – the same glory given to Jesus by God. So, God’s got the glory. Jesus has the glory. of God’s children got the glory! (Do I hear an “AMEN!” …? )
The word “glory” appears in the Bible about 350 times and that doesn’t include other forms of the word like “glorious”, “glorifying”, and “glorified.”
Growing up in church I can remember singing every Sunday: “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.” Even thoughI didn’t know what I was singing, I was impressed that the adults were standing and singing with reverence and with gusto!
Glory seems to be one of those slippery religious words. We think we know what it means until we’re asked to define it and then we’re not so sure. In reviewing the word for this Sunday I’m grateful that two German theologians (Gerhard Kittle and Gerhard Friedrich) authored a Greek Theological Dictionary. I find their definitions to be very helpful: Glory is what makes God impressive. Glory is the divine mode of being. These Greek scholars go on to say that nuances of God’s glory include: God’s power, God’s honor, God’s splendor, God’s radiance.
It may be helpful for us to think of a kite as a metaphor for glory. To fly a kite, or to watch a kite in flight, is to see its modeof being. A kite’s glory is not apparent when it is tucked away on a shelf or lying on the ground. What makes a kite impressive is that when it is buoyed up by a breeze, it swoops and glides and soars, (to push the metaphor) as if the kite is reaching for the heavens. As believers we are meant to aim for, to reach for that which is higher—that which reveals God’s mode of being.
According to scripture God’s mode of being has to do with power that is unlike any other. We are often aware of the awe-inspiring power within creation. From the power that coaxes lilacs into bloom to the wild roaring waves of the oceans, we are impressed with the Creator. In Psalm 97, the psalmist says, “Your lightning bolts light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.” The psalmist declares, “The heavens proclaim your justice, and all the peoples see your glory.”
In this morning’s story in the Book of Acts, the servant girl seems to be impressed. In her understanding, Paul and Silas are “followers of the Most High God” and according to her they are “proclaiming the way of salvation.” And so it is that this powerful, Most High God is our salvation, our Deliverer. Whatever our imprisonment, God is aiming for us to be set free. The servant girl, exploited by her employees, was given her freedom. And this set off the rest of this morning’s story of imprisonment and deliverance—and glory.
The servant girl’s employees are so ticked-off that they haul Paul and Silas before the Roman authorities, who are so bound-up, so stuck in their own race and culture that all they can think to do is brutally punish Paul and Silas. The folks in the crowd, also trapped in their race and culture, join in the attack. And so it is that Paul and Silas are literally put into prison and chained. The jailer is told to keep a close watch on them. There’s to be no way into freedom—no deliverance.
What happens next? Paul and Silas pray and sing hymns to God. (Let’s keep in mind that in our gospel reading Jesus is praying.) Of the many things that might be said about prayer, it is at least being mindful of the Presence of the Holy One. Stripped and flogged and chained, with the other prisoners listening in, Paul and Silas chose to do what believers still do—pray and sing hymns to God—as we do here in this place. Hymns and prayer have the potential to open us up to God-possibilities.
However we might understand the earthquake in this story, we can’t help but be in awe. The prison shook, the foundations rocked, the doors were flung open and everyone’s chains were pulled loose! Surely a metaphor for God’s power to deliver, not just the prisoners, but also the jailer and his household.
The jailer is so in impressed that he changes his mind about committing suicide. Instead, he kneels trembling at Paul’s feet asking what he must do to be saved. Perhaps here there is a double meaning—saved from this kind of power and saved (or delivered) by this kind of power—which we know to be love—which we know to be God’s mode of being. The jailer and his household are baptized. The jailer tends to Paul and Silas’ wounds, takes them into his house and feeds them and in so doing brings about the unity in Jesus’ prayer that all be one as Jesus and God are one.
If God’s mode of being is love then it follows that God’s glory is seen and experienced in simple acts of kindness. And therefore we often reveal God’s glory in the many ways we express goodwill to those we know and to those who are strangers.
Last month in Saskatchewan there was a goodwill step towards unity. On May 23rd at the Poundmaker Reserve, hundreds of people sat on the grass before a makeshift stage. The crowd included Indigenous war veterans, elders, chiefs, people of all ages and federal politicians. This day—this event—was more than 130 years in the making. You may remember from the news reports that Prime Minister Trudeau, on behalf of Canada, exonerated Chief Poundmaker of treason.
It was back in the month of May in 1885, a Canadian expeditionary force attacked the reserve in retaliation for what it claimed was looting. Chief Poundmaker explained that he and others had been gathering rations for his people, who were hungry because of declining bison herds. The troops were forced to retreat in the battle as the Chief convinced his people not to go after them, thus saving many lives that day. Chief Poundmaker tried to negotiate a peace agreement. Instead, he was arrested and convicted of treason. He was sent to prison.
How can we not see the parallels to this morning’s scripture story in Acts? Our ancestors, imprisoned in their own race and culture, inflicted wounds that are still present this day. In poor health. Chief Poundmaker was eventually released. He died four months later. Our government has now officially and publically acknowledged that Chief Poundmaker was a peacemaker. Time and time again he sought to prevent loss of life in the conflicts caused by the many who chose exploitation instead of unity—the unity God intended and still intends.
On stage, for all to see, Duane Antoine, the current chief of Poundmaker Cree Nation, held his hand out to Prime Minister Trudeau to recreate the historic failed peace negotiation. “In peace,” both men said as they clutched hands. This was just one of many such happenings leading towards reconciliation with justice for Aboriginal peoples.
When wounds are acknowledged, glory has a place to shine. When folks step out of the status quo, glory has a place to shine. When kindnesses brings about unity, glory has a place to shine.
When minds are changed regarding race and culture, religion and gender, glory has a place to shine. Perhaps it’s just a tiny bit of glory, yet even a tiny bit is a lot when it’s God’s glory.
It may be that if we listen intently we’ll hear a whisper, a holy whisper saying, “You’ve got the glory, my glory. And there’s more where that came from!” In our gospel reading, Jesus prays that we will see more of God. Jesus says, “I have revealed your Name and I will continue to reveal it so that the love you have for me may live in them.” (In us!)
Comforting. Challenging! From this morning’s storybook, We’re All Wonders1, hear again these words:
“People can change the way they see. If they do, they’ll see that I’m a wonder and they’ll see that they’re wonders, too. We’re all wonders!”
How high is your kite flying?
Lifted up by the Spirit, let us soar!
Let us be glorious!
1 We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio. Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, March 2017