Monday, October 17, 2011

Backside or Frontal Glory

Sermon from October 16, 2011
(Pentecost 18 – Year A)
Exodus 33: 12-23
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

After the ancient Israelites make a golden calf as a replacement God in their impatience,
After Moses comes down from the mountain and gets angry with his people for making the golden calf,
After the Lord gets angry,
Then Moses and the Lord kiss and make up.

Moses and the Lord are back to being best buddies again.
So Moses makes a request of the Lord, saying:
“Show me your glory.”

And the Lord replies:
“I will make my goodness pass before you.”

But the Lord also warns Moses:
“You cannot see my face.
So as my glory passes by I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.
Then I will take away my hand and you will only see my back, for my face shall not be seen.”

Moses requests that he see the glory of the Lord.
Yet Moses only gets a glimpse of God’s glory, seeing the backside of the Lord.

Back in 2004, President Ronald Reagan died after a long journey with Alzheimer’s.
Whether you were a fan of Reagan or not,
The Reagan era marked a definitive period in my own life, the period of my life that was the glory of my adolescence.

When Reagan first became President in 1981, I can remember watching his inauguration on a small TV in my classroom in high school.
I was in typing class, learning how to communicate using an ancient machine known as a typewriter.
By the time I got to my next class period that day, we learned that the great news that the American hostages had been released from Iran.
It truly felt like a new era had begun.

When Reagan left office in 1989, that was the year I got married, the beginning of another era in my life.
And in between those bookends of Reagan’s presidency, there was the movie Footloose (not the remake) and topsiders and legwarmers.
And the B-52s and Madonna and Michael Jackson were playing on my Sony Walkman.
The Reagan era represents the glory years of my growing up.

And so when Ronald Reagan died in 2004, it was during the very last week that our family lived in the Washington, DC area.
So to pay homage to the glory years of my adolescence, I decided to pay tribute by going into DC and watching the funeral procession of Ronald Reagan.

On that afternoon, I grabbed a good book and I headed to the Metro station.
I rode the subway into the District.
I walked to Constitution Avenue, with the United States Capitol to my right.
I found a good spot on the curb to sit and read my book while I waited for several hours for the funeral procession to begin.

Finally, as police and military personnel began to process down the avenue, I stood up to watch the funeral procession pass me by.
The riderless horse with backward boots in the stirrups passed me by.
The casket coach with Reagan’s flag draped coffin passed me by.
The limousine with Nancy Reagan inside then passed me by.
I did not get a chance to see her face, but I did catch a glimpse of the back of her head.

The glories of America’s past, the glories of the Reagan-era of my adolescence, all passed me by, all with only a peek at a flag-draped coffin and a glimpse of the back of a woman’s head.
Yet I was satisfied with just a glimpse of glory.
That evening, I rode the Metro back home to Alexandria, knowing that a glimpse of glory as it passes us by - might be all that we need.

For Moses had requested to see the glory of the Lord.
Yet Moses did not see the Lord face to face, but caught just a glimpse of the backside of the Lord.

In the beautiful prose of the first chapter of the Gospel of John, the writer proclaims:
“No one has ever seen God.
Yet it is God the only son, who is close to his Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

Two thousand years ago, there was another procession that marked the end of an era.
Two thousand years ago, the procession of Jesus carrying his cross marked the end of an era.
Between the bookends of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and his death in Jerusalem, this era had not been marked by Michael Jackson’s music or by legwarmers.
But the Jesus era was marked by the healings of a Canaanite woman and a Roman man and by countless parables, marked by about a kingdom that includes everyone and marked by conversations with a questionable woman at the well.
Yet the Jesus era is now over - as Jesus carries his cross through the avenues of the capital city.

A black man named Simon from northern Africa, from Cyrene, has come to Jerusalem and catches a glimpse of the funeral procession.
Simon of Cyrene has ridden the subway to sit on the curb in Jerusalem that Friday morning.
As Jesus passes by, the shadow of a cross moves across Simon’s face.
A Roman policeman grabs Simon by the arm and he barks:
“You! You carry his cross the rest of his way!”

With sad and pleading eyes, Jesus allows Simon to take up his cross.
Looking squarely into Jesus’ eyes, Simon sees the crown of thorns.
Simon sees the arms of love that will soon bear the weight of crucifixion.
Looking into Jesus’ sweaty and blood-smeared face, Simon sees the full glory of the Lord.

Simon of Cyrene did not just see the backside of the Lord in a tiny glimpse, as Moses did.
Simon of Cyrene saw the full frontal assault of the glory of the Lord, the frontal assault of the Lord of love who walks the way of the Cross - for you and for me.

For no one has ever seen God.
Yet it is God the only son, who is close to his Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Like Moses, we ask to see God.
Like Moses, we can see just a glimpse of God, the backside of God’s glory, in a brilliant lakeside sunset or in the multitude of stars in the night sky.
Yet we see God face to face - when we look into the eyes of a single mother who is carrying her cross, working three jobs just to put food on the table for her children.

We can see just a glimpse of God when we hear a beautiful symphony or gaze at an amazing piece of art.
Yet we see God face to face - when we look into the eyes of an incarcerated man on death row who is carrying his cross, hoping for forgiveness for his sins.

For as the ancient theologian Irenaeus proclaimed:
“The glory of God is human beings fully alive.”

This morning, like Moses, we make our request of the Lord:
“Show us your glory.”
And yet the full glory of the Lord is human beings who are fully alive, fully alive by carrying their cross.

For the goodness of God will pass us by in procession, showing us a glimpse of the backside of his glory.
Yet if you want to see all of God’s amazing glory, face to face, then join the funeral procession and take up your cross.

If you want to see God face to face,
Then look into the eyes of your fellow human beings, carrying the daily sorrow and pain of their cross.

If you want to see God face to face,
Then look into the eyes of Jesus - on his glorious Cross.


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