“The Portent of Glory”
A Stanford professor of geophysics argues that between 3.5 and 4.5 billion years ago there may have been multiple long periods during which life repeatedly spread across the globe, only to be nearly annihilated by the impact of large asteroids.
Just when your life-form is beginning to make some progress — BAM! — an asteroid knocks you back to the first chapter of Genesis. After thousands of years the surface of the Earth would become inhabitable again and the survivors would emerge to spread out across the planet —- until another asteroid strike and the whole cycle would repeat. Of course, one might want to wonder what caused that process to change, so that life was able to eventually become something more? Still, have you ever felt that life can be a bit like that? One step forward and two steps back.
There is nothing that seems able to insulate us from losses in this life. The Apostle Paul in Romans describes creation as having been subjected to futility, in the bondage of decay, and groaning as in labor pains. We are reminded, as if we really need to be that we live in an imperfect world.
We have a worldwide pandemic with a serious illness for which we are laboring to find a vaccine. Even though it is not being talked about as much, there is still the issue of climate change, global warming, and the loss of widespread ecosystems.
The current rate of extinction among species is currently massive. Scientists at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity concluded that: “Every day, up to 150 species are lost.” That could be as much as 10 percent a decade.
And beyond this our country still suffers from racial and political divisions that are not helping us. There is an old saying that no news is good news and that is often the case.
People often ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people? Or “How can there be a God when there is so much wrong with the world”
I think the Apostle Paul is right when he identifies a certain sense of futility to life and creation.
But here is the interesting point in our text. Enmeshed with this idea of our world being imperfect and in a sinful or fallen condition is the reassurance and hope of our God who redeems. You see, when I tell you the Bible has called our world futile, decaying, or laboring in pain, I am only giving you selected words from the scriptures. Next to futility, we are also told, “creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope.” Next to decay, we are told, “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Next to groaning in labor pains the apostle makes clear that creation and we ourselves are but awaiting the redemption of our bodies.
I think we can extend this thought to say we wait for the creation of a new heaven and a new earth –the redemption of all of creation. God’s will to redeem and restore life covers not only ourselves, but every plant, bird, tree, and animal. Living species, perhaps every extinct species. As our scripture states “In hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
Paul cannot speak about the plain and clear circumstances of this life without seeing and proclaiming the work of God within the midst of life. Life isn’t merely tragic or the enduring of evil happenings, but life itself is what I might call the portent of Glory -the in breaking of the glory of God too rich for us to even imagine. Life carries with it not just pain and suffering, but images and the hope of a very real glory that serves to transform our understanding and experiences in this life. So much so that the apostle says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”
Someone might ask, where is this glory seen within life? Well, it is seen in the here and now. It is seen within our present lives. The kingdom of God is already here. Mixed in with the living and even the dying that we do is the power of God bringing fulfillment to God’s promises and directing us to the in breaking of God’s eternal day.
In 1990, my grandfather passed away when he was 88 years old. In the last few years of his life his muscles became progressively weaker. He got to the point where he had difficulty lifting a full gallon of milk or even holding his arm up long enough to shave. I would go to see him and ask him how he was doing, and he would usually tell me “Not too good, I’ll probably be dead by next spring.” Now he had always been a man of good faith, hard working, and he took care of his family. So, his attitude was not typical of his life, but it was just simply honest.
One night while he was sleeping, he had a dream. He dreamed that he was marching arm and arm with a large group of people along a wide road, and as they were marching, they were singing a song. “Yes, I believe, yes I believe, that Jesus died for me. Yes, I believe, yes I believe that Jesus died for even me!” My grandfather said it had a real catch tune and apparently it was good to march to. At one point he saw two girls standing along the way and he invited them to join the group, but they declined, telling him that they were not a part of that church.” And so my grandfather joined back in with the crowd, “Yes I believe, yes I believe that Jesus died for me, he came to save me for eternity, Yes I believe, yes I believe.” When my grandfather woke up, he was still singing that song, and so he got up wrote down the words and sung the song into a tape-recorder. My Uncle took these words and music and wrote a song and had it copyrighted. The song then got printed and at that time it was pasted into the back of the hymnals of my home church that my grandfather attended. In the last days, my grandfather could be found in the hospital telling the nurses and doctors about his dream and playing his song for them. Really, even though I don’t think the nurses cared to pay good attention to the words of this elderly man, nonetheless, he spent the last days of his life evangelizing those who might take the time to listen. In our hymnal the song Marching to Zion, closely resembles the content of my grandfather’s dream? Is that odd or not? There is glory. There is glory to be seen. In the midst of dying is the strength of heaven.
The Apostle Paul suffered many things. In Acts 9:16 we read where God declares about Paul, “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” In 2 Corinthians 11:24, Paul gives an account of what he has endured; having been flogged 5 times, beaten with a rod 3 times, stoned once, and shipped wreck 3 times. The man’s back must have been crisscrossed with scars. This list doesn’t even include the number of times he was imprisoned, or even speak about the thorn in the flesh that he wrote about in another place.
In Acts 16 there is the story of Paul and Silas when they were severely flogged, stripped of their clothes, and thrown into the inner most prison cell with their feet fastened in stocks. This would be enough to kill some, but the scriptures tell us that instead of moaning in the pain of a probable death, Paul and Silas instead prayed, and sang hymns. And there was glory even as an earthquake opened the doors of the prison and led to Paul and Silas being set free and salvation in Christ being proclaimed. Now I remind you about these facts about Paul because he is the one who tells us, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” If anyone knows about suffering and even persecution it was Paul, and likewise if anyone knows about glory, it would be Paul. For in the midst of this life, in the midst of the Apostle’s living and even because of his suffering he saw the glory of God. I think it is true that the lower we are sometimes knocked down in this life the higher up we can see and even reach.
Sometimes that is hard to understand, but if we remember that salvation comes to us by way of the cross, and that the first proclamation of Jesus resurrection was in grave yard, than maybe it can become clearer for us.
The moments we share here on Earth are filled and crisscrossed with the hope of redemption and life for all that God has created. The pain, losses, and uncertainties of life that we experience are not the manifestations of evil, but the substance that may even bear the signs of how much we are in the hands of a loving God. That does not mean that all the things that happen to us are good. That does not mean that when ill circumstances that befall us are somehow part of God’s ultimate will for our lives. It does mean that no matter what we endure, every circumstance no matter how tragic can carry with it the hope and light of eternity. God puts glory, the substance of the eternal, in the midst of life until life itself becomes the means of God’s proclamation to us that we are his children. “And if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
Why is there evil in the world? Why does God allow tragedy to strike? Why do we sometimes loose those we love, sometimes even to have life cut terribly short? Why is there such hatred and violence? I do not know. No one really knows, but I do know that our faith has a transforming power, to make suffering and loss an instrument of hope. The scriptures define a peculiar joining of suffering and hope. When we wait patiently for God in the midst of earthly trials, when we continue to pray even in the darkness of the hour, when we cling to the knot of faith when we are at the end of our proverbial rope, I think it is then that we are most likely to find the strands of Glory that God has filtered all through life. Life becomes filled again with the certainty of God’s presence.
Therefore today, in this present life, we are challenged to understand that these are the opening moments of God’s glory being revealed to us. I think we can call life the portent of glory. Life is not just a matter of enduring evil occurrences, or wrestling with hardships, or fighting illness, but it is a moment of encountering the possibilities of God’s glory. So be strong and courageous. You are a child of God. You are a joint heir with Christ. You are part of the sign of God’s great glory that has been poured out on to the world. Therefore, be not easy daunted or cast down in this life. Be not a stumbling block or daunting to others. The heavens have just begun to barely reveal the immense blessings and riches of the life God has already given us. Amen.