Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 9th of Tenth Month, 2022
Speaker: Colin Saxton
Scripture: Ephesians 3:14-21, NRSVUE
Prayer for the Readers
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Quiet calm on surface…deep river…swirling, powerful, passion
Good morning, Friends—it is lovely to be with you again. Thank you—invite to bring message. Eden
When was the last time you saw the glory of God? Saw it and knew? Glimpsed it and marveled?
The poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, once wrote: Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; But only those who see, take off their shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries… I can’t begin to count the number of blackberries I’ve happily…or maybe unhappily devoured…and all the while missing the glory of the Living God. And while I am sure our ability to see it depends on what we look at—more and more, I am convinced it depends on the way that we see.
One way God speaks to me is through particular words that seem to come in time and on time to me for purposes I may not fully understand in the moment. One of those words that keeps popping up with recent regularity, has been “glory.” And that is what I wish to talk about today.
The kind of glory that is grabbing my attention is unrelated to the place some refer to as God’s home. Neither does it have much to do with the invitation we often read in the Bible—to give glory to God in acts of praise and worship. I am not even thinking about the kind of glory revealed in nature, as in the way Psalm 19:1 captures it, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims God’s handiwork." This is, of course, true, and when we take time to notice all the beauty that surrounds us, we are apt to see glory and give glory in the same way St. Francis did:
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, all praise is Yours, all glory, honor, and blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong; no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures, especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor, of You Most High, he bears your likeness.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
We praise You, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air, fair and stormy, all weather's moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Water, so useful, humble, precious, and pure.
We praise You, Lord, for Brother Fire, through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth, who sustains us with her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.
Indeed, heaven and earth declare God’s glory. But the kind or quality of glory I am drawn to these days has more to do with that sense of Presence, captured in the Hebrew as it speaks of God’s glory as “heaviness”—and being under the full weight of God’s presence. Do you feel any of that today?
This morning’s text from Ephesians 3 has long amazed and baffled me. In the passage Janine read, Paul dares to say (and even pray—like he expects it to happen!) that God’s glory will be revealed in the church. In the church!?! In people like you and me and in the way we live together as a community? What a dumb idea! I mean, does he know who we are? Has he ever met Marjorie Johnstone or Eric Dimmick-Eastman.? What on earth is he thinking? But here he is, praying like it is not only possible—but a natural consequence of those who choose to live under the full weight of God’s presence and who allow the “brightness” (another way glory is spoken of in the NT) to be revealed through them. Have you ever stopped to consider what it means or might mean for God’s glory to be revealed here…in you…through you, WRF…to a watching world?
I have been thinking about all of this lately because I am working with so many congregations who are laboring to figure out—once again—what it means to be the church in the world. What is our work and how do we go about it in our time and place? And more lately, what is distinct about being a fellowship of faith—that is different from being one more social justice advocacy group, community center, club, service organization, or political party? Increasingly, I am convinced this matter of glory being revealed is crucial.
The church in Ephesus was likely a small house church in a city of about 250,000 people. Though we have come through a time that many people called “unprecedented” …there were some similarities between then and now. In those days, citizens lived under the heavy, threatening hand of the Roman empire. Through the Pax Romana, relative peace was often kept through the threat of violence, suppression, and domination. Citizens were encouraged to remember whom they belonged to and where their allegiance must lie. Through loyalty and worship of the Emperor—civil religion and nationalism were very strong. In those days, historians think about 65% of the population lived at or below subsistence levels during the church's early decades—with a large gap between the haves and have-nots. And there were health crises—like the probable smallpox outbreak around 160AD that may have killed more than a quarter of the population. Maybe the past few years are not as unprecedented as we might imagine.
But in the midst of these realities—a new community is forming—made up of Jew and Gentile, Greek and Barbarian, slave and free, rich and poor, male and female, Roman citizen and those under occupation. In a divided world—people came together to establish what one writer called “sociological impossibility”…a “movement without analogy” at that time. What they were creating—or better, how they were being re-created by God—was puzzle to those around them.
There is a 2nd-century writing known as the Letter to Diognetus that reflects on how God was visible among them in those days. It is the era in which the church at Ephesus would have likely been flourishing—in a season faithfulness before its eventual demise—due to the way they “lost their first love” as it says in Rev 2:4. In Ephesus, it appears theyexchange the vibrancy and authenticity of a faith-filled life—for religious rituals and events, empire loyalty rather than fidelity to God and conformity a culture that enslaves people to fear, greed, violence, selfishness, and injustice.
Christians are indistinguishable from others either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food, and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives.
He goes on, as many other early church writers do to touch on some of the extraordinarily- ordinary ways a community just like that one—and just like this one—can reveal the glory of God when they live under the weight of that Presence and allow the brightness of that reality to shine.
Fidelity—to God, their spouses and one another rather than conformity to society.
Care for the poor—in practical and intentional ways.
Mutual aid—carrying for the needs of the brothers and sisters who were part of the fellowship
Bless and endure suffering when persecuted or opposed.
Practice reconciliation rather than division—and sought to live into that unity that transcend diversity
Pray for other—hold in light like we are candling eggs…not expose too long…power in prayer
Allegiance to one King—risen X—rather than any emperor or party—Acts 17 riot—turning the world upside down…
Above all love…
The writer concludes by saying--To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body.
Offer one more picture of church like Ephesus at the time Paul is praying for them—as described by missiologist Stephen Neill:
Early Christians were characterized by radical acts of charitable service: the opening of their homes to travelers; the rescuing of unwanted infants from the public garbage heap where they were left to die; the care of orphans, widows and prisoners and the forming of burial clubs to provide an honorable grave for the impoverished.
When the bubonic plague broke out in cities, most citizens fled to the countryside to escape the pestilence. Christians, on the other hand, traveled into the suffering cities to care for the infected and in some cases, die by their side. What characterized the growth of the church was the extraordinary witness of the lives of ordinary disciples who, generally without power or privilege or prestige, moved the hearts of their neighbors by incarnating the love of God—especially among one another and those who were most marginalized.
I share these examples—not because I think they must be replicated—but rather to remind us that more often than not—it is not in the splashy, attention-seeking, or dramatic actions that God is revealed in a way that transforms a life or a community—but through the persistent, resilient, faithful presence of a people living under the full weight of God. That—I think—is when the glory is revealed.
At a time when membership in a faith community—church, mosque, synagogue—has fallen below 50% for the first time and the median average attendance has fallen from 137 to 65 over the past 20 years—I think that glory needs to be seen. Coupled with all problems need to fix—anxious. I was helped recently in re-reading a classic book on spiritual formation. It is Robert Mulholland's Invitation to a Journey. He offers some wise counsel for those of us who may be gripped by fear or driven by anxiety. He says, "We are not called to be in the world for God…rather, we are called to be IN GOD for the world." Do you hear the distinction? We are called to be so united, so intimately in tune with the Life and Power of Christ—that we light up our neighborhoods with the glory of God.
A couple of years ago, I was speaking at Mennonite church in Kansas. On a plaque on the wall just outside their sanctuary read a translation of Philemon 6 that said: I pray that everyone who meets you will see how wonderful it is to live in Christ. They hung it there to serve as reminder of who they hoped to be for God’s glory and the good of others. Now, as far as I can tell, this is a really lousy translation of Philemon 6. Neither the Greek nor any English translation I can find put it this way. But I love what it implies! Through the abiding Presence of Christ in us, others can see and be drawn to the goodness and glory God. I’ve carried this message with me since seeing it and I reflect on it often—for what it means for my life, my local meeting, and Quakers in general. One of the questions I keep asking—for myself and as I travel among Friends—do people experience being nearer to the Presence of God when they are among us? Among Quakers—do people ever get a glimpse of glory?
What about you—dear ones? See it here?
Die comforted and surrounded,
cared for, grieve, and laugh,
Invited to know and follow
In the weight of the presence… let us wait… quake… move from silence to stillness
And in a few moments of silence—let’s see if we can move beyond the quiet to a deeper stillness, to know that place of calm, rest, and peace and be re-minded once more that God is God, and we are not.
New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition. Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
This document is protected by U.S. and International copyright laws. Reproduction and distribution without permission from the author is prohibited. © 2022 Colin Saxton. All rights reserved.