February 28, 2021

The Mystery of God: The Mystery of the Glory of God

A Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Lent by Revd. Aaron Kennedy

Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3.17-4:1; Luke 9.28-36

“It was one of those days,

when it’s a minute away from snowing,

and there’s this electricity in the air.

You can almost hear it, right?

And this bag was just dancing with me,

like a little kid begging me to play with it,

for fifteen minutes.

That’s the day I realized there was this entire life behind things,

and this incredibly benevolent force,

that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever.

Video’s a poor excuse, I know,

but it helps me remember.

I need to remember.

Sometimes there is so much… beauty… in the world,

I feel like I can’t take it,

and my heart is just going to cave in.”


These are the words of Ricky,

a character in the 1999 film American Beauty,

as he and his friend Jane sit and watch a film he has made

of a plastic bag that gets caught in an eddy of wind

and is made to gently swirl up and down and around in the same spot for 15 minutes.

Something about the scene captures Ricky’s attention

roots him to the spot,

moves him to awe and wonder,

so that he pulls out his camera and commits it to film.


The beauty of the moment described here is the more profound

for the fact that we are watching a waste product,

a cheap and unwanted, completely insignificant scrap of human society,

something we rightly consider, normally, to be unsightly and polluting.

But the beauty of a mere plastic bag caught in the breeze

stirs something in Ricky’s soul,

moves him, touches him deeply,

beyond what words can say.

Gerrard Manley-Hopkins in his poem the Grandeur of God,

calls it the deep down freshness of things,

the flames out like shining from shook foil.


It is perhaps not obvious that this is what the phrase

the glory of God is in part referring to.

We perhaps more easily think of great cathedrals or churches,

or classical paintings of the divine,

like a scene from Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.


But as the story of Jesus, Peter and John on the mount of transfiguration suggests,

the glory of God transfigures what once appeared ordinary

and illuminates it, or reveals it,

changes it somehow

so that we see it in a new light.

The glory of God is not something reserved for the holy,

for the pure, the separate, the distant.

Nor is it static or limited to great works of architecture.


But why? Why is it important to know something about the glory of God?

Is God so egotistical that needs us to glorify him?

Is he so vain that he wants constantly to show off his glory,

his handiwork, the moon and the stars that he has made?

Is this another sermon along the lines of

how many angels can you fit on the head of a pin?

Obscure and irrelevant to our everyday lives?


I hope not. The question of what the glory of God is

is deeply relevant to our everyday lives.

Gerrard Manley-Hopkins helps us get to the heart of the matter again.

He says that The world is charged with the grandeur of God.


Whether or not he knew much science,

he seems to be stating a reality which science knows,

that all matter is composed of atoms

made up of electrons and protons

which are charged positively and negatively.


Richard Rohr’s beautiful phrase for this

is that we live in a Christ-soaked universe.

The grandeur, the glory of God,

is not something God owns in a selfish or egotistical way;

rather he has poured out his glory into his creation,

so that – reality itself – is always and everywhere christened

– made by Christ to be like Christ.

Filled, charged, soaked, in the glory of God.


Since we live in a Christ-soaked universe,

it is clear that all creation is sacred.

In fact, there is nothing that is

that was not made by Christ

for the glory of God.

Not one solitary atom.

No matter how misused or abused.


But what happens when we don’t, or can’t, see this reality?

What happens when we become blind to the true nature of things?

Hopkins again:

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.


The innate beauty in things has been obscured

by what Christians have called sin and evil,

which are really synonyms for separation.

A loss of the sense of living a shared life,

of our interdependence,

ubuntu, as it is called in Southern Africa,

or interbeing, as the Buddhist teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh says.


From small acts of unkindness, to full blown abuse and bullying,

of people, plants, animals, the soil, the air, the sea, the whole planet.

All things, it seems, wear man’s smudge and share man’s smell.

Are bleared, smeared with toil.

Our hearts break, to take one current example,

to think of the welfare of the thousands of cattle

currently stranded aboard ships off the coast of Spain and Turkey

since December for fear of disease,

without proper care or nutrition,

most of whom, experts assume, are now dead.


But this is not a sermon about sin and evil,

that was Simon’s topic, last week.

This is a sermon about how in the midst

of the despair, the degradation, the despoliation, of sin and evil,

the Glory of God is trying to get our attention.


Hopkins once more:

And for all this, nature is never spent;

    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;


Hopkins can see,

as Ricky was able to see in the ephemeral, wafting elegance of the plastic bag,

that the glory of God is the life that sustains, animates and illuminates all of creation,

even in the midst of an apparently godforsaken reality

even if that is a mere plastic bag, discarded and insignificant,

dancing lightly on the breeze.

This insight, this glimpse of glory,

flaming out like shining from shook foil,


Is transfiguration.

it is the mystery of the glory of God.


The Christian claim is that the glory of God,

is another name for the true desire of all human hearts.

For God’s glory, which is poured out into all that he has made,

is also our glory, and the glory of all created things.

There is no other glory

(at least when truly understood).


St Irenaeus has said, The glory of God is man fully alive.

That is part of the truth.

But we should expand that definition to include

the health, harmony, vitality, and reunion of all things.

Such glory is a universal need,

it is what we seek in art, poetry, music, romance, therapy.

In the building of a family, a community, a church, a cathedral, a good business.

It is what is being protected in healthcare, in hospice, in care homes.

It is what is being inspired in teaching, in schools, colleges and universities.

It is what is behind all human endeavour,

however wrong-headed and misguided,

however bleared and smeared with sin and evil,

because it is how we were made

along with the rest of the Christ-soaked universe we inhabit.


And it is what is being worshipped and enjoyed and sought out in church.

We glory to sing together great hymns of praise with strong music,

(one of the great losses of the pandemic);

we relish the diversity of people who gather in peace under the Lordship of Christ

(whether on Zoom or in person);

and we receive simple bread and wine

and are asked to believe that it is more – much, much more,

than what it appears on the surface to be.

We are asked to see these common everyday things

transfigured, changed, revealed

to be the sources of God’s grace that they are.


Of course, one of the great gifts of the Eucharist, to quote Richard Rohr again,

is that if we can see it there,

we can see it everywhere.

If we can accept that in bread and wine

God lives to bring us to life,

we can say with Hopkins,

that There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.

Deep down in all things.


How has God been trying to catch your attention of late?

Close your eyes, and take a moment in the quiet and secrecy of your heart

to recall a recent moment of transfiguration.

A moment when you glimpsed something strangely beautiful,

something that made you slow down and stop.

When the glory of God flamed out for you.

Or perhaps you can recall a less recent memory

of an experience of beauty, sacredness, the divine,

that has changed you, that has forever left its mark upon you.

Sit with this memory.

Smell it. Taste it. Feel it. See it.

Cherish it. Enjoy it.


For such enjoyment is indeed the very purpose of our life on earth and in eternity.


The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.


And for all this, nature is never spent;

    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.



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