For Glory: 5th Sunday Lent 2017

Yesterday we had a confirmation retreat over in Eldorado. The retreat team were a young crew of college age, and several of them had opportunities to share their own witness about God’s power in their lives. Now, I’ve known some of these kids for awhile, and I know that they could have told some impressive stories. Athletic and academic success, some modeling in one case, they’re the kind of kids who seem to have everything going for them. But in every single case, when they stood up to talk about God’s power in their lives, they talked about their lowest times. They didn’t talk about their strengths and successes and the best days of their lives. They talked about the hardest, most painful, worst times in their lives. And that’s no surprise.

It ties into a peculiar thing that Jesus says in both today’s Gospel about Lazarus and last week’s about the blind man. When asked about the blindness, He said: “This blindness is for the glory of God.” And by the end of the story we can see an obvious reason why. The man’s blindness gave Jesus a chance to heal him. It was an opportunity for God’s glory and power to shine through him. But think of what that opportunity cost him: a whole lifetime up to that point of blindness, which in his time meant sitting and begging every day. For years. He got healed. He was grateful. But if you asked him, wouldn’t he rather have not been blind in the first place? Of course he would. But it was his weakness, his trial, the biggest problem he faced in his life, where God’s power shone through.

Today something similar happens, as Jesus walks up to people in tragedy, in mourning for their brother and friend, and says, “This is for the glory of God.”  This theme shows up all over once you start noticing it. St. Paul talks in 2 Cor 12 about a “thorn in his flest” (he doesn’t say what he means by that), and he asks and asks for God to take it away, but God tells him, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” He understands what Jesus means when he says the man’s blindness, and Lazarus’ death, are for the glory of God.

Friday night praying the Stations of the Cross, the same idea came out. Contemplating the second fall of Jesus, we prayed: “Grant us the favor of rejoicing over our human weaknesses, so that in all we do, Your strength, dwelling in us, may be shown to others.” And again after the third fall: “You permitted your Son to be weakened, crushed, and profaned so that He might rise from the dead freed from the ravages of sin. Help us to accept our weaknesses and failings as forerunners of our glorious resurrection in union with your Son.”

Even while saying that prayer, I realized my whole heart wasn’t in yet… not now, not yet. Accepting weakness isn’t easy to do. Rejoicing in it is even harder. Can we really make that prayer our own?

I guess my preference, if it were up to me, would be to serve God by being awesome at everything and in every way. Yeah, that’d be my first choice. But it’s pretty safe to say that isn’t the hand I was given to play… and, sorry to be the one to have to tell you this if you don’t already know, but… you weren’t either. None of us show God’s glory and witness to God’s power by being awesome at everything in every way at all times.

Come on, if anybody was going to pull that off, it would be the one who actually was perfect, Jesus himself. He is human nature not only perfected in itself, but raised up to divine life. He’s everything we could be, everything we ought to be and have fallen short of. He’s the one who had a chance to show God’s glory and power by his strength and success. Right? He was rejected. He was poor. He was crushed and tortured and spat on. He died young.

And in all our churches and in our homes we hang the image of Him at the lowest and weakest moment of His life. And the Christian religion points to this image and says, “Behold the glory of God.”

I don’t think I’d have the guts to walk into a hospital room after a cancer diagnosis and say, “you should rejoice, this is for the glory of God!” I think that would sound obscene coming from me, because somehow I just don’t have the right, and I might get punched and I’d probably deserve it. But He can say it. He’s earned the right. And he’s certainly taken the punches. He can say, “this man’s blindness is for the glory of God.” He can even say that Lazarus’ death is for the glory of God. Because He’s a good Shepherd: He doesn’t just order, He leads. He’s a good teacher: He doesn’t just tell, He shows. Behold the glory of God.

God’s glory can be reflected in strength and success, maybe, sometimes, but really it’s too big for that. No strength, no success could ever be grand and impressive enough to reflect God’s glory and power. But in weakness, in trials… now there we see divine power so much more clearly. You want to see God’s power at work? I’m not going to point you toward Napolean’s military conquests. I’m not going to point you toward somebody who’s gotten incredibly wealthy, or somebody who can run a four-minute mile. I’m going to introduce you to someone who’s fighting cancer. I’m going to tell you about someone who is joyful in desperate poverty. Someone who’s learned to live on prosthetic legs, or paralyzed in a chair.

And if you think about it, I’ll bet that for you, too, the most inspiring and encouraging and faith-building witness comes from weakness and trial, not strength and success. So… how about you? How brave are you? Do you want to be inspiring? Do you want people to see God’s glory and power shining through your life? If you do, then rejoice in your weaknesses and trials.

You might think that Lazarus is the exception, the opposite, the success story, since he was healed and resuscitated. But that’s not the whole story: though it absolutely does witness to God’s power over death, this miracle doesn’t mean that we don’t have to die. I mean you’ve probably never thought of it this way, but for crying out loud, poor Lazarus died twice! No, the part of us that doesn’t want to die is just one more part of us that must die, so that we can enter into Christ’s glory. It’s the ultimate surrender. Look at your death that way: your death is - or it can be, if you choose - the final, complete gift of yourself to God. All your plans. All your hopes. All yourself. Can you trust God with that? Do you believe that you will rise?

In the meantime, there are smaller weaknesses in every day. You can name your own. What’s the thorn in your flesh? What’s the thing that you’re begging God to take away? What is it about your life that you wish so much was different? And can you hear Him telling you, “My grace is enough?”

You’re not going to start enjoying your weaknesses and trials. But you can accept them, and on some profound level you can perhaps even find a sort of appreciation 0f them. Because of everything in our lives, that’s where God’s glory can shine the most. And how can we regret that opportunity? How could we wish it away?

Just try it next time something tough comes your way. Something unfair. Something that’s just a drag. Something disappointing. Try to hear Jesus say, “This is for the glory of God…. and my grace is enough.”


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