SEEING THE GLORY OF GOD

Sermon delivered on the 5th Sunday of Lent (Passion Sunday) the 2nd April 2017 by Bishop Nicholas J.G. Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban’s Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: Ezekiel 37: 1-14     Romans 8: 6-11     S. John 11: 1-45

S. John 11: 40 Jesus said to Martha: “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”

RECIPE FOR LONG LIFE
When we read of some young man dying in an accident or altercation, or found guilty of a murder or other grave crime, we are greatly saddened, because life has failed to reach its potential in that person. We consider that under different circumstances perhaps the man could have become a family man or just someone respected in the society or in the workplace, playing his own part in setting an example to those younger or weaker than him, and helping them see what the things are that really make life good and worthwhile. But it is not to be. Instead this young man dies tragically, or is locked up in prison for a very long time, in either case leaving bitterness and regret in other people’s lives. Perhaps imperceptibly, the tide of meaninglessness throughout the community is raised another notch, the desire for short-term self-gratification at long term expense increases, courtesy decreases and even the roads get that little bit more dangerous because selfishness and thoughtlessness have worked a little further into our minds. Life gets a little nastier, a little more brutish, and for some, a lot shorter, for others far more restricted.

RENEWAL OF MIND AND BODY
In the Bible the emphasis on shortness and length of life is not so much on prolongation of life, as on its renewal. Yes, in physical terms to prolong life does require renewal: most of our body cells die after about seven years, and if they were not replaced by new ones, our lives too could not continue. Our life is prolonged through this continual and constant renewal of our bodies, which for a time can balance what can be called the principle of mortality that is present in the body. However, St. Paul elsewhere speaks of the renewal of our minds bringing about transformation. This is not a renewal of body cells, but a mental or psychological renewal. “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace”, he states in our New Testament lesson from Romans 8 today. St. Paul’s understanding of the renewal of our minds is part of his doctrine of the renewal of man, man’s transformation from being subject to the realm of sin and death under Adam, to being sons of the Resurrection through Christ. And St. Paul sees our renewal not as an individualistic, autonomous renewal such as might sometimes be concluded from a preaching that always focusses on Christ as our “personal Saviour”, but something more like the filling in of a template that God in Christ has provided for mankind. For God has provided for a “new race” in Christ. In the “old” race of humanity destined for death under Adam, our minds are drawn downwards, so to speak, constantly filled with the things of the body of one kind or another. St. Paul shows that when the mind is in this way submitted and effectively enslaved to things of the body it is unable to renew the body, but on the contrary the principle of mortality that is present in the body gains control of the mind as well. For, as he says, “To set the mind on the flesh is death.” The opposite of that is setting the mind on the Spirit (capital S), and those who live according to the Spirit are those who set their minds on the things of the Spirit. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is then dwelling in us and giving life to our mortal bodies. This is the privilege to which we are constantly called as Christians, and we could not even imagine it if we were not already admitted to the Resurrection template. We are already by Baptism and faith members of the new race in Christ, whose goal is not death but resurrection. So we do badly to hang on, as we often do, to the restricted and distorted ideas about what is true and blessed that the now-deposed prince Satan still holds out to us. By faith, the apostle says, take hold of that gracious membership of the new race in Christ, and walk in it daily by setting your minds on the Spirit. This will renew you, says St. Paul. And it will renew our mortal bodies as well. In verse 11 of the same chapter 8, St. Paul says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.” The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is that powerful template which, if it begins to incorporate us through our minds being set on the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus, will renew first our minds and then our bodies. Lent and Passiontide remind us of the deeper dimension of truth and blessedness that we, called to be the younger brothers and sisters of our Lord, are often too eager to ignore. There is an invigoration of the mind that a study of biblical material and Christian thought brings about, as well as other aspects of worship, and I have no doubt that this acts to improve overall bodily health consequentially.

BELIEVING OUR RESUSCITATION
“Dry bones, dry bones, hear the word of the Lord,” goes the American spiritual based on Ezekiel 37, from which our first lesson today comes. The dry bones in the valley possibly represent the exiles, particularly those of the northern kingdom of Israel, or perhaps merely represent the former glories of the kingdom, and Ezekiel’s prophecy is of a resuscitation or renewal, and not merely a prolongation of what then existed. As members of Christ’s Body, we should take note that the work of Christ in us is not to enable us to survive in the body unscathed by the perils of our existence, but to resurrect us through transformation from the race of Adam to the race of Christ. Jesus said to Martha, Lazarus’s sister, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” He did not say that if we saw it we would believe the glory of God. So we might not initially see the transformation we are considering, either in others or in ourselves, but the transformation is to be initially believed in. It is an ontological reality, theologians and philosophers will teach us, a fact of being whose nature rests on the word of Christ and the Gospel itself. Having believed our salvation, it is now for us to work it out, as is also in some manner the case with marriage or citizenship for example, until through its fruits it can be seen.

JESUS THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE
This is the approach that Jesus took in the raising of Lazarus, as is recounted in our Gospel from S. John ch.11 today. If it were not so, verses 5 and 6 of the chapter would make no sense whatever: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” The ontological reality of the situation must take its nature from the fact that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, as He testified to Martha. Indeed, He says, the Resurrection and the Life are embodied in Him. Believing, not just “in” Him, but “into” Him, as St. John’s Greek expression makes clear here, she or anyone could expect to see the glory of God in the renewing of the life of the dead Lazarus. So it was indeed a special mark of his love for them that he stayed away from them for two extra days, in order that this glory might be made plain to them. This of course is incomprehensible without belief “in”, or rather, “into” Him. That is true about the glory of God in all sorts of contexts. Such glory cannot be witnessed without at least some measure of belief in it, which involves a transport into it and hence a new identification within it, in the first place.

BELIEF BEFORE VISIBILITY
We would make a mistake, I think, if we thought to make people believe only through what they see in us. Belief has to come first, by virtue of the reality of the incarnate and risen ministry of Jesus, and then it is up to us all to work that believed reality into visibility. This will effect the visible transformation of the race of the children of Adam into the race of the children of Christ. Having believed, like Martha, we will come to see the glory of God.

QUESTIONS

1. Body - mind - soul - spirit: discuss how these might be defined and what their relationship can be with one another. What kind of “hierarchy” might there be among them? What is the effect of disordering this? Through which of them do people most communicate - (1) in “Adam”, (2) in Christ.

2. How does the fact of the Resurrection affect our life personally?