Toorak Uniting Church

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The Glory gone

1 Samuel 4: 5 18     Mark 13: 1 8     Hebrews 10: 11 14
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
16 November 2003, 10.15 am

The glory gone. It was that I kept thinking about when mulling today’s readings over in my mind. The glory gone. It is the name of the son that is born to one of Eli’s dead sons after the debacle with the war against the Philistines, where the arc is taken by the Philistines and Eli, the priest who looks after the Temple and both his sons die. And about whom those of you who attended Ian’s Bible study evenings on Samuel have heard quite a lot.
Ichaboth, the glory gone, a name that says it all after the return of the beaten army from the battle field, without honour and with their God in the hands of the enemy.

Glory, or chabod as it is called in Hebrew is the honour of God, the place where God’s heart is, God’s presence, not only in a physical sense but in a spiritual, emotional kind of way as well. The Arc was the symbol of God’s honour, Gods heart, God’s commitment residing with his people. And with that gone to the Philistines, there can be no hope left.

In the book of Ezechiel that we did not read from today, but that touches on the same themes, again the glory of God leaves, but this time it removes itself, in horror of the iniquities perpetrated by His people. After removing itself it stands on the mount of olives, overlooking the city, witnessing it’s destruction, watching the devastating effect of its perpetrating on the nations surrounding it. To move from this hill overlooking Jerusalem to a valley full of dead bones, clothing them once again with flesh, breathing new life into them through his word. To return, from the mount of olives to a chastised city.

In Mark we find Jesus, the one in whom God’s glory, God’s heart and soul, God’s intention and commitment became flesh and blood, also on the mount of olives, overlooking Jeruzalem.
In Him God’s glory is at stake more than it ever was before. Where the arc was only a symbol, and the prophecies of Ezekiel only visions, here the Glory of God is expressed in flesh and blood, the symbol has become walking and talking reality, the visions manifest in human history.
Jesus has been welcomed to Jerusalem with people shouting ‘hosanna’, and: ‘the Kingdom is coming’. A king on a donkey, knowing full well that murder is being planned, the shadow of darkness already falling over him. This time the Glory will not only be taken away, this time the Glory will not withdraw itself for a while, this time an attempt will be made on the very life of the glory of God on another mount, the skull place, outside Jerusalem!

They sit and look at the temple. The symbol of religious prowess and power of the day. Herod built it, and apparently, according to several accounts that survive from classical writers it was a truly stunning building. People from all over the world came to see it at the time. Enormous blocks of stone had been used to erect the walls, the front wall was clad with gold and whoever travelled to Jerusalem was struck by it’s magnificence from afar. Truly a building to look upon with awe as Jesus’ disciples do. Look teacher, how wonderful it is!
And Jesus speaks along the same lines as Ezekiel prophesied a few centuries earlier. And we, the readers of Mark, know that those prophecies will come true. The mighty, world famous temple of Herod will be destroyed by fire and be razed to the ground in 70, after the last insurrection of the Jews has tried the patience of the Romans just one little bit too far.

Nothing will remain, and for the Christian community, along with the Jews there will be the panic of war and the confusion of not knowing where to go and whom to follow.

There is nothing new under the sun. We’ve seen it again in our own time where a powerful symbol of the glory of the Western world was razed to the ground only two years ago, and where war and rumours of war, earthquakes and famines to some seem only heralds of more difficult times to come. And where the voices of many seem to be calling in all sorts of directions ‘come and follow me’.

Where one could wonder is the Glory of God now? Has it withdrawn once again? Has somebody taken it perhaps, or has it withdrawn by itself in utter disgust of what is going on in the world today? Or is it worse maybe, has the glory of God finally completely disappeared, leaving us to our own devices?

The New Testament tells us that the glory of God was murdered on a cross. That death got its foul hands on it and held it for three full days. Plunging the world into the deepest darkness it has ever known, the darkness of the absence of God. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me", are the words that Jesus utters on the cross. The glory gone, only darkness left.

But in that darkness, through that darkness, after three days a ray of light rises up. A new life rises. Like Ezechiel in his dreams witnesses a valley full of dead bones come to life the world witnesses Gods glory coming back to life and conquering dead. A new temple rises in the place of the old one. Not this time of gold and magnificent stone, but a temple of flesh and blood, living and breathing with the glory of God.

The glory of God from a mangled body on a cross, dead and beyond hope, risen to a life flowing over with giving and loving. Finding shape in a community of people committed to sacrificing their power and pride in his footsteps for something better: Life and light, love and justice, peace and well being for all Gods people.

That is what we celebrate here today when we celebrate communion. The glory of God, broken and scattered, brought back to life in us, making a new beginning in us, feeding hope because we know that even death will not be able to end Gods commitment, Gods presence, Gods love for us.

The glory of God gone. We might sometimes feel that. With terrorists bombing away, with church attendance falling, with wars and rumours of wars all around us, and a cacophony of voices telling us to follow a bewildering array of messages. With problems in our own lives sometimes seemingly insurmountable, the darkness closing in. God’s glory gone.
In the temple while the sons of Eli do battle with the Philistines and lose, while Eli falls backwards and breaks his neck from remorse and guilt when he hears what has befallen the arc, there is a little boy sweeping the floors and lighting the candles, a little boy called Samuel.

Jesus says Hebrews has for all times changed things. Because of him we know that the glory of God is in-destructible. Even when it might seem to have withdrawn itself for a while, through him, through what he was and what he did, we may know the door will never be completely closed on the light. God’s glory, God’s heart is in bringing light and love into the darkness, and even where the darkness seems to be winning it won’t.

At times it may only be a boy, sweeping the floor of an otherwise deserted temple that testifies to that, and at other times it may be a storm of His Spirit breathing life into a valley full of dead bones.
It could just as well be the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine by fragile and vulnerable people where the glory of the Lord resides.

Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2003


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