Sermon: Proclaiming the Glory of God
The Reverend Suresh Kumar
Preached on 3rd August 2008
by The Reverend Suresh Kumar
Readings: 1 Kings 10: 1-13, Acts 13: 1-13.
I bring Greetings from the Trichy - Tanjore Diocese of the Church of South India (CSI). CSI is an ecumenical united church formed in 1947, the year India became Independent. The Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and the Congregational churches came together and formed this Church of South India. The movement towards unity started in the year 1919 in my diocese and several missionaries and Bishops were part of this long process. When CSI was born it was a witnessing event and Christians all over the world wondered how it is going to work. The motto of CSI was 'That they all may be one' the farewell prayer of our Lord Jesus and I am proud to say that CSI as a united church and as a uniting church lives a witnessing Christian life even today. After 60 years of existence, CSI members may not remember all the leaders responsible for this unity but the witness it has brought to the Christians of the world and to the other religious people of India is something special.
It is not just achievements or accomplishments which matter, but people and history look for the end results and the long-lasting memory behind such events.
The story of King Solomon and his Wisdom was very popular in its day and in the faith journey of the Israelites it was important to acknowledge that his wisdom was God-given. When given a choice, Solomon aspired for wisdom from God. He was not a popular war hero in comparison to his predecessors - David and Saul. But he spent lot of his time and energy in constructing, organising and managing the kingdom and his rule. His fame spread through the Middle East and the bible portion for today is one such account.
The Queen of Sheba tells clearly that she has heard people talk about King Solomon and his wisdom, and she came to have a first hand experience of the same. The text even says that she came to test King Solomon. After the encounter, she comes to the conclusion that she had been told only half the truth about Solomon! When she vcisited, the Queen of Sheba saw clearly the ability of Solomon. It was expressed in the architecture, the fine food, his officials and their appearance, the servants and their robes, his cup bearers, the worship and cultic practices! She was overwhelmed. It was a place of overall excellence! Everything seemed special and the visit opened the eyes of the Queen of Sheba. Then she said: "How happy your men should be! How happy are your officials!!...Praise be to the Lord Your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne... because of the Lord's eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness."
I think this witnessing statement of the Queen is the most important part of the reading. When others see God working through us it is a very special moment of joy.
King Solomon was appointed by God. Solomon's achievements in life are a demonstration of God's purpose and his performance is for the welfare of the people and it proclaims the love of God for his people. King Solomon is a tool in the hands of God.
In our personal lives, we are to say that we achieve because God gives us the ability and so it is he who performs.
We all know the popular Bible verse from Mat 7:7 'Ask and it shall be given to you'. If you read the parallel from John, Jesus goes one step deeper to say, "I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that THE SON may bring glory to the Father" (Jn 14:13). Basically the driving force of our prayers has to be to bring glory to God. If our intention is to live a witnessing life, which will bring glory to God, our prayers cannot be selfish. Let us remember the words of Jesus, 'Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven( Matt 5.16.)
Barriers to the Glory of God
Today's second reading from Acts gives us another glimpse of what could happen otherwise. It gives an account of how Barnabas and Paul accepted the call and travelled to far away places to proclaim the gospel, and how people were eager to listen to the word of God. In the midst of such good events we are introduced to a character called Bar-Jesus which means Elymas. He was a barrier for the gospel. He tried to block Sergius Paulus from listening to the word of God. Paul challenged him and he became temporarily blind. Possibly Elymas acted the way he did because he was a sorcerer, and feared that if Sergius Paulus listened to the messengers of God his authority might disappear. In other words, Elymas tried to maintain his popularity and power by standing against the Glory of God. The lesson from this story is that when God's name is to be glorified, the human barriers will be removed. The individuals who are a barrier to the gospel are the evil ones and their condition is doomed.
If we go back to the story of Solomon, we read in the next few chapters how Solomon became self-centred and behaved against the will of God. We might also remember his end.
We see many such stumbling blocks to the glory of God in our times. Even Christians sometimes yield to pressure of this world. When they do so, they devalue the glory of God. In a multi-religious and post-modern society we ought to think and ask this relevant question of our actions: Are we bringing Glory to God by doing this?
When foreign missionaries came to India to proclaim the gospel in the 18th century-(mainly the protestant missionaries) one of the reasons for the failure of their mission was that they ate beef and drank alcohol. These practices were considered unclean by some castes in India and they kept away from this unclean people and unclean religion. Paul had a similar experience during his missionary journey and advised his disciples to resist indulging in things which will bring shame to the gospel.
Many of our church policy matters, important decisions and even day-to-day affairs of our faith are discussed, researched and debated entirely from a human point of view. Most of our discussions keep us - the human ones- in the centre. Today's Bible readings tell us to think from a different point of view. We should ask the question ‘will God be glorified if we do this?' We are living in a world surrounded by secular people, other religious people and with people with no religion. In this context, today's bible readings encourage us to be sensitive to the fact that others are watching us and hearing about us. They will glorify our God if we perform good deeds. But if we are not careful we could bring shame to our faith.
This magnificent cathedral is stands - but for what? The Guide Book tells us the answer. It is for the glory of God. The architecture, the perfect order, the heavenly singing, the brilliant flower arrangements are seen by every visitor. With the result that the name of God is glorified. Like Queen of Sheba, after my visit, I will return home praising God.