“The glory of God is a human being fully alive!” “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!” Those are the words of an early leader in the church, named Iraneaus.
He was speaking a great truth about the sacred importance of full and fulfilling human life. And he was also speaking a word against the idea that we need to deny ourselves in some severe miserable kind of way in order to be worthy of God. The God we know as disclosed through Jesus is a God of new life, of abundant life.
But this doesn’t mean it’s an easy road, this Way of Jesus. There is great joy and fulfillment, but also a whole lot of trouble. Because, first, well, trouble just happens. There’s pain and suffering – it happens – and the Way of Jesus doesn’t run away from that. But second, if we are really committed to a God of love and truth, we are going to have to confront all the forces that seek to deny that fulfillment of life, of all life… those forces in ourselves and others and our social world … all the ways that people prevent themselves and prevent others from flourishing according to what is good and noble and true. We stay strong when we keep our focus on what is good and noble and true, what is truly fulfilling. When we focus on all that we start to see our God of love who is at work.
Now, it could be that when you heard this word from Irnaeaus when you heard that “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!”, it felt uplifting to you. And it could be that you felt a sinking kind of feeling. “Well, I’m not feeling very fully alive right now. I’m feeling like a half drowned cat. So what about me? Am I far from God? Am I somehow letting down the glory of God?”
What I have discovered and what I know that many of you have discovered and what countless people down the generations have discovered is that when it comes to God, it’s the places where we are broken, the ways that we are empty is where the Grace gets through. The glory of God is a human being fully alive… But the Grace of God comes in how we are not fully alive. That’s when and where we can surrender to grace, rely on grace, not our own powers, in becoming free from all that keeps us from fullness. Now, let me say, we become free, by the grace of God, in steps and stages, with setbacks and struggle, with breakthroughs and breakdowns. It’s usually not just a lightening bolt from the sky. Grace often works more on the quiet side, grace goes to work when everyone else has gone home. Grace helps us one step at a time let go of what we need to let go of, and embrace what we need to embrace to become more fully who we truly are as children of God.
This is not just individual. We enjoy our fullness, as people, together. And the forces at work that deny our fullness are both at work in our personal hearts, and in society.
How is fullness of life being denied or held back in us? How may we be denying that for others? Why?
Any fullness of life we know is only by the grace of God. That’s why a human being fully alive shows the glory of God. The glory is God’s, not ours.
We all need grace in this fallen world full of strife and struggle, where there are so many forces that seek to seize some people’s fullness of life, that seek even to tear some people away from the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s important to see how these forces are at work in our society – and you probably can tell that I have in mind the forces that are denying the humanity, the fullness of life of our immigrant neighbors.
The word from our reading is “zeal.” (1 Peter 3:8-16). To have zeal, to be zealous … the word in Peter is actually “zealot” – one who has zeal. “Zealot” makes us think of a fanatic. And that’s definitely a danger when it comes to passion and enthusiasm. But what Peter is talking about is being a “zealot for goodness”
The translation we heard from is “one who is eager for what is good.” That’s a little mild. Another translation is: “a passionate lover of goodness.” To be passionate, to be enthusiastic, to be full of life, to be zealous for what is true and good and fulfilling of life. That can mean sometimes we need to resist and fight … to be zealous in resisting the forces that deny the health of souls – our own and others …
But what Peter in our reading teaches, and what Paul teaches, and what Jesus really embodied is how to resist the forces that deny the health of souls, while not succumbing to those forces. “Keep your conscience clear,” Peter says. “Refrain from answering evil with evil. Guard against responding to abuse with abuse. Offer instead blessing.” The only way to do this is to keep our hearts full with that blessing, the blessing that frees people to enjoy the fullness that God offers us, all of us, whoever we are, wherever we are in life’s journey, whatever struggles we’re facing whatever breakthroughs we’re enjoying.
God is offering us to be part of God’s glory, through God’s grace, by being as fully alive as we can be, given who we are.
So my question to you all is: In what ways are you feeling that fullness of life? In what ways are you feeling that glory of God? In what ways are you feeling that grace of God? What is infusing you with enthusiasm? How are you yearning for that? How is this fullness and enthusiasm in life at work in this community of faith, in this church? What is inspiring enthusiasm, fullness of life? How could it be in ways it’s not? How is your fullness of life, and yearning for fullness of life in the mix of what’s happening here?
May the glory of God break through us all. May we unleash our enthusiasm. May the fullness of all our lives break forth. And may our zeal move us together to be a force for one other and for this world, a force for what is good and true and fulfilling of life.
Thanks be to God.
(Delivered September 10, 2017, at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla’s Worship at Wildwood Park. By Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg)
1 Peter 3:8-16 Lastly, you should all be united, sympathetic, full of love for each other, kind-hearted, humble-minded. Never return evil for evil, or abuse for abuse, but, on the contrary, give blessing. It was to this that you were called – to obtain a blessing! The person who wants to enjoy life and see happy days let them keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful words, let them turn from evil and do good, let them seek peace and follow after it. For the eyes of the Holy One are on the just, God’s ears are attentive to their prayers, But the face of the Supreme One is set against those who do wrong. Who, indeed, is there to harm you, if you prove yourselves to be eager for what is good? Even if you should suffer for justice and righteousness, count yourselves blessed! Do not let people terrify you, or allow yourselves to be dismayed. Revere the Anointed One as the Ruler in your hearts, always ready to give an answer to anyone who asks your reason for the hope that you cherish, but giving it with courtesy and respect, and keeping your consciences clear, so that whenever you are maligned, those who vilify your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.