Trinity 4 – Vainglory or True Glory?

The Blind Leading the Blind, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568
The Blind Leading the Blind, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568

Romans 8.18-23       St Luke 6.36-42

 

I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing
with the glory that is to be revealed in us. 
[Rom 8:20]

 

The sufferings that we are experiencing are incomparable with the glory that God will reveal in us!  I hope all of us here today want this transformation that St Paul speaks about today in the Epistle reading.  But know that that transformation is going to be painful.

No one here can be a great football player without a lot of practice, without a lot of sacrifices.  Matteo knows something about that!

For each one of us, the ascent into the life of God begins with the transformation of our passions.  And you will see in every Gospel or Epistle reading in these beginning Sundays in Trinity season some reference to suffering.

Last Sunday St Paul said,

Humble yourselves…Resist [the devil], firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

In today’s Epistle Romans – St Paul compares the suffering of the present time with the pains of childbirth.  That’s quite a powerful image.  Christ is being brought to birth in us!

Each one of the passions of the soul that needs to be reformed will involve some dying, some restraining, some redirecting – so that, by grace, we become like Jesus Christ.

Today the focus of the readings is on the transformation of that aspect of our soul which seeks to be great.  It is about transforming the impulse to vainglory into true glory.

What is vainglory?

It includes a desire to exalt ourselves above others and it includes worldly ways of thinking about what is most important.  Vainglory is a confusion about how to satisfy our desire for greatness.   Whereas pride is about placing ourselves above God in heaven, vainglory is about placing ourselves above others on earth.

For an immature Christian, vainglory can show itself in a particular way: in a spirit of judgement and of condemnation, of all too quickly pointing out the faults of others.   It is using our new spiritual knowledge to exalt ourselves over others.

Jesus warns us about that in today’s Gospel:

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

What is true glory?

It is to be like Jesus Christ.  His life on earth was not about the building up of earthly empires but about the salvation of souls.  It was about the opening of the eyes of the blind to the truth and the liberating of their souls from their paralysis to love, of the building up of those who are discouraged, and the leading of them into the Kingdom of God.  His whole life was a manifestation of the love of God shown in his mercy towards others – and was revealed in the most ultimate way – the laying down of his life for us all on the Cross that we might be forgiven.

Jesus did not go around the Holy Land trying to assert his power and authority, that is something that simply happened as he showed love and mercy and attended to those in his midst.  It is not that he never criticised others, he strongly condemned the Pharisees, those who pretended to know religious truth, but were not transformed by their own teachings.  He did judge and condemn actions that were destroying others – for example the wrong use of the Temple – “you have made it a den of thieves!”…  But he had authority and could speak these things…because he was sinless.

If we find ourselves trying to build ourselves up by condemning others around us, having a spirit of judgement and condemnation of everyone else, Jesus gives us a way to overcome that bad habit, that confusion about how to be great…it is the inward turn.

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye’, when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.”

The inward turn is crucial for us for three reasons:

First, inward turn makes us more merciful towards others.  If we look at ourselves we are humbled when we see our own sins.  As we are confronted with our own sins, and know our need of God’s forgiveness, we become more merciful towards our neighbour’s sins.  We approach those around us not from a position of self-righteousness.  There is no longer a desire to exalt ourselves over the other, but simply to bring relief to the person.  We know the difference in our own lives of those who have corrected without self interest and those who have sought to correct us to humiliate us or raise themselves over us. (e.g.  Can you think of someone you find it “easy” to receive correction from and someone who you find it really unpleasant?)

Second, the inward turn is also a necessary spiritual move so that we are not being driven in our lives by our untransformed passions.   As I’ve said before, modern psychology understands that we are mostly a mystery to ourselves.  And the ancient’s certainly knew this: the Greeks knew this, and it is throughout Scripture.  “We see through a mirror dimly”, says St Paul.  We are a mystery to ourselves and self knowledge is a necessary step in our transformation.  If we don’t know what motivates us (pride, vanity, anger, or the other passions), how can we ask God for forgiveness and for the grace to change?  Why would we want to waste our time on earth being moved about by vain ambition only to discover on our deathbed that it was vain, useless, a waste of time?

Third, the inward turn is the beginning of our ascent into the life of God.  The spiritual quest for God is about moving from our absorption in the external world, to returning to ourselves within, and then moving above us to God.  Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”  We will not see God out there, but by a move from without to within to above.  We cannot be a spotless mirror of the Divine, unless we clear out the specks…then in contemplation we may be given glimpses of the living God!

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This inward turn is painful.

St Augustine says the inward turn is the most difficult thing we can do.  He says: “To my mind this calls for action than which none is more laborious, none that is more akin to inaction, for it is such as the soul cannot begin or complete except with the help of Him to whom it yields itself.” [“On the Greatness of the Soul”, Chapter 28, para 55.]

But, again, St Paul says,

“I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” and,

“We ourselves…groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” – with all our passions transformed!

It is painful!  But it is a necessary suffering on our ascent into the life of God.

It will require the cessation of distractions outwardly, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, counsels Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. [St Matthew 6:6]  I don’t think he meant bring your phones also!

And then try to quiet down your mind.  Nothing more difficult!  But there are techniques in the history of Christian spiritual practices to help in this.  (I will speak of this at our upcoming retreat in September.)

Not only is it difficult to turn within and be quiet, because our minds are used to racing, but also it is difficult to face ourselves because we are afraid of what we might see, maybe we even have a sense of foreboding at the idea.  For Dante it was a leopard, a lion and a wolf! unruly passions that were frightening to see.  And yet see them we must!  Or maybe it is our traumas, our fears that must be faced, if we would be healed by grace… and so made able, in time, “to see clearly to take the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

Jesus wants us to become like him, bringing transformation and healing to a world that is groaning in pains of childbirth.  He wants an incomparable glory to be revealed in each of us.  It is hidden and waiting to be revealed.

If the inward turn seems frightening, it is quite normal, to us who are fallen.

And yet, Jesus would have us take courage.  And so he asks us to present His self-offering on the Cross, and we will do that now, and receive with repentance and faith His risen life.

I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.  [Rom 8:20]

Amen +

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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2