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September 2017

To God Be the Glory

To God Be the Glory

2 Chronicles 5:1-14

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational UCC

17 September 2017



    "I play the notes as they are written but it is God who makes the music." That was the belief of Johann Sebastian Bach, the greatest composer the world has ever seen.

    I was reading about Bach this week as I prepared for this, my first sermon in our autumn series Reformed, in which we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Guided by the adage "the church is always reformed, always reforming," we will explore how best to interpret key doctrines of the Reformation for our time and place—our global, postmodern, scientific, and pluralistic age.

    An article on described the spirituality of Bach's compositional process:


Whenever he began a new piece, he bowed his head and prayed. "Jesus, help me show your glory through the music I write. May it bring you joy even as it brings joy to your people.". . . When he was finally satisfied, he wrote the letters SDG at the bottom of the page - Soli Deo Gloria - For the Glory of God Alone. He hoped that when the music was played, it would point toward God.


    In the biblical story from 2 Chronicles, as Solomon dedicates the temple, the people's worship, particularly the music, summons the glory of God, which is physically manifest. The connection between music and glory is ancient and powerful.

    As I researched and wrote this week, I listened to a lot of Bach. And indeed, the music is glorious. It does manifest the glory of God.


    One of the core doctrines of the Reformation is expressed by this Latin phrase Soli Deo Gloria - For the Glory of God Alone.

    John Calvin wrote


We cannot open our eyes without being compelled to behold him. . . . Wherever you turn your eyes, there is no portion of the world, however minute, that does not exhibit at least some sparks of beauty; while it is impossible to contemplate the vast and beautiful fabric as it extends around, without being overwhelmed by the immense weight of glory.


    I thought of Monday, August 21 and that beautiful day in which most of us experienced the eclipse. What joy you shared in your stories and pictures and Facebook posts. Again and again the words appeared—amazing, beautiful, glorious. Katie Miller, who was on vacation and saw the eclipse from a hilltop outside Glendo, Wyoming wrote, "Can totally tell why the ancient folk thought something big was going down when it happened."

    Jennifer Forbes-Baily, with her husband and dogs outside Gandy, Nebraska wrote, "When the moon obliterated the sun and day became night, I wished upon the first star that appeared and tears came unbidden – just so incredibly beautiful."

    And my own two year old son, looked up at the total eclipse and pointed and squealed and exclaimed, "The moon." Even the unschooled mind grasped the sublime.

    "We cannot open our eyes without . . . being overwhelmed by the immense weight of glory."


Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan preacher, proclaimed that the things of God possess a beauty that sets them apart from the things of humankind. "There is a glory that is so high and great, that when clearly seen, commands assent to their divine reality," he preached.

We were reminded this week of the courage and sacrifice of those first responders who entered the World Trade Center to save their fellow humans. In recent weeks we've witnessed the bravery of ordinary people with their canoes and motorboats pulling stranded flood victims from the tops of roofs. Every single week it is my honor to watch congregants care for one other.

"There is a glory that is so high and great, that when clearly seen, commands assent to their divine reality."


    A traditional definition of the doctrine explains:


The Reformation reclaimed the Scriptural teaching of the sovereignty of God over every aspect of the believer's life. All of life is to be lived to the glory of God. . . . In contrast to the monastic division of life into sacred versus secular perpetuated by [the] Roman Church, the reformers saw all of life to be lived under the Lordship of Christ. Every activity of the Christian is to be sanctified unto the glory of God.


    This idea was most clearly expressed in the opening of the Westminster Catechism of 1646:


    What is the chief end of man?

Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.


This week we've been caring for Joan Eddy who was in the hospital after a fall. Joan has been a member of this congregation since she was confirmed here in 1943 at the age of twelve. Rarely has she held a major leadership position. A few years ago when she was talked into being president of the Women's Fellowship, she wasn't too keen on the idea of being in charge, but she took the role out of a sense of duty and responsibility.

Other than her decades singing the choir, Joan has generally been a behind-the-scenes person. She came to church during the week to work in the choir room, preventing chaos and disorder by filing sheet music. Every two weeks she and Verda Werner would spend an entire day preparing the newsletter for mailing and deliver it to the Post Office, always keeping abreast of the changes in bulk mailing. And she showed up for most things, always a faithful, quiet presence.

Reformed doctrine teaches us that Joan's life participates fully in the glory of God.


    Of course, as with many Reformation doctrines, this teaching builds upon an ancient teaching of the Christian faith, including the words of St. Irenaeus in the second century, "The glory of God is a humanity fully alive."

    What does it mean in the twenty-first century to give glory to God alone? The theologian Bruce Epperly, quoted in our contemporary lesson today, answers this question:


A God of grace and glory moves through every cell and every soul, enlivening, enlightening, and energizing. God's glory is in our salvation—our wholeness and healing—and in the transformation of this good earth so that it might reflect God's aim at beauty, truth, goodness, and justice. We give God glory by following the counsel of Mother Teresa, "to do something beautiful for God."


    And so my invitation to you today is to do something beautiful. To enjoy this day that God has made. To eat good food and drink good drink. To laugh with kids and hug your family. To sing and dance. To hike in the woods, kayak the lakes, and let the butterflies frolic around you. To rise and shine and give God the glory, glory.

For we give glory to God by living beautifully and fully and enjoying all that God has created.




James Longenbach  

Because the most difficult part about making something, also the best,
Is existing in the middle,
Sustaining an act of radical imagination,
I simmered a broth: onion, lemon, a big handful of mint.

The phone rang. So with my left
Hand I answered it,
Sautéing the rice, then adding the broth
Slowly, one ladle at a time, with my right. What’s up?

The miracle of risotto, it’s easy to miss, is the moment when the husks dissolve,
Each grain of rice releasing its tiny explosion of starch.

If you take it off the heat just then, let it sit
While you shave the parmesan into paper-thin curls,
It will be perfectly creamy,
But will still have a bite.

There will be dishes to do,
The moon will rise,
And everyone you love will be safe.

Soli Deo Gloria--Kid's version


This fall our worship series is entitled Reformed as we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation with a focus on various doctrines of the Reformation and what they might mean to us today.  First up this morning was Soli Deo Gloria--Glory to God Alone.  In my sermon prep I was reading about Johann Sebastian Bach, as he signed all his compositions Soli Deo Gloria.  When Katie, my Associate Minister, asked if I'd do the conversation with the children in worship, I said I would, "And I'm going to talk about Bach."  Here's how that went.

Kids are coming forward and sitting beside me on the chancel steps as I engage in some lively banter with them.  Before I can begin in earnest one of the older kids asks about the picture I'm holding, "Is that George Washington?"

"No. This is not George Washington."

"Thomas Jefferson?"

"No.  It is Johann Sebastian Bach. Have any of you ever heard of Johann Sebastian Bach?"

"My last name is Bock," says one of the kids.

"Yes, but he spells it differently.  He spells it B-a-c-h." This news is greeted by a grimace.  "How do you spell it?"


"See. It's spelled differently."  Then other kids start spelling their names.

"Here's another picture.  It's an action shot."

"He's playing the piano."

"Actually, it's the organ.  Bach composed music. He may be the greatest composer of music ever."

One kid shakes his head.  "No."

"Who do you think is the greatest?"

"Michael Jackson."

"Okay, I like Michael Jackson too.  Let's hear some Bach.  Stephen [the organist], can you play us a few lines of Bach?"

Stephen plays the opening of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.

"Did you like that?"

One girl, loudly, "No!"  A few yeses.

"Is it pretty?"  A few nods.

"It's often played at weddings.  Have you heard it at a wedding?"

Mr. Michael Jackson Fan says, "I went to a wedding last week."

"Did they play this music?"


"Did they play any Michael Jackson?"


"Okay then."

Stephen, the organist, interrupts.  "I have another piece they might like better."  Plays the opening of Toccato and Fugue, very loudly.  Some kids like it.  One says he recognizes it. Some laugh.  Some put their hands over their ears.  And one girl utters a loud, primal scream.

Pastor and congregation begin cackling.

Mr. Michael Jackson Fan, "That sounded like Dracula."

"Yes, that's sometimes played in scary movies.  Did you think it was scary?"

No Girl from earlier, "No."

Then I went on to talk about how Bach believed God inspired and spoke through his music and that people could experience God through music.

"What's experience?"  Then I tried to answer that.

Then I asked them what are ways they can show the beauty and joy of God in their lives, and they gave good answers.

95 Theses

Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses: With Introduction, Commentary, and Study GuideMartin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses: With Introduction, Commentary, and Study Guide by Timothy J Wengert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Timothy Wengert's translation is easy and engaging to read, and his introductions and commentary are informative and helpful. A good refresher as the 500th anniversary of the theses approaches.

My favourite segment was from Luther's 1518 sermon on indulgences, which reveals Luther's fun, fiery pen:

Although some now want to call me a heretic, nevertheless I consider such blathering not big deal, especially since the only ones doing this are some darkened minds, who have never even smelled a Bible, who have never read a Christian teacher, and who do not even understand their own teachers but instead remain stuck with their shaky and close-minded opinions. For if they had understood them, they would have known that they should not defame anyone without a hearing and without refuting them. Still, may God give them and us a right understanding! Amen.

I really enjoy the "who have never even smelled a Bible."

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The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art

The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive ArtThe Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art by Luke Timothy Johnson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Johnson begins the book:

Two simple convictions animate this exercise in theology. The first is that the human body is the preeminent arena for God's revelation in the world, the medium through which God's Holy Spirit is most clearly expressed. God's self-disclosure in the world is thus continuous and constant. The second conviction is that the task of theology is the discernment of God's self-disclosure in the world through the medium of the body. Therefore, theology is necessarily an inductive art rather than a deductive science.

With that promising beginning and enticing first chapter the book fails to live up to expectations. It is a thoroughgoing phenomenology of bodily experience, but with little developed theological reflection, in my opinion. For instance, James McClendon places the body first in his theology to much richer effect.

I did appreciate Johnson, a Catholic theologian, entering into a robust discussion of sexuality and gender with a valuable discussion of intersex bodies and what their reality suggests for theology. Again, this is material I've encountered before in queer thinkers, but was refreshing to discover here in Roman Catholic theology.

One of the book's primary aims seems to be a criticism of John Paul II's writing on the body and sexuality. Had I known that the book had that more limited focus, I probably wouldn't have read it.

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