Have you ever seen God’s glory passing by? The beauty of autumn can be like that, as dying leaves go out in a blaze of glory. We didn’t see God’s creativity as clearly when everything was lush and green in the middle of summer, but we certainly see evidence of its passing.
Moses couldn’t see the fullness of God’s glory, and we’re not really capable of it either, at least this side of the grave. We notice God’s glory in the wonder and awe we feel at the greatness of creation, but we only see a small part of it. Often we see evidence that God has been at work only in retrospect, in the small and great resurrections we encounter after long injustice or suffering.
Moses is asking for more direct evidence that God is going with him and his complaining people on the long trek out of Egypt – and he’s got quite an attitude! Like the people he’s leading, there’s a part of him that would just as soon stay in Egypt with a predictable diet, even if it means being a slave. He wants a guarantee that life is going to be better. ‘You say you’re my ally – well, then, don’t leave me here all alone with nobody to help. I want to see your stuff, God!’
Moses gets a glimpse, but he isn’t going to get the full monty until Joshua takes over. The face to face interview will have to wait until his people cross the Jordan into the promised land, and Moses goes home another way.
The Pharisees and Herodians who come to question Jesus are looking for glory, too, but not quite the same kind. They’re looking for the quick shaft of a spotlight in the same mode as a lot of our Presidential candidates are right now – they’re playing “gotcha.” They’re trying to trip him up and trap him in a wrong figure or misquoting the law. But Jesus takes another direction. When they ask if it’s legal or not to pay the tax, he asks how they’re going to pay it. They show him a coin that bears the emperor’s face, and Jesus’ response is – ‘well, Caesar printed that coin, give it back to him.’ There’s a religious question underneath this trap, since Jewish law prevented paying the Temple tax with Roman coins, because they bore the image of the emperor. That’s why there were moneychangers in the Temple – to trade picture coins for others that didn’t have that offensive image.
Jesus has gone way on by – and we only noticed it after the interchange was over. That was the glory of God, creative in ways beyond imagining.
The issues around taxes, and what laws we must obey, continue to confound us. There are faithful Christians who won’t pay taxes because some of those taxes fund wars. Others think it’s their duty to pay their fair share so that the government can care for the most vulnerable. There are other people who don’t want to pay any taxes, and have enough power and influence to shape the tax code to their own benefit. That’s what the protests in many cities around this country are about right now – and maybe we are seeing some glory passing by.
I have a friend in Nevada who showed me God passing by. He worked for the Department of Energy, and for a while he ran the Nevada Test Site, where atomic weapons were tested and a lot of research still goes on. He also happens to be a priest. When protesters went out to the Test Site to demonstrate about the nuclear weapons research, he’d go out and walk on their side of the fence, offering pastoral care and support, and then he’d go back inside the gate and do the same thing for the people who worked at the Test Site. That kind of creative willingness to stand with people wherever they are is what God was telling Moses: I’ll be with you, even if you don’t notice. You may only be able to see my presence afterward.
In Washington, DC today, a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. is being dedicated. It was supposed to happen several weeks ago, but the weather got in the way – as hurricane Irene reshaped the physical environment of the east coast. The people who lived in the path of that hurricane experienced it as a strong and destructive storm. Later on, particularly in places like Vermont, people also began to see the life-giving and creative ways in which neighbor reached out to neighbor, nearby and far away, and God’s glory was evident in another way.
MLK was a prophetic witness, but at least while he was living, relatively few were able to see his reflected glory. His death changed that, and the years have shown us “God’s glory passing by” in him even more.
Where have you seen God passing by? Moses got his experience by asking – kvetching, even. The bystanders around Jesus had theirs as a result of evil intentions. Vermonters, like the people of Joplin and New Orleans, have had theirs in the outcome of natural disaster.
There’s a remarkable example right here in this part of Indiana. The Potawatomi were forced out of here in 1838 on a march called the Trail of Death. In recent years, their descendants and descendants of Anglo settlers have begun to come together in a cultural and historic celebration and remembrance. The signs of reconciliation in the midst of what is now called the Trail of Courage are certainly evidence of God passing by.
Where are you looking for God’s glory? Have you seen it here?