Proper 5 – 6/6/2021 – St. Paul’s
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what can be seen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17-18)
An Eternal Weight of Glory? What in the world does that mean? I know what glory is, and I know what weight is, but what is the eternal weight of glory? Often, we think of a weight as a bad thing, not a good thing. He looked like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. The problem of her mother’s health was beginning to weigh on her. And glory has a lighter than air, wispiness about it. It was wonderful, it was glorious, I was floating on air, I was on cloud nine. So, what in the world does the eternal weight of glory mean? I’m going to tell two stories from two wars on two continents in two centuries that will help us get at an understanding of what Paul is saying.
Some years ago, I ran across the published memoirs of the Rt. Rev. Thomas F. Gailor, Episcopal bishop of Tennessee,1908-1935. There I read the story of the Rev. Dr. George Patterson, long-time rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN. Though raised in Boston, after seminary, Patterson received a call to be a plantation priest in eastern North Carolina in the 1850’s. When the Civil War began the men of the community formed a regiment – and the priest volunteered as chaplain. As the regiment prepared to leave for the battlefields of Virginia, a woman came to the priest and said, Take care of my son, Father, take care of my son!
It was at Gettysburg that a soldier came to the priest and said, Mr. Patterson, Brown has been shot. He’s badly wounded and has been abandoned on the field. The priest secured a shielded lantern and crawled onto the abandoned battlefield looking for Brown. He found him, still alive, but near death. Father Patterson was strong of courage, and he had been well-trained in theology and liturgy. Pastoral care – not so much. Well Brown, he said bluntly, You appear to be in much pain, but you are sure to die soon and it will all be over. You are a fine Christian, you were good to your mother, and you were a devout acolyte for the church, when you were a boy. There’s not much I can do for you now except give you a Christian burial.
So it was that the Rev. Mr. Patterson began to read the Service for The Burial of the Dead whilst young Lt. Brown held the lantern and prayed the responses. When the service was over, Patterson patted Brown on the shoulder and crawled back to Confederate lines. Thirty-five years later the priest, now Dr. Patterson of Christ Church in Memphis, was visiting friends in Nashville. He was walking down Union Street when a questioning voice rang out. Father Patterson? He turned to face a tall man who said, Fr. Patterson, don’t you remember me?… No, no I don’t… I’m Brown…. Allen Brown, whom I buried at Gettysburg?… The same…. You lived! But how?
Brown told his story. It went something like this: Mr. Patterson, after you read my funeral service and crawled away, I began to pray. I had given up any hope of living, but your coming out to me gave me such hope that I determined to live. I crawled out. I ended up on the Federal side of the field. I was doctored and sent to a prison camp. I live each day in hope; and try to give hope to others. (Thomas F. Gailor, Some Memories, Southern Publishing, Kingsport, TN. 1937, pp 202-205.)
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, (2 Cor. 4:17) Again, what is the eternal weight of glory?
Now, the second, briefer, story. In 1942, in the midst of World War II, C.S. Lewis preached a sermon on this text at a church in Oxford England. After establishing that the glory is the fact that all of us are eternally precious and valuable to God, he then reflects on the weight of that glory: The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. (“The Weight of Glory: And Other Address” C.S. Lewis, Harper, 1949)
If we think only of our own glory, our own faith, our own works, or our own lack of all those things – that is, if we consider only what can be seen, we might come to the wrong conclusion, and believe that our glory is in our own hands. But nothing could be further from the truth.
We are as helpless and near spiritual death as was Allen Brown, lying gut-shot and alone in a field of dead bodies. And into that hopeless situation, hope comes calling. That which cannot be anticipated, cannot be seen with either the eye or the heart, has burst in to our lives to tell us – You are loved, you are precious, you have value, you areglorious!
And, as Mr. Brown discovered, such glory brings with it an eternal weight – the weight of life, the weight of hope, the weight of loving everyone else with that same unconditional love, The eternal weight of glory.
Which is the happy burden of discovering that all those around us are the same sort of saintly sinners and sinful saints that we are – and learning to love and care for them anyway, as God in Christ has loved and cared for us as we struggle along on the battlefield of life.
Let us pray……
help us to hold onto your incredible promise
every time our shoulders get hunched by the weight of this life.
Help us to hold onto that incredible promise every time
our headaches and migraines return because of the weight of this life. Help us to hold onto that incredible promise every time
our souls feel crushed by the weight of yet another tragedy, big or small. As Paul says, Lord, fix our eyes on you in all situations.
Holy Spirit, point us to someone within our reach who needs to hear
that promise that your glory outweighs all the pain of this life;
give us love and courage to offer that promise of Christ
to someone today.
All this we pray for His glory and the renown of His name
in our lives and throughout the world.