Soli Deo gloria: To God alone be the glory
Transcription of Sunday, October 15, 2017 sermon.
Most of you are familiar with the name Johann Sebastian Bach. He is one of the greatest composers of all time. One thing you may not know is that at the bottom of every musical piece he composed he wrote the letters “SDG” or the words “soli Deo gloria” — to God alone be the glory. Bach wanted it to be known that the reason he composed the music was to glorify the God who made us and saved us. He never intended to be the one who got the credit, because he knew all his abilities and opportunities to compose came from God.
That is a much different approach to life than what we are used to and in the world in which we live. The world that we’re in is one of constant self-promotion. It is as if we are always on the edge of the pool saying, “Look at me! Watch me!” We jump in wanting everyone to pay attention to us. We chronicle every detail of our lives on social media. We are always asking questions like, “Do like my clothes? Do you like my haircut?” We want to be admired, acknowledged, liked, and appreciated. At some level we want glory.
Today we are going to work from two scriptures. We heard them earlier. One is from Matthew 5 where Jesus is talking about us being salt and light in the world, something very different. Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good works” — and here’s the punch line — “and give give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:13).
The other verse is from 1 Corinthians 10:31. Paul has spent quite a bit of time in this chapter talking about how what you do affects the lives of other people. It’s not just about you. You always need to keep others in mind and keep God in mind. “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Soli Deo gloria. To God alone belongs the glory.
Even for the good things we do. Even for some of the significant things we do. That might not sound fair to you. You are certainly entitled to your opinion. But here’s where God is coming from — Isaiah 42:8. God says, “I am the Lord, that is my name. My glory I give to no other.”
Whether you like it or not, God is not sharing. God is not about to share his glory with any other god, with any idol, with any person he has created, with any power that exists in the world, or anybody else who has any fame or notoriety. God says, “I will not give my glory to anybody else.” Soli Deo gloria. To God alone belongs the glory.
There are some very interesting stories in scripture when God corrected people’s course when they sought glory for themselves. These are worth looking at this morning.
One of them happens not long after the flood, way back towards the beginning of the world. You remember that God had flooded the world to destroy it and start over. After cover water covers the earth, there’s nobody left except for Noah and his wife, their three sons and their wives, and two of all the different animals. When the waters subside and the ark comes to rest on dry land, it’s time to start over. It’s time to spread out in the world and multiply and fill it with people. That’s what God planned.
Not too long after, some of the people got together and said, “You know, we can make bricks. Let’s build ourselves a city. A place where we can live and raise our families and be secure. We can build a tower. We’ll build this tower in the middle, a really big tower that people can see from far off. We’ll make a name for ourselves. We’ll be somebody and the world will never forget us.
God’s response to their project is, “I don’t think so. That’s not what you’re here for.” For the first time in history, God jams their communication. He confuses their language so they can’t understand each other. So they have to separate. They have to go live in different places. They have to have families and multiply and fill the earth. They were not there to glorify themselves. To God alone belongs the glory.
The other story comes from a time not too long after Jesus lived on the earth, not too long after the resurrection and Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is poured out. There is a king named Herod. Not the same king that tried to kill all the babies in Bethlehem. It’s one of his sons, who is ruling a part of Israel towards the north. He’s a good politician. He’s doing well at working both with the Roman empire and with the Jewish people. He would dress up in ornate robes, wonderfully expensive robes. He would sit on the throne and he would give these speeches that amazed people. On one occasion, he gives a speech that everybody enthralled. When it’s done, the people say, “This isn’t just a man. He speaks with the voice of a god!” Luke tells us that immediately an angle of the Lord struck him down because he did not give God the glory. And, he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.
I don’t about you. But right now I feel like giving God the glory!
It’s not hard to find yourself in a situation like that. All you need is one person to say, “You’re doing a really good job.” Or one person who says, “We really appreciate the things that you do.” All you need is somebody to give you a pat on the back and you begin to think, “I’m not so bad after all. In fact, I’m pretty good. And I do some pretty good things. And I deserve some appreciation.” You completely forget who you are and what you are like. You completely forget about who made you, put you here, gives you life and breath and everything. You completely forget about your sin and how that affects your relationship with God. You’re not worried about that at all. You’re getting the appreciation and love you desire and it feels really good.
At that moment, what you need is an Isaiah 6 experience. Isaiah 6 is the account of the prophet suddenly finding himself in the presence of God. He finds himself in the throne room of God. This is the place where God’s people never wanted to be. If the cloud fo God’s presence is on the mountain, I’m not going up there. If the cloud of his presence fills the tabernacle or the temple, we’re going in there. When the presence of God was on the mountain of transfiguration, the disciples fell flat on their faces — they were scared to death. Nobody wants to go into that room into the presence of God. But Isaiah is there and he is overwhelmed. The presence of God fills that place. He’s on the throne. His robes are everywhere. Flaming creatures called Seraphim are flying back and forth. They’re singing, “Holy, holy, holy.” The ground is shaking, there’s smoke in the air. Isaiah says, “I’m doomed. I’m a sinful person. I come from sinful people. I live among sinful people. There is no way I can survive in the presence of God.” He knows that the glory of God is overwhelming.
Then something significant happens. One of the seraphim goes to the altar, takes an ember burning there, and touches it to Isaiah’s lips. He says, “You sins have been atoned for. You sins are forgiven.” That is the game changer. Now, Isaiah is holy. He can be in the presence of a holy God. He has been forgiven. His sins have been wiped away. He is somebody who can have a relationship with God.
Where’s our Isaiah 6 experience? When we get a little too full of ourselves, how can we bring ourselves back down?
We do it all the time. We come to worship. We kneel at the altar in the presence of the Lord. He is there. That’s his body broken for us, his blood poured out for us. It’s the presence of our Savior, right there on the altar. It is meant to humble us and make us realize we should not be here. We have no right to spend time in the presence of God. The same thing happens for us. Something from the altar touches our lips. His body and blood and the words are, “Your forgiven. Your sins have been atoned for. You are holy, too.” Your are righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. His death has atoned for your sins. You can have a relationship with God. You can be there with God. You can glorify God. Never underestimate the power of the moment at the altar when our Lord comes to you in his word and his sacrament.
What does that look like? What does it look like to have a life that glorifies God? What does it mean to let your light shine so that people will see you and glorify God?
First, in our worship we glorify God. Here, when we come to worship we hear the words of God, the amazing words that we are forgiven, and we give him our thanks and our praise. We confess and we are forgiven, and we glorify him because we know he’s the only reason we’re here. He made us, he gave us our abilities, he died for us, he rose for us, he saved us, he’d done it all for us. He gets all the credit. In our worship, we give God all the credit and glorify him.
We also glorify him when we simply do our best. That’s right, the pursuit of excellence in your life glorifies God. People see what you do and they are led to thank and praise God. So whatever it is that you do — your work, your volunteer hours, your school, in your community, in your home — whatever you do, give it your best. God has made you and gifted you and empowered you to do everything you can do, so that this world will see it and will praise God.
The third way we glorify God is just to be out there. You are the light of the world. Jesus doesn’t say, “You should be the light of the world,” but “You are the light of the world.” It’s a very dark place out there. I don’t have to tell you that. It’s dark in homes where there’s abuse, disease and death, where fires rage out of control, or flood waters won’t go down, or where people are depressed, worried and feel like the world is closing in on them. It’s dark out there.
God has shone his light into our hearts to give us hope. We take that with us and wherever you go you bring with you what you’ve received from God — forgiveness, hope, and life. Just by being out there in the world, Peter writes, “Even the pagans — people who aren’t associated with God at all — will see you and glorify God.”
Soli Deo gloria. God alone receives all the glory.