Words can barely describe the feeling of the chill that went down my spine on that bright spring day fifteen years ago with tears streaming down my face at the end of seeing a film. The film was Glory, that highly acclaimed directed by Edward Zwick that starred Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick, and a young Denzel Washington, who won a best the best supporting actor award. Glory told the glorious tale of that newly formed black regiment in Massachusetts, formed during the Civil War, out to prove that descendants of Africa were as courageous and as honorable in war as their white counterparts. Many did not want them to fight; but fight they must, and they did gloriously with honor. At the end of the film, when you see the sacrifice they made, the sacrifice not for their own glory but for the glory of an ideal, the glory of freedom, the glory of liberty, even if they themselves would never taste it, they would selflessly lay down their lives so that others would. And there was glory in that.

Fast forward nine years. In 1998, based on the novel by James Jones, called the Thin Read Line, that was also turned into a critically acclaimed film by the same name. Here you have another instance of war that didn’t seem to be the same as in Glory. In one particular scene, one Private Whit was looking at the carnage and brutality of those islands in the pacific during World War II, and he saw the brutality that even his own brothers were committing. He asked this question that still rings in my ear: Where did the glory go? Where did the glory go?

Many Americans have been asking ourselves the same question this week. In the face of this week’s revelations of the physical and psychological abuse and the sexual humiliation of prisoners held at the Abu-Ghraib prison in Iraq, we are left shaking our heads, Where did the glory go? Words can barely express the shock, furry, and shame experienced by Americans upon the discovery that it is our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers, our sons and daughters who, in uniform representing us and our values, could actually perform such disgusting, illegal acts on the very people whom we ostensibly freed from such acts at that very prison, whom we freed from the tyranny of the former regime. Where is the glory in such acts of human depravity? Where is the glory in espousing high ideals on the one hand and the shameless display of the debased but official actions on the other? Could you do such a thing?

Social psychologists have repeatedly set up situations where they say, yes, most of you would, most of us, placed in a situation of fear and of intimidation and in a situation where you have unlimited control over another human being unconstrained by the rule of law or discipline, yes, you too could abuse. Of course, there is no glory in that. Perhaps there is no glory in war at all, properly speaking, particularly this war. Many of us joined with thousands of others in this sacred space, in this very Cathedral, on January 20, 2003, Martin Luther King Day. We came to this Cathedral to pray, to pray for peace and for peaceful resolution to the sticky problems before us. And we prayed that a way toward peace would be known so that we would not have to commit troops and violence in Iraq. And many of use heard sermons or orations today that pretty much convinced so many of us—not all—that all of the steps toward peace had not been taken, and that this preemptive action—preemption to get rid of the perceived threat to humankind of Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction—that even did not meet the test of the just war doctrine in Christian ethics. So we joined with the Roman Catholic bishops in the United States and with the leaders of most mainline Protestant denominations who said, this should not happen. We prayed and then we marched, from this Cathedral downtown. Of course, we were not successful in those prayers, so this national house of prayer switched gears, and we did again what we always do: we pray.

This is a national house of prayer; this is not a national church to bless our nation’s actions, but this is a house of prayer that reminds us all that all of our actions—national and personal—need to conform to the will of God. We’ve been praying ever since. We pray daily for our brave and courageous men and women in the armed forces who do not get to choose in this situation. They just faithfully serve their country and are dependent on us civilians back home with our leaders make sure they are going in for the right purposes. They honorably do their jobs, and we pray for them everyday, we pray for their safe return. And we pray daily for our leaders; we pray for our president and our vice president and the leaders of congress, whether we agree with them or not, they are deserving and worthy of our prayers, that they may exercise right judgment in the exercise of their duties and that they may see a way out of seemingly no way.

Just this past week, United Nations Secretary General and Noble-peace-prize winner Kofi Anon was addressing a conference on evil at Trinity Episcopal Church in New York. He said these words at that conference as he talked about being faced with questions of evil and good and violence and peace when he headed the U.N. peace-keeping operations during the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which Hutu extremists slaughtered more than 800,000 Tutsies and other moderate Hutus. Anon described how difficult it was to determine at which point violence becomes so deliberate and systematic that to continue dialogue achieves nothing. He said this: “There are times when the use of force is legitimate and necessary because it is the lesser of two evils. But the lesser of two evils is still an evil, and we should not forget that.” War may be an evil at times and a necessary one, but it is evil. Can there be any glory really in that?

In the Christian Scriptures they reserve the word glory for that which only pertains to God. In the Gospel lesson today, Jesus says, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified because God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” Glory! The Greek word doxa—from which we get our word doxology or song of praise—in the New Testament connotes the concept of light, the light of revelation and it expresses brightness, splendor, radiance, the shining forth of the light of God. The Apostle Paul, when he talked about the glory of God, he talked about it in terms of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus. That glory comes from the divine. Can we see it on earth? Probably. If we were in television land, or only spent our time before movie screens, we would have no problem detecting God’s glory, because at those scenes, just as in that television show Touched by an Angel, whenever the spirit comes on the scene, there is a kind of glow that comes across the screen. In the movies the strings will swell, the music comes up, and you know, ah, we are in the midst of glory, and you may hear in the background the song of angels. Have you heard that lately? Have you seen a glow before your eyes before any one? Probably not.

So, in substitution for this glory of God, some people have placed all of the weigh of glory on the nation, the glory of the nation. Obviously there is much to glory in God about for this nation: the ideals of this nation of justice and freedom and truth, democracy. We have monuments to this glory downtown in this city, and you can go into these monuments and read the—dare I say—sacred documents of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and we can go into the other temples and be awed, yes awed, by the statues of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, the Capital, the Washington Monument. Yes, these are designed to engender majesty and awe in us, and to that extent they properly do. But if that is the only locus of our awe and glory, we will find ourselves in trouble just as the Roman Empire did 2,000 years ago in the pax Romana where it was thought that because of the power of Roman, the world may know peace. Well, now 2,000 years later, the pax Americana will ultimately be as hollow as the pax Romana in that the glory of nations and of empires fades, if history is any teacher at. What will remain? What will remain?

And as much as I hope all of us in this assembly loves this nation, and loves everything that it stands for, also we are reminded that it is this nation that has been proven quite capable of enslaving other human beings, of denying rights, basic humans rights and denying all the rights of society based on gender, on skin color, on religion. The glory of nations is fleeting and insufficient. Glory in human beings? I hope so and I don’t hope so. Yes, we who are little lower than the angels, we who have been created in the image of God, are able because of that image to create great things for the welfare of the world. Tremendous advances in literature, in sciences, the arts. Yet, the glory of human achievement did not prevent those in, for instance, Nazi Germany, that society that offered the best in science, in philosophy, in religion, in ethics—it did not prevent that society from going down a road of brutality. Glory placed in human beings is misplaced. So we return again to doxa.

Human beings were created to worship. As G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “Whenever man ceases to worship God, he does not worship nothing, but instead worships everything.” Could it be that that small band of soldiers, unconstrained by law, unconstrained by discipline because of their fear and the misjudgments of their leaders, in that situation had forgotten the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in every human being? God is just not an idea; God will not be mocked. We all stand under the authority of God, and when we worship God, it is not worship that projects our own image upon God, and we don’t do that lightly. All too often the worship even of Christians is of such a fragile and low level that we speak of God as if we were speaking of our best friend. We may sing a song of praise such as “Our God Is an Awesome God.” Yet, where is the awe, the majesty? This is just not the one who only blesses us in our ideals and puts bandages over our wounded egos when we are shamed. God can only be approached sometimes on our knees or in awe and in wonder.

This Cathedral is a soaring, majestic place. But if we only call attention to ourselves, this stone, this mortar, this glass, these wood works, this space, then we have missed the boat and we only glorify ourselves. But if these spires can point individuals and leaders of nations and even soldiers who are doing their duty—if these spires can point them to the one who is above all and whose laws must be obeyed, then perhaps we can see glory again.

For thine is kingdom, O God, not ours. Thine is the power, not ours. Thine is the glory, not ours. For ever and ever. Amen.