C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) is one of the most well-known Christian authors of the 20th century having written such works as the Mere Christianity, Miracles, The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, and The Chronicles of Narnia. In addition to writing, Lewis was a profession of English Literature, holding positions at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities during his career.
The sermon currently being reviewed, “The Weight of Glory,” was originally delivered on Sunday, June 8, 1941 at the Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. This was nine months after the end of the Battle of Britain and in the middle of War World II. At this point in the war, Germany was actively conquering new territories in Europe while the Britain and Free French forces tried in vain to slow them down. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the United States of America was trying hard not to get pulled into the war (something that would happen six months later on December 7, 1941).
This historical context is very important as Lewis delivers a sermon that ends with the statement that one’s “neighbor is the holiest object presented to [one’s] senses” (page 9). In other words, rather than demonizing the Germans or increasing the fear in the hearts of the people, Lewis sets about to remind people of the intrinsic value of humanity. He does this through by starting off talking about how we humans we typically substitute a negative term for a positive term. This tendency causes us to be “easily pleased” (page 1) with things, virtues or life’s joys rather than pushing through to receive the true rewards promised through the true nature of the rewards.
From there Lewis explores the philological nature of why we work for rewards. As in, do we work to avoid punishment (as a boy who does his homework to avoid the headmaster’s punishment) or do we do it to gain greater rewards in the future (learn Greek, for example, so we can read poetry later rather than just because we have to). During this discussion, Lewis switches from talking about rewards to talking about the human desire for heaven. It is here that Lewis begins to build out his real argument, that is, to establish the fact that humanity was meant for more than just this mortal life. Rather, we were made by God to be with God. Because of this, the highest praise humanity can ever receive is the approval of God like a “child before its father” or a “pupil before his teacher” (page 6).
It is this approval from God that becomes the “weight or burden of glory” that causes to change our actions and behaviors (page 6). Knowing that we were created to glorify the Creator God, we in turn realize that this was in reality our original and deepest desire along. Rather than seeking the rewards of heaven or the escape of hell, we find ourselves instead passionately desire to glorify God. We are capable of this only through Jesus Christ, who opened the door for us to be with God.
After we become aware of our own weight of glory, we are to follow the example of Jesus and care for those around us. In doing so, we realize that “there are no ordinary people” but rather only “immortals” with whom we joke and work with (page 9). The mortal things in life are nations, cultures, arts, civilizations, rather than people. While this may be calm thing to hear in 2015, it was quite the shocker in 1941 when the German nation declared that their culture and civilization was better than everyone else. In making this claim, Lewis was reminding his listeners that people were made in the image of God and worth protecting and loving, regardless of their background. Ant the love that we are to show people “must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner – no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment” (page 9).
In ending, Lewis’ sermon is a powerful reminder of the purpose in which God created humanity and the end goal to which we work towards. Though there will be wars, trials, and problems of all kinds, we are to constant remember that our focus to be loved by God and to please Him in all that we do. Because of this goal, we are to treat our fellow humans with the same love that Jesus showed us. There are, as Lewis said, no ordinary people, only immortals with whom we may spent the rest of eternity with in heaven.