Whenever I despair over what I see going on in the church, the bickering, the infighting, the disagreement, I look at the Early Church, and it gives me hope. It is such a good example of what the church should and could be. No wait … it gives me hope because I see that the people in those churches had the same kind of human foibles that we all have. They can be hard headed and arrogant, and Paul calls them … saints! And, no letters that he wrote gives us as stark example of that fact as his letters to the Corinthians. The reason that these letters give me hope for the church and in fact hope for myself is that Paul had confidence in and hope for them! More than that, he had hope in the gospel, and that God could do a mighty work in the poorest of materials … and in that, I am definitely referring to myself.
Earlier we read about how when Moses was in the presence of God that he was physically changed. He literally glowed after that experience, and the Israelites found that disturbing, so disturbing that Moses wore a veil when he was with the people so that he would not disconcert them. Paul writes that because of the gift of the Spirit and the hope of the gospel of Christ, no veil is necessary.
Our primary passage for today comes from 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, which is found on pg 1797 of your Pew Bible. However, I will be reading this from The VOICE translation this morning. Hear the word of the Lord!
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 The VOICE
12 In light of this hope that we have, we act with great confidence and speak with great courage. 13 We do not act like Moses who covered his face with a veil so the children of Israel would not stare as the glory of God faded from his face. 14 Their minds became as hard as stones; for up to this day when they read the old covenant, the same veil continues to hide that glory; this veil is lifted only through the Anointed One [Jesus]. 15 Even today a veil covers their hearts when the words of Moses are read; 16 but in the moment when one turns toward the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 By “the Lord” what I mean is the Spirit, and in any heart where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is liberty. 18 Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.
4:1 Since we are joined together in this ministry as a result of the mercy shown to all of us by God, we do not become discouraged. 2 Instead, we have renounced all the things that hide in shame; we refuse to live deceptively or use trickery; we do not pollute God’s Word with any other agenda. Instead, we aim to tell the truth plainly, appealing to the conscience of every person under God’s watchful eye.
Do you remember when the solar eclipse happened here about a year and a half ago? It didn’t just happen here, of course, but we were very close to the track that this astronomical event took as it traveled around the world. For months ahead of time, people were warned to get their protective eye gear. So many people wanted to see it, but looking directly at the eclipse could permanently damage your eyes. I knew that my sunglasses would not be sufficient. You needed something that would shield and protect your eyes much more than that looking at an object that bright, too intense to look at directly.
When we think of Moses in the desert with the Israelites, we should think about it like that. A physical change occurred in Moses during his time with God. A real man, Moses, with a real glow, and a real veil that he used because the way that he looked was too overwhelming, too disconcerting. What Paul is talking about here is not exactly like that, but it there is a connection.
What occurs to you when I say, “Their face glowed.” You might think of a father attending their child’s graduation or a bride on her wedding day. What about someone who is in love with the Lord? Not all Christians look that way, but I bet you can think of at least one or two. One of the people that comes immediately to mind for me is our own Catherine DeBoie. When she talks about the Lord, she positively beams. When we think of that we start getting on the track of what Paul is talking about here.
A real change happened when Moses spent time directly with God. Paul says that a real change is happening with the Corinthians. Why? Because of the transforming, the transfiguring, work of the Holy Spirit. When you read about all of the problems within the Corinthian church, this can seem like a ridiculous assertion. Throughout 1 and 2 Corinthians we hear about how the people of this church have hurt Paul and each other. Yet, Paul has confidence that God is at work within this church. Why? Because it continues to exist. They certainly couldn’t have done it all on their own.
But are they acting like saved people who can act and speak with great confidence and courage? No, they are acting like people who want, who need a veil between them and the glory of the Lord. Not only can they stop shielding themselves from the glory of the Lord, they themselves can reflect that glory into the world. The same is true for us.
One of the interesting things about the Israelites with Moses is that they did not want to see behind the veil. They did not want direct contact with God. They told Moses. You talk to God for us. (Exodus 20:18-19) They were afraid of it. That can apply to anyone.
We are called to let our light shine. As Jesus says in Matthew 5,
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (vs. 14-17).
We are called to let our light shine, but there are many who would prefer it to remain behind a veil or aren’t interested. This can be for a variety of reasons. They may not want ideas of God complicating their lives. It doesn’t even occur to them, and they’d rather not know.
I remember being in this state of mind for a good portion of my life. I was concentrating on how to get through the next minute. My focus was survival. As strange as it may sound now, I didn’t feel like I had the luxury of even considering about God, Jesus, the Church. Looking back, it was probably a time when having God in my life would have been so helpful, so comforting, but no, I rejected it.
Then, there are those who have their own ideas about God or other forms of spirituality. They’re not open to additional information. They think that they have the answer, so why should they look at anything different? They’re not going to be interested in seeing behind the veil. I can understand that.
But then, there are those who are curious. There are those who see your glowing face, and they want to know the cause. Think of people you know who inspire you to want to get to know or understand God better, to understand the gifts and the new life that God provides for us. Those are two kinds of people that give me joy, the ones with questions that demonstrate the curiosity they have about the Lord, and the ones who are living the peace that passes all understanding.
How do we reflect the glory of the Lord? Does it mean that we have to paste a plastic smile on our faces all the time and pretend that we feel something that we don’t? Does it mean that if we don’t have the peace that passes all understanding that there is something wrong or deficient in us? As Paul would say, by no means! This is when we have to remember that in this passage Paul was talking directly to the Corinthians. They were flawed, just like we are flawed. They were growing and learning about what they should do, and they had severe growing pains. God transformed, transfigured, or sanctified them, making them more holy, more like Christ. We also have learning and growing to do. (You see, I am inspired by the Early Church. Not, because they had everything figured out, but rather because they clearly did NOT, and Paul still called them “saints.”)
So, we reflect the glory of the Lord, not just to the outside world, but also to each other, to encourage each other.
Paul shows us that the veil is removed when we turn toward the Lord. Through the Spirit we are in God’s presence ourselves. Right here. Right now. We absorb God’s glory and can reflect it to others, like sunshine reflecting off a window or from a mirror. We are that mirror, and other people in Christ are mirrors for us. However, it seems that we, like Moses, can feel compelled to put the veil over our own faces to hide it from the world. Why?
Like Moses, we may be afraid of making people uncomfortable. We could be afraid that they will be offended by our enthusiasm. People may actually ask us to shield them with a mask or veil. Or, we might be shielding ourselves from what we don’t want to see, the things around us that need the light of God’s glory shined into them, but it’s easier to stay behind our shield. We stay with what is comfortable and familiar. We shield our own eyes from the glory.
Paul tells us to rip the veil off. We have no need of it. We can have confidence and courage to reflect God’s glory wherever we are and with everyone we meet. Our experience with God is supposed to be included in every part of our lives. When we do that, we can know that God is with us every step of the way.
We play a part in our own transformation. Because if we can learn one thing from the Corinthian church, it is that we don’t have to be perfect, to understand things completely, to have all our ducks in a row in order to benefit from the salvation that we receive in Christ. We merely have to know that we are moving forward with Christ, even if it is teeny tiny baby steps, even if we have to hang out in one spot for a while before we are ready to take the next step. We want to shine the light, but we also need to have a healthy dose of humility.
There is this cartoon that I see from time. It is a person at the reception desk of heaven. The pearly gates are in the background, and Peter is there with the book checking the names. He says, “You were a believer, yes, but you skipped the not being a jerk about it part.” There are so many things that are wrong with that cartoon biblically that I’m not even going to begin, but the “not being a jerk about it” is right on the money. The song is “They’ll Know We are Christians by Our Love” not “They’ll Know We are Christians Because We’re Jerks.” We are called to reflect the love of God, to tell the story of how God loves us so much that he mounted this rescue operation to save us from the brokenness of the world, from evil, from death, and God did it by sacrificing … himself, Jesus, and bringing him back in power and glory.
You know when Jesus went up the mountain with Peter, James, and John, he gave them, he gave us, a glimpse of his true glory of his true self when he met with Moses and Elijah.
Luke tells it like this starting at chapter 9 verse 28:
[Jesus] took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
We call this the Transfiguration. Just before this Jesus had told the disciples that he was going to have to suffer, die, and be raised on the third day. He told them that they would suffer as well. Then, Jesus offers the three an opportunity to see for whom they will be suffering. Why didn’t Jesus look like that all the time? Why didn’t he stay that way when he came down from the mountain? It wasn’t time yet. That veil stayed in place until after Jesus’ Resurrection. Now, the veil is no longer necessary.
As we are being transformed, transfigured, to be more Christ-like. We are called to share that love light. Were the Corinthians the ideal image of God’s glory? No, but Paul repeatedly tells us that God has not abandoned them. Nor will God abandon us, despite any missteps that we may take.
Rip off that veil, and let the world see God’s glory reflected through you!