Luke 9: 28-36 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
2 Corinthians 3: 12-4:2 March 3, 2019
“And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
Prayer: May our faces shine with the glory of your Spirit, O Holy God. Amen.
A man named Alan Naiman from the state of Washington was known for being ridiculously thrifty. He drove beat up old cars. He fixed his shoe laces with duct tape. He sought deals at the deli at closing time. He also took on additional jobs to supplement his income. When he died last year, he left behind —wait for it—an $11 million dollar estate. Who knew? No one. Not even his best friends knew he accumulated such a substantial wealth.
When he died, not only did the great unveiling of his wealth take place, but what was also revealed was that the money was to benefit children’s charities for poor, sick, and disabled kids. Turns out that Alan Naiman never married, was without children, but he had a disabled older brother. His life experiences with his brother made him aware of special needs children, and undoubtedly influenced his decision to give the money away to benefit needy kids (“Thrifty to be Generous”, ABC News, December 28, Century Marks, Christian Century, January 30, 2019, p. 8).
That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? Something like a veil came off of Alan Nainman’s friend’s understanding, and the greater truth about Alan was revealed. Once they saw the more complete truth about himundoubtedly, they will never be able to think of him in the same old way again.
Well, a great truth was unveiled about Jesus when thinking about his transfiguration. Up to this point in his ministry, everyone close to Jesus knew he was something special. He had done some pretty incredible things. But who knew he was THAT special? When heavenly light surrounded him, filled him, made him glow, and the great members of Jewish Hall of Fame, Moses and Elijah showed up and were talking with him, it was a great unveiling of who God really is in Jesus Christ. And, I bet something like a veil was lifted from the disciple’s minds, and the deeper truth about Jesus’ true identity was unveiled. They were never able to think of Jesus in the same old way again, either.
And from that point on , Jesus’ ministry moved to Jerusalem, to accomplish and unveil God’s greatest plan for humanity - the plan of salvation for the human race.
Paul is writing to the new Christians in Corinth, and he wants these new believers never to look at their faith in the same way again once they turn to Christ. He uses the imagery that in turning to Christ, a veil is lifted from their minds. And, they get transformed—they see the glory of the Lord in themselves. They move from following the old covenantal law of the 10 commandments that was given to them in a glorious way (think Cecil B. DeMille style with the finger of God writing the commandments into stone by fire) to the greater glory of the new covenant by following Christ. And, all this transformation all comes from the power of Spirit.
The problem that Paul faced and Jesus faced before him was that the law grew to become its own god [with a little “g”.] The religious culture of his day said that you had better follow “The Law,” (which was the Torah—first five books of the Bible), and it was at your own peril, if you didn’t. In fact, in the verses just prior to the passage I read (1-11), Paul calls “the law” a “ministry of death” and a “ministry of condemnation” because it was so punitive. If you broke certain laws found in the first 5 books of the Bible, the punitive measure was death by capital punishment, which is exactly what happened to Jesus and then he became entangled in a political mess leading to his execution.
The law did not have respect for people’s humanity or injustice against humanity. Instead, the law was supreme... and lifeless, cold and exacting. Yet, the establishment worshipped it. They idolized it. They made the law more significant than God.
But, Paul believed that Christ died and rose again, conquered death, and transformed the old covenantal law into a new covenant. It’s a covenant of love. It’s a covenant of freedom. It’s a covenant that calls for a new way, a change in old living patterns. For Paul’s believers, and for us, the work of the Spirit unveils God’s truth about people… that in God people are holy. In God there is freedom to be who you are. So we are encouraged to see people as sacred, holy, created in God’s image. Does the great unveiling come when we are willing to be affected by that? By having God in our hearts something like a veil is lifted? God’s word in our conscience?
I want to share an understanding of Christianity from our earliest days but is not taught enough and is critical for our day. I believe that the great unveiling of the new covenant reveals that the old covenant is superseded by Jesus. I think that means that the laws found in the Torah take second place to what Jesus teaches. To be followed, they must fit with what Jesus teaches and practices. Even Paul’s words are second to Jesus’ word. In other words, just because some prohibition is found somewhere in the Bible doesn’t make it the highest authoritative word. It must meet the test of what Jesus taught—it must fit under loving God, loving others and loving yourself. Then it can be followed and practiced. Jesus’ word trumps all words. He was the Son of God!
Which takes me to the heart-breaking news we heard last week with United Methodist Church’s decision to uphold the ban on same sex marriage and to expel gay pastors and pro-LGBTQ churches. I am saddened by the refusal of the United Methodist Church (National Conference) to welcome all to the table. I worked in two UMC churches during seminary days, and have numerous UMC clergy friends, but I am baffled by the refusal of the larger body to recognize the importance of inclusion.
Is it possible the 56% majority rule have made the laws of the Bible their god and not the God of the Bible? Doesn’t it seem like they are more are more comfortable worshipping the word of God instead of God of the Word? It seems they have made the Methodist Book of Discipline more significant than the Spirit’s transformation of heart mind and spirit. Is there a veil covering the eyes of the 56% in the United Methodist Church?
And the results are nothing short of causing pain and devastation, exclusion and betrayal for many well beyond the 44%. I think that what our fellow Christians need is not disenfranchisement from the community of faith but more inclusion and support for inclusion in it.
I received a cartoon the other day that has Jesus speaking to some church folks, each one holding their bibles. Jesus says, “The difference between you and me is that you use scripture to determine what love means, and I use love to determine what scripture means.” Which way should we go? Whom should we follow?
Perhaps the real great unveiling comes when we are willing to be affected in our actions because God’s presence and love are in our heart and God’s word on our conscience? So, my encouragement and love for the United Methodist Church is this: instead of being more comfortable worshiping words, instead of letting the presence of fear and hatred divide, worship the God of Jesus, the God of the new covenant, and engage in the practice of loving ministry that welcomes all. Because Christ welcomes all. And have faith and trust in God’s resurrection and restorative power—it can take you through all the struggles that come with doing the right thing of welcoming all.
That’s also a message to us. I invite us to have faith and trust in God’s resurrection and restorative power.
“We are engaged in this ministry,” says Paul. So are we here at Christ Church. “We do not lose heart,”: says Paul. We don’t lose heart here, either. I invite us to keep listening to Jesus. Let us willingly be transformed, so that we may gaze upon the glory of the Lord “as though reflected in a mirror” and be transformed into the same image. That change within us can produce change around us. May the great unveiling continue to happen to each of us as we are affected by God in our hearts, and God’s word in our consciences. And may we never be the same going forward. Amen.