Transformation #2 – The United Churches
May 7, 2017
2 Corinthians 3:12-18
…all of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
I’m sure out of context that this scripture reading makes no sense at all. I am deeply acquainted with this scripture because we studied it in high school youth group. I’m sure that seems curious as well. I was part of one of those mega youth groups in high school. We had a youth choir of 150 kids. Each year during spring break we would go on a choir tour and perform for churches throughout California. On this particular year, we performed a Cantata by John Fischer called “The New Covenant.” In addition to learning the music, our pastor led us through Bible Studies of all of the related passages that the music made reference to.
The new covenant. That is something that we talk about on communion Sundays like this when we talk about the cup. “This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood” we say as we quote Jesus. I wonder what you think when you hear these words: New Covenant. What do they mean to you? Even in verse three of this chapter in this letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes “you shall know that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” Verse 4 goes on “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God, who has made us confident ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
The story that is referenced about Moses in this passage by Paul comes to us from Exodus 34:30. This is when Moses comes down Mt. Sinai for the second time with the tablets of stone that hold the commandments. You may remember the stories of his first trip up the mountain. That was a few chapters back when Moses went to the mountain top to receive instructions from God. Exodus 31:18 concludes with “When God had finished speaking with Moses on Mt. Sinai, God gave him two tablets of the covenant, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” Ta Da! I can just picture Moses making his way down the mountain with the precious cargo, only to find that God’s people, overcome with anxiety over Moses’ long absence had, under the leadership of Moses’ second in command Aaron made a golden calf to worship instead.
He lugs down these stones, covered with the hand writing of God from the mountain top and encounters a huge calf worshipping party with singing, dancing and frivolity. He blew a rod. Seriously he did. He threw down the stones, threw the golden calf into the fire, ground it down to powder, put it into water and made the Israelites drink it. Kind of an abusive dad move if you ask me. After a plague on the people and some repentance, Moses heads back up the mountain. God again makes a covenant with the people of Israel, and again Moses comes back down the mountain with two tablets of the covenant in his hands and one very shiny face. (Exod 34:29) Moses didn’t realize that his face was shining, because he had been talking to God, but the people were afraid to come near him. I think it was probably being forced to drink the ground up golden calf myself. But, after telling the group what God had said, Moses put a veil over his face. The veil came off when Moses was talking to or for God and the veil went right back on afterwards.
So here in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth he urges the believers to look toward the new covenant instituted by Christ at the last supper that he shared with his disciples. Paul tells them that Moses eventually wore the veil over his face so that God’s people wouldn’t see that the shininess was fading away.
Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite theologians, in his book Beyond Words describes the two covenants in this way:
The Old Covenant, is the old agreement that was arrived at between God and Israel at Mt. Sinai with Moses presiding. “I shall be your God and you shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:12) sums it up-that is, if you obey God’s commandments, God will love you.
The “New Covenant,” is the new agreement that was arrived at by God alone in an upstairs room in Jerusalem with Jesus presiding. Jesus sums it up by raising his wine and saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Corinthians 11:25).
Perhaps like Moses, Jesus believed that if you follow God’s commands, God will love you, but here Jesus is saying something more than that. He is saying if you don’t obey God, that doesn’t mean that God won’t love you. It means simply that God’s love becomes a suffering love: a love that suffers because it is not reciprocated, a love that suffers because we who are loved suffer and suffer precisely in our failure to reciprocate. By giving us the cup to drink, Jesus is saying that in loving us God “bleeds” for us. God keeps God’s part of the covenant whether we keep our part or not; it’s just that one way costs God more.
The old covenant was written in stone. The new covenant is written on human hearts. It is flesh and blood and transformation. It lives and breathes and grows and changes. The new covenant is alive. We are the people of the new covenant, we are confident ministers of the Spirit that gives life. So we don’t have to hide behind veils. We don’t have to worry about glory fading, or try to look good enough for God or for one another. We can stand as we are, naked in our foibles and failings, completely loved. My favorite verse in today’s reading is verse 18: “all of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
How can we look at one another with unveiled faces and see the glory of the Lord in each other and in ourselves? Especially since we like our veils. We might be best with our veils on Sunday mornings. Perhaps like Moses, we want others to think that we feel fabulously amazing and have on that particular veil, so that we won’t have to be vulnerable with each other. Perhaps we veil our real selves in our most intimate relationships, hoping that our partner won’t see that side of ourselves that we are ashamed of. Perhaps we just can’t gaze at the unveiled face of another because they have some habit that annoys us. We don’t want to figure out why, or what we might learn about ourselves from their unveiled face. We just want to pass judgement and run away. How can we stand without our veils and look, really look at the glory of one another. Removing our veils and being vulnerable leads to our transformation the scripture reminds us.
In the last couple of years, I have read every book written by Brene Brown. Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, as well as the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. She has spent the past twelve years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Can you imagine that someone studies vulnerability as something that should be embraced? If you feel like you have limited time to learn about her work, I urge you to watch her TED talk: The Power of Vulnerability. She says this about embracing her own vulnerability: “Vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. I was raised in a “get ‘er done” and “suck it up” family and culture (very Texan, German-American). The tenacity and grit part of that upbringing has served me, but I wasn’t taught how to deal with uncertainty or how to manage emotional risk. I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few. Learning how to be vulnerable has been a street fight for me, but it’s been worth it.”
Love, belonging, trust, joy, creativity…these are the gifts of being vulnerable. As we exercise our bravery to remove our veils and open ourselves to another, love and trust grows. You find greater compassion for yourselves and others. Your heart is transformed from “one degree of glory to another.”
This is why instead of giving us something cast in stone, Christ invites us as a community of equals around a table so that we might show up here, remove our veils, risking vulnerability as we break bread together. We are transformed by opening ourselves to one another. “all of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror.
Go and shine.