This is the message I shared with St. Timothy and St. Mark's Lutheran churches. The scripture was 2 Corinthians 4:3-6.
Do any of you ever have bad dreams? Sometimes they seem so real, especially when you wake up in a pitch-dark bedroom. The darkness just exacerbates your fear. You begin to imagine all kinds of things. Maybe someone has broken into the house. Maybe there’s a monster hiding under the bed or there’s a ghost hiding in the bedroom closet. Neutral images take on malevolent qualities in the dark.
It is difficult to relax until we have turned on a light. Then we can see clearly—no one with evil intent is standing next to our bed. That large scary image you saw—that was just your dresser and there are no monsters under the bed. And that scary monster under the bed was only the cat. The presence of light informs our perception of the reality of the nightmare threat.
Light makes all the difference. That is what our readings are all about. In the reading from 2 Corinthians, the metaphor of light is used to connect God’s creative power, the gospel message, Christ’s face and the believer’s heart.
God’s creative power is the first thing Paul wants to connect with the metaphor of light. God loves to create. God was creating in the very beginning of time. Light was called into being from darkness. God has continued to create throughout the centuries and he hasn’t stopped yet. God is still creating as his light illuminates the darkness of sin, death and any other broken place in the lives of those he created in his image. And “For it is the God who said, [‘Let there be light,]’ who has shone in our hearts the gift of the … knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Co 4:6 NRS.) The gospel message describes the transfiguration of Jesus which can be called the best image of God the Father that we will ever get. We can see God the Father in Jesus and we can see the Father’s love for creation, but not everyone is able to do so.
Why doesn’t every person see the wonders of God’s love in Christ, which seem so obvious to us? God has changed us and people can see that. It began at our baptism. It is evident in our relationships with God, relationships with each other and our relationships with the community.
We pray and pray for friends and neighbors, co-workers and members of our family, and sometimes it seems like all of our efforts are in vain. There must be something else going on.
According to Paul, people are blinded by the god of this world, who is the devil. Jesus refers to him as the prince of darkness. No, he is not Darth Vadar. Therefore, it is the god of this age who is the problem.
Paul contrasts the devil who spreads darkness with the God of creation who calls light into being. The devil wants to keep people lost in a maze of lies, while our Creator seeks to continually work in our hearts, transforming us daily into Christ’s image.
For Paul, God the Creator is not an abstract force or principle or even a supreme being, but the One who has personified himself and is met personally in Christ. This is the beauty of the incarnation.
Is Paul directing his words to those who are distinctly outside the community of faith or those within? I have to answer, “Yes.” Sometimes we are the ones that act like unbelievers when we forget the many ways God has shown us his faithfulness. We think it is our effort and strength that accomplishes the growth of God’s kingdom when God is the one at work. It is telling that Paul does not identify the people he is writing about as he has on other occasions. Whoever they are is not as important as the character of God and the gospel.
Paul now connects the “face of Christ” to the metaphor of light. Jesus Christ is the human face of God. We confess this profound truth each time we profess our faith with the words of the Apostles’ and the Nicene Creed. It is more than the fact that there is a family resemblance between Jesus and his Father. Jesus is God almighty who comes to us in a way we can understand. After all, Jesus did tell his disciples that if they have seen him, they have seen the Father.
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. One of the symbols representative of that holiday is hearts. As we grow up, we think romantic, gushy thoughts and often make elaborate plans to celebrate with our sweethearts. In our society, the idea of the heart is connected with our feelings. This was not the case in biblical times. Then the heart was understood as the center of planning, willing and acting—not feeling.
In the beginning, God spoke light into being. He called it forth from the darkness. God has also acted to create light in believer’s hearts and God continues to do so. Creation is not only an event in the past, but a reality we can experience in the present as God works in our lives. The United Church of Christ expresses this in their tagline, “Don’t put a period where God has put a comma.”
We all have dark places in our lives into which we need to let God’s light shine. They may be places of hurt that need healing, brokenness that needs restoration, sin that God’s light needs to expose for repentance and wholeness. It may even be a place of insecurity that God’s light can transform into confidence.
Not one of us is off the hook when it comes to needing God’s creative light in our lives. After all, as Luther wrote, we are all “simultaneously saints and sinners.”
The story of the Transfiguration has so many layers to it. The Father’s words are reminiscent of Jesus’ baptism, which is why we started our service today with Thanksgiving for Baptism.
Someone from the Taize Christian community in France describes the power of the transfiguration:
…as the celebration of that presence of Christ which takes charge of everything in us and transfigures even that which disturbs us about ourselves. God penetrates those hardened, incredulous, even disquieting regions within us, about which we really do not know what to do. God penetrates them with the life of the Spirit and acts upon those regions and gives them God's own face." —Kathryn Spink, A Universal Heart, Harper & Row, 1986
When I read the profiles for both St. Timothy’s and St. Mark’s, I got very excited. You understand what it means to serve your neighbors here and overseas. Beyond simple understanding, you take action and do it. You are focused on God and your neighbors rather than yourselves.
Everything changes as God works to make us more like Jesus. God does not do this to just to make us feel better. Our fellowship with God in prayer and in scripture reading, in worship and in community building is enhanced as we grow in grace. This affects not only us personally, but our church as well. We are the church that follows the voice of God wherever and however he leads. As we become more Christ like as a church, we will have a greater impact in our community.
Craddock, Fred B.; Boring, M. Eugene Boring (2010-01-25). The People's New Testament Commentary (p. 549). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
Gail Ramshaw, Sundays and Seasons
Carla Works, workingpreacher.org