A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr B ~ Transfiguration ~ 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
It’s Transfiguration Sunday, but that’s not the story we’ll be focusing on today – well, not directly anyway. Jesus’ transfiguration is about how Jesus goes off to a secluded, quiet place in order to pray, and while he’s in the midst of his prayer-time God’s Presence becomes palpable and really real to him, and God’s light shines in and through Jesus in a spectacular way. Jesus is transfigured, transformed, changed. Why? Because God’s light shone in and through him.
That’s the usual reading for this week – but instead we’ll be focusing on the accompanying scripture from 2 Corinthians 4:3-6. The 2nd Corinthians reading is all about how that very same light shines in and through us. You and me.
That’s not a bad sermon right there – that the same light (the same Love) that lit up Jesus lights up us.
But I’ve got another 18 minutes to fill so I have to keep talking!
The Corinthians reading has lots of juicy stuff for just 4 verses of scripture. It starts by talking about things being veiled, then it talks about how what it calls the ‘gods of this world’ are preventing people from experiencing God’s Presence, and hardening people’s hearts. And then it asks a couple of uncomfortable questions of us.
What are we going to do about lifting that veil and softening those hearts? Both for ourselves and others?
And just what is it we’re preaching anyway? (And it doesn’t just mean me – it means all of us!)
Listen to the first two verses of today’s reading again: 2 Corinthians 4:3-4
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
The Greek word that usually gets translated as ‘blinded’ here can also be translated as ‘hardened.’ I like that way better!
So, instead of saying ‘the god of this world has blinded the minds of some people’ the phrase could easily be translated as ‘the god of this world has hardened the minds of some people’.
I don’t know if you’ve experienced people with ‘blinded minds’ – but I guarantee you’ve had more than your share of folks with ‘hardened minds’. There is a palpable hardness in the world these days – a meanness that I don’t remember existing before – and it’s not just because we’re all grumpy from Covid-fatigue. It feels like hyper-individualism, greed, intransigence, my-way-or-the-highway thinking, and just plain thoughtlessness has taken over. If you want a prime example just read some online comments on the internet, or watch some of the opinion-based news programs. They are absolutely vicious.
But it certainly isn’t new.
A couple thousand years ago Paul called it ‘the god of this world’. All those examples of meanness and hardness that I just mentioned, and the dozens of examples that you have to deal with every day in your own life, are the product of what happens when the (small g) ‘god of this world’ takes precedence over the (capital G) God that we describe as Holy Mystery.
So what is the ‘god of this world?’
Sadly, not just one thing that we could identify and deal with.
And it’s certainly not some malevolent, red-suited character going around poking people with his pitchfork making them mean and turning them against one another. I suppose if that imagery helps you you should use it, but I don’t see it that way.
The ‘god of this world’ isn’t an external being that is trying to lead you astray.
The ‘god of this world’ is much nastier and much more cunning than that.
The ‘god of this world’…..is you.
The ‘god of this world’ holds sway when we put anything other than the Holy Mystery we call God – Love – at the centre of our lives.
The ‘god of this world’ isn’t Satan/Devil; it’s selfishness – self-interest – ego – that expresses itself through consumerism, and materialism, and ambition, and privilege.
The ‘god of this world,’ as Paul puts it, is certainly not the Holy Mystery that nudges us toward wholeness and abundant life through inner spiritual transformation.
The god of this world – our self-centred ego – is what hardens us, and veils God’s light.
This is why the transfiguration story that we celebrate today is so powerful. This is why the idea of an inner light that Christianity (and other religions) promotes is so enticing.
It’s because real, inner transformation changes everything.
Real, inner transformation puts the lie to the impossible air-brushed fantasy world that modern society wants us to buy into.
Real, inner transformation is the process of lifting the veil from God’s light that is within you, waiting to shine.
Jesus goes up a mountain with three trusted friends and has a spiritual experience that is so powerful that God’s light seems to be beaming out of every pore in his body.
He is aglow with God’s presence.
He’s lit up by God’s presence within.
The same thing happened to the disciples on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit moved within them and they burst into the street to share their light – to shine.
And the same thing is said to have happened to Moses when he had powerful experiences of God’s presence. In fact, Moses had to wear a veil because the light emanating from him was so powerful.
Let’s talk about this idea of being veiled.
To be veiled is different from being hidden.
To be veiled suggests that you can see some of the thing, but some is obscured. So it’s not out of sight and forgotten about – it’s perceivable and experienceable, it’s just not clear.
God’s presence and light within us (and around us, and beyond us) is always palpably present – we can always access it and embrace it – we just usually choose to ignore it.
Or maybe we haven’t been shown how to perceive it!
Or been told that embracing that waiting Love is the whole point!
Here’s the thing: Moses’ mountaintop experience, Jesus’ transfiguration, the disciples’ Pentecost experience – these are not just historic events that happened to great biblical heroes to show us how great they are.
These are examples for us to follow.
These are archetypes – models.
This is how it’s supposed to be for each and every one of us who chooses to follow the Way of Jesus.
Being transfigured – opening yourself to God’s presence and allowing the veil to fall away revealing the dazzling light of the Holy Spirit which transforms you, and enlightens you, and empowers you – that’s what we’re all personally invited to experience.
We are transformed for a reason – for a purpose – and that purpose is to shine!
If all we did with our inner glow was to sit with it and feel good about ourselves we’d not really be shining at all – we’d still be ruled by the god of this world – our ego.
God’s light can’t just shine in us and for us, God’s light must shine through us or it just becomes veiled again – and we’d be the veil!
Ouch. That’s a nasty thought, isn’t it?
What if we’re the veil?
What if we’re the ones preventing others from perceiving God’s Sacred Presence?
(For clarity, I’m using the broadest meaning of ‘we’ – as in Christians in general – the Church.)
If we (the Church) are really transforming via God’s light, and shining on everyone and everything we meet, then how come there’s still racism in churches?
How come there’s still antipathy toward LGBTQ2S+ persons? Only around 8% of United Churches are Affirming. Why not 100%? And what about other denominations?
How come Indigenous spirituality is still being discounted and disrespected in so many places?
(Just because we don’t necessarily see some of these things doesn’t mean they aren’t happening – in churches! Trust me, sadly they are!)
And just as we’re in the middle of stretching out our arms to pat ourselves on the backs because of how enlightened we are we might think about pausing and remembering that we surely have our own hardened minds – our own so-called ‘blind spots’ about many things.
Let me paraphrase today’s scripture reading:
If our message of God’s Presence is veiled, it is veiled to those who are struggling.
The ‘gods of this world’ – like privilege – has hardened their hearts (our hearts!), keeping them from perceiving the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
We do not proclaim ourselves (as paragons of virtue); we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake.
For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
So, what’s the remedy for veiled, hardened hearts?
In a nutshell – we are called to shine.
The darkness is the hardened world, and we are not ‘above’ it – yet we are the light – so let it shine.
So why aren’t ‘they’ listening?
Why aren’t they responding?
I mean, we’re here shining as best we can. (And I know you are!)
Why does it seem like churches are losing ground and no one except us seems to care about this stuff?
Maybe it’s because instead of ‘shining’ on people the Church has spent too much time ‘shining on’ people! It’s a little play on words. That phrase – to ‘shine someone on’ – means to mislead, or ignore, or pass by someone.
I don’t know about you, but I remember growing up thinking that Moses, and Jesus, and all those bible people did all the spiritual stuff and my job was just to be a good citizen.
Stuff like transfiguration – being immersed in God’s Sacred Presence and having that light fill you up and then emanate out of every pore of your transformed self – well, that stuff happened to them, way back then – not to me, here and now.
Even though so much scripture says it’s actually also all about you and me.
Nope, for some inexplicable reason we shined people on and downplayed all that personal spiritual formation stuff.
It’s no wonder the message is veiled and hard to perceive – it hasn’t exactly been among our primary talking points.
So again, what shall we do – we who are lit up and transfigured by God’s holy light, and are looking for ways to shine?
How does one speak to a hardened, hostile world?
Do we have anything to say to those for whom the gospel is veiled by their version of the god of this world?
But how shall we say it?
How shall we shine?
It’s actually not hard at all – if we’re willing to risk it.
We just need to do it – out loud.
What if the way to soften a hardened world is to shine?
What if the way to challenge the meanness of the world is to be kind?
What if the way to undo the greediness of the world is to be generous?
What if the way to combat cynicism is by being compassionate?
What if the way to unseat the god of this world is to let the (capital G) God who has shone in our hearts to shine unashamedly and blazingly through our lives revealing the glory of God and the unmatchable peace and beauty that awakening to that light brings?
That’s the way Jesus did it.
One relationship at a time.
One conversation at a time.
One act of random kindness at a time.
Will people fall all over themselves to embrace our light? Probably not! We’ll probably get the cold shoulder more often than the warm embrace. Jesus got crucified for shining.
It’s not an easy path.
But for those who are transfigured and transformed by the holy light of God’s presence within them there can be no other path.
Find your mountaintop.
Open yourself to God’s Holy Presence.
Allow God’s Spirit to lift the veil and reveal the light that is beyond, around, and most definitely within you.
Bask in the glow of that light as it transforms you from the inside out.
And shine on!