“The Spirit leads to Freedom”
2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2, February 7th 2016
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
One of the reasons I chose the passage that I did this morning was to avert having to talk about the Transfiguration of Jesus, which is contained in the Gospel of Luke chapter 9, verses 28-43. However, as I got into this morning’s scripture, from the Apostle Paul’s letter, I realized that these two verses go hand in hand in helping us to fully understand what it means to be ‘transformed’ by the Living Spirit of God, thus granting us the freedom that being a ‘Spirit filled’ people entails. Therefore, I think it’s imperative that we do talk about the gospel passage for a moment, and in order to that I need to read to you the passage.
“Jesus, went up on the mountain to pray, taking with him Peter and John and James. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men: Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. The disciples saw all this and just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” /Luke 9:28-43/
What is truly important for us to ‘take’ from this passage, is to come to understand what we need to do, what it takes, in order to transform our understanding of Jesus. We need to change our way of looking at our God, and change ourselves and our very lives so that we can see Jesus in his glory; as sitting at the right hand of God; our Risen Savior, The Christ Child. We need to see more clearly, the One with the Power of the Living Spirit, our Deity, our Master and yes: our Nobel Lord. We need to see, unmistakably, that it is through the Living Spirit of Christ that we shall receive the freedom we seek, the salvation and redemption that Christianity itself proclaims and offers to us. Through transformation we let go, we release all authority and control over to our God.
With this as an introduction we can now start to look at our scripture and interpreted more easily its meaning. Let’s start at the very heart of this, chapter 3, verse 17 in the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. “Now (our God in Christ) is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of (our God through Christ) is, there is freedom.” Once we fully grasp this verse then we shall fully embrace that which Paul first introduces to us. “Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness.” /2 Cor. 3:12a/ Paul is speaking of the boldness it takes to fully embrace a transformed understanding of God; a God that comes to be with us in the Spirit, in the flesh. This is very different than the Old Testament teachings surrounding Moses. “Moses, who put a veil over his face.” /verse 2 Cor. 12b/ What this means is that Moses hid the presence of God from the people, with a veil over his face, and a shroud (a cover) between them and the Ark of the Covenant, where they believed the Living God dwelt, for it contained the two stone tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, thought to have been inscribed by the very hand of God. Paul speaks about the new freedom, through the Spirit of the Living God that drops the veil, drops the shroud, and puts us face to face with the Living and Risen Christ. From this Paul declares that we are transformed, as surely as Jesus was revealed as transformed in the presence of Moses and Elijah to his disciples.
So, what does all this mean to us today?
It means “we do not lose heart!” /2 Cor. 4:16a/ God is with us. We are not alone! “By the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.” /verse4:2/ What truth? The truth is our witness to the ‘still speaking God’ in our midst. The truth that has been declared in the openness we celebrate with all people, no matter who they are, where they come from, nor the color of their skin nor their sexual orientation for starters! No, we cannot lose heart! Lives are being changed, transformed, even as I speak! The ministry of this faith community is transformative and revolutionary! Some of us may be thinking we have won the war – now let us celebrate! No, we have only won a battle or two. The war between bigotry, racism, intolerance, narrow-mindedness and hatred – fueled by jealousy and fear is still raging!
Frederick Buechner, a pastor and writer puts forth this analogy. “By believing against all odds and loving against all odds, that is how we are to let Jesus show in the world and to transform the world.” As we are about to enter into the season of lent, we need to be vigilant to our devotion to Christ. Jesus came into the world to transform the world. We are the extension of the full bodily ministry of our Risen and still empowering God! We cannot, we must not back off or back down now! If you think the news is hard to hear, as you turn on your television sets now, try to imagine what it would be like if we did not continue to follow the teachings of a loving, compassionate and caring ‘Personality’ such as the ‘Living Spirit of Christ’!
We may be a small church, very much like a high percentage of United Church of Christ churches having 200 or less members; yet, we are part of a larger church. Not quite a hundred strong here in Florida, yet, nationally: “At the end of 2014, there were just under 5,100 (5,062) active congregations in the United Church of Christ, with a total of just under one million (943,521) members.” /UCC Statistical Profile, pg. 2/ Against all odds, the United Church of Christ continues to make a difference in our communities and has continued to be a leader in regards to standing up for the marginalized! We can be proud of these facts, as surely and indisputably, Jesus always sided with those whom society had pushed aside!
Yes indeed, these scripture lessons we have been discussing, lead us toward the season of lent. And Lent will lead us to that last journey of Jesus into Jerusalem. We shall come face to face with the conflict between the teachings of Jesus and the violent injustice of the Twenty-First Century in which we live. Very much like what the disciples experienced in the time of the Roman Empire and the journey that led to the crucifixion of an innocent man. To these truths, we must not be silent! Every time we come together as a church… standing up for what we have come to believe is the truth, with compassion and a sense of clarity in our hearts, we need to cling to the knowledge that the ministry of Christ is in this place! “We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.” /2 Corinthians 4:2/
Barbara Brown Taylor, a highly respected writer and preacher, an Episcopal priest puts forth a very riveting comment. “Later, when they (meaning the disciples) saw that shining face (the face of Jesus, their teacher and leader) bloodied and spat upon, those dazzling clothes torn into rags – I’ll bet they had to rethink what that glory (the transfiguration) was all about.” I remember the first time I heard this woman preach! She was our keynote speaker at a preaching convention I was privileged to attend in Nashville Tennessee a few years back. She impressed me as a powerful speaker; she didn’t hold back at all. She charged the six thousand preachers like myself, whom were present, from every denomination of Christianity, to become emboldened when we preach. She charged us all to tell you the truth about ‘what’ we have come to know the scriptures say; not just ‘what’ we think our congregations want us to say! Her message here is a harsh reminder that walking with Jesus, following his teachings, is not always going to be easy.
A lot of us feel really good about our faith by the time our worship service ends each Sunday. Then we step out into the light of our human realities. Turn on the nightly news, read the news headlines on Google or Yahoo, or just pull into that next traffic jam. How are we to hold onto some of these good feelings from our Sunday mornings together? What does it take to have faith, a faith that will carry us through, the next time a situation comes up in our lives? How will we embrace the Spirit of the Living God so that once again we will experience the freedom we so yearn for? The answer, it is as simple as what we are told that the ‘voice’ from heaven ‘said’ to the three disciples that day: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” /Luke 9:43/ As we journey into and through Lent let us strive to seek out and listen to the teachings of Jesus!
Do you have things that keep you awake at night; things that lay heavy on your heart? What is it that finally allows you to drop off to sleep? Is it shear exhaustion? Or is it your ability to finally clear your mind and your heart, long enough to simple ask God ‘to grant you some peace’? Are you able to then turn your troubles and care over to the “Spirit of God”? We’re talking about that spiritual presence of God that you feel in your heart. We are speaking of the whisper of God’s gently caress that comes to you as you fall fast asleep. From B.W. Johnson’s Bible commentary we read: “Luke adds the fact that Jesus went into the mountain to pray; that as he prayed, he was transfigured; that the fashion of his countenance was altered.” We cannot possibly enter into the season of lent without prayer! We shall not move through that next situation, that next awkward moment – if we don’t allow our God to carry some of the burden for us! We must make time to pray! If you do not have a time in your day, set aside for prayer, I strongly urge you to make time!
“Let us now open our ears, as-well-as our hearts, as we listen now to these words from the New Testament letter, Second Corinthians, chapter:3 verses: 12-4:2”
2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2
Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside.
But their minds were hardened.
Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside.
Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
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. Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.
We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
“Allow God to touch our hearts and minds, as we seek out and look for a deeper and more meaningful understanding of these ancient writings.”