This sermon owes its structure and content to a sermon on the same texts found in "The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann" (pp. 65ff). While I regularly read sermons and commentaries in preparation for preaching I always find them jumping off points not landing places. In this case, though, I could not imagine a better tribute than to simply borrow Walter's riff on the texts and play it as best as I could. Here are the notes I cribbed and then used in my improvisation ... (thanks Walter!)
Exodus 34:29-35; Luke 9:28-36; II Corinthians 3:12-4:2
*“What is the gospel?” - this is the explicit question we bring to these texts through this season. We are like pilgrims who carry a question into pilgrimage, waiting on God for a response. Today, at this high point in the drama, we are reminded that the gospel is beyond understanding and explanation. There is nothing ordinary about the gospel. It is an incursion into the world, told in these odd stories that are offered to us as our true story:
-The story of Moses who comes down the mountain with two tablets of the Way of life ... but also with his face glowing, changed, transformed because he has been face to face with God. The residue of that encounter persists. God has come in glory and has changed Moses irreversibly.
- The story of Jesus on the mountain with his inner circle of Peter, James and John who watch while Jesus prays, draws close to God in prayer and, in talking with God, becomes radiant with light. Just like Moses. Jesus becomes the place where God’s oddity becomes palpable.
- The story told in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth ... a troubled, struggling church caught up in debates about sexuality and money and leadership, imagine. He writes to remind them that they have at the heart of their life an implosion of God’s glory that reshapes and redefines everything.
* Paul wants to keep the church at Corinth connected to Jesus as the decisive point in their lives. In Jesus the glory of God has touched down in human life. This is so obvious yet so easily forgotten in the church. The church keeps its faith by remembering the decisiveness of Jesus. This is the reason we endlessly tell the Jesus stories. The glory of God in the life of Jesus is this: in Jesus we see all that God intends and wants and acts and asks of us. It is daily, concrete, engaged with hurt, self-giving that heals (hence, not fully known til the cross ... the disciples do not yet fully understand when he is transfigured). The church is called to practice the memory of Jesus in the present tense. When it is present tense we find ourselves always sorting out the empty claims to God’s glory/energy/holiness - God’s power for life. Where does it reside and where is it not present? Because we are endlessly seduced by imagining that the glory is to be found in our technology, in our brightness, achievement, power, loveliness, fitness. It is found in the face and body and life and story of the one who suffers in and with and for the world. Holiness met in Jesus is suffering that heals.
* Paul notices that when the church stays close to the God met in Jesus it begins to radiate, to reflect the glory of God. He utters this odd Greek word “metamorphisis” - “changed form” (II Cor 3:18). Being changed. Being altered. Made different. Or, as Charles Wesley puts it in “Love Divine, all Loves Excelling”: “Changed from glory into glory”. Paul is saying that our deepest yearning as God’s creatures is to want to be with God and to know God. He portrays the church as a mirror, reflecting God's glory ... yet it is
a mirror that is changed in the process. Like Moses and Jesus it, too,
is transfigured by the experience. He is saying that the Christian life consists in living close enough to God, being attentive enough to God that the presence of God over time, through time changes us, heals us, makes us whole, makes us more like God’s own self. The church consists in those who have taken on as their life’s work the staggering possibility of growing congenial to and reflective of God’s own life. But the crucial news is not that we have this hard work to do. The news is that God is at work and we are being acted upon, addressed, cared for, suffered for. “This comes from the Lord, the Spirit”.
* This brings temptations
- to want to be transformed into the dominant images of our society and imagine that it is the gospel - more clever, competent, ambitious, secure. We can be a high-achieving church because we live in a culture of high-achievers but that transformation is not what the gospel is about. It is about embracing our oddity as God’s creatures.
- to imagine that I am all alone and that if there is to be transformation I will have to work at it ... so ten steps to this, six steps to that and four disciplines for the other. Over against all such self-help we are being transformed because God will not quit on us.
- to despair, knowing that in our deepest places we resist change, do not want change, will never be changed. But the news is that we are being changed by the power of God.
But, Paul says, God does not quit, God is not yet done ... so pay attention to the day to day transformative power of God’s glory, God’s holiness.
* This all sounds very self-preoccupied until Paul’s zinger in II Cor 4:1 "Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart". The church is not bent on self-help or well-being or even transformation. It is a community whose very life consists in ministry. God’s holiness is given to Moses, to Jesus, even to us, in order to be engaged in the very large work which belongs to our true identity. Ministry sounds odd, marginal to our life, for someone else. Like some special calling, some particular work. But ministry is the day to day work of bringing more and more of our life under the joy and purpose and power of God. It is to, literally, be in "slavery" to God in Christ for the neighbour and stranger and even enemy. Ministry is not a specialized calling, a category of "church work". It is what life looks like once the veil is removed and we see what God is up to in the world.
“We do not lose heart” ... will not be talked out of our identity and purpose, vocation and vision. Do not lose heart because the work and life is rooted in God’s holiness and driven by God’s Spirit
* what is the gospel in the light of these texts ...
God's glory erupts into the world
God's glory transforms those who see and experience it
God's glory becomes mercy for ministry
This is beyond understanding and explanation ... so receive the stories and consider ... it is the story of our life. Do not lose heart. God has not quit and will not until our life is joyously reflective of God’s own life. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ (II Cor 3:4).