2 Corinthians 5:14-21 • Transfiguration Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert • 15 February 2015
As Scott Simon of NPR said, These last several weeks have been wrenching as we hear about hostages killed by the group that calls itself the Islamic State, and learn about the extraordinary people we have lost: humanitarian workers, independent journalists, people who chose to put themselves in one of the most dangerous spots on earth in hope that they might do something needed and good.
For me there was that feeling of too-close-to-home when three Muslim students were killed in Chapel Hill, where our Catherine and Taylor live. Catherine’s roommate had just been admitted to the same dental school, where Deah Barakat was and where his wife would have been Stephanie’s classmate. These students had planned to go to Turkey to give dental care to Syrian refugees.
David Klement sent me the letter that Kayla Mueller, the aid worker whose death was confirmed this week, sent her family last spring during her captivity by ISIS. It is hard to imagine the conditions under which she may have written. She had been a prisoner for about 9 months, but tells her family that she's safe and well-treated; she doesn't want them to worry. You will be amazed by the huge spirit and soul of a young woman who is already giving the gift of her life to the service of others.
"I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free," Kayla Mueller writes. "I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it. I pray each each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness + surrender to God as well + have formed a bond of love + support amongst one another ... Thank you, Kayla, for teaching us about surrendering to God, while giving of yourself.
Bearing the hurt of other people without retaliation is the hardest part of becoming like Jesus Christ, because it often involves being misunderstood. This is real love, not just the sentimentality we often read in Hallmark cards. This is transfiguration, transformed, becoming. This is what Paul speaks of to the Corinthians. Listen for voice of the Spirit speaking to her church:
2 Corinthians 5:14-21
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Gandhi was right when he said that the Christians are often not much like the Christ. But it does not have to be so. We are becoming.
Seems to me that we cannot become who we are meant to be without first having a profound sense of belonging. You belong to God who loves you. If you’ve had strong bonds of love in friends and family, you will find it easier to know your secure belonging with God. If you haven’t had dependable family and friends, then you need to know it even more that God loves you with an everlasting love and that there is absolutely nothing that can take that away. I hope you get that message here every week at the baptismal font. You do belong here. When you exchange the peace of Christ, you are telling others that they belong too. And if any of you are thinking that there’s anyone who does not belong here, then I would wonder if you have really comprehended the grace of God. All God’s children belong here, even those who do not know they are God’s children. Even the ones who kill God’s children are still God’s children. Paul himself persecuted the early Christians.
Paul said to the Corinthians, “The love of Christ urges us on.” He had been picked apart by some in the Corinthian congregation, who thought that his weaknesses (his thorn in the flesh) got in the way of his ministry.
How many times have you been told implicitly or explicitly that you did not measure up? Most of us, if we are honest, have a nagging fear of not measuring up. So some of us work extra hard and others of us hardly work – but no matter which way we go with it, it’s all about the fear of not measuring up.
The scripture says, Because of Christ, we look at no one from a human point of view. So what point of view do we have, if it is not human? We look at them from a divine point of view. You are precious in God’s sight. That’s the divine point of view and ours– no matter your gender, your skin-color, your sexual orientation, your appearance, your background, your wealth, your success, your emotional or mental state of being. No matter who has rejected you, no matter how deeply you despise yourself, the real truth about all people (as well as cats and dogs – ask someone who came to Movie Night) is that we belong to God who loves us. We all belong to God, who loves us, and so we love one another. And that love transfigures or changes us.
Bob Donaldson sent me a collection of touching pieces of life well-lived. One was the story of a firefighter who had a woman rush up and give him a big hug in a convenience store. He could not figure out what was going on until she said, “You are the one who carried me to safety out of the twin towers.” Love changes us. Being rescued changes us. Christ’s love has changed the world. God so loved the world that God changed the world. There is a new creation and we who see it, are called to keep this ministry of showing the reconciling/ peacemaking love of God that changes people. So we belong to this love and we are called to believe it, which really means to trust that it is true (not just with our mind or heart) but to make decisions that demonstrate our trust in it.
You see, people really misunderstand the word “believe.” Many people think that belief is like a light bulb of comprehension being turned on – an “aha” moment when everything suddenly makes sense. No, it doesn’t make sense. It just is. God’s love is so amazing that you only begin to believe it as you make decisions based on it. To believe is to trust enough to love. It helps belief if our sense of belonging is not ruptured by rigid rules about who is in and who is out. Believing comes easier when you see that belonging just is because of who God is.
I find it fascinating in this text that Paul says God through Christ reconciled us – past tense – done deal, and has given us the message of reconciliation. (present perfect – which means started in the past and still going) Then, to emphasize it the breadth and scope of this news, Paul says, God was reconciling the whole world, not counting anything against anybody, and entrusting this message of reconciliation to us. So, be reconciled to God. You are made right with God, so be right with God. You do belong to God, so believe it. Breathe into it, trust it. Operate out of that place of ultimate security.
Richard Rohr, in the book Chip Schaaff recently gave me,Immortal Diamond, says that we must discover our true Self, as we relinquish the false self that we use to prop ourselves up. I just love the Oscar Wilde quote and would like every teen in this church to hear this well, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” The false self is not bad as much as it is bogus, according to Rohr. It is not as sinful as it is simple and short-sighted. The false self is not able to go the distance of life with us. We have to die to all that falseness so we can live in the realness of life eternal. That’s what Paul means when he says, “One has died for all. Therefore all have died.” “What?” You might say. “I have not died!” But yes, you have, or at least you are the process of dying. You can rail against it or you can accept it, and grow into it. The sooner you get on with dying to falseness and living into the real love of Christ, the more you will find eternal life. Christ died for all so that we might not live for ourselves but for others. You cannot live for others, without understanding first how completely you are loved. When you get that, when see that you have not earned God’s love with your success or even your spiritual behavior, then you can discover the Christ-like love that empowers you to love others.
The more we do that, the more we shine with the light of Christ. That’s why the Gospel lesson for today, with which we opened our service, speaks of Christ’s appearance becoming dazzling white, brighter than bleach. This is not something that can be faked. This is what happens when we are completely connected to the truth of who we are created to be. We become shining lights of God’s love. Sometimes we have to discard a lot of masks and costumes. We have to stop doing cover opposites. You know what those are? It’s when someone asks you how you are and you are feeling bad but you smile and say, “great!” If you are doing cover opposites all the time, please find someone you trust to tell the truth.
We have to set aside fake identities so we can just become who we really are with the grace, peace and love of Christ burning inside us.
All the messages that tear us down -- that tell us we are bad, unworthy, unlovable, lazy, incapable, stupid, ugly, old, weak, useless -- fade into the background. All the messages that puff us up – that we are beautiful, successful, busy, wealthy, popular, responsible, spiritual, and hard-working -- fall away eventually too. They don’t matter because the light of Christ in us is shining so brightly nothing else can be seen.
Becoming. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Can you believe that? We are becoming the righteousness of God. We are becoming divine. Stop making excuses, “Well I’monly human! No, you are marvelously human, fired with Christ divine, burning in your bones, trying to shine for all the world.
C.S. Lewis said in the 20th century, If we let [God]—for we can prevent [it], if we choose—[God] will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) [God’s] own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less.
On Transfiguration Sunday, the main thing you need to know is this: As Christ is, so you are. Become with God everything you need to become. Clement of Alexandria of the 2nd Century said "For if we know ourselves, then we know God; and knowing God, we will be made like God.”