Sunday, 15 February 2015

Gospel, glory and veils

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. 

Luke 9:28-31 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 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 Westminster Catechism asks this question:
‘What is the chief end of man?’
Answer: ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.’
The word ‘glory’ in Greek is doxa, from where we get our word ‘doxology’: the ‘Glory to the Father’ said after psalms are chanted or sung.
‘Glory’ in the OT was a big concept and the rabbis had a special word to describe it: Shekinah.
The Shekinah of God was His manifest presence in a located place.
When God dwelt amongst his people for a protracted period of time, it was said that his glory, his Shekinah, was amongst his people.
His Shekinah inhabited the Temple; crucially when His presence left the Temple this coincided with Israel’s apostasy and their Exile.
It was said that when Moses came down the Mountain after receiving the 10 commandments from God, his face shone with glory, the glory of having been in the presence of a holy God.
The glory shining in his face was so bright he had to put a veil over his face when he talked with the people; otherwise they could not bear to look at it.

Paul, in our first reading, is defending his message against the so-called ‘super apostles’, who promised glory without discipleship/suffering.
Disciples are willing to suffer before they see glory – Paul never hid this fact.
Paul speaks then of the so called veiling of his gospel - the 'the god of this world' veils the gospel, but how does this exactly work?
Which are the things which veil the Good News today?
What things could we be putting in the way, things that act like veils?
Busy-ness, apathy, material comfort, distance from God: perhaps all these and more can act like veils today.
Are there things we do in church (or don’t do) which veil the message?
This is an important question: are we hiding Christ somehow?
Lent is a good time to consider, individually and corporately, what is veiling our walk with God...

It’s sometimes said of those who walk very closely with Christ that you can see something of God in their faces…
I wonder if you can think of anyone…
It’ll be someone who has walked daily with God; someone whose expression is peaceful but perhaps who’s suffered and come through; someone whose obedience and joy have been so much a part of their lives that their very face reflects God’s glory.

Our gospel is about Christ revealed in glory on the Mount of Transfiguration.
He has taken his closest three friends along, and it says he took them up the mountain to pray.
Can you imagine going up a mountain with Jesus to share a time of prayer with him?
While he was praying the appearance of his face changed and suddenly his clothes became dazzling white.
Now strange things can happen at the top of mountains.
There are clouds swishing around up there, the weather might be more violent; the atmosphere might be a bit rarified, you might be worn out from the climb…
All that was part of the strange experience Peter, James and John had.
But the mountain top is also a metaphor for a spiritual experience.
We say ‘I had a mountain top experience.’
We are usually elated during a mountain top experience; everything seems real and exhilarating.
It was as if Jesus was revealed for a few moments in all his divinity.
Yes, he was still the man they knew and talked with but now they saw ‘beyond the veil’ as it were…
The veil of this life was temporarily parted to reveal a deeper reality.
This reality is open to us and sometimes we sense it closely – if we’ve lost someone we love, or if God’s presence seems particularly real in a particular place.
Jesus is suddenly seen beyond the veil and at God’s right hand.
On one side of him stands Moses, law giver: on the other Elijah, representing all the prophets.
The Law and the Prophets…
What are they doing there with Jesus?
They’re speaking of his departure – his death, which, the text says ‘He was about to accomplish…’
Jesus had been speaking about his death and resurrection - he’s trying to get through to his disciples, but, understandably they are not able yet to equate the Messiah with suffering.
They too do not understand that the Messiah had to suffer before entering his glory.

But the glory they see before them on the mountain top is too much for Peter, James and John; Peter gets incoherent.
Here’s Jesus in all his glory…and the disciples are bamboozled by it…
Peter gabbles some nonsense about putting up shelters, but you cannot box spiritual experience in the hope of living off it for ever.
Because soon you get right back to 'normality'.
Suffering (daily life, the daily grind) and glory.
How do we suffer for our faith?
Certainly not like our persecuted brothers and sisters, but to put Christ first in a world which largely ignores him is tough.
To be brave enough to speak of our involvement in church can be tough.
Sharing your faith is not easy, but if we think of it as shining out automatically, it might help.
It is a natural outpouring of the heart.
We are veiled, if you like – it is Christ who shines out.

As we approach Lent and think about Jesus' Transfiguration today, we pray that our message may be unveiled and that we may reflect his glory to the world in which we live and the community we serve.

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