Sermon Transfiguration Sunday Yr C

Transfiguration Sunday Yr C, 18/02/2007

2 Cor 3:12-4:2

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“With unveiled faces”

 

Sometimes it is important for us to be reminded of how the Bible is read and interpreted. For example, behind our second lesson today, Paul, trained as a Jewish rabbi and steeped in the Hebrew Bible, employs a rabbinic method of reading and interpreting the Bible. The method or principle behind the apostle Paul’s words today is this—scripture interprets scripture. Paul, having been given a direct vision of Christ on his way to Damascus, now writes much differently because his understanding of scripture has changed. Behind his words in today’s second lesson, Paul is thinking of today’s first lesson and gospel. Paul is referring back to the Exodus text and remembering Moses’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai and “after effect” of that encounter, namely, his shining face, which was a manifestation of God’s glory. Paul is also recalling the event of Christ being transfigured in today’s gospel, which he may very well have learned of first hand from Peter, James or John, who were eye witnesses of the transfiguration.

Now, in this rather troubled, tense, and intense second letter to the Christians at Corinth, Paul proceeds to interpret these two events. As a person who has been involved in dialogue with the Jewish people and Jewish faith, I must confess to you that I struggle with Paul’s words today. One other important factor that we all need to be mindful of in this second lesson is that we only have Paul’s side of the story. However, as you all know, there are never less than two sides to every story. It has been my experience that the Jewish people of faith do not see their covenant with God as a legalistic burden to be dreaded. No! Rather, they see their covenant with God and all of the 613 laws in the Torah as a gift of God’s grace and love to them. For example, they would not say that they obey a commandment like “you shall not kill” because it is against the law. No, rather, they would say that they obey this commandment out of love for God and for their neighbour. This, too, is how I would interpret the commandments—they are not legalistic, burdensome laws, rather, they are a gift from God and a sign of God’s love and grace for us.

So, when Paul says that Moses had to wear a veil and that the Jewish people, whenever they read or hear God’s word miss the meaning of it because it is like they still all have a veil covering their eyes and minds; Paul is speaking this I think, as a result of his intensive Damascus road experience and encounter with Jesus. I am not saying that Paul’s experience and encounter was wrong or false. No, however, what I am saying is that I think it was unfair of Paul, and it is also unfair of us Christians today, to assume that all Jews of the old covenant in Paul’s day and in our day have a veil covering them, and that therefore they cannot see the true meaning of scripture as we see, because for us the veil has been removed. I am challenging that assumption. I believe that it is very dangerous for us Christians to take a proud and arrogant attitude towards our Jewish neighbours—believing that we are superior or more enlightened than them. I believe that even today we Christians too have veils covering our eyes, minds and hearts, preventing us from seeing and understanding as Jesus would have us see and understand. I believe that both Jews and Christians need to approach our God and our Bibles with humility and honesty, confessing our blindness and repenting of it. If we are to do this, then it is helpful for us to consider what kind of veils cover our eyes, minds and hearts today. I think there are several.

There is the veil of prejudice. The word itself reminds us of two words, pre and judge, to judge something or someone too soon, before we have all of the necessary information. We, too, often go to scripture to find support for our own views rather than to find the truth of God. For example, there was a few years ago, a documentary on T.V. about some sectarian group who beat their children severely, and justified it by saying the scripture supported what they did—quoting the old familiar phrase, “spare the rod and spoil the child.”

There is the veil of wishful thinking. Too often we find what we want to find, and neglect what we do not want to see. To take an example, we may delight in all the references to the love and mercy of God, but pass over all the references to his wrath and judgment. Most, if not all of us do not enjoy being the subjects of God’s or for that matter anyone else’s wrath and judgment. We would much sooner avoid it.

There is the veil of fragmentary thinking. The Bible is best read, studied and interpreted as a whole. It is easy to take individual texts and criticize them. It is easy to prove that parts of the Old Testament are sub-Christian. It is easy to find support for private theories by choosing certain texts and passages and putting others aside (in fact, I think people do this all the time). But it is the whole message that we must seek; and that is just another way of saying that we must read all scripture in the light of Jesus Christ. Martin Luther emphasised this principle a lot. He said that those passages of scripture which reveal Christ most clearly are the most important. He also, following Paul, found Christ behind every nook and cranny in the scriptures where others may have overlooked him.

There is the veil of disobedience. Very often it is moral and not intellectual blindness which keeps us from seeing God. If we persist in disobeying him we become less and less capable of seeing him. Something that is immoral is not moral merely because it becomes a law of the land. If God clearly says it is wrong and sinful, then who are we to twist it into saying that it is right and permissible? The vision of God is to the pure in heart.

There is the veil of the unteachable spirit. As the Scots saying has it, “There’s none so blind as those who winna see.” The best teacher on earth cannot teach the person who knows it all already and does not wish to learn. God gave us free will, and, if we insist upon our own way, we cannot learn his.1

According to Paul, now thanks to God’s grace given to us in Jesus, we are able to see the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces. The veil is gone, removed from us. What blinded our seeing, our thinking, and our acting has now been taken away by Christ. He has done the necessary spiritual surgery to remove our blindness and give us sight.

I am told that the French Impressionist, Monet, at midlife, suffered from cataracts. It is apparent when viewing the paintings of this period, that the cataracts took their toll. The colors were muddied. Then Monet had surgery, the cataracts were removed. The next paintings show a marked difference. The colors are clear, vibrant, expressive. The “veil” had been removed. He saw with new eyes.2 So, too, thanks to what Christ has done for us through his life, teachings, suffering, death and resurrection; we can see the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces. In that seeing, everything is different in that it is filled with new life. Life filled with new hope, new understanding, new opportunities new freedom to love and serve our God and neighbour. Amen.

 

1 Wm Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Burlington, ON: G.R. Welch Co. Ltd., 1975), pp. 192-193.

2 As cited in Wm Willimon, Pulpit Resource Vol. 26, No. 1, January, February, March 1998, (Inver Grove Heights, MN: Logos Productions Inc.), p. 33.

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About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

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