Sunday, January 24, 2010

An Unveiled Life 2 Corinthians 3:16-18

No one ever expected what they found. There was a long-neglected painting hanging in Venice's San Salvador Church for years. The dirt-encrusted Supper at Emmaus, depicting the resurrected Christ meeting two apostles in a country inn, was thought to be a poor copy of a 15th-century work. This apparently rather sad painting was initially passed over by Save Venice campaign because it was "too dreary." But a closer inspection of the work in the late 90s by two top U.S. and Italian restorers convinced Save Venice to fund the project. It was no easy task. The restorers had to slowly and carefully remove years of dirt and dust and then tediously removal of three layers of over-painting. It seemed over time several had tried to enhance the painting. But their work proved worth the work. Hidden beneath the bad paint job and the years of dirt emerged an incredibly colored, finely detailed painting. The date 1513 at the lower right, along with stylistic and historical clues made it clear that it was a Renaissance masterpiece by Vittore Carpaccio worth an estimated 50 million dollars. (1)

I think it is sometimes easier to envision a restorers removing years of dirt and lays of bad paint off a masterpiece to reveal its beauty than it is to believe that God can remove years of emotional and spiritual debris that cover us so that we can see God face to face. Sometimes we are scared to open the whole of our lives to God, so we try to play spiritual hide-and-seek with God. We try to let God in only in the places we are prepared to give over to God, holding back the dark corners and the quiet shames. We secretly wonder in the deepest parts of our hearts if God would still love us and forgive us if we unveiled ourselves fully to God. We somehow have come to believe that we are not worthy of God’s love and God’s grand grace gift of redemption. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we want to find spiritual fig leaves to hide behind, so that we are not exposed.

In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul describes the bounds of Moses’ encounters with God. He had come to come to every conversation with his face veiled, hidden from God, shaded from God’s holiness and glory. Paul wanted the church to know it was different when we come to God through faith in Christ. So we hear 2 Corinthians 3:16-17 where Paul explains; 16But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Did you hear what he said, that when we claim Christ the veil is taken away. We are invited to see God face to face and to find a freedom, a real freedom where we no longer have to live in the spiritual shadows; we no longer have to hide in fear and shame. God, who sees us as we are, loves us, forgives us, redeems us, and makes us free. It is not a freedom celebrated by picnics, fireworks, and parades. It is a freedom invites us into the presence of God and allows us to be transformed by God’s grace.

This freedom is not for us alone. Paul continues; 18And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit….The King James Version and its modern equivalents word this a bit differently. They say; 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Our faces are not only unveiled to God but also to one another. For some this may be even more difficult than opening yourselves to God. Some of us wonder if we are worthy for God to see others in and us through us. We see our shortcomings and our failures. We see the limits of what we believe we can accomplish on our own. We shy away from disclosing the depths of who were are with one another in fear that someone might see our weaknesses and reject us. We see our imperfections and wonder how God could choose to work in and through us. But, by unveiling ourselves to God, by allowing God’s power and holiness to free us, the story is changed. The unveiling lets us display the likeness of God. The result lets others see us as transformed people. It moves us from playing at church, with lives measured by obligation, to living in the ongoing presence of Christ and the freedom Christ offers.

In his great devotional classic, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers offers; The greatest characteristic a Christian can exhibit is this completely unveiled openness before God, which allows that person’s life to become a mirror for others. When the Spirit fills us, we are transformed, and by beholding God we become mirrors. You can always tell when someone has been beholding the glory of the Lord, because your inner spirit senses that he mirrors the Lord’s own character. Beware of anything that would spot or tarnish that mirror in you. It is almost always something good that will stain it— something good, but not what is best. The most important rule for us is to concentrate on keeping our lives open to God. Let everything else including work, clothes, and food be set aside. The busyness of things obscures our concentration on God. We must maintain a position of beholding Him..." (2)

Chambers was right. There are moments when we see someone mirror the character of God. We witnessed one a few weeks ago at the close of a deacons’ meeting. In the closing weeks of December Don Miner led the last meeting of his tenure as chair. The meeting followed its normal flow until we came to section set aside for the chair’s comments. Each month he had quickly passed over this section, moving us to adjournment. But in this last meeting, Don claimed his time and began a process that touched everyone in the room. I doubled checked with him before I shared this story with you. I am still not sure he fully appreciated what he did. Don pulled out a sheet and began with Pam Barnett and moved alphabetically through everyone in the room. The pattern was predictable. He would call a person’s name, and they would smile. He would then begin to tell them what they meant to him, what they meant to his family, and what they meant to the wider church family. By the time he finished sharing what he had to say about each person you could see that they had been deeply touched by what they had heard. His words were an act of blessing and affirmation. In this simple act of humility and generosity Don’s actions were a mirror where we caught a glimpse of God in his face and in the faces of each other.

There are other stories like this one bubbling up across the life of the church. Look around you. When someone chooses to act in love rather than in hatred we see the reflection of God. When we see someone choose to forgive rather than to hang on to bitterness, we see the reflection of God. When we witness someone live in trust rather than fear, we see the reflection of God. There was an era when it seemed that a when we heard a testimony of faith it had to be grand or dramatic. In reality, we most often see the reflection of God in the countless small acts and simple moments when people of faith choose to linger in God’s presence and let their lives become a reflection of God’s love and grace.

Today choose to let the veil down and give the whole of you to God. Claim this moment to see God face to face.
Today choose to claim the freedom and transformation found only at the feet of God
Today choose to claim time to dwell – to hang out – to linger in the presence of God.
Today choose to be let the veil down with those around you and become a mirror of what God is doing in your life.
Today choose to speak words of encouragement, words of blessing, words of hope to each other and to others so that God’s character might be seen and heard in this room – in our city – and in our world.
Today choose an unveiled face – an unveiled life – that God might live in you and shine through you.

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

1 "Masterpiece Revealed," Newsweek, November 2, 1998, Newsweek.com
2 Chambers, Oswald, “Transformed by Beholding,” My Utmost for His Highest, available online at http://www.rbc.org/utmost/index.php.