2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Transfiguration / Mardi Gras
February 11, 2018
William G. Carter
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. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Here are the actual minutes from a church council meeting in the Catskills:
“The meeting was opened with prayer at 6:07 p.m. The meeting opened with the lighting of the Christ candle as a reminder of the God who leads, guides, challenges, and supports us. The council attempted to light on fire a battery-powered candle. Then, when that didn’t work, they lit a real candle.”
File that away under “You Can’t Make This Up.” They tried to ignite a battery-powered candle.
I know what I like about that little story. It reminds us how anybody, even the folks in a church, can miss the light. The opportunity might be right in front of them and they still miss it. Call them clueless, I suppose, or unobservant, or preoccupied with something else – but they cannot see the light.
In the brief passage we heard a minute ago, the apostle Paul says something else is going on. People can be “blinded,” he says. He’s talking about people who can otherwise count their fingers and discern different colors, but there’s something that keeps them from seeing the difference between a battery-powered plastic candle and a real candle made of wax with a wick.
More to the point, they can’t see the Gospel, even though its right in front of them.
Now, I’m sure when some Christian-kind-of-people hear this text, they blanch a little bit, because for them, the Gospel is really obvious. It’s clear, it’s out there for everybody to see and hear. If you’ve ever driven through South Carolina, seen all the Bible billboards, the message is out there for everybody to see: Jesus died for our sins, we are forgiven, that’s that. Just put it out there and everybody will understand.
But that doesn’t always work. Back in the day when my parents drove us around in a paneled station wagon, sometimes we passed a big neon sign. In big red letter, the sign declared, “Jesus saves!” I thought it was a bank. I couldn’t see the smaller words beneath (“Park Avenue Baptist Church”). And I was too young to know any better.
These days, I would add that, just because you put up a sign, it doesn’t mean the sign will transform anybody’s life. The message must always have a messenger.
In recent years, a number of news channels have gone looking for a Christian representative to give a perspective on the issues of the day, kind of their token commentator, kept on a retainer fee. I don’t know where they find these people. They don’t sound very Christian to me – spewing hatred, division, exclusion, and doing so in an arrogant way – they don’t sound like Jesus at all.
The Gospel needs something more than a messenger; There needs to be some consistency with the message.
I lived out in Newton Township for nine years, right along the Newton Ransom Boulevard. A few minutes before 5:00 on a Saturday afternoon, it became Newton Ransom Speedway. I had to keep the cats indoors. It dawned on me that the heavy traffic coincided with conclusion of mass at Saint Benedict’s church. So I mentioned it to the priest, a larger than life character with an enormous laugh.
Msr. Bendick said, “Ahh, it's the mass right before everybody goes out to dinner. Do you know how that mass concludes? I say, ‘The mass is over, go in peace,’ and the people respond, ‘get the heck out of my way.’ And to think that all the spiritual benefits of that mass were quickly lost on those who competed to be first out of the church, first out of the parking lot, first back in town.”
Go in peace, get out of my way. I used to hear some of them honk their horns.
After Paul left the Corinthian Church, a church he started, some of the people there were blowing their horns. They were calling attention to themselves and making a lot of noise. The new leaders thought the first thing to do was to put down the leaders who came before them. “Paul didn’t know a lot,” they said. “He wasn’t very good,” they said. “He had a lot of flaws, he didn’t have a lot of sermons, he made a lot of mistakes.”
Apparently they attempted to prove their superiority, putting on a good show, declaring a few miracles, trying to pack the house so they could impress one another. In this letter, Paul refers to them as “super apostles.” It’s sarcastic, like calling them “super duper apostles.” He calls them “boasters” and “braggarts,” only interested in proclaiming themselves.
And in their lack of integrity, they were the exact opposite of Jesus, who comes humbly, who calls no attention to himself, who gives himself freely to those in need. As Paul will say a little later in this letter, “For such boasters are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness.” (2 Cor. 11:13-15)
In other words, when it comes to being a Christian, it is possible to fake it. Say the right words, but the heart is evil. Say the wrong words but declare yourself the authority. Try to light the plastic candle. Go in peace, get out of my way.
What is interesting to me is not that Paul calls out the hypocrisy. God knows, there is plenty of hypocrisy! No, what interests me is there is something about the character of the Gospel that can be hidden in the shadows. That the Good News is not obvious to everybody. That it takes some work, even some discipline to tease it out.
We know this to be true. The simplest essence of the Gospel is that ‘God loves us even though we do not deserve it.’ That’s the simplest expression of God’s grace. Yet there are a lot of people who do not believe they are worthy of any love. There are others who believe they have to work hard to earn any love. And then there are others who believe they deserve the love – but nobody else does. Each is a spiritual misfire of the Gospel truth, that ‘God loves us even though we do not deserve it.’
Where do the distortions come from? In his letter, the apostle uses a phrase that he never uses anywhere else. He says, “The god of this world has blinded their minds… to keep them from seeing the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ.” The “god of this world” – wait a second, Paul is a Jew. He only believes in one God, the God who made this world, the God who loves us, the God who sends Jesus to save and salvage us. Yes, there’s only one God.
Yet the world seems to distort everything. If the world shrugs off God, it starts to create a false reality and start lying to us. It’s the world that says there’s nothing lovable about us, that all our best efforts come to naught, that truth is merely another word for opinion. And then come all the other lies, that might makes right, that some are superior to others, that the poor and the weak exist only to be plundered, that if only you keep yelling loudly enough everybody will eventually agree with you. In such a world, what is real? Might as well grab what you can.
Well, contrary to all of that, let me tell you what is real: light is real.
Years ago, I met a lady in a church in Philadelphia. She was the clerk of session, and she spoke in a heavy European accent. At the coffee pot, she said her name was Ilse – beautiful name. “I’m German,” she said.
When she was a small child in Dresden, her city was bombed in the war. She and her family hid in the basement. Her mother said, “Don’t be afraid. God will make a way for us to survive.” When the bombs quieted her father and uncle pushed up through the rubble. Suddenly a shaft of light shone into the basement from above. “Ever since,” Ilse said, “I have associated God with light.” She paused, wiped away a tear, and said, “That’s why I believe.”
The apostle Paul knows what you and I know: there is light, but the light is not always obvious. It may be hidden in the shadows. And that’s why there’s an unusual word in the sermon title. It’s pronounced “key-arrow-scuro.” I learned from a jazz record company, a company that now belongs to our local public radio station. If you tune in after 10:00 p.m. on weeknights, you hear the “Chiaroscuro Jazz station” on WVIA.
The name comes from the world of art. It has to do with the interplay of light and shadows. If you look at Rembrandt, for instance, you see how he shines the light on what he wants you to see, but there is always something going on in the shadows.
That’s why Andy Sordoni and Hank O’Neal called their record label “Chiaroscuro Records.” There were a lot of jazz musicians, wonderful musicians, who were hiding in the shadows. Many were not widely known. They were extraordinary artists, but nobody knew about them, so Andy and Hank said, “We have to bring them out of the shadows.” Chiaroscuro.
The grace of God is like that. It is bright light, the brightest light – but it is not obvious to all.
Imagine what it would be like to live in complete light – a thousand two-hundred watt bulbs bathing you. Nothing would be hidden. There would be no secrets. All would be known. All would be forgiven. All would be completely known without any embarrassment or shame. And the warmth of that light would feel a lot like love. Surrounded in light, we could live in complete acceptance, feet flat on the floor, with no need to impress, flaunt, or deceive. Everything would be real.
So why don’t we live like that? Maybe because the world and all of its shadows have tried to convince us that’s all there is. But should the bombing stop and the rubble be removed, the shaft of light is still there…because it’s real. The grace and love of God are real. The glory of God on the face of Jesus is real. We can live in that light. And if we live in it, we can shine it all around.
That’s why we are here, you know. To encourage one another and live in the light. And that’s why we make joyful music in the dead of winter – to declare the long shadows of winter are not going to win. The light has come. The light has broken through. And for our part, we shine that light everywhere we go.
(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.
 Minutes, Woodstock Reformed Church Consistory Meeting, 10/03/201