By Dr. Keith Wagner
Have you every felt close to God? Or, have you ever experienced the glory of God and been unable to talk about it? Or, perhaps you have had moments when you felt very uplifted but didn’t realize that you were in God’s presence.
In his letter, Paul makes reference to Moses who experienced the glory of God. It was an awesome event for him and Moses was so enthralled by it all that he had to cover his face. When Jesus was transfigured he too was in the presence of God, however unlike Moses, Jesus did not have to cover his face, because he is God.
In the movie, “O God” starring John Denver and George Burns there is a scene where John Denver is in the shower. When he steps out he sees Burns, who is dressed as an old man wearing a fishing hat. Denver says, “So this is what God looks like?” But Burns responds by saying, “If I appeared as I really am, you couldn’t handle it.” The reason being of course is that God is beyond our comprehension.
Paul, however wants his church friends at Corinth to realize that although God is beyond our understanding, God can still be revealed to us. He illustrates this by contrasting Moses on Mt. Sinai to the mountain top event of Jesus. Paul says, it is Jesus who is proclaimed as Lord and we are “slaves for his sake.” In other words, by living as Jesus lived we are in fact able to experience the glory of God, and unlike Moses we have no reason to hide.
I recently purchased new glasses. My old lenses were scratched and my eyes have changed so I needed a new prescription. When I put on my new glasses the world just seemed much brighter. I didn’t realize how bad my vision had become. But, I am happy to report that I am seeing clearly again. Reading is much easier for me and I no longer have to strain to see the fine print.
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I believe that what Paul is teaching us that there are times when we all need a lens change. Our vision becomes obscured, not due to faulty lenses, but because of our blindness to the gospel. Many have the notion that to live a Christian life is to follow a prescribed list of principles and rules. “If I do this or that, I will get to heaven.” But then the bottom falls out when a crisis occurs. Others are led to believe that all one need do is accept Jesus, and everything else will fall into place. But Paul sees our faith not as a moment of conversion but instead as a work in process.
Paul makes reference to Moses who had experienced the presence of God in a very powerful way. Moses “saw the face of God” and became the deliverer of the law. For the Hebrews the law of God was “etched in stone.” But Paul contrasts that event with the life of Jesus. Paul wants his listeners to understand that the way to “see the face of God” is through the heart. How then do we experience the glory of God?
Paul is telling us that to experience the glory of God, or to “see clearly” is to first realize we are free. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. With Moses the people of faith needed the law. For example; one commandment said, “Thou shall not steal.” If you were caught stealing you knew you would pay the consequences. But, we know that stealing is wrong, because it is offensive and it is harmful to the community. We therefore don’t steal, not because it is against the law but because we love our neighbors. In other words we are free of the need to steal or even the thought of it.
Secondly, Paul tells us that the glory of God is manifested in us when we “speak the truth.” “By the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.” Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The greatest homage we can pay to truth is to use it.”
Galileo, both a scientist and devout Christian, shocked the Catholic church by proclaiming the theory that the earth was round and evolved around the sun. The Church denounced Galileo as a heretic. He spoke the truth but was condemned. It wasn’t until centuries later that Galileo was exonerated. Galileo was willing to stand by the truth, in spite of the public humiliation he endured. But in the long run, the truth prevailed as society began to accept the truth of Galileo’s theory.
When Grover Cleveland was running for president of the United States he was faced with rumors about his younger years. There was evidence that discredited his character and his political managers were worried. But the facts were less ugly than the rumors that circled. Cleveland publicly acknowledged the details of his youth and went on to win the election. He became very popular and his campaign slogan was, “Tell the truth.”
And third, to be “Christ-like” or to experience the glory of God through Jesus is to “let our lights shine.” To experience the glory of God is not to receive it but reflect it. It is when we use opportunities to let the love and light of God reflect from us that we realize we are in the presence of God and experiencing God’s glory.
The basic premise to Paul’s message here, however is not that we see God more clearly, not that we have somehow managed to clean the smudge marks off our glasses. We see God when we become a “reflection of God.” It is a life of service, living in the image of God where we will experience the glory of God. The Greek word, diakonia, appears many times in Paul’s letters and is a dominant theme of theology.
Too many believers come to church wanting to experience an emotional high. They want to be fed, lifted up if not blown away. They want moments of ecstasy where they can visualize or feel the glory of God. But, God is seen when we are reflecting God’s love, when we are doing good works or when we are living in God’s image.
This past week has been extraordinary for me. I have really had a full schedule. It seems like all I did was go from event to event, with little time to prepare. I also had countless interruptions. I thought to myself, “how can I possibly experience the glory of God with so much to do?”
Then I realized on Thursday morning when I was driving on route 25A that had just been covered with fresh snow and the world was illuminated around me. I had had countless opportunities when I was doing ministry, teaching, praying for the sick, counseling or visiting. Somehow, by the grace of God, I was able to get through it all.
The glory of God was all around me but I failed to appreciate it. We experience the glory of God every time we let our lights shine. We experience the glory of God when we realize the freedom that we have in Jesus Christ and we experience the glory of God when we have the courage to tell the truth.