Monday, February 23, 2015

Seeing Jesus

Seeing Jesus
2 Corinthians 3:17-4:6[1]
One of the key concepts of our faith is that when we commit their lives to Christ, our lives are fundamentally changed. We no longer live the way we once did, but rather we become “new” through our encounter with Jesus. Unfortunately, however, there have been a number of studies that have shown that we Christians don’t differ significantly from the general population in the way we live our lives.[2] This is not a new problem. One of Christianity’s most famous critics once said that Jesus’ disciples should “look more redeemed” if he were to believe. [3] There’s something to be said for that. If we claim to be people who have undergone a significant change, there ought to be some evidence of it in our lives. You would think that people could see Jesus in those of us who claim to follow him.
Over the last few weeks we’ve been talking about the life of the Spirit. The life of the Spirit goes hand-in-hand with seeking to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Both affirm our true selves and at the same time challenge us in ways that we may never have dreamed. Both call for all the courage and faith we can muster, because we may never know where our path will take us when we decide to follow Jesus and live the life of the Spirit. Both fundamentally question some of the principles and expectations on which we may have based our lives, because both call us to give ourselves away unselfishly in service to others.
As daunting as all that may sound, however, St. Paul reminds us that living the life of the Spirit is the only way to find true freedom, true meaning, and true joy in life. It is the only way we can hope to experience the kind of transformation that can actually result in our looking “more redeemed.” In a very real sense, the language of our lesson from St. Paul reminds us of the amazing way in which Jesus was transfigured before his disciples. Paul speaks of that event as the experience of seeing “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). The idea is that God himself was present in Jesus on that mountain, and this astounding truth was revealed to the disciples in an unforgettable way.
Paul assures us that all who turn to Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord have the opportunity to witness the same vision. We have the opportunity to see the “light of the glory of God” reflected in Jesus. But more than that, he insists that when we do turn in faith to Jesus Christ and witness the life and the love and the power of God at work in him, we are fundamentally changed. In fact, he says it this way: we are being “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). I like the way one translation puts it: “as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more” (2 Cor. 3:18, NLT). Paul proclaims the good news that when we open our hearts to Jesus, the Spirit is at work in our lives transforming us to become more like Christ. When that happens, people see Jesus through us.[4]
This way of framing the life of the Spirit is a major theme in Paul’s letters.[5] In the letter to the Galatians, he says that “living by the Spirit” produces in us the “fruit of the Spirit”: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:16, 22-23). Many speak of  the “fruit of the Spirit” as a description of the character of Jesus, so the idea is that the Spirit produces in us the qualities that reflect Jesus. In fact, elsewhere Paul can say that the whole reason God is at work in us, forgiving our sins, restoring our humanity, calling us to a new life in relationship with him, is to fulfill his intention that we might be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). In other words, God’s plan is that when people look at us they see Jesus. [6]
So why do we not “look more redeemed?” I think in part it has to do with the fact that many of us have our own ideas about what our lives are supposed to look like. And rather than opening ourselves to God’s Spirit, we take our own ideas and turn them into expectations and demands that we impose on ourselves and those around us.[7] While we may think this is the way to get what we want out of life, often the end result is tragedy.
I know this from personal experience. I once lived that way myself. I thought I knew what my life should look like, including my career, my marriage, and my family. In reality what was driving the illusion that I had the power to control the outcomes in my life was the haunting fear that if I didn’t work hard enough, I might not get what I wanted out of life.[8] But in reality, that fear is a poison that can infect us and can destroy us. I know, because it’s happened to me twice. I would have to say in retrospect that my personal tragedies happened not in spite of everything I was doing to “make” things come out right, but precisely because of what I was doing.
I’ve learned that the life of the Spirit means letting go of our expectations and letting life be what it is.[9] The path to becoming more like Jesus leads us not to tighten our grasp on life, but rather to let it go into the hands of our loving God, who promises never to let us down. When we can let go our demands and expectations, we’re in a much better position to open our hearts to the presence and power of the Spirit.[10] And when we let the Spirit of God into our lives—really let the Spirit in—that’s when we begin to be transformed. That’s when we begin to “look more redeemed.” That’s when we live in such a way that the people around us can look at us and see Jesus.

[1] ©2015 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 2/15/2015 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] The Barna Group, “Faith Has a Limited Effect on Most People’s Behavior,” 24 May 2004; accessed at The study quotes George Barna as saying, “The ultimate aim of belief in Jesus is not simply to possess divergent theological ideas but to become a transformed person. These statistics highlight the fact that millions of people who rely on Jesus Christ for their eternal destiny have problems translating their religious beliefs into action beyond Sunday mornings.”
[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part Two “On Priests,” 71.
[4] R. P. Martin, 2 Corinthians, 80: “The God who brought light to birth in creation and in the new creation has made his light … to shine in human hearts. The purpose of such illumination is to impart knowledge … . The knowledge of God’s glory is what the Pauline Gospel is all about. And for him it is focused “in the face” (ἐν προσώπῳ) or “person” of Christ. The risen Lord is the subject who both illumines his servants and summons them to his service (again, Paul’s own experience is in view; cf. Gal 1:15, 16; 1 Cor 9:16; 15:8–10) and the object whom Paul and his associates are charged to make known and so to bring saving truth to light.”
[5] Cf. Ernest Best, Second Corinthians, 35.
[6] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 101-2: “As representative of the coming, redeeming rule of God, Jesus is also the representative of the true human existence that is to come. For that reason he is also called ‘the image of God’ (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:21; 2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15), the one whom believers are made like to” in order that they may become truly human. Cf. also Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 3.1:204-5.
[7] Cf. Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, 6: “What the ego hates more than anything else in the world is change ... . Instead, we do more and more of what does not work ....”
[8] Cf. Henri Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, 18: “The real enemies of our lives are the ‘oughts’ and the ‘ifs.’ They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future. But real life takes place in the here and now.”
[9] Cf. Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step, 77-78, where he says that instead of asking “What’s wrong?” we should learn to ask “What’s not wrong?” He continues, “There are so many elements in the world …, feelings, perceptions, and consciousness that are wholesome, refreshing, and healing.” He urges that we should seek to be in touch with these elements of our lives rather than those what create suffering, anger, depression, and sorrow. “Life is filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby.” “Elements like these are within us and all around us. In each second of our lives we can enjoy them.”
[10] Cf. Rohr, Breathing Under Water, 8-14, where he describes the process of opening up three inner spaces: our minds, our hearts, and our bodies.  He says (p. 8), “To finally surrender ourselves to healing, we have to have three spaces opened up within us—and all at the same time: our opinionated head, our closed-down heart, and our defensive and defended body.”

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