Based on 2 Cor. 4:3-6 and Mark 9:2-9
One of my favorite pioneers in theology and science, and something of a mystical theologian too, is the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. A one-line prayer of his so fitting for today is this. “Let me recognize in other men and women, my God, the radiance of your own face.”
“Let me recognize.” It is quite clear in Paul’s letter today that God is doing all the “letting” possible for us to recognize the radiance of God’s face in other people. The problem—and it is a big recurring one—is that if someone cannot see such radiance all around it is not God’s fault. It is the fault of those who choose not to so see. As Paul says, if the gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who follow the “little g” god of this world.
Who or what is that “little g” god? It can be any value that does not cohere with God’s values. There are certainly plenty from which to choose; wealth, power, racism, sexism, hatred of any kind, lying, lying about lying. Translate that last one into the worst gaslighting we’ve ever seen; and that trying to “defend” the most egregious insider attack on our democracy we have ever seen, all while brazenly claiming Jesus and the flag as authorization.
Yes, it is a time for the church to speak out. Misrepresentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ on so many fronts is serving sedition against the soul of nation and humanity. Paul faced a similar though smaller scaled problem with the church at Corinth. There self-appointed leaders held themselves higher than the gospel that Paul preached and taught. With his message pertinent to all times, Paul wrote that “the god of this world” had blinded them. They could not see God or God’s light in themselves nor in others. The “god of this world” who blinded them is the opposer to God big G. The “god of this world” can be the smaller ambition writ large. Whatever it is, it is the work of The Opposer to God, who throughout scripture is called Satan; literally, The Satan. Some early translations use that word in this very text. In their case, “Satan has blinded the minds” of those who do not follow God and who cannot see God’s light in our neighbors.
The situation today angers us. Some of us rage. Some of us try patiently to wait and act for that political time to get even. That is not Paul’s counsel here. Paul says not to give-in to the visceral. Nor do we yield to cynicism and despair amid the onslaught of so much other suffering and evil. We must recognize that we can choose bitterness or make innocent suffering a mode of redemption.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once reflected on how he should respond to personal suffering when people—including friends—projected their own anger, disappointment, and unrecognized personal shortcomings onto his own person. In today’s habit of avoiding introspection and responsibility, they even scapegoated him. They bore false witness. It happens from all of us. It happens to all of us; even from those close to us professionally or personally. This should not surprise. The self-interest of sin uses the ruses of indirection and confidential triangulation, and finally most brazenly, obvious lies so to secure the self’s future at the soul-churning cost of bitterness and cynicism in others. Those good at the game of morally injuring others call it “just politics.” Mafiosi call it, “nothing personal, just business.”
We know better. That is not all there is. Paul indeed says that by God’s mercy God has let light shine out from darkness. Echoing the creation of light in Genesis, Paul says that God has made in you a new creation. In you God makes light shine from darkness, the darkness of your tempted anger, cynicism, despair. In our hearts God has given the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. From where? From the face of Jesus!
There is transfiguration in that. The Jesus who was transfigured on that mountaintop grew brilliant from the inside out. That showed to the three disciples there who he really is. This was six days after Peter had challenged Christ’s self-presentation. Six days. Which means that this was the creation day of a new humanity in addition to a revelation of the truth of Christ. So seeing, and then so hearing “This is my Son. Listen to him!,” a new grace-bearing humanity was commissioned to carry his light inside them to enlighten all other faces. As Paul avers, all disciples since then carry Christ’s light and choose to light such light in the hearts and faces of others, no matter their own suffering circumstances.
A fellow I follow on Twitter, Brian Wallach, writes, “Too often anger finds a voice, that voice finds multiple microphones and those microphones harmonize until we can’t hear anything. But underneath there is so much good, kindness and love. I see it every day and it’s why despite it all, I love this life.”
The power of Brian’s insight is transfiguring; for him, perhaps because he is wheelchair bound by the neurological disease of ALS. It may well be that some transfiguring is happening in us right now because we have just heard that Brian is a person with ALS. You who know my and Joen’s situation know why I mention Brian.
So it was that Brother King chose not to live with bitterness and chose instead to make of his suffering something life-giving and love-giving to others, turning the hurt into a virtue. As he put it, “ I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains. I have lived these last few years with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive.” So it was that Fr. Chardin would focus the evolved light of his eyes on the light of God in the faces of others. And so it still is that Brian Wallach, notwithstanding the degenerating materiality of his body, chooses to see and love life itself.
In the revelation of who Christ is for everyone, you and I with all the saints [as now with Gregory Owen Nelson] have been given the very light of Christ. It is for our courage. It is for our reminder that we do not have the cross alone. That would be despair’s mistake. Nor do we have power and glory alone. That would be the ugly outright heresy being perpetrated right in churches and governing centers.
No. The cross is solidly right next to joy. And joy will embrace suffering. Because Christ, crucified and raised, is in you now, working his grace. When Peter asked, “Lord, should we build three tents here to house your glory?” What Jesus meant when he said “no” was that three would be too little. Because each of you, each, is a habitation for Christ. And the millions upon millions of human habitations for Christ still are not enough. So. See him. Listen to him. In you and each other. In his Word and his Sacrament. See. Listen. Then “light up!” THAT is how we will turn away the darkness that so loudly glorifies itself.
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston, TX February 14, 2021