The God of this World – Lectionary 02/14/2021

Exodus 34: 29-35

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them.

Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Mark 9:2-9                                                     

            Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

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.

Sermon Text

            We gather today as a Church to celebrate the Transfiguration, but we also gather culturally to celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day. The two days are both testaments to God’s love for us in distinct and unique ways. Though we now associate Valentine’s day with the secular giving of gifts to our beaux or else with Hallmark cards and candlelit dinners, the day truly originates in a memorial to a faithful priest who lived and died for the good of the Gospel. As we explore scripture today, we will do so with the life of St. Valentine beside us, an example of faith lived to the fullest.

            We begin with our Gospel. Here we are told of a few disciples being brought to a mountain to see Jesus in his full glory – unfiltered divinity and yet full humanity. Climbing the mountain, they see Christ for the God that Christ is, a radiant point in the darkness of the world. Glory unlike any other, the perfection of God in human form. Like Moses before them, the Disciples see the glory of God and wish to dwell with it forever. They ask to build tabernacles to Christ and for the two prophets that have joined him. A cloud overshadows them, the voice of God rings out, the Glory seems to fade, and Jesus is once more – in appearance – fully flesh.

            Paul, in our Epistle, looks to another radiant appearance of God – this one being Mount Sinai and Moses visitation with God. Paul puts forward that Moses felt God’s glory, reflected in his own face, was a source of authority. Moses, says Paul, wore a veil after visiting with God, not to protect the people from God’s glory, but to hide that it faded overtime from his face. In this view, Moses was not concerned for the sensibilities of the people but held a selfish desire to retain the authority that God’s reflected glory gave him. In truth, it is likely both conscientiousness and personal pride played a part in Moses’s veil. Moses wanted to protect the people and maintain the illusion he was always tightly connected to God’s reflected glory.

            Paul takes hold of Moses’s veil and utilizes it in a new way, seeing the image of Moses covering his face as a powerful vision of how easily we as Christians can hide God from the world. The veil here is any distraction that we create in order to make people unable to see God’s presence. While Paul speaks of those in the Church who have lost sight of God, “those who are perishing,” Paul also looks beyond this to the natural conclusion of the Church hiding God away. That is, that the world will not be able to see God, trading a relationship with true Divinity for what he calls, “The God of this World.”

            Paul here is invoking the image of the Great Adversary, Satan. However, Paul is sure not to mention Satan by name, allowing for us the reader to not quickly push our concerns to one place and forget about them. If we think to our everyday life, our everyday problems, we love to have a single person to blame or a single cause to track down and take care of. In the same way, to simply say, “Satan,” was to blame for the veil being put over the eyes of Christians would risk us believing we are immune from the effects of this particular evil. Satan, the God of this World, works through our natural and good impulses and twists them toward evil. To understand the ways we are tricked into serving, “The God of this World,” we must look inwardly not outward.

            In Corinth, we find that sometime after the conflict surrounding meat and idols, a new source of friction in the Church. This conflict was rooted, as so many are, over who had authority to teach and lead in the Church. A group had arrived in Corinth, dubbed by Paul to be “Super Apostles.” Lest we think Paul is complementing them, Paul uses a made-up word to describe them as, “Super,” highlighting the sarcasm implicit in the name itself. This group arrived with letters of recommendation from prominent figures in the Church and proclaimed all manner of teachings based on that authority. These teachings caused the Corinthians to send Paul a letter that broke his heart, and 2 Corinthians consists of the two letters he sent in response to them.

            Paul’s opponents did not sin because they disagreed with Paul is some matters of how the Church should run. Anywhere that Paul went he usually rubbed a few people the wrong way, but more often than not the misunderstanding and quibbles between apostles were settled without too much trouble. The sin of the Super Apostles was in their self-aggrandization. They took on every title and accolade they could to seem holy, but they did so only to make themselves feel bigger and better than those around them, not in service to the Gospel. Throughout 2 Corinthians, Paul highlights his own qualifications, not in terms of the things he did to look impressive, but in his suffering service to God. Our scripture holds his most striking statement, that an unveiled love of God is a life of slavery, not a life of mastery.

            The God of this World is not often manifested in a cloved hoofed demon, but in the actions of you and of me. It is the greatest idol that hides behind all others, the great idol of Ego, of self above all else. The Super Apostles places their prominence in community above community itself, even above the Gospel. Moses places his authority over reflecting God’s glory. We ourselves choose to put anything and everything above God’s call upon our life. We seek simple answers that do not challenge us, we seek bold displays to show our skill, we neglect mercy and love in exchange for flashy and hollow piety.

            Our Gospel shows us the key to our life, the key to reflecting rather than obscuring Christ. As God exclaimed from within the cloud of transfiguration – we must obey Christ. Christ who calls us to sacrificial love, to humble lives, to giving and not taking. Christ asks us to be good and to work for others, even when it gets hard. We preach and unfettered Gospel of Grace and do so without asking what is in it for us. We must serve God with all our Heart and follow Christ wherever that path takes us. The reward of God’s glory and of Heaven’s light is given to those who seek neither glory nor prestige in this life, but seek in all things to do good.

            Which brings us to Saint Valentine. Valentinus, a priest in the third or fourth century, was alive during a period of Christian persecution. Christians were considered atheists by Rome and were seen as dangerous because they refused to worship the emperor or any of the God’s that were believed to maintain Rome. Taken into prison, Valentinus amazed the jailors through his faith and converted the magistrate overseeing his case to Christianity. Valentinus even grew close to the emperor, becoming a guest to him on multiple occasions. Eventually, however, the emperor grew tired of their mutual attempts at conversion and ordered Valentinus to be executed. As he left to kneel before the headsmen, legend says he left a note thanking the jailor’s daughter for the kindness she showed him in prison. The letter was signed, “Ex Valentini,” in English, “from your Valentine.”

            Lost in our Romantic overtures is the story of a faith that was stronger than death. Valentinus preached to rulers and oppressors and loved all he met. Valentinus always showed the unfiltered glory of God by living as a slave to the Gospel. He sought no fame, no glory, not even a stay of execution – but only cared in life to meet God and to see Christ proclaimed in the world. Let us live out such a life ourselves.

            We do not live in persecuted Church, but many in this world do, pray for their fortitude. We face little danger as Christians in the United States, so we lack excuse to live out our life fully. Our greatest risk is to our ego, that we might give up what we want or turn down ambition when it calls to us. We must tear down the idol to ourselves we have built within, because if we do that, the God of this World will have no foothold within us. For though we love ourselves and care for ourselves as God’s good creation, we must not worship and laud ourselves as Gods in our own right. Christ shines out among the faithful, let that light shine on without obstruction in all that we do. – Amen.

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