2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2 (NRSV)
12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. 14 But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
Treasure in Clay Jars
4 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
A few years ago I watched a fascinating program on TV . The program was on the science channel and they were talking about something called a magic mirror. This mirror looked like any other mirror in ancient times, which was polished metal, but there was a slight difference. When this mirror was held at a slight angle and the light was projected onto a surface an image was cast. This magic mirror was something that was developed in the Far East and in the 16th century Christians in Japan would use these mirrors to assist them in teaching during persecution. This program gave a quick overview of how these mirrors were made. They first melted the metals together, then they would pour the molten metal into a mold that would contain the hidden image on the back side, then came the amazing part. Over the course of several months the mirror polisher would polish the surface of the mirror, carefully taking microscopic layers off of the surface until they could just begin to feel the image emerging on the surface without it being seen. It is a fascinating art form that takes years to perfect but the end result is breathtaking. When you look at it, your face would be reflected just as it would with any mirror but when you allowed the mirror to reflect on a screen, the mirror of these 16th century Japanese Christians would project an image of Christ on the cross. As I reflected on these verses this week, and while I still reflected on the companionship of the Spirit that we have discussed the past few weeks the idea of the magic mirror resurfaced in my mind.
The gifts of the Spirit are graces that God allots to us as we draw closer to him. The concept that we translate as gifts of the Spirit could also be translated as companions of the Spirit which are the graces that come along with the Spirit. I love the concept of the companions of the Spirit because of the relational aspects of it. It excites me because the whole point of the Gifts is that we use those graces that God has given us to encourage the people around us to draw closer to the one who has given us the grace in the first place. We have the gifts so that we can use them for God’s kingdom.
Companionship of the Spirit is a powerful concept. There is an intimacy embedded within, we can be fully known and can know. This is huge because Paul is telling the people of Corinth that God is not just out there in the celestial kingdom beyond the veils of life, but that God is right here all around us, not only around us but interacting with us with a great desire that we would know Him.
This concept was frightening to many in ancient days. From a pagan mindset it was frightening because when deities roamed along the pathways of man trickery was usually at hand. Their forms of worship were directed to keeping the gods pacified so that curses would not occur or maybe they would add a bit more to the offerings to gain favor and turn the curses toward others. From a Jewish mindset the concept of God being around us was frightening because no one who sees God could live. They had heard the stories of ancient days where the angel of the Lord passed over their fathers and mothers while they was in captivity in Egypt and killed the first born of all living creatures that were not covered by the blood of the lamb.
In the ancient stories only one human had been able to live in the direct presence of God, only one human had seen the essence of God and lived to tell about it. That one person was Moses. The children were taught these stories as they gathered around their rabbis, they were told of how Moses lead the Tribes of Israel out of Egypt, how God parted the waters of the Red Sea to allow the people of God to cross on dry ground, how a cloud would lead them by day and if they were require to walk at night that same cloud took on a fiery likeness that illuminated their paths. They knew God was there but he was shrouded in the mists. They would follow but only at a distance. Then one day the cloud stopped and rested on a mountain, they knew that when the cloud stopped they were to set up camp so that is what they did, they gathered around the base of the mountain and they rested. For days they sat there while Moses climbed up into the mist. By day the mountain was covered in the clouds, at night the clouds and the mountain seemed to be ablaze. No one dared an approach, and at times they would all fall to their knees as they heard the thunderous booming of God’s voice. For forty days they waited for their leader to come down from the mountain, and yet he remained in the clouds.
Imagine the sense of awe that you would have as these stories were told to you by this teacher. He would continue and said that eventually all the people believed that Moses must have died because he was too close to the greatness of God, so they began to ask Aaron to build an idol, a representation of God that would be less fearsome that they could see and understand, one that reflected them. So they built this idol and they began to worship it, only to have Moses emerge from the clouds right during the celebration. He spoke with such power and authority that everyone trembled in fear, he proclaimed that God had spoken the law to him while he was on the mountain, that the voice of God thundered and told him how they should live and worship him and him only. He held tablets of stone and said that they were carved by the God Himself and that the people should either live by the law or die by it, then he hurled the tablets at the idol the people constructed shattering the idol, the tablets, and the earth opened up swallowing many people. Then Moses went back onto the mountain, and this time the people waited in holy fear as God again spoke and Moses carved the stones.
When Moses returned things were different the people built the tabernacle, the ark, the altars, and began to live as God commanded. The cloud came down from the mountain and settled around the tent of meeting and Moses would meet with God there. But the biggest change was with Moses himself. Moses’ face glowed. It reflected God’s glory, and it continued to glow for days and slowly faded. Every time Moses met with God his face shone like it was lit by the sun, and it faded. Eventually the people began to focus on the face of Moses, instead of the tent where God would meet and be worshiped. So Moses began to wear a veil. He wore this veil to keep people from focusing on him and remain focused on God. The people would look at Moses and if his face dimmed they questioned if God was with them, if his face shone the feared that God was and that they might have incited wrath. They focused on the face of Moses so a veil was made to limit intimacy between God and mankind.
God did not want the veil to be placed on Moses’ face, God wanted the people to see His glory shine through Moses yet they were afraid. They were afraid because they did not know God, they did not know themselves they only knew that they were not who God wanted them to be, so they along with Moses hid their faces. Paul says that the veil is removed through Christ. Paul says that through Christ we can know and be known by God. That we can become companions of God greater than that of Moses. We know this because God has called us into ministry with Him and has allotted gifts to accompany us on His mission.
There is a power there that should cause us all to become excited. God has called us to participate in what He is doing all around us. He not only has called us but is empowering us to do it. He is giving us the words to speak when words need spoken, He gives wisdom if wisdom is needed, He gives knowledge to develop greater intimacy. He has empowered some to bring healing, some to challenge us all to live by faith, some to organize and steward the resources, and all to participate in the ministry so that we can participate in the building of His kingdom for the good of His creation.
God is calling us to live boldly, to let the light that enlightens our very souls to shine out into the world around us so that we can participate in His glory. He wants us to reflect his light, to drive out the darkness so that all people can live with God today and for all ages. Which brings me back to the magic mirrors of 16th century Japan. A mirror is not a mirror if it does not reflect, the metal must be polished and smoothed so that all the blemishes are removed. If it is not properly polished the reflection will be skewed and will reflect a false image. Like walking through a mad house at a carnival the images reflect falsehoods instead of reality. Making us look larger, taller, shorter, wider, or thinner than we truly are. Jesus takes way the veils, He removes the blemishes that skew the image of God that is stamped on us. Just as the master polisher removes one microscopic layer at a time Christ through the Spirit slowly perfects us layer by layer. He does this through the Holy Rhythm of life that He showed us: making it our custom to gather in Worship, withdrawing to the isolated places to pray, and ministering to the needs of our community as we are led. Layer by layer we begin to see the reality of who we actually are. With each pass we begin to reflect just a bit more and the gifts of the spirit shine out from us and illuminate those around us.
Layer by layer, we are polished. Layer by layer be reflect a clearer image. But we must submit to be polished, just as we do not choose our gifts we do not choose how we are polished, how we are tested or how we are used for His glory. It is all based on our companionship with God and our intimacy with the Spirit. When we start trying to dictate to God what He will do for us we begin to put veils between us, we begin to reflect skewed realities instead of the purity of God. When we begin to focus on little things instead of focusing on intimacy with God personally and corporately as a community of believers we begin to submit to the polishing skills of someone less qualified and instead of Christ being seen people see judgment. When people see judgement they start believing that they must do more or be more before God can grant them mercy. They begin to think that they must stop drinking before they can be accepted by God, instead of allowing God to heal them through the ministry of his followers. They begin to think I must be sexually pure before God will forgive, I must control my anger, or be debt free before God will see me as valuable. Each is a good thing to be, each are things that God desires, but who does the polishing? All too often we as humans focus on sin instead of the larger picture. The reality is that God’s grace can remove the sin and create within a seemingly imperfect life something beautiful.
For months the mirror master will sit polishing the surface of the metal so that it reflects just right. Layer by layer, removing the blemishes until under the careful trained fingers they find what they are looking for. At that moment they stop and hold the mirror to the light and see what is reflected as the light hits the surface. What is seen when the reflecting through us? Do we see the veiled faces of mankind or do we see the life of Christ? Do we see the skewed images of cleverly devised schemes of man or do we see the selfless love of God who so loved the world that He gave his son not to condemn but to save? When we gaze in the mirrors do we see the image of God stamped on the reflection? Friends we are called to join Christ in his work let us submit to that today!