This sermon first delivered at Pigeon Cove Chapel in Rockport, Mass, on June 11, 2006
Before I begin, I’d like to mention that I’ve heard some nasty rumors about what exactly should be thrown at the newbie preacher, so I thought I’d share a little scripture on that. The only verses I know that have anything to do with throwing things are Psalms 60 and 108. It’s pretty much the same in both spots –
With exultation I will divide up Shechem
And portion out the Valley of Succoth
Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet,
Judah my washbasin;
Upon Edom I cast my shoe;
Over Philistia I shout in triumph.
So scripturally, it’s probably okay to throw shoes. But, uh, no high heels please.
My actual text for today is 2 Corinthians 3:7-18. I’m reading out of the English Standard Version, mostly because that happens to be the bible I’m carrying around with me right now.
Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
I had the benefit a few weeks ago of sitting in on one of Valerie’s environmental health classes while they were discussing the public health concerns dealing with atomic radiation. As a precursor to the discussion, they reviewed the mechanics of how radiation works, and that was when all kinds of lights started going off for me. I don’t remember anything from the rest of the class.
Somehow, in all my years of education, I managed to get hardly any science education at all. Since I was an English major in college, my advisors assumed I couldn’t do numbers and couldn’t understand detailed theories, so they strongly “encouraged” me toward science classes for the “non-majors,” that is, science for dummies. To my great shame, I listened to them. We spent the semester determining that streams that had been turned into concrete ditches with no trees were bad for the environment. I never took a single class in chemistry, or physics, or anything else that sounded “complicated.” So I knew basically what they tell you on the news: Radiation is bad. Nuclear bombs are bad. Stay out of the sun. Don’t let any nuclear power plants blow up.
So in this class, I learned a lot of really cool things. Here’s how this works: Radioactive decay happens when large, unstable elements like Plutonium deteriorate by losing subatomic particles – electrons and neutrons – one at a time. Radiation can be used to generate energy by placing a large amount of these unstable elements together and triggering a chain reaction, which causes things to get really hot, generating steam, running turbines, etc.
Radiation becomes a health concern, however, because of the how this deterioration happens. Each subatomic particle that is lost is a nanoscopic missile hurled at an impossible rate, accompanied by a high-powered burst of energy. Nanoscopic missiles don’t have much effect on things that are composed mainly of large chunks of the same dense stuff. The wall of a nuclear plant isn’t very concerned that it might become pock-marked by millions of micron-deep bullet holes.
But a living person has every reason to be concerned, since our bodies aren’t exactly made of concrete. Every cell of our bodies is separately alive, and a micron-deep bullet hole is just the thing to really mess things up, or even kill a living cell.
And you’re probably wondering what this has to do with Moses and being transformed. Well, let me take you back to Moses. If you’ll remember, back in Exodus 20 or so, God had just delivered Israel from Pharaoh in Egypt. They’d crossed the Red Sea and come to worship at the mountain of God. So God shows up. He comes down in thunder and lightning and a dark cloud and smoke and basically scares the heebie-jeebies out of the Nation of Israel.
And all 1.2 million of them as a body came together and said, “Oh no, Moses, no you don’t. That God saved me from Pharaoh, I’m very grateful. But if you think I’m going to go up there and talk to *that*, you’re nuts! Yahweh wants to be our God, great! You go talk to him on the mountain. We’ll stay down here, where it’s safe!” And that was that. So at about chapter 24, Moses goes up on the mountain to talk to God. And a month later, he hasn’t come down. Do you know what’s happened to Moses? I don’t know what’s happened to Moses. Maybe he’s dead.
By chapter 32, they can’t handle this any longer. Obviously Moses is dead, so they go to Aaron and say, “Ok, we can’t do this any longer. It’s time to get moving. Aaron, make us a God.” So Aaron said ok, and he collected a big lump of gold and he made them a cow. I don’t know why he made them a cow, but he made them a cow. And they got together and threw a party and said, “Praise be to this cow, who brought us out of Egypt!”
So about this time, Moses starts coming down the mountain with his two stone tablets God had made for them. Now, I know this has never happened to anyone here, but I’ve heard stories about parents going out of town for a weekend and leaving their teenage kids at home. Something comes up and the parents decide to come back early and they get home and the kids are having this massive party, and they are doing all kinds of stuff they’re not supposed to do. Right here, Moses feels like those parents. He is not happy. He is really really angry.
So Moses takes this golden cow, and he grinds it down into powder. And he throws the gold dust on a giant tub of water. And he makes them drink the water. “You think this golden cow brought you up out of Egypt? You think this cow can save you? Fine! Eat the cow! Did that help?”
Now, because of this experience, Israel down through history got this one truth burned into their minds: “God is not a cow.”
Now, that sounds really funny. But, we get some funny ideas about who God is too. Some of us think that God is like some kind of marine drill sergeant who’s always yelling at you and tells you you’ll never be good enough. Others of us think that God is some kind of smothering mother, whose whole world revolves around making us happy. Maybe you think God is some kind of senile old man who will let you get away with anything. He’s the living God of heaven, who loves us, but whose zeal will never rest until we are conformed into the image of his beloved perfect son. God is not whatever it is that you’ve imagined. He’s someone real.
Israel learned that day that idol worship is terrible. It can kill you. People died that day. But the worst thing is that God has made us to worship. It’s our nature to be conformed, to be changed by the things that consume our lives. By worshiping that golden cow, what were they being changed into? Nothing at all. That cow in scripture becomes the overriding image of what idolatry is. They talk about it in Psalm 115. Verses 4-8
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of human hands
They have mouths, but do not speak
Eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear,
Noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
Feet, but do not walk;
And they do not make a sound in their throat
Those who make them become like them;
So do all who trust in them.
If you’ll look up at verses 2 and 3, you’ll see one of my favorite passages. What about our God?
Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens;
He does all that he pleases.
So what about us, in the 21st century? Paul talks in 2nd Corinthians about Moses, who would put a veil over his face, so people wouldn’t be shocked at the glory shining from him, and so they wouldn’t see it as it was fading. And he says also that people who won’t turn to the Lord have put that same kind of a veil over their hearts, so that when the spirit of God comes, it won’t change them.
And that reminds me of that class of Valerie’s that I sat in on. Radiation can destroy living cells based on the amount of energy and the size of the particles that hit them. A vagrant proton volleying through the air is like a cannon shot. It can cripple, or even destroy the cells it touches. But because it is relatively huge, its impact is relatively small: it doesn’t go very far into you before all its energy is spent bursting through cell walls. But a loose electron, since it’s so much smaller, can create little worm holes all through your body, rearranging hundreds of cells.
Radiation changes people, usually not for the good. So, when we’re confronted with an energy source that comes from atomic decay, the natural and proper response is to avoid it. In the sun, we wear sunscreen. In the X-ray room of the hospital, the technician gives you a lead apron to wear. We protect ourselves, we veil ourselves, so our bodies might not be changed.
The Bible says that something similar happens when we turn to the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3, verse 17: “Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”
The natural response, because we are sinners, when we encounter the Spirit of God is just like when we encounter radiation: we want to avoid it. We want to veil ourselves so that we won’t be changed. But what we have to realize is that, while radiation generally brings death, “the Spirit brings life.”
We were made to worship, and if we turn away from God, we will turn toward something else, an idol. And to paraphrase the scripture, those idols, whatever they are, are deaf, dumb, blind and stupid. And those who worship them will become like them: deaf, dumb, blind and stupid. Eventually, dead.
So where do we go from here? Well, what I’d like you to think about is what areas of your life you are still covering with a veil. What is it that you’re scared to death to change? Because I guarantee you that behind that veil is an idol of the heart, and if you leave it there, you’ll become just like it – deaf, dumb, blind and stupid. Eventually dead. I’d even recommend that you pray about it and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal those areas to you.
As David said in Psalm 139, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I believe that if you ask him, God will do just that. Maybe that veil covers your whole life. Maybe you’ve never been willing to let God change you at all. If so, I encourage you to repent and turn to Jesus. Because in spiritual matters, the most terrible thing would be to stay the same.
But if we turn to the Lord, and remove whatever things we using to veil ourselves from him, then beholding the glory of the Lord we will be being transformed into the same image as Jesus Christ his Son, from one degree of glory to the next. That’s what God wants for us. That’s God’s design for us.
And then, one day, when Jesus Christ returns and we meet him in the air, First John 3:2 says, “What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Then every veil will be stripped away, and we will be truly transformed.