Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Glorious Savior, Glorious Life” based on 2 Corinthians 3 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, March 3, 2019
My senior year at the Seminary, my wife and I lived on a couple acres along the Lake Michigan seashore. Don’t be overly impressed. We were renting a well to do family’s guest cottage. The total square footage? I’d estimate it at about 700 square feet. We didn’t have a lot of stuff back in the day, but trying to fit what we had into that place was like trying to fit a bulldog into a ballerina’s tutu. There wasn’t a whole lot of breathing room. We were pushing maximum capacity. That’s how this portion of God’s Word feels. It’s densely packed with grade A prime theology from beginning to end. It’s a challenging section. But walk with me as we unpack it slowly and as we do, Lord willing, we’ll be led to see that a glorious Savior for us means a glorious life for us. Hear the Word of the Lord as it’s recorded in 2 Corinthians, chapter 3.
It’s easy to see Jesus’ glory in our Gospel lesson as He shines brightly on the mountain. It’s also easy to see how we will shine brightly one day in eternity because of that same Jesus. It’s a lot more difficult to see how a glorious Savior for us means a glorious life for us now. In fact, we rightly condemn what we might call a theology of glory, the popular teaching that Christians should expect only good things and prosperity and smiley faces in this life. Jesus didn’t say that. He said “take up your cross and follow me.” He promised that the life of a Christian would be full of the most unglorious things.
But I don’t have to tell you that. We come here hoping find a little respite from the unglories of life. When you look back on your life so far, you see a lot of blessings, but you also see times when you were having to reach in the darkest depths of the kitchen sink trying to clean out a clogged drain. You see times when the news was good and celebration was called for, but you also see times when the unexpected brought sudden tears, and reduced you to a crumpled mess that could barely get out of bed. When you look back on your life, you see times when you boxed the devil on his pointy little ears, but you also see times when you put your arm around him like he was your best friend in the world.
We are sinful people living in a sinful world. And that means that unglory and ugliness will never be far away from us on this side of heaven. But again, you know that. What the apostle Paul shows us today is that because of Jesus, glory is never far away from us either.
As always, Jesus is the key. Glorious doesn’t mean always happy. Glorious doesn’t mean always spiritually successful. A glorious life is not, is not defined by our outward circumstances. A glorious life has Jesus and the hope he gives us as its beginning, middle and end.
Paul writes, Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. Lack of hope crushes a person’s spirit. But an abundance of hope makes them bold.
I was just talking with veteran Christian this week whose eyes have seen a lot of years. And a lot of dark days. She’s lost children and grandchildren in sudden, devastating fashion. And she told me the same thing many of you have also told me, “I don’t how someone without faith can manage.” People without faith also get cancer, people without faith also mess up their lives and families, people without faith also have to stand at gravesides. I don’t know how they cope. But I know how you cope. You cling to hope. Hope that comes from a God who loves you unconditionally. Hope that comes from a God who has proven himself to you in the past. Hope that comes from a God who promises a better future, if not today, one day, in eternity.
There’s something glorious about being bold in a world where by all appearances we should be freaking out a little! We don’t know what’s going to happen five minutes from now, much less five years from now. We don’t know what the next election will bring, what the next wave of secular societal peer pressure will bring, we don’t know how that might affect our jobs, our churches, our schools, our families. We don’t know what personal challenges, diagnoses, or tragedies are looming just over the horizon. We don’t know. And yet we do not cower or shrink back from tomorrow. Because we have Jesus. Covered by his perfection and bought with his blood, He makes us bold to stand in the face of Judgment Day. And if we can stand unafraid before an Almighty Judge, we can certainly stand unafraid and face tomorrow, no matter how uncertain it may be. That boldness is glorious and it can only come through faith.
We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. Moses’ phosphorescent kisser was pretty awesome, even though it eventually faded away. How much more awesome is a ministry where the glory never wears off or fades away! That’s what Paul had because he was blood-linked to the Lamb sent from heaven. Unfading glory. Because Jesus has unfading glory.
That’s what set Paul apart from the rivals who so tenaciously tried to tear him down. His rivals held on to the law of Moses like it was the foundation of the people’s relationship with God. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. They could offer no hope. They could only hand out report cards. You did this wrong, this wrong and this wrong. You fail! For them, the veil remained. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
You might say, “Wait a minute. We don’t see Jesus like Peter, James and John saw him on the mountain! Many things about him remain veiled to us. And when he does come to us, he doesn’t come in full glory mode, he comes in veiled fashion in Word, Water, Wheat and Wine.” All of that is true.
But there’s something pretty glorious about how the Holy Spirit, moved only by love and acting only because of grace, used those seemingly unimpressive things to draw back the veil of unbelief that covered your heart. And to give you a living, breathing faith. And to give you victory over death. And to give you the ability to live forever.
Though he may not yet show us his full glory, that doesn’t mean that he can’t occasionally show a little bit of his glory to us and in us. Paul states it in much stronger language. 18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Transformed into his likeness. That means the glorious change we saw Jesus undergo on the mountain isn’t the only glorious transformation we’re seeing this evening/morning. I’ve been trying to eat a little more healthy and exercise a little more often. And if you’ve ever done that before you it can be hard to be patient. When you look down at the scale and it’s the same as it was yesterday, or heaven forbid higher than it was yesterday. It deflates you. We want big changes and we want them immediately. That’s not how it works. Transformation happens slowly and eventually when you consume the right food.
Our spiritual transformation happens similarly. We want big change and we want it immediately. We also have the same expectation in the people around us, but that’s another sermon for another time. We want big change and we want it immediately, but that’s not how it works. Transformation happens slowly, over a lifetime, fed and nourished by regular, consistent, dare I say every week, dare I say every day, consumption of the Word and Sacraments. That’s how we are transformed into his likeness.
Wouldn’t that be a neat way to be thought of and remembered? As one who looked like Jesus? I don’t mean long hair and beard or however you picture him. I mean, having a heart that looks like Jesus’ heart. Wouldn’t it be neat if the people around you thought of you as someone whose heart looks like Jesus’ heart—one that is full of compassion and patience and mercy? One that pushes away ambition and selfishness and hate. Oh, Lord Jesus, make us like you—there and there alone do we find ever increasing glory.
Boldness that comes from hope. Unveiled eyes that see your Savior. Transformation that comes from a lifelong, consistent diet of Word and Sacrament. No, life will not always be glamourous. But with Jesus, life will always be glorious. Amen.