Face Your Mirror Outward
2 Corinthians 3:12-18
If I may begin on a personal basis - in the Ward family, we have always loved word games. We could spend a whole afternoon just browsing through the dictionary. And when there's a dispute over pronunciation or meaning, it's always a race to the dictionary as the final authority. But if it's a word game, we'll play it, all the way from Scrabble to Boggle to Upwords to Jotto or playing Hangman with the grandchildren.
If we were to play a word game right now, and I were to ask you to give me a definition of the word "glory," what would you say?
If you could sneak a quick look at the dictionary, you would find the standard definitions: "Exalted praise, honor, or distinction bestowed by common consent as in 'To win glory on the field of battle,' adoring praise or worshipful thanksgiving as in 'Give glory to God,' or resplendent beauty or magnificence, or a state of absolute happiness."
There are also the religious definitions of glory--"the splendor and bliss of heaven; a ring, a circle, or surrounding radiance of light represented about the head, or the whole figure of a sacred person, as Christ, a saint, etc., a halo, a nimbus or an aureole." Etc., etc.
So there are many meanings for the word "Glory." I wouldn't have brought it up if I didn't have a definition of my own that fits my purpose this morning. It is a very simple definition and perhaps not worth all this buildup. A definition of glory that I like is "A shining face." And it means something to me because I see a lot more shining faces than I do halos or radiance of light around holy persons.
To me, there is nothing more glorious than someone whose face is aglow with the excitement, the power, the joy of a new idea that has came to them, or a concept that is reshaping their lives. I've seen it in the unknowing faces of my children when they were small and same stimulus had brought a new discovery to their experience, and their expressions just beamed forth with a joy that brought a kind of glory to our own faces.
I've seen glory in the laughter of love-two people laughing over same hilarious incident. The incident may have triggered the laughter, but suddenly they are looking at each other and laughing because they know they love each other. Call it "Love's glory glow," which is perhaps too precious a phrase and sounds more like the title of a TV soap opera, but I mean it in its best sense.
Paul speaks of the glory of our Christian faith as being eternal-a glory that will last forever. Paul was on fire with that glory. How his face must have shone on the Damascus road when he was suddenly exposed to the truth of it--the greatest "Aha" experience of his life, or of any life for that matter. And from that moment on, he could never stop talking about it.
Maybe that's a measurement of glory --that about which you are compelled to talk. That about which you cannot stop talking must indeed be glorious.
In his second letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul wrote (and I quote the paraphrasing of the Living Bible), "Since we know that this new glory will never go away, we can preach with great boldness, and not as Moses did, who put a veil over his face that the Israelis could not see the glory fade away."
Paul is all chauvinism. Far him, there is only one way--the way of Christ. I also believe that. I can be chauvinistic about Christianity because I do not believe it is one among many religions. To me, it is not a religion at all; it is a way of life that has been given the Christian label. The distinction is that all other religions are man's search for God, while Christianity is God's search for man--for us. For me, that distinction holds up under the most severe scrutiny. Religion is a security system. Christianity is an adventure of the spirit--with the mirror of the self turned outward.
But I cannot put Christianity on a list of religions. I do not believe that the mission of Jesus the Christ on this earth was to set up yet another religion in competition with other religions. He came with a different message--that God's love constantly flows toward the people he creates, and it is up to us to respond or not, to that gift of love.
So when I agree with Paul that there is only one way--the way of Christ--I'm not talking about religion, I'm talking about life. To seek the Christ spirit is to seek God's truth about life. And any person, to be Moslem, Hindu, or Buddhist or whatever, if he or she is seeking the greatest truth about life, He is, in my mind, in pursuit of Christ's truth.
Now, any religion on that list might make the same claim - that its founder, or original leader, was the conveyer of the truth about God, or Allah, or the Most High. Wonderful. Let them all make that claim; let them all feel chauvinistic about their faiths, but never competitively or coercively. The saddest, most damaging word in the nomenclature of religion is "infidel." Another is "apostate," another is "heretic"--as if anyone who disagreed with the tenets of a religion should be banished to oblivion. And thus, wars have been waged in the name of religion. It is not our place to disagree or be critical of any other religion except where prejudices and punishment is inflicted in the name of its god. our place is to be most encouraging and accepting of all religions whose mission is peace in the world.
Jesus was a Jew. i do not believe he ever intended to turn his back on his own religion. If he returned to us today, he might well continue his Jewish heritage, continue his preaching that the love of god enhances the laws of God. And so, he would undoubtedly continue to be in trouble.
The early Jews believed their salvation depended upon their meticulous keeping of their many laws. They soon discovered they were impossible to keep in their totality. Everyone always managed to find a few laws they couldn't avoid breaking, so they had to reinstate their salvation by special sin offering, etc.
Many times throughout the New Testament, the Christian answer is provided, but perhaps nowhere so colorfully as in the lines of Paul's Corinthian letter, in which he says: "But whenever anyone turns to the Lord from his sins, then the veil is taken away. The Lord is the Spirit who gives them life, and where he is, there is freedom"--freedom from trying to be saved by constantly keeping the laws of religion.
But we Christians have no veils over our faces--we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And, as the spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like Him--with our own merry spirit sending out its welcome.
We are mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. Have you ever seen that reflection in someone's face? I've seen it. The wearer of that kind of glory does not know he's wearing it. If it were self-conscious, it would be quickly destroyed. It is effective because it is reflected outward. And when it is reflected outward, it shows in other people's faces--for it is a contagious glory. And it keeps coming back to you in the glory of other faces shining toward you.
There are other symbols of reflected glory, not just in radiant faces.
A man named Dave had made a fortune and found great joy in seeking out worthy causes to support. Now, with the end of his days in sight, he was practically impoverished. He had given it all away. A reporter asked him, "Do you ever regret the fact that you gave so much money away?" "Why, of course not," he smiled. "That's all I have left. What I gave away is what they have not been able to take away. Sometimes at night I go down past the hospital and look up at the lighted windows of the operating wards and say to myself, 'Dave, they didn't get your hospital, did they?' And I know that some doctor is up there helping somebody back to health, on my property."
Dave was a great channel of reflected glory. He didn't look only into the mirror of his own life, but he faced the mirror of his life outward. And in doing so, he also reflected the joy of life.
Religion was a desperately serious matter with the Jews of Jesus' day. It permeated all of life. There were cleansings, washings, ceremonials, stated prayers, offerings, sacrifices at the altars (at a good stiff price), legal requirements, strict doctrines, social restrictions, many constraints, precise ritual, and very little joy-and no glory.
One of the most devastating charges that religious professionals leveled at Jesus was the fact that he seemed to get a great deal of fun out of life. They said he mingled with the merry and shared too much the fun of the fun loving. They found it difficult to believe he was really religious, because he was not dismal.
It seems to be a caricature of modern religion that many people still think they must accept a doleful, melancholy pose if they are to appear "spiritual"--as if God enjoyed watching his people suffer from depressions.
The doctrine that our God is only a great and terrible judge is a great and terrible misconception that can result only in a most dismal Christianity.
Jesus tried to represent God as a Father, lavishing love upon His own.
He undertook to establish the proposition that those who tried genuinely to reflect God's glory might expect to rejoice, to face the mirror of their love outward and see it return a hundredfold.
There can be no great wave of evangelism in the Christian Church until there is a revival of joy in our Christian lives--and that happens in facing mirrors outwards.
Our worship services ought more often be celebrations of joy. The glory ought to be obvious in our shining faces. And we all ought to be so excited about it that our friends just naturally wonder what has got into us. They've just got to come and see for themselves.
Does the mirror of your face have that kind of reflection on it?
Some people will say, how can we be joyous in a world filled with so much fear and social darkness? And it is true that the world around us presents a doleful picture indeed.
But we hope, in spite of that darkness. And we try to do our small part to lighten the darkness wherever we can. I think our First Congregational Church is facing the mirror of itself outward. We sometimes think of our outreach only in terms of the money our Missionary Benevolence Committee sends out to institutions of service. And how easy it is to be critical of
our church that it is not changing the world overnight. But there comes a time when we might well take some gratitude in the fact that our outreach is much more than it appears on the surface.
George Wright took the time to compile a list of the outreach programs of our church. He listed every activity that could be interpreted as outreach, and he came up with a very long list. It has so much more on it than the obvious--our support of the Hope-Net program, our gifts to the downtown skid row missions, our financial support of higher education, and so many other charitable organizations.
There are also our organ concerts, the Bach Festival, our Thrift Shop, our Counseling Service, Project Literacy, the American Pilgrim Chorus, and on and on - all as efforts of outreach. Of course, there's always much more to be done, more outreach to be mounted. But let us be grateful that we do shine our mirror outward, more than we might think.
But it is our individual mirrors which we mainly focus on this morning. Do you see the shining mirrors that I do in our congregation? And are you one of them?
There's an old joke used by many a master of ceremonies--he says, "Ladies and gentlemen, psychologists tell us that in audiences like we have here tonight, at least 50 percent of the people are neurotic. Now I want each one of you to look at the person next to you. If he looks normal, then you're the one."
That old joke twists around beautifully. In a congregation like this one, usually half of you are doleful, deadly serious Christians turned inward on yourselves, constantly reflecting only your own sad feelings. Now I want each of you to look at the person next to you. If he or she looks happy, and his or her face is mirrored outward with the Glory of God, then you're the one.
Our goal? To have every face in this congregation showing forth the glory of God and the joy of living. Face your mirror outward.