A Voice From The Isles:
6 For it is the God who commanded Light to 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.
This opening verse from the Apostle today urges us to look straight in the face of Jesus Christ and there to see the glory of God. The Light in our hearts is the same Light that brought creation into being. It is the same Light that shines in the face of Jesus Christ. Therefore, when we look upon the face of Jesus, Light responds to Light. We are enlightened, therefore we see and what we see is the same glorious Light which is Christ, as the Creed has it the True Light from the True Light. Now this Light gives us knowledge, enlightenment. This is not the sort of knowledge you need for a pub quiz or to pass an exam; it is the knowledge of God Himself, not in theory but in a relationship. Knowing Christ is to relate to Him in love, to serve Him and to see his face in the face of all humans. This is the kind of knowledge which is the pearl of great price, a field which a man might buy in order to find hidden treasure, heaven where our hearts must always be. No one can give you this knowledge, this love, this Light second-hand. You must desire it and seek it out for yourself. In order to do that you will need others and especially the guidance of a confessor, an experienced Christian, not always a priest, who will be able to help you on your way. The goal though is for your face to be lit up with the same glory which transfigures Christ, the glory of God Himself.
None of this is easy; it is hard work, a lifetime’s work even. In that evocative phrase of Churchill, I offer you blood, sweat and tears. Sacrifice is an inseparable part of the Christian way, to take up our cross and follow Christ. You need to decide to do that daily. However weakly and nervously you begin to do this you soon discover a powerful spiritual principle at work in your life: dying with Christ in order to live in Him and He in you. This becomes very clear in the second part of the Apostle reading from St Paul that we heard earlier.
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So then death is working in us, but life in you.
St Paul knew personally what it meant to “(carry) about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus”. God had warned him beforehand at his conversion what he must suffer for the sake of preaching the gospel to Gentiles. Here was a man who was infirm, hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down but because of his firm grasp of the cross of Christ he remained empowered by God, full of hope and living in and by the presence of the Lord Himself. The resurrection was not something for Him far-off but rather a present experienced reality, the life of the risen Christ in Himself and in the Church. However if he was being brought to life in Christ it was for the sake of the Church, his spiritual children, his brothers and sisters. As he says at the end of the second section: “So then death is working in us, but life in you.” So, when we live the same life in Christ it is always to enlighten and empower others with that same Light. If therefore we are to avoid selfishness, the sin of pride, then our spiritual lives can never be separated from the call to mission, to impart life to others. This is how St Paul carries on his argument.
13 And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke”, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.”
“I believed and therefore I spoke.” St Paul is quoting from the Psalms. To believe is to speak, at the right time of course to the right person, but nonetheless it is to speak. I suppose that many of us find that quite challenging. We are encouraged by society to keep our lives of faith private. Partly this is because of an unreasonable sensitivity to perceived offence, partly no doubt because of personal resistance to Christ and the challenge He presents to human life. Difficult though confessing our faith might be and however unfashionable, no matter how hostile reactions occasionally might prove we cannot as Christians ever keep our mouths shut. If the gospel really is good news, then like St Paul we must confess it to be so. In season and out of season, to enquirers, lazy thinkers and despisers alike we must speak up for our faith that others might live by the resurrection of Christ also. St Paul describes the outcome of this evangelism as an abounding in the glory of God. Elsewhere he speaks of the end time when God shall be all and in all. How is that to be accomplished if Christian people keep the gospel to themselves and the power of God hidden away under lock and key?
Various practical challenges arise from the spiritual teaching in the apostle today. Looking upon the face of Christ involves the challenge of worship, a true work or liturgy amongst the people who seek through ascetic labour and faith to become enlightened with the knowledge of the love of God. They thereby become bright in face and countenance, glorified in Him. True worship therefore is always transformative. We leave church with our lives changed, with new vision and hope and with the power of God the Holy Spirit Himself. Carrying in our body the dying of Jesus means that we learn through faith to embrace sacrifice as the way to life, not to fear death but rather to give of ourselves in love knowing thereby that the life of God Himself shall raise us up and with us many others. Elsewhere St Paul says: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ.” This is how we bring others to life in Christ. However, this is inseparable from confessing with our lips what God has done for us in Christ. Unbelievers need to know and understand what it is that motivates us, fills us with that life and gives us the hope of a renewed creation. We confess Christ of course, not ourselves and to do that we not only need to know Him personally but we also need to experience His action in our lives and indeed in the lives of others. All of this can be achieved by faith, prayer and good counsel. It remains for us to do something about it, day by day to be enlightened and to enlighten. So, everyone, light up your faces with the glory that burns brightly in the face of Christ. Cast a little Light around the place!