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Psalm 27

II Corinthians 3.12-18; 5.16-20

God in the Mirror

Third Sunday after Epiphany

Lucy, Linus and Charlie Brown were lying on the grass one warm, sunny summer afternoon, gazing at the sky, when Lucy asked, “Aren’t the clouds beautiful?  They look like big balls of cotton!  I could just lie here all day and watch them drift by.  If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the clouds’ formations.  What do you think you see Linus?”  Linus replied, “Well, those clouds up there look to me like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean.  That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor.   And that group of clouds over there… give me the impression of the Stoning of Stephen.  I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side.”  “Uh huh, that’s very good,” Lucy responded; “What do you see, Charlie Brown?”   Charlie Brown told her, “Well, I was going to say I saw a duckie and a horsie, but I changed my mind.”

“’Come,’ my heart says, ‘Seek God’s face!’  Your face, O Lord, do I seek; do not turn your face away from me.”  Where do you see the face of God?  We know the ancients saw gods in the clouds:  Zeus was the Greek god of the sky, the clouds and thunder, and Frigg the Norse god of the clouds.  There is a passage in the book of Numbers that describes seeing God’s face in the pillar of cloud that stood overhead and led the people Israel through the wilderness.  And not too long ago there was an article in the Boston Globe about paying attention to the images the clouds create, and how some people do see the face of God there.  And of course you can always Google ‘God in the clouds’ to find, if not actual images of God, at least images that some people think might look like God, if you squint and catch just the right angle and light.  Then again, this all assumes that we know what God looks like in the first place, a proposition I’m willing to debate, although not today.

But there are better ways of finding the image of God than searching the sky, and on the third Sunday of Epiphany, one of the things we focus on is the recent Christmas message and its meaning for the rest of the year, namely, the incarnation.  As John’s gospel has it, “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the only Son of God.”  There is something about Jesus that conveys to us the reality of God.  Not just the idea of God, or the message or the presence of God, but the reality of God, God embodied, the Word become flesh, the incarnation.  The message of Matthew’s and Luke’s nativities, the message of Jesus’ multiple manifestations at Epiphany, indeed the message of the passion and resurrection – which is to say the entirety of Jesus’ life story – is that in a very real and true sense, when we are looking at Jesus, we are looking at God.  As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to the divine.”  You may have read earlier this week about Leander Keck, a prolific writer, theologian and former Dean of Yale Divinity School, who died at age 95.  Dr. Keck was a formidable New Testament scholar, and I have a handful of his books in my library.  He wrote in his book Who Is Jesus?  History in the Perfect Tense, that the life and ministry of Jesus are in part a reflection of God’s holiness, and describes how, as Jesus went about building the beloved community in his own day as in ours, we can see the world God is striving to create through you and me.  And John A.T. Robinson, former Bishop of the Anglican Church and Dean at Clare College Cambridge, in his book The Human Face of God, wrote, “God shows the divine face to us in Jesus.  In what Jesus does and wills, we come to know the will and mind of God as well.”  God shows the divine face to us in Jesus.  “Come, my heart says, seek God’s face!  Your face, O Lord, do I seek – do not hide your face from me.”

It is not just in the face of Jesus that we see the face of God though.  I was at a denominational meeting a few years ago where someone suggested we can sometimes see the face of God in one another.  In fact, in one of those group ice-breaker games I don’t particularly care for, we had to go around the room and name the ways we saw the face of God in each person there.  <Insert eye roll here.>  But I had to confess that on both a biblical level and an experiential level, the suggestion makes sense, because if Jesus is God become human, and if he wears God’s face as a result, then in what ways might you and I wear that same face of God by virtue of our own humanity?  I’m sure you can think of some of the ways yourselves:  we wear God’s face when we reach out to people around us in compassion and kindness; we wear God’s face when we sit in silence with someone who only needs presence; we wear God’s face when we share someone’s laughter and deepen an already profound friendship; we wear God’s face when we bear the presence of Jesus simply by being who we are.  I’m confident each one of us here this morning can share a time that someone has borne the face of God toward us.

I’m not very good at math.  I did OK with Algebra I and II, I could not fathom geometry, and to this day I thank my lucky stars that I somehow avoided calculus and trigonometry.  But I do still remember certain theorems, corollaries and numerical properties, and among them is the symmetric property of equality, where if a = b, then b = a.  A nice, clean, easily understood principle of arithmetic.  This property came to mind earlier this week in my research, because it occurred to me in this way:  if we have recognized the times when we have seen the face of God in others, then the symmetric property of equality suggests there have been times when others have seen the face of God in us.  After all, if a = b, then b = a.  This is probably not something many of us have thought about for ourselves – or at least not until we posted the sermon title on the church sign Thursday.  The face of God?  In me?  I’m not sure about that at all!  Granted, several years ago a congregant told me after one morning’s worship that she perceived an unmistakable aura surrounding me as I preached.  This is not something I am accustomed to hearing, it is not something I am particularly comfortable hearing, and all I could think of was that it was probably due to all the garlic I ate the night before.  But I think the feeling is true for most of us:  we can name the ways we have witnessed the face of God in other people, but we are reluctant to acknowledge the ways God’s face might be seen in us.  Perhaps it is our humility – we are a humble congregation – and maybe it is our natural New England reticence, maybe it is because we know ourselves a lot better than others know us and we doubt very much that God’s face can be seen anywhere in the vicinity or our own, but there is no mistaking it:  sometimes, b also equals a.

So I decided to try an experiment, to demonstrate the theorem, as it were.  The New Testament sometimes expresses our perception of ourselves, and of God’s presence within us, in terms of a looking glass, or a mirror.  In the lesson Deb read from II Corinthians, Paul wrote, “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.”  All of us, seeing God’s glory as if reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image – God’s image, God’s glory.  Paul uses the same kind of language in a passage familiar to many of us, one we often hear at weddings, from I Corinthians 13:  “Now we see as though in a mirror, dimly; then we shall see face to face.”  And then listen to the parallel, because the Hebrews love parallel poetry:  “Now I know only I part – then I will be fully known, as God’s knowledge of me.”  First we see in a mirror – now I know only in part; then we see God face to face – then we will be fully known:  we will know God, and God will know us completely.

So here is my experiment:  I borrowed Debbie’s hand mirror.  If b really does equal a, then I should be able to perceive God’s face in the mirror, right?  So what do I see when I look into it?  Well, I see a nose and a pair of eyes – and again, from a Hebrew perspective this is good, because more often than not the Hebrew word for “nose” and “eyes” is translated into English as “face,” so I know we’re on the right track.  And no, I don’t know what the Hebrew word for “glasses” is, although it is probably a variation of the word for mirror or looking-glass, so again, we’re close – except I’ve always heard that God has a long white beard.

But still, I’m having a difficult time seeing the face of God in this hand-held mirror.  Could it be that this is too small to convey the vastness of the glory of God?  Well, let’s see if this full-length mirror works any better.  I can see a lot more this way, so maybe we’re getting closer, but something seems to be missing.  Let’s try a different angle.   No… no…. no…

Aha!  There we go! Now that I hold the mirror this way, so that it reflects all of you,  the face of God is beginning to come into focus!  Maybe it is the body of Christ that bears the face of God.  Even when we are reluctant to admit that God’s face can be seen in me (or in any single one of us), maybe we can admit that God’s face cand be seen in us, in all of us together.

The writer of Hebrews calls out God’s faithful by name in the eleventh chapter, and it reads like a Who’s Who of the Old Testament:  “By faith Noah… by faith Abraham… by faith Sarah… by faith Moses… by faith Rahab… by faith Gideon, and Samson, and David and the prophets…  Maybe what the mirror is telling us is that the list continues to this day.  By faith [names]…  And then the writer concludes the passage right back where we started this morning:  “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight… and run with perseverance the race that is set before us.  Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…  surrounded by all you people who together bear the face of God in my mirror.

Maybe Lucy was right – and maybe we will see the face of God where we least expect to find it.

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United Church of Chester, 29 West Main Street, Chester, CT 06412. (860) 526-2697


From the North: Take CT Route 9 South to Exit 8 (old exit 6) (CT 148). Turn left; we are 1 mile on the right.


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