June 17, 2012


Proper 6


“Transformation by Subtraction”

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17




Today I want to focus on just 2 verses from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth.  Verse 16 and 17.  I realize that this is not a tactic that you are used to hearing from me. 

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!


These two verses, St. Paul is offering the consequences of the Cross. 


This Friday, I spent a few of the final moments of the Confirmation class on the subject of ‘Credo.’  This latin word means, ‘I believe.’  It is the root of the English word we use to describe statements of faith, what we title as creeds. 


I discussed the Apostle’s Creed with the Confirmands to make the point that the creed is broken down into (at least) 4 sections:  what we believe about God, what we believe about Jesus, what we believe about the Holy Spirit, and finally what we believe about the church.  This week we will work on developing some ‘I believe’ statements of our own that the congregation will use in worship on Confirmation Sunday in September.


The section on Jesus presents no surprises.  Jesus is, we believe, the Christ, the Messiah, the savior.  Christ is not Jesus’ last name, it is a title.  More than that, the creed goes on to describe his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  “From thence he will come to judge the quick and the dead.”  I suppose that a person who has read the Corinthian correspondance might well say that Paul could sign up for the Apostle’s Creed. 


Here in these two verses, he goes beyond affirming that Jesus really died on the cross, an atonement if you will to reconcile once and for all God and humanity.  What he is saying here is that this truth about Jesus has come to change his thinking.


Have you ever had a change of heart about someone?  Have you ever thought about a person one way, and then, learning something about them, had your perspective turned around?  Maybe you had some perspective based on looks.  I once had a funeral for a man who was, let’s say, rough around the edges.  At the graveside there were few ties, no suits, lots of facial hair and, well, tattoos.  Now, I don’t have anything against tattoos.  What I am saying is that I must have made some assumptions about this bunch gathered under the canvas awning in the cemetery.  Then when it came time during the committal to say the Lord’s prayer; this bunch said that prayer with as much volume and sincerity as any gathering I’ve been in.  I’ve been to a bunch of church type, preacher sorts of meetings before and this group put ‘em to shame.  It changed my perspective.


How do you suppose that Paul and his associates first viewed Jesus?  As a criminal?  Probably.  A subversive?  To be sure.  Maybe they even viewed him as a fool;  it is easy to view others with a sincere faith in God as foolish, maybe that was it.  Now, they just don’t judge in the way they did before.  Here it becomes clear why the Christian church, when its at its most faithful, looks to the heart rather than the face, and even why something as shameful as a cross, a sign of humiliation, gets put front and center in our churches.


To get to this point, some things have to go and other things must stay.


The fourteenth century mystic Meister Eckhart once observed, “The Spiritual Life is not a process of addition, but rather of subtraction.”


The famous artist Michelangelo said, “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that Imageimprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”


It is this miracle of transformation that St. Paul suggests, here as he speaks to the Corinthians, when a person is ‘in Christ.’  It is quite plainly stated that the miraculous nature of this change is the ability to see the world, the other, as God sees it.


If we have ‘new eyes,’ it is because God has reached out to us;  some how all of those other ways of seeing get stripped away.  We are reduced to that which God has created us to be, God’s people; and as such we are able to see beneath the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as God sees it.


Darla had always suffered from bouts of depression and low self-esteem. As a teenager, she felt as if everyone stared at her whenever she would get another pimple. Though thin, Darla was sure all the kids at school would notice if she gained a pound. Darla felt she was the only one on earth who had to suffer a combination of large nose, fine hair, tiny ears, and crooked teeth. She hated herself.


Many years of counseling had helped her gain perspective. After all, didn’t every person have flaws? The counselor told her everyone had insecurities and imperfections, but how we handled these feelings made the difference.


Darla recalled the four happiest days of her life: her wedding and the birth of each of the three girls. She had taken down all the mirrors in the house and prayed the girls would inherit their looks from their father. Time went on and a mirror was added every now and then.


Darla and her husband went to a party one night and met nice people from their new neighborhood. Darla kept wondering what people thought of her. Would they notice the scar under her chin? What was her hair doing? Would they think the mole on her neck was a pimple? She went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror.


She tugged at her hair, covered the mole, and checked the scar. She was fine, she reminded herself. Just then she caught sight of a sticker on the corner of the mirror. The inscription made her pause: “Do you see yourself as God sees you?” It had the name of a local church at the bottom. She read the question again. Do you see yourself as God sees you?


Darla stopped fidgeting with her face and wondered. How did God see her? Did God see the problems on her face? On her body? In her mind? Did God see the obstacles, faults, character flaws that every one of us has?


She practiced her self-esteem mental exercise. What was the positive alternative? Made in the image of God? Surely God wasn’t that ugly! She caught herself. Made in God’s likeness — with feelings, thoughts, and fears?




The question from the silver sticker stuck by her for months as she pondered the answer. Did she have the potential to be a child of God? Finally, she reached a conclusion: “I, Darla, with all my skills and scars, am one of God’s children. A child of God made to love and care for others. I am made in the image of God.”


Today, there is a small piece of paper on Darla’s bathroom mirror. Daily she asks herself, with a smile: “Do you see yourself as God sees you?” She always nods yes. [1]


For you to make this kind of transformation requires that you get rid of some of the junk that others have been putting on your doorstep.  It is a strange thing, transformation by subtraction, but it’s what God offers us.



[1] Berg, Constance “Lectionary Tales For The Pulpit, Series II Cycle B” CSS Publications, 1997