#I’llTakeYouThere is the reflection for February 7, 2016. How many jelly beans are in the jar on the counter and what does that have to do with our spirituality? What does this have to do with God, how God relates to us, and God’s love? Mark Kurowski reflects on how this all relates. Listen here in this reflection: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay #Sermon #Homily #JellyBeans #CountryStore #CrackerBarrell #Corinthians #Moses #Exodus #Veil #AccessToGod #Relationship #Commandments #Sanctification #Holiness
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 2/7/2016 The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time or Transfiguration Sunday.
Please pause this audio and read 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Have you ever walked into a candy store, a Cracker Barrell, a tourist trap general store in some town somewhere and up on the countertop by the register is a jar full of jelly beans, with all kinds of colors that are associated with all kinds of flavors? Next to it is usually a sign that says that if you can guess exactly how many beans are in the jar, then you either get all the jelly beans or you get a prize? Some people like the challenge. Others, like myself, just throw out a number because trying to figure it all out just seems like too much work.
In both Catholic and Protestant circles, spirituality and the religion that springs from it, can be like guessing the number of beans in a jar to win the Salvation Prize: How many good things have I done? How many bad things have I done? I just can’t get it. It is just too difficult to figure out how God works, what he wants me to do, and whether or not I am going to be saved; whether or not I am good.
With that kind of uncertainty, being faithful to God can seem like a game of chance. When we feel that we are in a game of chance, then all kinds of voices will seem to be credible, and all kinds of propositions. Usually those that are easier to understand for us become our truth. Unfortunately, these easy solutions may or may not be God’s Truth. Yet, we will embrace them, be trapped by them, and be tempted to throw our hands up and just forget it like trying to count the jelly beans in a jar on a counter at a tourist trap.
This is the situation in which St. Paul finds himself in this passage from the Second Letter to the Church at Corinth. This letter, in what seems to be a series of five letters, of which the scholars think we have three, Paul finds it necessary to defend himself. It seems that there are people who have presented letters of recommendation from some source. They are presenting these letters to make the claim that Paul’s Gospel is wrong. So, you can see, like we talked about last week, that the Church at Corinth is a constant work for Paul. (It always seems to be contentious in Corinth.)
“The Recommended” also seem to be people that are telling the Corinthians that Paul’s message is not rooted enough in the law. With the licentiousness of Corinth, it is very possible that some would be so offended by the people who came to the Church there that they would insist on a rigid keeping of the law. To this, Paul makes a very clever argument that arises out of an incident concerning Moses.
When Moses, as recounted in Exodus 34, comes down from Mt. Sinai, after being in the presence of the Lord, his face shone so brightly that the people asked him to put on a veil. They weren’t holy enough to encounter Moses. God was far away, distant, and holy. Any interaction with God was a miraculous event because Israel’s perception of God at that particular moment was that he was harsh and exacting. Even though the prophets and Moses himself told them otherwise, they looked at God like he was beyond their reach. So, the best way to relate to God was simply to keep his commandments and to keep a healthy distance.
In some ways, this is healthy to understand that God is holier than we are. It should cause us to be humble before him. So, in that regard, I am thankful. The idea that God is holy should cause us to have a degree of respect for him. This is good.
The Recommended are saying that Paul cannot be right because he is not insisting that we bare knuckle it, keep our distance, and obey. Paul is saying something very profound and insightful about humanity. In the state of sin, we act in our own interests, either for profit or for survival. Therefore, when we approach God, it is often to seek our benefit. There is this relationship with God that is about competition: what can we get out of God with the least amount of effort? Can we keep commandments, still have our own lives, and get the benefits of faith? Yet, the problem with this is that then the keeping of the commandments becomes a burden. They become too holy for us. They become a faraway, unachievable thing that we have to count and recount to make sure that we have done what we should. I don’t know about you, but there is enough rebellion in me that when someone constantly holds me to account for what I DID NOT DO, then I buck like a wild horse in a rodeo. When that happens then, bean counting our efforts to keep the commandments becomes counterproductive. It becomes defeating.
This is where Paul says that with the New Covenant, there is a dramatic change. No longer will the Law be placed before us by a God who we treat as distant. No, God will place himself within us. He will write his law on our hearts. We will be changed not by a guessing game, or by a grueling outward exercise, but from within.
We see this all the time with addicts. People who are addicted are driven from within to be faithful and loyal to the drug of their choice. Any efforts to make them ‘keep the commandments’ (whatever commandments those are) are fruitless until the change from within takes place.
Paul is saying that this change is wrought by the Holy Spirit within us. It is intimate, not separated. It is a progression, so it may not appear to be a done deal. My suspicion is that Corinth was so raucus and the people there so uneven in their behavior toward holy living, that they were ripe for The Recommenders to come in and say, “If you all aren’t acting according to the Commandments, how can you say you are saved?”
Paul’s response is one that should set us free. Rather than having the Commandments placed before us by God, they are placed within us in union with God. Our goal is to keep the commandments, yes. Yet, our goals are not reached by white-knucking it to keep from being damned. Our goals are to be in relationship with the living God who is willing to sacrifice for us; be born with us, live with us, walk with us, talk with us, die with us, and then take us to his bosom where we will live with Him in love until he renews all of Creation in a New Heaven and a New Earth.
When the focus of our spirituality, our religion, is on being in communion with a loving God, rather than satisfying an angry God, it is amazing how transformational and freeing life can be. When we see what God has done for us and in us through the Holy Spirit, there is a spirit of thankfulness, not rebellion. When we begin to remember that we are not God, the striving becomes joy. When we begin to remember that God isn’t standing in front of us to condemn us, then we can feel him as the Wind at Our Backs. No longer do we resent “having to do the commandments” as a deprivation. The commandments become little gifts to the One who wants us to keep them, but forgives us when we don’t.
God knows humanity. He knew this psycho therapeutic culture would be coming. Yet, he is not psychotherapy. He is not saying, I love you as you are, stay as you are. No, God says, “I love you as you are and I can see who you could be, so let me take you there.” Everyday, God greets us when we wake up and says, “Good morning, my Beloved, where would you like to go today? Wherever it is, I am with you. I’ll take you there. If you would like to be protected from the harsh words of your family, I will take you there. If you would like to be forgiven for that terrible thing you said yesterday, I’ll take you there. If you would like to be free of your anger that just makes you sour and sad, I’ll take you there. Where? Where are we going today? I. will. Take. You. There.
“All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the image of God from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” He is with us.
So, God is not standing behind the counter waiting to laugh at us as we try to guess how many jelly bean commandments are in the jar. No, the Father laughs deeply, reaches out with his large gentle hands, opens up the jar, pours the beans on the counter and says, “So, which color are we going to eat today?” Amen.
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