“Work in Progress”

Exodus 34:29-35

2 Corinthians 3:12-18

February 22, 2004

 

In the museum Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy, stands Michelangelo’s David, a fourteen-foot tall, marble statue portraying the ancient Biblical hero who killed the fierce Philistine opponent Goliath by using a simple slingshot.  The statue of David was completed in 1504 and is considered one of Michelangelo’s greatest works of art showing Michelangelo’s amazing talent and workmanship in recreating the human body in impeccable detail. 

However, David is not the only statue of Michelangelo that you will find in the Accademia.  There are six others, but these other six sculptures are not nearly as famous as Michelangelo's David.  Four of them are called the Prisoners, originally commissioned to adorn the tomb of Pope Julius II, but the unique thing about these sculptures is that they are unfinished.  Michelangelo had to constantly stop work on these statues in order to accomplish numerous other projects, the most famous being his monumental painting on the ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, which only took him four years to finish.

The Prisoners are still some of Michelangelo's most incredible work, a reflection of Michelangelo's work in progress, of his ongoing transformation of a dead block of marble into a life-like work of art, appearing as if the statues themselves are fighting to escape from the blocks of marble from which they were created.

          We all have unfinished projects and works in progress lying around the house, sitting in our office, or lingering as an idea in our head.  The wood for the trash can bin I was going to make last summer still sits in my shed uncut and unused.  The front porch still remains two different shades of white.  Leaves still piled up around the house.  Projects still wait to be completed on my desk.  We all have these works in progress, which we work on whenever we can find some time. 

But there are other works in progress that are not physical in nature, but spiritual, not temporal, but eternal, not external, but internal, and not ours, but God's.  These are God's work in progress that take a life time to complete, for they are the works in progress of our faith, a faith that is still in need of growth and maturation, a relationship that is always in need of reconciliation, a commitment that is always in need of renewing, a knowledge that always in need of education, hearts that are always in need of changing, even a hope that is always in need of assurance. 

          Paul knew full well the dangers in believing that God's work and our work is complete, rather than believing that God's work and our work is always a work in progress.  As a Jew himself, Paul speaks about one of the most important events in Jewish history, the coming of God upon Mt. Sinai to give God's commandments to Moses and the people of Israel.  With a broken and bleeding heart, with a heart longing for his Jewish brothers and sisters, Paul reminds the Corinthians and us that what God did on Mt. Sinai was only the beginning of God's work and not the end.

          For Paul the Jew, he looked upon the events at Sinai from a Christian perspective, as one who had himself stood before the glory of God in Jesus Christ on the Damascus road, as one who knew that God's work had not come to an end with Moses and the giving of the law, but had become fully realized in the person of Jesus Christ.  For Paul the Christian Jew, Moses put a veil on his face, not to hide the glory of God from the people, but to hide a glory that was fading away. 

There is no doubt that the giving of God's commandments at Mt. Sinai was glorious and is still glorious even for us of the Christian faith.  They are just as much our commandments today and as they were and still are the commandments of the people of Israel, but for Paul their glory does not compare to the new glory of God in Jesus Christ. 

For Paul, the divine glory that shone on Moses face was divine glory for sure, but it was only external in nature.  But with Jesus, the Son of God, God's divine glory has now become something new, it has now become internal.  The external can only fad away, but the internal lasts forever.  A moon or planet may glow in the night sky like any other star, but its light is only external, glowing from the light of the internal power of the sun.

This is the new thing God has given us in his Son: internal power, internal glory of the divine, the internal presence of the Spirit of the living Christ.  When we are turned to him, it is the Spirit of the Lord that changes our hearts, not our skin, and begins to transform us from the inside, from one degree of glory to another, until we cannot help but glow with the radiance of the divine.  It's not instant transformation, mind you, for God's work in us is always a work in progress, a moment by moment transformation into the glory of Christ himself, as if Christ himself is standing before us as we look into a mirror.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not about the end, it is about the beginning.  It's not simply the word that you and I are forgiven, it is the word that in Jesus Christ we can begin to live as forgiven people.  It's not simply the word that we no longer have to worry about God's judgement, it is the word that in Jesus Christ we have been set free from the bondage of sin and death.  It's not simply the word that since Jesus was raised from the dead, so we too shall be raised, it is the word that in Jesus Christ we can already live in the kingdom of God here and now.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the promise that through the glory of the son, God's chosen and beloved, God's work in progress is always being done in us; changing us, giving us a new heart, transforming us, and making us just like Jesus in all his glory.  It is the promise of the gospel that the more we look to him, the more we will look like him, that the more we listen to him, the more we will sound like him, that the more we follow him, the more we will behave like him, and that the more we feed on him, the more we become him.     

On this Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday, as we stand on the boundary line between Epiphany and Lent, between the glimpses of Jesus' true identity and our devotion and discipline of living in the light of his glory, let us come to the table to once again be transformed by the power of the Spirit of the Lord.  Let us come to the table to do more than just commerate and remember the past, and expect more than just another ritualistic observance.  Let us come to the table to once again join with the Lord of life, to eat with him, to be nourished by his body and blood, to yet again be touched by the transforming power of Jesus Christ, as God continues his work in progress in our lives of faith and obedience.  Let us come to the table to once again look to the day when we, ourselves, will finally and fully shine with the glory of God.