Acting With Boldness
a sermon based on 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
by Chaplain Randy Quinn
I confess that Im not much of a
sports fan, especially not televised sports. One exception is the Olympics, which I will
watch when I can find the time. It was during the Olympics a few years back that I found
myself intrigued by something that the commentators said several times. Generally, it was
about someone who had no chance of obtaining a medal because of a less than stellar
performance in an earlier event. What I heard them say was, "he (or she) has nothing
to lose." And what I generally saw in those cases were the best performances. These
were people who had nothing to lose, so they were able to take bigger risks, they were
able to perform for the shear pleasure of performing; they were able to be bold in their
presentations. And the people who witnessed these performances, whether in person or
anywhere in the world where a Television set was tuned in, were awed by their abilities.
But I wondered why everyone couldn't perform at that level. Why is it that those who
are in contention for a medal are more reserved, more restrained, more reluctant to
perform at the peak of their abilities? The irony is that it was the possibility of not
achieving something that limited their abilities rather than what would seem to be the
natural assumption that what can be achieved would stretch their abilities.
Our text for today begins with the line, Since, then, we have such a hope, we act
with great boldness. Here, Paul is suggesting that the peak of our performance as
Christians does not lie in what we can lose, but in what we have already gained. When we
begin to think that what we do affects how we will be loved by God, we begin to think
there is something to lose if we do wrong. So we begin to do less than is possible. And
the more we focus on our own actions, the less God is able to work through us.
But the truth is we can do nothing to affect God's love for us. God has called us, God
has chosen us, and God desires to work through us. In a sense, we have nothing to lose --
because of what we have already gained through Christ.
Paul makes his point by reminding us of the story of Moses coming down off Mount Sinai
(Ex 34:29-35). Moses had gone up to receive the law. He spent forty days there and
returned to find the people had made a golden calf. After he broke the stone tablets in
anger, Moses went back to God and recorded the law -- again. But after being so close to
God for so long, his face had become brilliant. It was so bright, in fact that people were
afraid to look directly at him. The solution they found was for Moses to wear a veil over
his face. It was to protect everyone from the glare.
In the preaching style of his day, Paul suggests a twist to the story. Paul wonders if
the veil was not over the face of Moses, but over the faces of the people. Rather than a
shield over his face, Paul suggests sunglasses were on the faces of the people. He then
takes it as a metaphor of how their hearts were hidden from the things of God. The
implication is that we, like the Israelites, prefer to hide from the glory of God, and in
so doing we limit not only our own performance, but we also limit the ability of God to
work through us.
There is another aspect of wearing our own veils that I suspect more of you have
experienced, witnessed, or heard others tell about. That's when someone is working on a
project and they decide not to do too good of a job. They usually will tell you "if I
do too well, they'll expect that of me every time -- and I don't always have the time or
energy to do it that well."
That attitude comes out in other ways, too. Sometimes we'll hear someone say something
is 'good enough.' It isn't perfect, but 'it's good enough.' It isn't what I asked for, but
it'll work. It's an attitude that can infect any work place -- or any church group for
that matter. Pretty soon we become specialists at mediocrity. No one excels, no one
achieves their best potential, no one produces high quality products. Our expectations are
lowered, our standards are lowered, and our performance suffers.
When that happens at the Olympics, there are no gold, silver or bronze medals. When
that happens at work, we lose customers. When it happens in our personal relationships, we
lose trust. When it happens in our society, we lose a sense of community. But when it
happens in our spiritual lives, we lose much more. We lose our sense of purpose; we lose
sight of God's vision for us.
"Since, then, we have such a hope," Paul says, "we act with great
boldness." The peak of our performance as Christians does not lie in what we can
lose, nor does it lie in lowered standards. Our greatest potential comes from what we have
already gained by grace. And what we have gained is access to God through the love and
life of Jesus. We can walk with and experience the glory of God in our presence. We can
see what God is like and know the holiness of God in our lives. As Paul puts it,
"when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed" (v 3:16).
When I was in High School, a good friend of mine and I took a two-day bicycle trip. It
was the longest trip either of us had ever undertaken and but it was filled with
excitement. That may be why its such a memorable experience for me. One of the most
vivid memories I have of that trip was lunch on the first day. We were outside LaConner
when we stopped to eat, and while we were eating, another bicyclist came by and stopped to
visit. I don't remember his name, but I do remember the cross he was wearing.
I've seen lots of crosses. People wear them all the time. Some are gold. Some are
silver. I've seen pewter and brass ones. I've seen them on lapels and I've seen them worn
as earrings. I've seen them on dainty little chain necklaces and I've seen them on leather
necklaces. But I've never seen one like the one he was wearing. It was this big (holding
hands to my chest to show it's size -- from about my chin to the bottom of my rib cage.)
I remember asking him about the cross. He explained that he had also seen many crosses.
Some were so small that you almost couldn't tell what it was. Some were so stylized that
you might not recognize it. So he found one that no one would mistake for something else.
Rather than hide his faith, he was bold. He knew who God was and he was not ashamed of his
own faith in God.
Now, I am not suggesting that we each get a huge cross to wear around our neck. I am
suggesting that we can find ways to show our faith in clear and uncertain terms. I'm
wearing my favorite tie this morning. It has little children all the way around it. It's
one of the "save the children" ties created by children. This one was by
"James, age 12." But the reason I chose it was because of this one particular
child -- you probably can't see it from where you are, but this one is in a wheel chair.
When I was wearing this tie at a Navy function a few years ago, someone saw it and
commented on how politically correct it was because there are children of various
colors and ethnic backgrounds depicted. But there was something about the way he said it;
he did not mean it to be a compliment. He obviously was tired of people who did things and
said things because it was the 'politically correct' thing to do or say.
And the next day I wondered about wearing it. I knew there was the risk of ridicule if
I did. Then I realized that I wasn't wearing it because it was politically correct.
I was wearing it because it expressed my faith and my beliefs. One of the first songs I
learned in Sunday School said, "Red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are
precious in his sight." And I decided to wear it boldly. I had nothing to lose
because I know what I have already gained -- a sense of God's love that knows no limits
and no bounds. I was not going to be intimidated into not wearing my tie.
Similarly, I don't think coworkers or supervisors or customers should intimidate us
when they ask us to do something improper or dishonest or even illegal. As Christians, we
know God has set higher standards than that. There is no doubt God has some high
expectations for us. God has set some high standards. God expects us to live our lives in
holiness. To claim the title Christian can be quite frightening. It means literally to
claim that we are "Christ-like." And I know many of us will shy away from that
characterization. But it is what we have been called to be. We can choose to claim it and
act boldly, knowing that we have nothing to lose. Or we can hide others and ourselves from
the glory of God within us.
It's also important to remember that God does not leave us ill prepared; God does not
abandon us. And God is willing and able to forgive us when we fail. In watching the
Olympians, I was also struck by the graciousness of the athletes. For the most part, they
were able to forgive themselves for their own shortcomings and failures. They seemed
genuinely pleased with their performance, whether or not they stood on the podium
afterwards. And almost always they seemed happy for those who were honored with medals.
Paul reminds us that we have a tremendous hope; we have gained more than we could ever
imagine possible. And since we have this hope, we act with great boldness. Go, be
bold in the way you live your life, in the way you share your faith, in the way you
receive God's grace.