Southminster Presbyterian Church

We are a community of people encouraging each other, seeking to be like Jesus; serving God by loving generously, proclaiming boldly, and giving with grace and humility.


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Mirror, Mirror

2 Corinthians 3:7-18, 4:6-7, Exodus 34:29-35

By Rev. Aaron Willett

Mirrors are powerful things. In the tale of Snow-White, originally told by the Brothers Grimm and of course later made into a classic Disney film, a magic mirror drives the action.

I imagine most of us are familiar with the story. After Snow-White’s mother dies, her father, the king, remarries, and here we’ll pick up with the Brothers Grimm:

She was a beautiful woman, but she was proud and arrogant, and she could not stand it if anyone might surpass her in beauty. She had a magic mirror. Every morning she stood before it, looked at herself, and said:

        Mirror, mirror, on the wall,

        Who in this land is fairest of all?

To this the mirror answered:

        You, my queen, are fairest of all.

Then she was satisfied, for she knew that the mirror spoke the truth.

Snow-White grew up and became ever more beautiful. When she was seven years old she was as beautiful as the light of day, even more beautiful than the queen herself.

One day when the queen asked her mirror:

        Mirror, mirror, on the wall,

        Who in this land is fairest of all?

It answered:

        You, my queen, are fair; it is true.

        But Snow-White is a thousand times fairer than you.

The queen took fright and turned yellow and green with envy. From that hour on whenever she looked at Snow-White her heart turned over inside her body, so great was her hatred for the girl. The envy and pride grew ever greater, like a weed in her heart, until she had no peace day and night.

By her own request, the queen’s mirror was a mirror of comparison, and it became a mirror of envy. The forces of comparison all always around us. We have a lot of hand-me-down books in our house, and Laura and I were recently frustrated when reading Mercer Mayer’s “Little Critter’s Slumber Party” to Thea. The whole book is based on Little Critter being so impressed with his wealthy friend’s big house, big toys, and fancy things.

Comparison, and it’s corollary, envy, are all over.

Of course, in our passage today, Paul does his own comparison, but does not resolve with envy. In his comparison, Paul clearly deviates from the “simple meaning of the text” in Exodus. Exodus says nothing about Moses’ veil hiding the fading of God’s glory on his face. In his use of the Exodus passage, Paul is either plain wrong or powerfully right.

To Paul, the Law has come to be a code of death and condemnation that has lost its splendor. Before he was an Apostle of Christ, Paul was a zealous Pharisee, powerfully motivated by the Law as God’s revelation to humanity. So Paul’s argument that the glory of the Law is fading is derived from Paul’s own experience of conversion. In Christ, Paul experienced a glory beyond anything he had known. As he writes “Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory.”

While the Law is of God and is therefore has inherent and life-giving value, in comparing it to Jesus it is a passing glory, while Jesus’ glory just keeps on growing—it is a permanent splendor, written not on stone but on hearts. The law without Jesus is like confession without an assurance of pardon.

And so Paul find for us a new meaning of the revelation of God’s presence in Moses’ veiled, shining face—God’s glory was present in the Law, yes, but it has been powerfully surpassed by Jesus.

So great, in fact, is Jesus’ glory, that we reflect Christ to each other. Just as last week, pastor Ken preached about us being the aroma of Christ, this week Paul suggests we are the image of Christ. I don’t think we’re going to get to all five senses, but the case could probably be made—after all, we are the body of Christ in the world.

Verse 18 says, “And 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; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

We shine God’s light, God’s glory, because we are being transformed. The glory of Christ surpasses the glory of Moses and the Law because Jesus gives us hope. Our hope in Christ frees us from the fear of death and condemnation, frees us to share in the permanent splendor of God. So we don’t need a veil, we are free to act in boldness.

I don’t think though that this boldness looks like a person with a megaphone meting out spiritual and auditory pain at the home plate entrance to Safeco. This is not the boldness of the Queen, rooted in her own beauty. This is not confidence in one’s own resume and pedigree. No, this boldness is rooted in humility. “We have this treasure in clay jars, earthen vessels, to show that this power comes from God and not from us.”

As with us, the Church in Corinth was full of flaws. Paul writes of the abundant tears he shed while writing his first letter (2:4). Yet he also suggests that this flawed church reveals God’s glory to each other and to the world. Friends, that’s good news for us!

We are humble, sinful, and flawed people, and yet, as we grow in faith, and as we hang around Jesus, we become more like Jesus. The more time we spend in Jesus’ glow, the more it sticks to us, the more it shines from us.

This is the Jesus pattern. In the Ancient Near East, uncleanliness was a contagion. The Law makes this plenty clear. A religiously clean person touching an unclean person did not produce a transfer of cleanness, but uncleanness. Stop to help a leper? Get ready for up to 80 days of purification rituals before you can be considered “clean” again. Touch a corpse? You’re unclean too. Have a discharge of bodily fluids? You’re out. This is the fading glory of the Law. Into this world came Jesus, and when Jesus touched the lepers, they were healed, and when Jesus came to his dead friend Lazarus, he raised him up. When the bleeding woman touched the hem of his robe, she was freed from her suffering. Jesus carries the contagion of holiness into our world and into our lives. Association with Jesus means we live by his life, and bit by bit his glory becomes revealed in us.

In the 1999 film, The Green Mile, John Coffey is a man falsely convicted of murder. But John Coffey seems to be a special agent of God, possessed with divine powers of healing and with a kind of “second sight” that allows him to see into people’s souls to learn the truth about them.

At one point in the movie, Coffey revives (resurrects!) a fellow prisoner’s pet mouse after a cruel prison guard on Death Row had smashed the little critter to death. At another point Coffey shares some of his powerful insights with Paul Edgecomb, a prison guard played by Tom Hanks, whom Coffey had also previously healed of a painful infection.

When the movie ends, we flash forward about 70 some years only to discover at the end that the mouse, Mr. Jingles, is still alive and so—now well into his 100s—is Paul. In explaining to a friend why Mr. Jingles and he now have such extraordinary long life, the long-since retired Paul Edgecomb suspects that when someone with as much divine life in him as John Coffey had touches you and heals you, sparks of that divine life get into you (even if you’re a mouse!).

(Green Mile Synopsis from Scott Hoezee, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/last-epiphany-c/?type=lectionary_epistle)

Like Paul Edgecomb and Mr. Jingles, we have been touched by the contagion of holiness.

We are free to be bold in our humility and vulnerability. Our boldness does not come from our own light, but by the light of Christ. This little light of mine is the light of Christ. Our boldness can be as small as mentioning church in our conversations with others. It can look like speaking openly about how our faith has shaped our values and impacts our path in life. While boldness in humility sometimes looks like open mouths, it can also look like open hearts and ears listening to the stories of others.

We, the holy, common people of God, are privileged to bear Christ to each other and the world. In our flaws, in our failings, in our successes, in our triumphs, we don’t need metaphorical veils to hide behind, because in Christ we are being transformed from one degree of Glory into another.

What if the Magic Mirror had known this truth? How would it have responded? Maybe like this:

One day when the queen asked her mirror:

        Mirror, mirror, on the wall,

        Who in this land is fairest of all?

It answered:

        You, my queen, are fair, I guess,

        But next to Christ, you count as less.

        Snow-White’s alright it’s also true,

        But Jesus Christ’s the real view. 

And then the mirror grew bold:

        All you people, you all fall short.

        You’re a fading glory, a growing wart.

        But living with Jesus in your heart,

        You’ll find growing in you the better part:

        Grace abounds wherein Christ dwells,

        Earthen vessels then chime like bells.

        You can release your vicious envy;

        You can be free of your load, so heavy.

        So, now be a mirror to each other,

        Share God’s love with sister and brother.

        Let Christ’s light shine right through you,

        Then through God’s love you’ll be fair too.

Maybe if the mirror had said that, they all would have lived happily ever after? I don’t know. Let’s pray:

God of light and life,

make us carriers of your contagion,  

mirrors of your glory,

that we might carry your love, your light

into the world, that it might know life in you. Amen.


"Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care."

Psalm 95:6-7