Rev. George Miller
"Beyond the Veil"
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Feb 14, 2010
Before I begin today’s message I would like to give thanks for your pastor, Rev. Ruth Fitzgerald who invited me here to preach, and I give all glory and honor to God who makes everything possible.
Today is a busy day. In the secular world it’s Valentine’s Day, a chance to express our affections for one another through gifts and candy. In the sacred world, it’s Transfiguration Sunday, which leads us into the Lenten season. And in the local community, today is the installation service of Rev. Kyle at Park UCC.
And all these things are well and good. I mean, who can turn down a day and a season that involves candy, more candy, coffee and cake?
But there’s something else going on that has people excited: awards season. This is the time of year in which actors and film makers compete to see who’ll win for best actress, director and movie of the year.
We’ve already had the People’s Choice and Golden Globes, and last week they announced the nominees for the Oscars. If you’re like me, you’ve checked out the nominations and Oscar night is circled on your calendar.
Now here’s something I never thought of before. Isn’t it rather ironic that the award season coincides with the Lenten season? Think about it.
Lent is about journeying with Jesus as he makes his way to the cross, to be hung naked for the sake of all humanity. It’s a time of reflection, in which we recall the ministry of a man who didn’t do things for his own glory but for the glory of God.
On the other hand we have this award season which honors actors for being someone they are not, who take on the veil of a character for the sake of a pay check and to entertain us. And we honor film makers who create multi-million spectacles for our amusement.
Think of this year’s nominees and how they transformed into someone else. Meryl Streep disappeared into her role as Julia Child, wearing such a stunning veil that you actually think she’s Julia Child. Morgan Freeman takes on the veil of Nelson Mandela, affecting his way of speaking.
Then of course we have "Avatar." The name says it all. The film is a technological marvel that’s about scientists taking on the form of and becoming the aliens they are studying.
Yes, the award season is a celebration of people who wear veils and create veils of illusion. Which is all well and good. But what happens when the acting doesn’t stay at work?
What happens when acting becomes part of the day to day interactions we have with one another, with ourselves and with God?
Oscar Wilde once said "I love acting. It is so much more real than life." But what do we lose if everything we do becomes an act, our true selves hidden behind a veil no one can see through, not even ourselves?
That’s what struck me in today’s Scripture taken from 2 Corinthians, ch. 3 & 4. Paul is writing to one of the earliest churches. It’s a church he loves, but a church that has had some difficulties.
There were false teachers putting on an act, luring people away from the Gospel’s truth, calling Paul a liar. So Paul writes this letter to be his most transparent and to speak the truth in such a way it offers the struggling church hope and joy.
In this section of the letter he makes reference to putting on a veil and covering one’s face. And for Paul, this veil hardens the heart, this veil prevents people from seeing true glory, this veil basically puts Christ in the corner.
But, as Paul writes, when one turns to the Lord, the veil is lifted, the Spirit becomes present, and there is freedom.
And in this freedom a wonderous event takes place: we are slowly, surely transformed into the image of the Lord, one degree of glory to another.
In other words, when the acting ends, when the veil is lifted, we get to fully experience the presence of God, the Spirit and Jesus Christ, and we begin our own journey of transformation.
A transformation that calls us to be more Christ-like- loving, living and reaching out to people in ways we never thought of before.
But our veils have to be lifted; the act has to stop.
Now I believe that we are all actors in some way. It’s impossible for us not to be. When someone asks "How was your day?" do we really say "Not so good. I have a pain in my side, my cat threw up and I bowled a bad game last night"?
Maybe to our closest friends, but to any one else we say, with a smile no less, "I’m doing fine, and you?"
That’s acting, that’s wearing a veil that allows one to be socially graceful.
Then there are those who wear a veil for survival. For instance if you told your boss what you really think you’d be out of a job. Tell your spouse how their cooking tastes and you’ll be on the couch.
Sadly, there are those who wear a veil out of fear. The person with a black eye who says it’s from running into an open door. A child who says he missed school because his parent is sick, not because Mom or Dad is passed out on the couch.
Then there are those who wear a veil because they are too embarrassed or ashamed to show people who they really are or what their family is going through. The slender, gorgeous person with an eating disorder who has a jumbo bag of M&M’s hidden in the house. The family who’s child is in the state pen but they tell everyone he’s working out of state.
These are some of the veils that people wear, veils that prohibit others from seeing who we really are and what we are going through.
Yes, we will all wear veils from time to time. It’s impossible not to. But if we wear certain veils for too long, we prohibit people from getting to really know us. We prohibit the chance getting to know ourselves. And we prohibit any chance of true transformation.
But if there’s one person we don’t have to wear a veil for, if there’s one person we do not have to put on an act for, it’s God.
After all, isn’t it God who knows the numbers of hair on our head, who knows our waking and our laying down, who knows our very prayers before we even give them breath?
And yet, as a pastor, and as a person with my own personal struggles, I’ve realized just how many people are afraid to come before God and lift the veil they are wearing.
I don’t know why this is. Maybe it’s part of human nature, that fear of being vulnerable, of saying to and showing God just who we truly are.
Maybe it’s part of American culture that says you have to pull yourself together, put your best face forward. To take off that veil before God can be a sign of weakness and we as Americans were not raised to be weak.
Maybe it’s my fault and the fault of other pastors because we don’t teach enough about the importance of confessing our sins, we don’t talk enough about the humanness of biblical heros such as David and Solomon.
Maybe it’s because we are afraid to see what we look like without the veil.
And maybe it’s because we’re afraid that if we lift the veil we have been wearing then God will stop loving us.
Which is the furthest thing from the truth, because guess what: God already loves you. Right here, right now.
And if there is ever any doubt about that love, all you need to do is look towards the cross, where Jesus hung, asking God for our forgiveness even as we nailed him up there.
God is so in love with you, and God is waiting for you to stop your act and take off your veil.
God is longing for you to come as you really are and to speak the words you really feel, no matter how horrible or dark or unworthy you think they may be.
With God we can say we’re sad when we are sad, lonely when we are lonely. If we are angry, we can share with God why. And if it’s God we’re angry with, guess what? We can say those words because God can take it.
If we have committed any type of sin, if we have committed any kind of transgression, we should not allow it to prevent us from turning to God, but we can use that as a chance to turn to God, saying "I don’t know why I did what I did, but I am sorry, I’m sorry, and ask for your forgiveness."
What happens when we lift that veil? Healing transformation; a move towards spiritual wholeness.
That lifting of the veil allows the Spirit a space to move, to enter in and bring with it the gift of freedom.
Freedom that looses ourselves from the things that made us put the veil on to begin with.
Freedom from whatever guilt, shame or secrets we’ve been holding onto.
And as the Spirit enters in, as that gift of freedom begins to further loosen the veil from our being, something else begins to happen: transformation. We begin to become more and more like Christ, who is the living reflection of our Creator.
According to Paul, it is not a transformation that happens immediately, or forces us to loose ourselves completely, but it is a transformation that is meant to bring our lives into glory, one degree, one step at a time.
Don’t you just like that idea? Of going from one degree to the next? It sounds so much more doable, so much more realistic then thinking our change has to happen right now, this instant.
That notion of moving into glory one degree at a time is what this Christian walk is about, it’s a journey. A journey in which Christ and Spirit usher us into the person God created us to be.
And these degrees of change, they bring with them mercy, these degrees allow us not to lose heart, and these degrees help us to forsake living a lie in exchange for living in truth.
In conclusion, when we are willing to lift up our veil before God, we become willing and able recipients of all the gifts that God has to offer.
Yes, we will still have veils to wear from time to time. We may not tell everyone we meet just how our day is really going. We may still tell our spouse that dinner was delicious.
But in the presence of God, we can drop our veil, believing we are loved just as we are while being transformed, degree by degree, into the reflection of glory we were destined to be.
When it comes to standing before God, let’s leave our acting behind. Leave it for the professionals. Let Meryl Streep and Morgan Freeman and James Cameron collect their awards.
Because for us, lifting our veil before our God means receiving the greatest awards possible: freedom and mercy, grace and transformation.
All thanks be to God in who’s image we were created, the Spirit that enters into our lives to make all things new and for Jesus Christ whose transfiguration, crucifixion and resurrection showed us just how much God loves us.
Amen and amen.