"With Unveiled Faces"
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 (& Exodus 34:29-35)
Order of Worship
How many times have I stood up front here and watched as a woman stepped forward in faith to join her life with a man?... Usually, she is accompanied by her father and, according to one of the traditions which has been passed down to us, she is wearing a veil that partially obscures her face. Itís only later in the service, after promises of fidelity have been exchanged and a declaration of marriage has been made, that this veil is lifted. For the first time as husband and wife (which is a whole new chapter, believe me), they see each other face to face.
Iíve heard the comment after many a wedding, "didnít the brideís face just glow!" And itís true - though, Iím never sure how much of that glow is due to the romance of the occasion, or to the bright apparel she is wearing, or to the more-than-usual time spent putting on make-up etc. Even without all that, however, there is a sense in which her face does glow. This is, indeed, a bright moment in her life - one to be remembered.
Speaking of remembering, an important story is told of Moses as he descended from the mountaintop bearing the tablets, for the second time. As he came down from the very presence of God, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob commented, "see how his face glows!" Only, this was no romantic moment. No photographer jumped out from the pew to take his picture as he processed. If there were tears, they were not of sadness or relief, but rather - to be honest - fear. They were afraid of the afterglow of Godís "heavy" presence, the glory of the Lord still visible on Mosesí face.
That is why, from that moment onward, whenever Moses left the presence of God, whether coming down from the mountain or exiting the tabernacle, he wore a veil over his face. To be clear, we should say that this was no see-through material like that which only partially obscures a bride's face at a wedding. A better translation might be a "mask," such as what many Muslim women even today wear over their faces in public. In the case of Moses, however, it was not a matter of decency or secrecy. It was out of fear that they asked him to cover his face. It scared Godís people out of their wits to see the face of Moses after he had been with God.
Does that strike you as strange? I mean, why a veil to obscure evidence of the glory of God? After all, we live in a society that seems to "veil" very little. No, we want no secrets, and will go to great length to expose, to reveal just about everything and anything. We want all the intimate details, whether it be about some "temptation island" where "thou shalt notís" are almost commanded to be broken, or about the continuing soap opera of an ex-President who still commands headlines long after he shouldíve ridden off into the sunset. No, we donít wish any detail veiled. After all, we live in an "open" society.
The crazy thing is, for all our supposed openness, a great deal is hidden, obscured, unrevealed - "veiled." Like what true intimacy is between a husband and wife. Sex is only the surface of what the mystery of this union is all about, but you wouldnít know it by what is unveiled in our society. We think we understand intimacy in a relationship but, you know, we really donít. Not any more than previous generations. Perhaps even less. And when it comes to our relationship with God, in many ways weíre like those Israelites at the foot of the mountain when Moses descended, face aglow.
Are we really any more interested in taking off that veil? Not just off Mosesí face, but off our own. We can be, and I include myself in this, so deaf, dumb, and blind to things of the Spirit. Itís as if a "veil" covers our hearts and minds. We canít see the "bright spots" that are all around us. Brother Norman has really challenged me recently with what he says about "bright spots." A week ago, at the menís breakfast, he got us thinking about how the reporting of "news" focuses upon everything that goes wrong. Hearing and seeing this, day after day, you come to believe that thatís the way things are. However, as Norman says, so many more good things happen than bad. "Bright spots" surround us, but our hearts and minds are veiled to them.
Now, did you notice? I intentionally connected "things of the Spirit" with commonplace occurrences, with "bright spots" which surround us day by day in our mundane existence. Now, I grant you, there definitely are mountaintop times when we behold the glory of God, and are filled with awe over the presence of the Lord. These moments are not just for the few, like Moses, who are commissioned to climb to the heights. No, they are for all who would follow - like Peter, James, and John, who ascended with Jesus and beheld our Lord in a whole new way - transfigured, "dazzling" in brilliance.
Mountaintop moments in our life in the Spirit are important. But the real glory is found in coming down the mountain and living in the here and now with hearts and minds unveiled to whatís really real all around us. Think of those disciples who saw Jesus transfigured. Did they see a different Jesus? No. He was the same Jesus he always was. They just saw him from another perspective. And when they came down the mountain, they began to see the everyday in a different way. The world was the same, and yet different.
Isnít this at the heart of what it means to share good news? Itís not just that we "have information" that if only everybody else had this "information" they would understand what itís all about. We live in an "information age," with a glut of "information" on hand, much of which we donít know what to do with. No, good news is not something we "have," it is something we "bear." It transfigures us. We begin to see good news all around, evidence of Godís glory that is awesome to behold. Our hearts and minds are unveiled. And it is something we just canít hide. We long for others around us to see this glory also.
Jesus spoke of us as being the light of the world, and encouraged us not to place this light under a basket (Matthew 5:14-16). A basket is like a veil. It obscures, it hides. If we are the light, and we place our light under a bushel basket, all we see is the inside of the basket. Thatís how many Christians understand "things of the Spirit." Itís only intended for the inside of the basket, for inside the closet where Jesus taught us to pray, for inside the church building, for inside the fellowship. Some Christians think that the good "stuff" is only in them. Everything else is bad. The object of evangelism is to get bad people into the basket where they can become good people.
While there is something to be said for helping people into the cleansing waters, sharing good news involves taking that basket off our head, that veil off our hearts and minds and seeing Godís glory all around us. We are the light of the world not just because people are like bugs attracted to any old bug zapper. No, we are the light of the world because Jesus helps us to see the world in a whole new way. And as we see the world in a whole new way, the world which God loved so much that he sent his Son to die for it, people around us begin to see Godís glory - even in themselves. Wow!
In the junior youth Sunday School class last week, we were talking about the catacombs that the early Christians were forced into. In Rome, they became scapegoats for an empire that was starting to fall apart. So, their church life went underground, in the passageways under the city used as burial grounds by the people above. Because no one really wanted to go down there, the catacombs were a good place to continue the work of Jesus. When the alternative is facing the lions in the coliseum, a graveyard is not a bad location.
An amazing thing happened in the catacombs. The followers of Jesus started seeing Godís glory even there. You see, other people found the catacombs a convenient place to hide. Criminals and prostitutes used the dark recesses as their places of business. And then these people who identified one another by the sign of the fish came along. Mind you, they didnít encounter these criminals and prostitutes and point fingers and say, "how awful," or go get the authorities to clean up this riff-raff.
In the first place, that would have been a death sentence for the followers of Jesus. After all, at that point in time the Christians were seen as the cause of the decay of Rome. No, the followers of Jesus did what they just couldnít help doing. They bore the light of Christ even in the catacombs. There they saw Godís glory, even in the criminals and prostitutes. And you know who was attracted to Christ, who began to see Godís glory even in themselves, and whose lives were then transformed? ... You got it !
We are called, each one of us, not to a "ministry of condemnation," as the apostle Paul put it (2 Corinthians 3:9), but a "ministry of justification." We are called to see the world through the eyes of Christ, to see the "bright spots" all around us. To see with his light, to be his light, to help others to see and to be his light in a world that prefers to see only so much and no more - that is our calling, is it not?! To share good news, to be good news, and to help others give birth to, become, and share good news, themselves, in a world that only seems to dwell on bad news - this is our purpose - is it not?!
We are called to be "revealers" in this world, to draw attention to Godís presence and power, to Godís glory - even/especially in the "little" stuff that most everyone else tends to ignore. However, we cannot take the veil off, we canít reveal Godís glory in the world around us if we donít first remove the veil from our own faces. Thatís what the Spirit of the Lord helps us to do, day by day. We become free to see and to reflect this glory.
I love the last line from the first hymn we sang this morning. Let me end, then, where we began. "All praise we would render; O help us to see - Ďtis only the splendor of light hideth thee."*
*"Immortal, Invisible, God only wise" - text by Walter C. Smith, 1867
©2001 Peter L. Haynes
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