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Veils are strange things to us culturally. They’ve been around for centuries, but have rarely been associated with men. I think that is one of the reasons that this story about Moses is so strange. But here we have it – this story about the impact on Moses of talking directly to God. His face was said to shine so brightly that it was unnerving to others. So he hid his face from them – unless he needed to share something with them that he had received from God.
As weird as this story is, I think it inspires some wishful thinking in all of us. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear more directly from God? I mean, chances are that I know what God would say when it comes to the small stuff. Yes, I need to floss. No, it is not right to tell other drivers they are number one when they cut me off in traffic. But what about the big stuff like figuring out why we have enough food to feed everyone and the means to get it there, but we still have food insecurity and even famine? What about what to do about cancer and natural disasters?
Not too long after I got here one of our members quoted a friend who said, “When I get to heaven I have a pretty good list of things I want some answers for!” Maybe that is why Peter wanted to build booths. Moses and Elijah represented the law and the prophetic tradition of Israel. Jesus was shining like the sun. It was a supernatural event that could mean nothing else than the fact that Jesus was now going to reveal the very truth of God!
And no sooner did they try to claim and hold onto the supernatural than it took hold of them, and they were inside the veil of a cloud. Then they, themselves, heard the voice of God telling them to listen to Jesus – the chosen one. I can’t help but wonder if Peter, James, and John thought something like, “OK. I thought we were...”
Then they go down the mountain and say... nothing! And the first thing Jesus is confronted with is a pack of useless disciples, a desperate father, and a boy convulsing with a demon inside him. Of course Jesus responds with a compassionate, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” Then he heals the boy and all are astounded at the greatness of God. Again, Jesus responds with what amounts to, “Get this into your thick skulls, although I am of God, you people are eventually going to kill me.”
This is all part of the drama of the Gospel of Luke. The transfiguration is kind of a watershed moment, and everything is about to start moving toward Jerusalem and the crucifixion. Even though the characters in the story don’t seem to get it, this is the part where the reader has – for centuries – begun to be in on the secret that Jesus is here for something so much larger than healing the sick and casting out demons.
The glory of Jesus has been shown to us so that we know that when he goes to the cross it is not just to be a martyr. The glory of Jesus has been shown to us so that we know that the glory of God cannot be contained by booths, or traditions, or doctrines, or anything else that we can conceive.
That’s what Paul was talking about in his letter to the church in Corinth. I think in today’s language Paul is describing a religious experience that limits a person’s ability to think. If everything is black and white then every decision becomes a line in the sand and there is no room for grace and mercy. Of course, the Psalmist reminds us that there are still natural consequences for our actions. “O Lord our God, you answered them [Moses, Aaron, and Samuel]; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.”
Hmm...I guess grace and mercy and freedom don’t mean that we are without responsibility after all. Instead of providing a covering of security it is more like ripping it away. It’s more like piercing the veil. Ever heard of that term?
Piercing the veil strikes fear into the heart of the corporate mogul, because it is a legal term that means that the members of the corporation are personally liable for the actions of the corporation in the event of a shortfall or allegations of wrong doing. Generally speaking, corporations are legal entities which may act as an individual. That is the advantage of becoming incorporated in the first place. Not only do you share the wealth, but you also spread the debt in a way that makes it easier to overcome.
In some ways, that is why we join together as believers. We find comfort in being with others that we can share joys and sorrows with. We find encouragement in the fact that we are not alone in our doubts and our fears. We experience forgiveness and reconciliation, and we find freedom from judgement and hatred.
But along with that, we pierce the veil of personal experience. That’s why we are bold to proclaim that First Presbyterian is a place to experience the presence of God. And along with that comes a personal responsibility to represent some aspect of truth that we can point to as a community. Paul said it this way, “by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.”
And if you don’t believe me just finish one of these sentences in your mind. Christians always ______. One thing about Baptists is that they ______. Catholics are ________. I could have told you one of those jokes about a Catholic, a Baptist, and a Presbyterian, but I think you get the point.
We are not our own, and that is a good thing. We stand for something greater than ourselves, and that is a good thing. For grace, and mercy abound – especially in our failings – because what we stand for is a God who pierces every veil just as light breaks apart darkness from the furthest star to the smallest candle.
We teach this to children with words like, “This little light of mine, I’m gunna’ let it shine!” But sometimes we forget to shine. Sometimes we are too tired, or burdened. Sometimes we might even be afraid to.
Author Marianne Williamson says it this way:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God.”
Recently I heard about a little Presbyterian congregation in New Iberea with about 40 people that attend regularly. A good number of them are folks of lower income, some of them are recently released from prison. One such character is a man recently released from prison. Since his release and the acceptance of the congregation that he has returned to as a prodigal, he has been the key player in starting up a food pantry that serves as many as 70 families on the third Friday of every month. For him, God has pierced the veil – and the community knows it.
In our own congregation, we have turned the excess of stuff into a theology of abundance and providence through our gift basket ministry – and many in the community are seeing light piercing through the veils of our traditional differences.
It doesn’t have to be that big, though. Sometimes it can be as simple as a “thank you.” Sometimes it can be as big as a smile. Maybe you don’t believe in all of this supernatural stuff. Maybe metaphors based on what sounds like a convenient myth still fall flat. But I tell you this – human nature is based on survival of self and of species, even if we have to kill each other to do it. And when we get beyond that and move into even the smallest selfless act, we have gone beyond our nature. We have pierced the veil and moved into the supernatural.
That is the life that Jesus points us toward. That is the journey toward the cross that we are invited into again, and again, and again. That is the hope of the resurrection for the life that is today, and the life that is to come. And to God be the glory now and always. Amen!