2 Corinthians 3:12 - 4:2
When you think about veils and people wearing veils or masks what comes to mind? Wedding veils - originally these were so thick that you couldn’t see the person’s face – hence when Jacob married Leah he thought she was Rachael. So thick like that – Muslim women under the Taliban. Klu Klux Klan, Bank robbers.
What is the purpose of all these veils? Generally their purpose is hiding people or aspects or identity of people. Sometimes this is for a good reason. Why did Moses wear his veil? Well, according to the Old Testament lesson, he put on the veil because his face was changed by seeing God and he was afraid that it would scare people to see him. The people then, as I’m sure most would now, were in awe in the presence of the holy, felt at some level that they didn’t belong to the holy. Being in the presence of one whose face showed him to have been transformed by the very presence of God would have been scary. Moses kept the veil off when he went to see God and when he delivered God’s message to the people– to make sure they understood it and heard it. But then he put the veil back on so people would not be afraid.
Paul gives a different explanation about this. Paul says Moses put on the veil because his glory or transformation was not lasting and he didn’t want people to see his transformation fading.
But either way, since Moses was a leader of the people, these might be considered good reasons to veil one’s face. So, too, in communities in which veils are a requirement for some people, I am certain that those who make those requirements believe they are protecting both those wearing the veils and those in the community from breaking God’s laws or from temptation to sin.
But there are many other reasons for wearing veils which maybe aren’t so good or holy. Veils again, are things that we hide behind. We still do this, we wear veils. Physically - people wear make up or have plastic surgery, dye their hair: these are all veils in a way – things that hide or cover up things we don’t like about our bodies or about ourselves. But there are emotional veils as well. Have you ever met pastors with the affected personas? We hide parts of ourselves, we veil parts of ourselves. In today’s scripture reading from Luke, Peter grabbed hold of what I would consider another veil. – As Luke reads:
“Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ —not knowing what he said.”
He, too, was hiding. He was hiding behind his words and behind ideas and behind a kind of really silly plan, because he was afraid. The Israelites at the time believed that an encounter with God would do nothing less than kill you. But here Peter had encountered the divine – had seen Jesus transfigured and had heard God’s voice, and was still living. His response, out of fear, out of awe, out of bewilderment was in a sense blithering because he was so overwhelmed by the experience. He, like those around Moses, was afraid of the transfiguration, afraid of the encounter with the holy. And so his “veil” was a blithering absurd suggestions to Jesus.
Do you find you have veils? That you protect yourself, or hide yourself from being real in difficult situations? In stressful situations? What about in daily life? Are there veils that you wear to hide parts of yourself every day?
I think people tend to do this especially in the church. James Angell in his book, “Yes is a world” writes, “Church ought to be a set of moments when we become most expansively, openly and honestly ourselves. Yet it is in the church where we often find it hardest to be ourselves: where we are often the most guarded, the most paranoid, the most unsure of being accepted and understood.” The church is a place in which, every Sunday, we take time to acknowledge our brokenness and our need for God’s forgiveness to make us whole. And yet still, we hide – from each other, from the world, and maybe even from God.
But as we know, these veils only succeed to a certain degree. I want to give you a few examples:
1. A man in a hooded jacket approached a gas station clerk with a gun and demanded all the money. The clerk complied. When the robber returned to his home, police were there waiting. The jacket the man wore during the hold up was his high school varsity jacket. It had his full name and year he graduated right on it.
2. A young criminal walked into a bank and quietly handed the teller a note demanding several thousand dollars. Disguised, the man could have easily gotten away. However, he had idiotically written the note on a piece of his own stationery; it included his full name and address.
3. A guy wearing pantyhose on his face tried to rob a store in a mall. When security came, he quickly grabbed a shopping bag and pretended to be shopping, forgetting that he was still wearing the pantyhose on his head.
4. A man walked into the corner store with a shotgun and demanded all of the money from the cash register. After the cashier put the money in the bag as instructed, the man demanded the bottle of Scotch he saw behind the counter. The cashier refused to hand over the Scotch because he did not believe the man was 21. The robber swore he was, but still the clerk refused. Finally, the robber handed over his ID and proved that he was indeed twenty-one. As soon as he left, the cashier called and gave the police the name and address of the man who had just robbed the store.
Another example that one of my best friends shared with me this week. She packed off her daughter to school who was wearing a sweatshirt covering a t-shirt. She thought she knew what shirt it was, but when her daughter came home without her sweatshirt on, she saw that instead her daughter was wearing a shirt that said, “My mom came out of the closet and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” My friend had had no intention of sharing her sexual identity with the entire elementary school, but had bought her daughter the shirt because it was funny, never thinking she’d wear it to school. While she wasn’t exactly “veiled”, neither was she publicly sharing this information. But her daughter did it for her.
All these stories are pretty silly. But the reality is that this can and DOES become a lot more serious many times. We hear so many stories of the pastors and politicians who are fighting the very things they have within themselves – Pastors and politicians condemning gay people, who are caught in same sex relationships. Pastors and politicians condemning infidelity who are caught in affairs. People condemning, hating, even advocating the killing of immigrants who are themselves immigrants or who are married to immigrants.
Scott Peck in his book, “People of the Lie” talks about the evil that people do. He says that people do evil – and I don’t use that word lightly, but true, deep evil, that destroys people, damages their persons in any way – physically, emotionally or spiritually: that people do this when they cannot face something about themselves. People who do this evil project whatever it is within themselves that they cannot accept, out onto others and work to actively destroy it in the other. In so doing, they often do not just destroy the thing they hate, but the other person as well. I think it is really important for us to think about this, to reflect on this. What is it we hate in the world? And is it possible, is it just possible that this thing that we hate is a part of ourselves that we can’t face, can’t accept, can’t deal with and so we try to destroy it in the other? The louder the assault on the other, history has shown us again and again, the stronger the reality that it exists within the perpetrator. J.K. Rowling showed us this in the Harry Potter series – Voldemort and his followers were trying to destroy those who came from non-magical parentage, and yet Voldemort himself had a non-magical father. But again, it isn’t just in fiction. When you think of the scandals of our times, it is those who yell loudest against any group of people who often are proven to have that within themselves. Again and again and again.
A woman I know had been a member of a church for 20 years when the man we all knew as her husband left her alone with no resources and with three young children to raise. This woman had been a staunch advocate for marriage, for family values, and had, at times, even been harsh towards other couples who chose to live together without getting married. Still, there appeared no alternative for her but divorce, after her husband left. The congregation rallied around her, trying to offer care, advice and support towards obtaining a legal divorce that would at least allow her to receive child support. The congregation tried and tried to help her and could not understand why she was so resistant, so reserved until one day one of the children blurted out that they couldn’t get divorced because they had never actually been married. Much to the poor woman’s surprise, she discovered that while this was a congregation that didn’t care if the marriage was legal or not, and it was a congregation that would have offered her all the support she could desire through a difficult and oppressive situation and even through a divorce, that still, this was not a congregation that would tolerate being lied to. Everyone in the church felt deceived. And the veil she had used to protect herself instead became, for better or worse, the wall that would separate her from her friends and community.
Sometimes we feel we must be careful about showing who we really are or even what we really think or believe. Sometimes we feel that we must hide parts of ourselves in order to be effective in our jobs or even in our friendships. Sometimes we feel we must compartmentalize parts of ourselves – “in this place I can be funny, in that place I must be political, in this place I need to be careful about what I share, in that place I can be wild and crazy” in order to navigate the waters of our lives. But God calls us into wholeness. God calls us to be complete people, all the time, in every place. And what I’m saying to you today is that this is both for our own sakes and for the those around us. When we are honest with ourselves about who we are, we will have no need to project the parts we don’t like outward and try to destroy them in the other. When we can accept parts of ourselves we don’t like, we can also work to either be at peace with them or to change them. When we stand before God we are seen as we are, with all our strangeness and with all of our gifts. Our transformation, our transfiguration, each and every day, must be towards wholeness, into being all of who we are, just as Jesus’ transfiguration showed him to be exactly who he was called to be.
My challenge then to all of us is to be as real, with ourselves and with one another as we can be. My challenge for us is to remove the veils we put up and not worry about fear or disappointment in the other. My challenge for all of us is to be the people God calls us to be, more and more so each and every day.