Monday, March 4, 2019

Sermon: “The Truth Behind the Veil”, Exodus 34:29-35/Luke 9:28-36 (March 3, 2019)


I’ve got to be honest: it was really difficult for me to focus on this week’s sermon. There’s been a lot going on in the world this week, and it’s had the lamentable effect of draining the hope right out of me. Some of it’s personal, but several of the things weighing on me have been very public and all over the news. Notably, Michael Cohen testified before members of Congress on Wednesday in order to help them discern the right path forward for our nation. I’m sure many of you were just as riveted to the coverage as I was. With everything going on this week, I had serious trouble thinking about anything else. It literally felt like I was tearing my spirit in two trying to keep my mind exclusively on scripture while my heart was elsewhere. So I decided to choose the path of authenticity and attempt to preach about these current events through the lens of our lectionary readings. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. has been widely quoted as saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I believe that, with hard work, faith, and an unwavering commitment to what’s just for all, humanity will (with God’s help) one day get it right. But that day isn’t yet here. What matters to me in this moment, while the path is still unknown and the arc of the universe still seems pretty straight, is the pursuit of Truth. Not “truth” as in provable facts, but “Truth” as in reflective of the deepest reality. For me, from my perspective here in the pulpit, this foundational reality is God’s Kingdom as revealed through Jesus Christ. No matter what winds up happening, I’m anxious that God’s Truth be given voice during the process. And at this point in human history, I’m not certain that that’s a priority for us as a society. I’m afraid that the trends that we see in our organized life, like the blind partisan loyalty in Washington, are symptomatic of a larger issue in the world today: namely, giving our own perspective preference over the larger Truth of what’s right and just.

Not that it’s ever been something that humanity’s been particularly good at. The lectionary readings on this Transfiguration Sunday deal with humans encountering God’s Truth firsthand—and their reactions are less than perfect. The Israelites see, on Moses’ face, the radiant result of a direct encounter with the divine. The disciples see, for one brilliant moment, the truth of Christ’s nature shining through every inch of his body. They see God’s reality for themselves—and yet, they resist it. The Israelites were afraid to come near Moses’ shining face, so he “protected” them from it with a veil. Peter, John, and James recognized who Jesus was and the significance of it—but said nothing about it to anyone. God’s people had encountered the realest reality there is, but they chose not to let it change them because they were afraid.

Like Moses’ shining face and Jesus’ dazzling clothes, the Truth can be difficult to look at. We like to imagine that we’d embrace it every time we encounter it, but the reality is that the Truth can be harsh. It can be overwhelming. It can illuminate parts of ourselves that we’d rather not consider. It can ask us to do things that are uncomfortable, hard, even humbling. So, all too often, we choose not to do the things that the Truth requires of us. We insist that God’s Truth, the reality of what’s right and just, be ignored, or shoved aside, or diluted. We convince ourselves that the Truth isn’t really the Truth. This way, we figure, it won’t have the power to challenge us anymore, and our fears will be assuaged.

And yet, the security blanket of our avoidance doesn’t temper our fear the way we expect it to. It fixes nothing; it changes nothing. All it does is keep us from knowing God more fully. The light of God’s glory understandably unsettles and disquiets, yet when a cloud interrupts Peter, John, and James’ encounter with a transfigured Jesus, they don’t experience relief. They don’t feel safer because of the covering—they’re still terrified. And they still keep silent about the experience afterwards. Avoiding the Truth, diverting from it, obscuring it, doesn’t help us in any way. In fact, it makes it harder for us to fulfill our responsibility to share the Good News of God’s Kingdom—if we won’t even admit the whole Truth to ourselves, if we’re afraid to even see it, how can we possibly hope to pass it on to others?

Now, I want to make clear that, while my heart was initially moved to this reflection by events that are largely outside of my control, I am by absolutely no means trying to place blame anywhere other than myself and my own community. Certainly, there’s work to be done in other communities, by other people, to overcome the very human tendency to prioritize ourselves and our fear over the Truth. But I’m in no place to try removing the speck in my neighbor’s eye before addressing the plank in my own.[1] I know that WE, as a church and denomination and as well as Idahoans and American citizens, have plenty of work to do to get our own house in order. We’re not in a position to be making judgements or casting stones, as it were. There’s plenty of Truth for us to face head-on ourselves, plenty of hard work for us to do if we really want to reflect the Truth of who God is: a being of unconditional welcome, love, and inclusion.

At the end of last month, I asked both Session and the Deacons to do an exercise where we reflected our inclusivity as a community—both what we’re doing well and what we should be doing but aren’t. What I intended to be a short, ten-minute activity wound up absorbing the better part of an hour for both groups. We found ourselves spending most of that time discussing the ways we’re falling short of God’s Truth, but it was far from a negative experience. It was a wonderful, productive, holy time. We were honest with one another about how our community might be inaccessible to those of different abilities and from different contexts—and how that’s contrary both to our own mission statement and the Mission that God has set before the Church. We certainly didn’t fix it all during our discussion, but we took the first step towards unveiling the Truth. And God willing, we’ll continue to do the necessary work to better reflect God’s Kingdom in our corner of Caldwell.

We’re about to enter into the liturgical season of Lent—a period marked by reflection and repentance. Inevitably, as we confront the reality of our human nature, there’ll be times of darkness, where all we can see is the evil around us and within ourselves. The gift of the Transfiguration on this last Sunday before Lent is the reminder that the Truth—God’s real reality—is still there, and will not, CANNOT, be hidden forever. All we have to do is be brave enough not to turn away when we see it. The gift of Lent, on the other hand, is the reminder that when we DO look away, as we inevitably will, there’s ALWAYS time to repent, to turn back and see God’s face again. Let us keep striving to pull back the veil and seek the real Truth of God’s Kingdom.

I leave you today with these words from 2 Corinthians: “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refused to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.”[2] In other words, no matter how hopeless the world feels, and no matter how resistant we are to the Truth of God’s inclusion, justice, and love—for EVERYONE, not just those who look like us or act like us or agree with us—let us refuse to turn away. Let us be bold in our proclamation of God’s Word, and may God hold us accountable to the choices that we each make in God’s name, whether in our home, at our church, in our communities, or on the steps of the Capitol. Because, as Jesus promises us, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”[3] Amen.


[1] Matthew 7:5.
[2] 2 Corinthians 4:1-2, NRSV.
[3] John 8:32, CEB.

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