You know that I love babies and love baptisms (infant and adult.) It is just such a bold act to make these claims: that in baptism we are freed from sin – not separated from God, loved so profoundly, and marked for eternity.
That is our naked truth. It is the ground upon which we stand. It is the good news that we proclaim. I love it that we have so many baptisms. It may be second nature to us, but I never want to lose the edginess.
Little Annabelle Mae is born in the likeness and image of the divine and with encouragement and prayer she will grow, as Paul writes, “from one degree of glory to another.” This does not guarantee protection from hardship. It does not mean long life or fame. It is not a ticket to riches or any of that. In fact, the more one conforms to Jesus, the weirder and riskier life gets, frankly.
We don’t have proof we are on the road towards something glorious. We have only the hope, and some hints, and experiences and a lot of stories that collectively we interpret to mean that our life is moving away from narrowness and towards broadness, away from conformity and towards uniqueness within community. We have this hope, you see, that our deepest yearnings are true: that life makes sense despite what we see and we have a purpose, despite what we feel sometimes. We can’t see the future and yet we trust that there is a future worth moving towards. That as we come to see truth and grow towards our own being, and lower our veils, so to speak – we become more like Moses and Jesus – seeing God for who God is and allowing ourselves to be who we are called to be.
Who knows what little Annabelle will experience, will become? But this we trust: that God loves her and her life will not be wasted.
This is what, I believe, ultimately St. Paul is getting to. But he takes his own confusing circuitous route to get there. Maybe you felt this way too, hearing the passage this morning. Paul’s reference to Moses is obscure for most of us. Furthermore, that reference to Jewish minds being hardened “to this very day” leaves me unsettled because passages like this one have been used for centuries to persecute Jews. In our Bible study on Wednesday morning Kevin Steiner said: “when Paul is read a veil comes over my mind.” Many of us feel that way.
Paul interprets the story in Exodus, chapter 34. Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant. Because Moses was in the presence of God his face got this glow, this radiance, this divine sun tan. The people were afraid to come near him so he put a veil over his face every time he spoke to the people. When Moses was face to face with God he removed the veil.
Paul uses this story to make a point, but he doesn’t have the story quite right – he is using metaphorical license to encourage his readers not to hide – but rather to come out from behind the veil – their faith shaped by an emboldened hope that day by day they were being transformed: “one degree of glory to another” towards a likeness of Jesus Christ.
And I really like that, this sense that we are a bold people because we are followers of Jesus Christ; that we are a hopeful people because we are followers of Jesus Christ; this trust that we are moving towards glory and being transformed – that is a remarkably powerful thought that we need to hear and take in and let it have its way with us.
Because I think so many times we linger in hopeless timidity and succumb to shameful cover-up and wonder if there is anything worth moving towards. There is a tendency that Archbishop Oscar Romero described as a tendency towards conformity which he says “truly is an opiate of the masses.”
We want to be like everybody else – just to fit in – so we look around at what other people have, and how other people act – and we compare and judge our worth vis a vis the other. Our institutions want to create cut-outs of a template – in education, certainly. We all want to wear the same veils and cower behind conformity. How often do you hold your tongue because you don’t think your perspective is valuable? Or that you might say something stupid? Or that feeling that you just don’t fit in. Where does that come from?
So many are scared to tell the truth, to get real with their own lives – it is a constant cover up.
I don’t often like looking in the mirror because it reflects aging, baggy eyes and disheveled hair, and all of that; I am not 25 any more – a little tuck would be nice. I don’t like when someone holds the mirror up and forces me to reflect upon my own dysfunctions – but it seems as if Paul’s words are the agitation you and I might need: if you want to keep moving on from one degree of glory to the next, you have to tell the truth, you have to face it, reveal yourself, lower your veil.
Taking off the veil and looking at God, at yourself and others at the world – means telling deep truths, and naming deep pains and not getting stuck in the status quo. It is looking at the world as it is, not as you would like.
Paul encourages you to lower the veil and look around and see. Unfortunately, many faithful people think that taking down the veil means putting on rose-colored glasses which make everything pretty, or cynical spectacles which demean everything.
No, living life with unveiled faces means seeing the ugliness, and the evil, but also the good and the beautiful – but trusting that since we are a people of hope (that there really is some reality of light beyond the darkness) we can do bold things – like change our lives, and become engaged, and ready ourselves for action, and laugh a lot.
We have had to cancel the pilgrimage to El Salvador, but I had been reading a lot about Archbishop Oscar Romero who was assassinated 30 years ago while celebrating the Mass, because he spoke out against the evils and injustices of an oppressive regime. His is an amazing story: Born in a village on the Honduran border he became a priest and studied in Rome. He was known for his social, political and theological conservatism. He was the compromise candidate for Archbishop because he wasn’t going to stir up any thing, he was going to maintain the status quo.
And yet his veil got taken off when he traveled the country and saw the poverty of the people and the injustice. He saw with his own eyes the evil perpetrated in the name of order – and he started to speak – transformed from one degree of glory to the next. Such hope in the gospel, such hope in the power of love, such hope that even if he died his spirit would live on in the people.
There is always something about seeing poverty that makes you change.
There was a recent story in the New York Times about Lisa Shannon whose eyes were opened to the horrors of the civil war in the Congo and so she went. It cost her a good business, a beloved fiancé, and a comfortable home. She tells her story in a moving book “A Thousand Sisters” – she has empowered thousands of Congolese women to stand up. She also discovered the spirit of joy and power within these strangers that empowered her. Lisa said, “Technically, I had a good life before, but I wasn’t very happy.” She mused, “Now I feel I have much more of a sense of meaning.”
I can’t get the story of Johanna Orozco out of my mind – that teenage girl whose enraged and spurned ex-boyfriend shot her in the face; her lovely, sweet, teenaged face. I remember after surgery there was the veil to protect others from becoming physically sick at looking at her. But now, she is out, showing off, proclaiming boldly her story and encouraging young women not to cower. She is a powerful woman.
Where does she get this – this sense of hope that her story can be used, that her life can still shine, and she does shine – being transformed from “one degree of glory to the next” – through the ugliness, despite the ugliness, because of the ugliness.
Mine is not the story of Johanna. Mine is not the story of Lisa. Mine is not the story of Oscar. I have my own story, my own veil to drop, my own mirror to look into, my own journey to take, my own hope to profess. And you have a story too. Maybe your first step is just to lower the obvious veil that you know well. Don’t worry if you are going to be called to Africa, or how you would deal if a tragedy struck. That is NOT for you to worry about. Rather, your concern should be to move towards glory, to be bold and hopeful, trusting that “nothing is good or bad until God gets through with it.”
But each of you already have precious stories of transformation, of coming to know, of telling the truth to yourself and others, of coming out and standing up and experiencing that freedom that is ours in the Lord – FREEDOM. And with freedom comes power.
On the wall by the mantle in our house, Deanne and I have this quotation from Martin Luther. It has become one of my favorites. He wrote:
“This life is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness,
not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest, but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it;
the process is not finished but it is going on.
This is not the end but it is the road;
all does not yet gleam in glory but all is being glorified.”
I can’t prove any of it but it is worth living by. It is worth trusting that audacious hope into which you and I and Annabelle and Oscar and Johanna and Lisa are called, and named and claimed, and we can even now set aside the veil, and come out from behind, and move from glory into glory, being transformed from one degree of glory to another until we see face to face and know fully, what we have, up to now, only know in part. The goal is not perfection, it is truth and freedom and bold living grounded on a hope that cannot be shaken.
AMEN and AMEN.