2 Corinthians 3:18-4:6
In the story we heard from Exodus,
Moses goes up Mt. Sinai and he receives the two tablets-
on which the 10 Commandments are written.
As he turns around to talk to the people, though,
they are blinded – they’re unable to look at him,
because his face is shining so brightly for having spoken with God.
His face is too glorious, too bright, too awesome.
So Moses has a solution…
He uses a veil.
He removes the veil when he talks to God,
but when he talks to the people, he places the veil over his face
so they aren’t blinded by divine glory.
My sister’s friend has a 9 year old son named Jamie.
Just before Christmas, Jamie confided in my sister that he really wanted
an R2D2 for Christmas – the little robot from Star Wars.
But Jamie added… he wasn’t going to ask for it because it was
too glorious – too awesome a present.
On Christmas morning, Jamie came downstairs,
and there he saw under the tree a box – the size of R2D2.
And he burst into tears –
He couldn’t open it –
He had to leave it wrapped – leave the veil over it –
It was just too awesome, too glorious!
Veils have been used throughout history in different ways.
Someitmes they’ve been used to cover sacred objects – to cover the divine glory like shone from Moses’ face.
Some churches even today have a veil
which separates people from the ‘holy of holies,’ where only a special priest can go.
If you’ve ever been to a synagogue,
you know that when the Torah is taken out,
it is covered by a finely embroidered veil.
Even here today we have vestiges of this tradition –
our communion elements are ‘veiled’ – covered.
Sure, one reason is to protect them from getting flies into the wine!
But also it’s a symbol of what’s underneath – God’s presence.
Both women and men have been veiled in various cultures.
We’re familiar with the tradition of bridal veils,
to keep the custom that the bride and groom not see each other before they are married.
But in some West African cultures, men are veiled at puberty –
it’s to show modesty in front of their elders.
Sometimes the purpose of a veil is to protect the one who is wearing it….
And sometimes the purpose of a veil is to protect those who would look in…
In his letter to the Corinthians,
Paul takes this image of a veil to the people of Corinth.
As many of you know, Paul was an apostle of Jesus;
he never met Jesus in person himself,
but he traveled all around the Mediterranean by foot and by boat,
setting up small house churches on the way.
The context of this letter is that Paul had been to Corinth and set up a church,
and then went on his way.
In the meantime, other apostles came to Corinth and began to belittle his ministry.
They were saying that Paul wasn’t flashy enough; he wasn’t charismatic enough;
He wasn’t ‘glorious’ enough.
Paul was talking about persecutions and hardships…
and not the glorious life of a Christian.
The people of Corinth were beginning to listen to these new apostles,
and so Paul responds.
He says that the thing these new apostles don’t understand is that
the Christian life isn’t always shining.
These apostles want the people to believe that they can see glory all the time,
life is always awesome, bright things are always happening…
But Paul says that in his experience of the Christian life,
bright things aren’t always happening.
The good news is that by faith we know that
despite the crappy parts of life, God is still there.
The brightness is yet present – but sometimes it is hard to see – it is covered by a veil.
Paul says that these new apostles want to pull off the veil,
and see only glory all the time…
but they are only being misled by the ‘gods of this world.’
It is human nature to want to avoid suffering…
to avoid thinking about suffering, to avoid talking about suffering.
I read an article in the NY Times by Kate Bowler last week[i]
She’s one of those people who once you’ve heard about them,
it seems like you hear about them over and over again….
She’s written a book and started a podcast,
been on NPR, etc…you get the picture.
Anyway, Kate is a professor at Duke Divinity School.
She’s in her late 30’s and 5 years ago she was diagnosed
with stage 4 colon cancer.
Kate has a young son and a husband and loving family
and a job that she loves….
Every 3 months she goes in for various scans,
and her doctors help decide the next step in treatment.
She’s not dying but she also knows she’s not cured.
She describes herself in this time of ‘keeping vigil.’
Kate has a good social life,
but now, she says, when she goes to social gatherings, many times it’s just awkward.
What do you say to a young woman with a wonderful life who has cancer?
Kate says that people are often uncomfortable with cancer, with suffering.
They want to find something to say that will pull the veil off!
They want to give words which will somehow put aside the veil,
and help Kate and themselves once again see God in all of God’s glory!
And so, Kate says, they often say things that she does not find helpful.
Kate has written about these things in her book called, “Everything Happens,”
and she talks about them in her podcast by the same title.
There are the minimizers.
You can tell a minimizer when their words begin “Well, at least….”
She tells the story of her sister flying on a plane.
She told her seatmate about Kate’s illness,
and the seatmate said something like, “Well at least she didn’t have to flee her homeland to survive the Iranian Revolution!”
There are also the spiritual minimizers…
those that say, “Well, you know you will be with God in heaven…”
And Kate sometimes wants to respond, “Well maybe you’d like to go there first!”
Then there are those who try to say that her illness
is God’s way of trying to teach her something…
one person solemnly told her, “I hope you have a Job experience….”
Kate finds it hardest to deal with those who try to ‘fix it’ somehow –
there’s always another nutritional supplement or doctor to see.
But despite these well-intentioned missteps, Kate also says, she’s discovered some people who do know, who do understand.
One day after a chemotherapy treatment,
a nurse sat next to her and said quietly, “You know, I lost a child.”
With those words, Kate said she knew this nurse could understand.
In Kate’s words, “She knew what it was like to keep marching
long after the world had ended.”
To keep marching long after the world has ended.
That is what it was like to live the Christian life, Paul says.
Not to insist that God is present only in the remarkable glorious days of our lives,
Not to try to pull off the veil ourselves by minimizing or trying to fix the suffering of others.
But rather to stay present where there is still darkness.
It is difficult though…
When the disciples go up the mountain with Jesus and he is transfigured before them,
they too want to stay in that place.
Peter says, “Let’s build a dwelling here!”
But Jesus reminds them that God is in the valleys too.
Where is God’s glory for you today?
Maybe it’s not on a mountaintop or in a sunrise,
but maybe it’s hidden for a season behind a veil…
waiting for God to once again bring new life out of suffering.
When you arrived this morning you received a piece of a veil.
Perhaps you’ll hold onto it.
Perhaps in moments when you are surprised by God’s awesomeness, beauty, or wonder…
the veil will remind you that it is a gift not unlike what the disciples experienced –
for a moment the veil has been pulled away.
And perhaps when you are taken aback by unspeakable suffering, when the world has ended…
the veil will remind you to keep marching – God is still here.