Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
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 refuse 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 Corinthians 3: 17-18, 4:2)
The story of Christ’s transfiguration, when his face shone with the glory of his divine nature, is one of my favorites. I think it is the best expression of what grace is doing in humans, shining us up so that we glow with the glory of God whose image we share. The apostle Paul clearly felt it was a good example too, because he uses the image of Moses speaking with God and having to veil his shining face as an example of how those who are closest to the revelation of God sometimes cover it up for the comfort of others, and how that is no longer the way that the truth of God is to be shared. He makes the contrast with himself and other Christian witnesses, who like Peter, James and John experience the glory of God in Christ, and are instructed by Jesus not to cover it with a tent. The grace of God in Christ is for everyone, but it makes some of us very uncomfortable. What if other people aren’t as together as we are and we bring them into our joy only to have to deal with their problems? What if they aren’t following God’s way the way we think they should? What if we need a tent to keep our God contained in?
These anxieties sometimes mask a bigger fear: What if we aren’t shiny enough or good enough to show God to others? It’s a reasonable fear to have, but it contradicts the revelation in Scripture. We are not to hide away our least beloved parts: our mental struggles, our fears and shame, and our guilt. We are to allow them to be transfigured by the Spirit of the Lord into the beautiful image of God that we are. Making the “open statement of the truth” of God’s love for the world requires that we not be ashamed of who we are and how we love others. All of us make mistakes, all of us fall short, but we can always be transformed by the love of God and share that with others. The love that is God’s very essence will shine out of our faces if we allow it to. It may make others uncomfortable that we welcome all and love all people, but we cannot veil our faces when our witness to God’s love is so urgently needed in the world.
Earlier this week, many of you read about the decision of the United Methodist church to strengthen its discipline against LGBTQ clergy and against the relationships of LGBTQ persons being recognized by the denomination. While I, and I suspect many of you, are saddened by this, it is an opportunity to be a place of welcome for our brothers and sisters in Christ for as long as they need it, and to continue showing the unveiled love of Christ to all. I am so proud and happy to be with you and to experience the warmth of this community toward LGBTQ persons. The LGBTQ support groups we host and our affirming, welcoming community, are part of our commitment to the truth of God’s love being for all people. We can do more to be clear that we welcome all, and I invite any of you who have ideas and thoughts about how we can continue to grow in hospitality and invitation to people who have not been in church or have been harmed by the church in the past to share them with me and with the vestry.
Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, when I hope we will all gather to address God this way: “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent…” (from the Collect of the Day, BCP p.264). We are all sinners, but we are not sinners because of who we are, but because of how we choose to separate ourselves from God and others. The liturgy will continue with readings and prayers, and will include the imposition of ashes, with the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” To some this is a hard thing to hear, but I hear the loving voice of my creator saying that I am no more and no less than a creature of God. It is like hearing “remember that you are God’s, and to God you will return.”
It reassures me to know that God made me from the dust, which God also created out of God’s own essence. It reassures me to know I will return to that God just as beloved as I was made. I remember that the dust, and I, are God’s creative work, and that I am never to be separated from God. Neither will you. There will be sins and temptations that pull us further away from God, but we will always return and be welcomed by the God who made us and loves us. “All of us, with unveiled faces…” will be transformed by grace, and we have the power to show others that grace. When you come to church this Wednesday (at 7 a.m., 12 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.) I will be waiting with some of that dust, to remind you who you are. It’s up to you to show Christ’s face when you leave.
In Christ’s peace,
The Rev. Veronika Travis