2 CORINTHIANS 3:13-18
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 13, 2004
A woman was trying hard to get the ketchup to come out of the bottle. During her struggle the phone rang so she asked her 4-year-old daughter to answer the phone.
“It’s the pastor, Mommy,” the child said to her mother. Then she added, “Mommy can’t come to the phone to talk to you right now. She’s hitting the bottle.”
I’d like for us think for a few minutes about the things about ourselves that we let people see - and the things within us that even we don’t want to see.
Let me share a true story with you.
Covenant House is a ministry that provides shelter and help to homeless and runaway youth. On a freezing night, a girl wearing a huge red hood pulled over her head came into the New York Covenant House shelter.
For her first 30 days at Covenant House this girl never took off her hood - never once showed her eyes. She wore the hood every minute throughout the day. She even wore her hood to bed at night, pulling it tightly over her eyes as she drifted off to sleep. The other kids began calling her "The Girl in the Hood." Despite all the efforts of the staff, she wouldn't - couldn't - give away the one thing in life that helped her hide.
The staff learned that her name was Nancy. She was a runaway from North Carolina - one of a million kids sleeping on the streets of the United States. Kids robbed of the innocence of childhood - living in fear - beaten - betrayed - alone - desperate to find someone who cares. Nancy had been severely abused at home. Terrified, she’d bought a bus ticket and escaped to New York. She wandered the streets for weeks until a policeman brought her to Covenant House.
By hiding beneath her hood, Nancy, was able to hide the incredible feelings of insecurity that paralyzed her. Her hood became the only protector she knew - her around-the-clock security blanket. The only place in the world she felt safe.
At first - as the staff tried to reach out to Nancy - conversations were very short. "Hi," they’d say. "Hi," she’d reply. "I'd love to talk to you when you're ready." "OK," her hood would nod. Snippets of conversation here. A nod there. Her words - so few spoken - always barely a whisper - head and eyes down - escaping under the cover of her hood.
Nancy's transformation didn’t come overnight. But slowly - surely - she began to blossom under the light of the staff's love - a beautiful child of God discovering an internal beauty she’d never known. Nancy is now living with her cousin in North Carolina and moving forward with her life. (1)
The Apostle Paul writes about the fears that we all share. Fears that prompt us to cover what lies within. In 2 Corinthians 3 - starting at verse 13 - Paul writes about veils - or as in Nancy’s story - hoods. The things that - in fear - we hide behind.
2 Corinthians 3 - starting at verse 13: "[We] are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away."
3,500 years ago the Hebrew people had just been released from slavery in Egypt. They’d traveled through the Negev desert and had come and camped at the foot of Mount Sinai. For 40 days they’d been camping there at the foot of this mountain waiting for Moses to come down off from his conference with God.
Finally Moses - this great man of God - Moses comes down the mountain holding God's law - written on tablets of stone by the very hand of God. Moses gathers the people together to explain God's law to the people.
Now as Moses comes down off the mountain his face is shining - radiating with this great brilliance that shows everyone that he’s been in the very presence of God. So while Moses is talking its hard to look at him - there's this glow thing going on with his face - and the people are starting to get really uptight out about this. So, when Moses finishes talking he puts a veil over his face - to cover up the glow.
That’s important. Whenever Moses spoke with God - when he was in God's presence - Moses would take off the veil. God wasn’t bothered by the glow. But, whenever Moses spoke to the people - he’d wear the veil - so the people wouldn’t get distracted.
According to Paul in 2 Corinthians 3 - even after the glow had faded - when Moses spoke to the people - Moses still wore the veil. So after a while the veil - not the glow - began to symbolize Moses' special relationship with God and his position before the people.
Do you see what Moses is struggling with? The glow is fading and he knows it. What will the people think? Will they honor him with the same respect? Moses - who was a man like us - kept the veil on - to keep the people from seeing his inadequacy - the fading glory of God and the emptiness left behind.
We all wear veils - veils of position and knowledge and appearance and family life and spirituality - outward coverings. We wear veils to cover wounds - our feelings of inadequacy - our struggles to be sufficient - competent - acceptable.
But what happens when we don't get married and live in a nice house with our 1.75 kids. When life isn’t wonderful? When our lives are filled with people who only care about what we appear to be - and we’re dying inside? There are a lot of lonely outcast people on the fringe of our "acceptable" society. And there are many more - who would like to just get off the treadmill - and stop performing.
But we keep going because the fear is too great. Like Moses - we cover ourselves with veils and pray that nobody will see underneath to who we really are.
A while back I ran across a poem, entitled, "Please Hear What I'm Not Saying." Listen to these words and see if you can identify with them.
Don't be fooled by me.In verses 14 and 15 Paul warns us of the dangers of hiding behind veils. There are two of these warnings.
Verse 14: "But their minds - the minds of the Jews - were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant - the law - the expectations of God - the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ."
Have you heard the phrase, “Good fences make good neighbors”? Why is that true? In part because there are times when we’d like our neighbors to stay in their own back yards. There’s a sense of security in having a good fence - a boundary to keep us safe from what lies beyond.
There are those who choose to live knowing that things in their lives are not right - but they’re afraid of what change might mean. “Even though I’m living in depression and fear - or anger and bitterness - at least as long as this veil is up there - as long as I’ve got this fence to hide behind - then I have some sense of security.”
The Jews had taken the law of God - the old covenant - and frozen it into a code of rigid requirements - a fence - a veil - to hide behind - dwelling secure in their understanding of God. "Do these things - act this way - and you'll be okay with God."
We Christians do this. Have you run across Christians who live by a set rules and regulations - do's and don'ts - that they have to keep because they're not going to please God or be a good Christian if they don't? Anything beyond that boundary invokes fear - the possibility of openness to God - God doing something that will rock-our-boat - our secure little world.
The Jews rejected Jesus Christ - their minds were hardened against Him - because He didn't fit their carefully constructed rules and regulations. He required them to move beyond their boundaries into a new understanding of a relationship with God. That terrified them.
When we're hiding behind our self-made veils - fenced into our little back-yards - thinking we’re safe - we’re the ones who are fenced in. The first danger that Paul warns us against - behind our veils - we become locked into our fears.
The second danger is that we miss what God has for us.
Verse 15: "But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart."
Do any of you ever listen to an “oldies” radio station? And would like to admit it? It’s unnerving to realize that that music wasn’t old when we first listened to it. There's a whole industry devoted to nostalgia. Memories - remembering the way it used to be.
The Jews were reading Moses and were nostalgic for the past - the good old days when God was doing something among His people - speaking to His people - giving his law through Moses - the days of David and Solomon - those were the good old days.
People in church long for good old days. The security of the the familiar - the known. Life was better back then - the people we knew - the places we lived - the movement of God in our lives.
The heart is what engages us in life - what motivates our actions - keeps us alive. Veil the heart - cover it - bind it - and we hide in the security of the past.
How alive is our relationship with Jesus today? Is the Bible more alive to us? Are we willing to risk the challenge of growing spiritually? Are we living on the edge - in the place where God uses us and blesses us? If our hearts are veiled we miss what God has for us.
Hear this - when we hide behind veils - we think we're secure. But we've only removed ourselves from the work of God in our lives. If we're really honest with ourselves - all we've done is cover what is fading away - the emptiness of our own inadequacy.
Paul shares with us the way out from behind our veils. Verses 16 and 17 - Paul writes "But whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" - freedom - liberation from fear and insecurity - inadequacy - through turning to the Lord.
This past week, of the many tributes paid to President Reagan - repeatedly there was a focus on the way he led this nation in change. From the emotional malaise of the Vietnam War and Watergate and the struggling economy - Americans being held hostage in Iran. Somehow President Reagan touched the heart of this nation in a kind of open - optimistic way - that helped us to change.
In an infinitely greater way - God knows where to touch our hearts - where we need healing. How to deal with the deepest of our wounds and fears and inadequacies - and give us hope.
Someone in the church sent me this: My son Zachary, 4, came screaming out of the bathroom to tell me he’d dropped his toothbrush in the toilet. So I fished it out and threw it in the garbage. Zachary stood there thinking for a moment, then ran to my bathroom and came out with my toothbrush. He held it up and said with a charming little smile, “We better throw this one out too then, ’cause it fell in the toilet a few days ago.”
Don’t you just love honesty? God is honest with us in dealing with our hearts.
When Jesus went to the cross He dealt with the deepest issues of our hearts. He took with Him all of our sins - our inadequacy - our inability to measure up to God's standard of holiness and righteousness and sinlessness. All of our failure was nailed to that cross with each nail that was driven through Jesus.
Through His death and resurrection - Jesus offers to us freedom from all this veildom and hiding - because God - through Jesus - has made us to be adequate.
Freedom comes - a relationship with God and healing and boldness and confidence in life begins - when we admit to ourselves that all this fear and hiding and striving by our own effort will never make us adequate. We need to receive what Jesus has done for us on the cross - to turn to Him and let Him be our adequacy.
That’s what Paul writes in verse 18: "But we all, with unveiled face - having given up trying to look good on our own - beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit."
Looking in the mirror first thing in the morning is a moment of truth. What we see staring back is the real us. Scary. But, look in the spiritual mirror - when our lives are given to Jesus - who lives within us - who is transforming us - and changing us to be in His likeness - look in the mirror and instead of seeing our own inadequate selves - we see Him - who is adequate and makes us to be adequate.
When we're most afraid of exposure - of people seeing us as the sinners we are - when the glow under the veil doesn't exist - and we're afraid - its because we've taken our eyes off of Jesus and put them on ourselves. The closer we get to God, the less we're concerned about what others see. The more we're willing to trust Him - the more we realize His power - His sufficiency - His security in our lives.
Maybe this morning you're wearing a hood - looking for protection. The walls are up and the wounds are protected. God wants to bring healing in your life: Spiritual healing - emotional healing - and He can and He will - if you will trust Him.
This morning you have an opportunity to let go of whatever holds you back from trusting Him fully - To come to Him and say, "I'm yours." Don't let fear rob you of God's healing. You might want to say a simple prayer to Him like, "God this hard. Help me to trust you. This is what I'm struggling with (and tell Him what it is). Help me to know your love in my life."