Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Parade and After

The Parade and After
A sermon delivered by Peter T. Atkinson
February 18, 2018
at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Zuni, Virginia
Luke 19: 36-40
Exodus 15: 1-18

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:
“I will sing to the Lord,
    for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
    he has hurled into the sea.
“The Lord is my strength and my defense[a];
    he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
    the Lord is his name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
    he has hurled into the sea.
The best of Pharaoh’s officers
    are drowned in the Red Sea.[b]
The deep waters have covered them;
    they sank to the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, Lord,
    was majestic in power.
Your right hand, Lord,
    shattered the enemy.
“In the greatness of your majesty
    you threw down those who opposed you.
You unleashed your burning anger;
    it consumed them like stubble.
By the blast of your nostrils
    the waters piled up.
The surging waters stood up like a wall;
    the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy boasted,
    ‘I will pursue, I will overtake them.
I will divide the spoils;
    I will gorge myself on them.
I will draw my sword
    and my hand will destroy them.’
10 But you blew with your breath,
    and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
    in the mighty waters.
11 Who among the gods
    is like you, Lord?
Who is like you—
    majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
    working wonders?
12 “You stretch out your right hand,
    and the earth swallows your enemies.
13 In your unfailing love you will lead
    the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
    to your holy dwelling.
14 The nations will hear and tremble;
    anguish will grip the people of Philistia.
15 The chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
    the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
the people[c] of Canaan will melt away;

16     terror and dread will fall on them.
By the power of your arm
    they will be as still as a stone—
until your people pass by, Lord,
    until the people you bought[d] pass by.
17 You will bring them in and plant them
    on the mountain of your inheritance—
the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling,
    the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.
18 “The Lord reigns
    for ever and ever.”

This past Wednesday Lent officially began with Ash Wednesday. Some of us got together here at church for a small service that centered around an ancient tradition: the imposition of the ashes. We did not do it this way, but it is traditional that the Palms from the prior year's Palm Sunday are burned, then the ashes are used to mark the foreheads of the penitent. As the ashes are placed the words, "From Dust you were formed, and to dust you will return," are repeated, reminding us of the frailty of human life. The season of Lent is a time for fasting, for prayer, for study, for self evaluations, and most importantly for repentance. There is great symbolism in the use of the Palms as ashes. It is appropriate because the palms represent the best of our praise for Jesus, the celebration of us at our best, on our best day, and the ashes represent the great depths that we always seem to fall to, as well.
During this season of Lent we are continuing our study of Jesus’ life by looking at the final events one by one, from the colt he rode into Jerusalem hearing shouts of Hosanna, all the way to the cross, and then through the cross to the empty tomb. So basically we are turning the 40 day of lent into an extended Holy Week. So much happens between Palm Sunday and Easter, that often it gets missed, so we are going to look at a few of those important events in the weeks to come. So this beginning of the Lenten Season is marked with the liturgy of Palm Sunday, the songs that are normally sung then we have sung this morning, and now the story of that triumphant entry will be our Gospel Lesson for this morning. Here is Luke 19:28-40:
28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”[a]
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

I chose the gospel and Old Testament readings this morning to recall one of the great paradoxes, and great falls from grace that human beings are prone to. Because here you have two of the great parades recounted, and in both you have a fast fall from faith. The Old Testament’s, Song of Moses, recounts the great joy and triumph of escape from Egypt, from years of bitter bondage, but so soon after this, the Israelites start to grumble and make for themselves a Golden Calf to worship. And then the triumphant entry into Jerusalem by Jesus, and the fact that in just one week's time the great palm waving celebration, the parade through the streets on the young colt, so quickly turns into the mocking, jeering, march towards the cross. The people who had been cheering Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, become the same people who demand that Jesus be crucified.
It is very easy to disregard a shift like this. It is much easier to think of ourselves as the Hosanna shouters. We can relate to them, loving Jesus, being swept up in the excitement, the momentum, the miracles. Few of us allow ourselves to identify with the ones yelling crucify him. Throughout the history of Christianity, we Christians have claimed the Hosanna’s but have discarded the shouts “Crucify him” peddling them off on others, either the Jews, or Romans, or chief priests, scribes and Pharisees. The ugly truth though is that most likely it was the same people, the same crowd, the same mob exclaims both Hosanna and then Crucify him. And we are very capable of shouting both in our lives. And thus the ashes of those palms belong on our faces, and the remembrance of our propensity to go along with such evil needs to find its place in our hearts.
As a captivated student of history, I’ve always been interested in the big events of human history, and how they reflect the best and worst of human nature. At Hampden-Sydney I took classes on many, from the fall of the Roman Empire, to the American Civil War, but the period that always peeked my interest the most was the French Revolution, a period of change and upheaval that saw the pendulum shift back and forth, the leaders of one day are the guillotine’s swift victims of the next. It is hard not to see the parallels between such a historical event and the Palm Sunday/Holy Week betrayal of the always fickle crowd.
We ask ourselves how it can happen. We tell ourselves that it never could again, but it does again and again. It is a phrase repeated I think much too frequently that “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Though it is true, that forgetting history makes one apt to relive the patterns, but simply knowing the events of history is not enough. It is much more important to understand history, not just to avoid repeating it, but simply to understand who we are as humans and just what wonders and horrors we are capable of.
How does it happen? What is the force behind the change? How can we shift our position so easily? Simply put, we have no idea who we are, no identity, no true concept of self, or as the choir sang so beautifully, we have forgotten that we are crafted unique and personally by the Potter’s hand, and since we have forgotten, when the winds of change blow us we have no root, no binding principle to hold us, and therefore when the crowd yells Hosanna we join in, and when the tide turns we turn right along with it.
Let’s take a step back though first, and look at the make up of the crowd. As an English Teacher I'm always looking for ways to teach important distinctions between words. One of the big word concepts that opens the door to understanding so many more word distinctions is the important differnece between the words: Denotation and Connotation. For a reminder to those who have been gracefully removed for a long time from the High School classroom, Denotation is the dictionary concise definition of the word, and a Connotation is the feelings or added meanings that a word picks up over time, based on usage and other things. I ask the class to look up three words, one was “group”, the second was “crowd,” the third one was “mob.” Each year they find that basically all three share the same dictionary definition, i.e. that “they are a collection of people,” but then I ask them to look at a selection of pictures and ask them which word fits each one. They have no problem differentiating the four people standing together doing nothing as the "group," the destructive and unruly "mob," and finally the cheering "crowd." This week though as I’ve been wrestling with the fickleness of the mob in the Passion text, I’ve been wondering, what is the inherent difference between a “mob” which we could say that the Hosanna cheering then Crucify jeering folks were and a “community,” which we as Christians are called to be? The distinction in their make up is subtle, but important because though rarely does a mob become a community, but a community constantly is threatened on all sides at every moment with the with danger of turning into a mob.
I would say that the main difference is that a community is made up of individual people who preserve their identity and function together, and therefore remain rooted. And a mob is a mass of people who give up their own identity and take on the identity of the mob. They then become the fickle crowd participating in group think, the dangers of which give us the swinging pendulum of popular opinion, the chopping guillotine, Nazi’s, fascists, a world blown seemingly out of control, and the shouts of Hosanna to Crucify, again and again throughout history.
 The difficult part of becoming a community is that it is truly hard to know who we are in this world and what defines us. So many things work together in our lives to form our identity. They seem to shape us, and give a semblance of meaning to our lives, but they can hide from us the real truth about ourselves.
There is a modern parable that has been used by many people in recent years. I’ve seen it used to show the difference between Christianity and other religions. It has also been used to show how Christ himself functions differently than other people. Today I want to use it to show how many different things can work to define who we are and how we act. This is the parable of the man who fell into the pit.
So a man falls into a pit and tries and tries to get out but just can’t. He cries out for help but no one hears him.
One of the things that work to define us are our emotions.
A happy person came by looked down saw the man in the pit and said my what a lovely day to be in a pit.
A sad person came by said, I don’t think being in a pit could be any worse than what I deal with everyday.
An angry person said, I wish that I could put my enemies in a pit like that.
And a jealous person wondered how come this guy’s pit was so much bigger than his own.
Another thing that can define us is our job. For instance:
A policeman might ask the man if they have a license for that pit.
An IRS agent might ask if he’s yet filed his taxes on his pit.
An insurance salesman might ask him if his pit is in the good hands of All State.
A news reporter might ask if he could interview the man for an exclusive story on his pit.
A sportscaster might say, Well sports fans it appears that the man has fallen into a pit.
Sometimes we are defined by our race
If you were more like me I’d save you from that pit
If you were more like me you wouldn’t have fallen into this pit to begin with
If you could speak my language, if your skin were my color, if you were just. . . not in that pit maybe we could get along.
Sometimes our actions are defined by our politics
A Liberal might say, let me give you some money while you are in that pit that should solve all your problems
A Conservative might say, how much is this guy’s pit going to cost me
Sometimes our actions are defined by our religious affiliation or philosophy
A Pharisee might tell him that only bad people fall into pits
A Fundamentalist might tell him that he deserved to fall into his pit
A Charismatic might come by and say if he would only confess he’d be out of the pit
A Christian Scientist might tell him, “you only think you are in that pit”
A Realist might say, “That surely is a pit”
A Calvinist might say, “If you were saved you never would have fallen into that pit”
A Wesleyan might say, “You were saved and still fell in that pit”
An optimist might say, “Things could be worse”
A Pessimist might say to him, “You know what, things will get worse”
The parable though always ends the same: Jesus pulled the man out of that pit. And it is possible that any of those other individuals might done the same on any given day. When the weather and circumstances was right, their best and true selves would reach down and help him out of the pit, but Jesus would always do it because Jesus knew who he was, and what he was, regardless of circumstances, regardless of temptations, regardless of what the herd said. Jesus was the Son of God when he healed all of the people he healed. He was the Son of God when he preached the Sermon on the Mount. He was the son of God when he was out in the desert for forty days of temptation. He was the son of God when he rode into Jerusalem on the Colt amidst praising shouts of Hosanna, and he was the Son of God when he stumbled broken to the cross amidst shouts of Crucify him.
Do you think it is possible that we could live our lives like that? Completely free from the whims and wishes of other people. Independent to an ever changing world. Independent in an ever changing world? Perhaps.
Psalm 1, which Pat read for us this morning, captures some of this important grounding nature in following God:
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
 2But his delight is in the LORD;
he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, and not scattered by the wind.

Paul also points to our need to be this way in his letter to the Galatians, writing, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." This is the foundation for our new community. We must find  our identity in Christ Jesus, as a child of God because that identity is constant, complete, and eternal. That identity does not change with the times, with the fads of the day, or with the herd. That identity is like a tree planted.
We live in an interesting time, where people seek to define us, with labels, in groups. None of these labels fit a child of God because God made all of his children completely unique. There has been no other you, and there will never be another you. This is important to remember because your gifts are unique, and the role that your life will play is unique. Remembering that we are children of God gives us unity, but a unity that is not meant for the mindless mob, but rather for the more rooted Community. If we are shaped by our identity as a child of God, then we are free to become a true actualization of the potential of ourselves. We become empowered to be the person we were created to be.
And it is during Lent that we search for just who that person is. We look inside at the person we are, honestly. Where are the shadows within ourselves? Where do we not allow in the light? Where are we filled with the darkness? What are the parts of us that are not accepting of the identity of a Child of God? Where do we feel inadequate, unworthy, unlovable? Where in ourselves are we capable of shouting crucify him, instead of Hosanna? Where in ourselves is there the capacity for evil, or violence, or racism, or genocide? Where in ourselves do we feel fragmented? Where in ourselves do we seek the acceptance of the herd? Where in ourselves do we abdicate our identity and assume the identity of others?
Are we children of God or are we still the man in the pit? We may find that our Lenten preparation has made us aware that we are very much still in the pit. That may be so, and if it is so, Christ will pull us out. . . that's what Easter is, and if we find that we have already been taken out of our pit, let us be completely about the business of Christ, that is not sympathizing with those in the pit, not making their pits better, or livable, or pretending that they don't exist, but to be completely about the business of Christ, and bringing them out of the pit.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Beneath the Veil

Beneath the Veil
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
February 11, 2018
at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Zuni, Virginia
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Exodus 34: 29-35

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.
33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before the liturgical season of Lent that gets us ready for Holy Week and Easter. On Tuesday we’ll get together and eat pancakes, on Wednesday we’ll join together and commemorate the beginning of Lent with the imposition of Ashes. This morning, though, we commemorate one of the more strange, and in that it is strange, more interesting events in the gospels, what is called the Transfiguration of the Lord. Now this story is accounted in the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and is referred to explicitly in one of the letters of Peter, and in a way is referenced in this morning’s epistle, of 2 Corinthians, but before I get to that I want to cover the basics of the story. I printed in the bulletin Luke’s account, which is, in most of the big details, anyway, basically similar to the other two. There you have Jesus, taking three of His disciples up on a mountain to pray, and then it gets kinda weird. Jesus’ face changes, his clothes become dazzling white, he is joined by Moses and Elijah, they start talking about Jesus and his departure from Jerusalem, somehow the disciples get sleepy, (I don’t know how, could you sleep if you saw all that), but somehow they fight off that sleepy feeling and stay awake, and so they get to see his glory. After seeing it they remark how good it was that they did, and want to build for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses some housings for them, a marking, a temple, a monument to signify the event. . . and it is then, a cloud covers them, and the voice comes out of the cloud saying: “This is My son, My chosen, Listen to him!” That’s it. That is what we commemorate on this day, the last day before Lent every year. But rather than using that as the New Testament lesson for today, I want to use an  epistle lesson this is paired with it in the lectionary, this from 2 Corinthians I think you will see the connection, as I hope you did also between it and the Old Testament Lesson I began with just a minute ago. Here is 2 Corinthians 3:12- 4:2
12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. 14 But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside.15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds;16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 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.
4 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 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.

Now this morning, I want us to bring all these different places in the Bible together, Exodus, 2 Corinthians, and the Transfiguration story, and in doing so I want to spend a little time talking about imagination, and I don’t want us to make the mistake of downplaying imagination as something that isn’t true because on the contrary I think it is something quite true. I don’t want you to think about imagination, in the sense of the lonely child, who has an imaginary friend, the idea that imagination is delusional because that is not what I’m talking about at all. Instead, I’m talking about the imagination that is very real. When you think about it imagination is a truly key component in our lives. We imagine the world all the time. . . and by imagine, I’m talking about the basic root of the world itself, we make an image, a picture of what it is, in our mind. Everything we observe and experience becomes a picture in our mind.
Think back to yesterday. What entered into your mind. . . was it a picture? Now, there were 24 hours in yesterday. . . but somehow your mind captured all of yesterday in a picture that defies time. . . all of it in an instant. Powerful. . . let’s use this more. . . think about a dollar bill, can  you see it? think about a rainbow. . . think about mountain. . . think about a tall stately oak tree. . . can you see those images? Think about Friends, What do you see? Think about Family. What do you see? Think about someone in your life, who has died. . . what do you see?
For me it’s hard not to see in some occasions where there was an open casket at the funeral, sometimes it’s hard not to see the person dead, rather than alive, my mind goes to the wrong image first. . . you see imagination is not exactly a perfect act of our will, what we see, is not something we are in complete control of. It just happens. We’re not so much in control of what memories and pictures our mind keeps from the past, but it works the other way, too.
Because imagination is a powerful thing looking forward, as well, we’ve so far just been looking back. But let’s look forward, what does tomorrow look like? Is it scheduled? Can you see it? Think of yesterday, did you imagine today? Think of 5 years ago. . .could you imagine this? I can think back all those months ago when I started, I did not imagine it taking this long to get our old house sold and us settled here, but it did take that long. I’ve also heard it said that vision is important in building, in leadership, there needs to be vision. . . that is all imagination.
What changes the image of the future? There are a lot of people who see America differently because of the Presidential election, both good and bad? Events shape what we see of the future. Could anyone in the year 2000 imagine September 11, 2001, or February 12, 2018 in the shadows of Sept. 11, back then when our greatest fear was what computer systems would do with a 2 digit date? How much did that one event 9/11 change the way people imagine the future? imagine America? imagining that day? My parent’s wedding anniversary is Sept 11, 30 years they had one type of anniversary, and since they have had something very different, a different image entirely, the image was forever overtaken by events.
Let’s go even more abstract. What do you see when I ask you to picture hope? What do you see when I ask you to picture love? What do you see when I ask you to picture God? Is it a picture? an event? a moment from your life? is it a moment from the future? What does God look like in your imagination? Now it’s interesting because words have power in our imagination, too. Just try for a moment, try to picture the color green, without the word. It’s like the word just comes jamming itself right in there. Like our picture of love, is the word love, surrounded by images, trying to shine through. . . the word God with images trying to shine through, but like our image of  yesterday, it’s many things together all at once. Does the fact that it is different, that mine may be different from yours, or yours from mine, or yours from a second ago is different from yours now. Does that mean that the image is not real? That it is somehow delusional? Of course not. . . and it isn’t idolatry, that would be taking your image and writing it down, and selling to other people that your image encapsulates God entirely. We don’t do that with our own imagination because it is constantly shifting and changing, and is never quite nailed down and marked, done, unless we are deluding ourselves?
At the beginning of the church service, I asked you to take a look at the picture I put in the bulletin insert over the title, “Behind the Veil.” I asked you to think about what you see there. I asked you to write something if you got a chance or inspiration at some point in the service to write what you see, to describe the picture. How many of you wrote, or planned to write, Coralee’s name because you know her, and recognize her in the picture? How many wondered for definitions sake, to know who the other girl is? How many got hung up on that aspect and never looked beyond the surface? How many looked at their faces? How many looked beyond their faces at the embrace? Or their expressions, trying to imagine their emotions? How many of you attached words to the scene? Love, family, sisters. . . even if they aren’t sisters. . . does that make your image wrong? did you see safety. . . security. . . hope in the picture. Did you even see the iphone?
I wrote this poem the first time I saw this picture:
Behind the Veil
Have you ever seen love?
They are supposed to be invisible,
Intangible, always just out of reach,
Like the spirit,
Like the wind,
But here through this lens,
Between entangled arms,
Through their closed eyelids,
Into their minds,
And through their minds,
Into their hearts,
And there between each silent beat,
And quiet breath,
You get a glimpse,
Behind the veil,
Like you've been invited to see
A hidden fairy's dance,
And there they are,
All three.
For only you to see.

For me, this transfiguration scene is such a glimpse behind the veil. And what the transfiguration is, is a picture of the divine. Peter, John, and James get to look into the very realness of Jesus. They get to see that whiteness, that is described as dazzling. Mark’s gospel, that is always so much more Earthy describes it as a white no bleach could make. We can think of it as the light shining out of the darkness because the gospel writers evoke that image as well. We can think of it as the most amazing white imaginable. . . the white I could think of is after the snow stops falling, and it is the second day, so you’ve had a little melt, then the overnight freeze, and when that sun starts shining that next morning, without a single cloud in the sky and with no moisture in the atmosphere, the brightness just starts radiating white, blindingly white off of the snow. Perhaps it is the eclipse light that you aren’t supposed to look at directly. . .  How would you depict this scene in a movie?
I’m ruined to the Exodus account, the Moses version, because of The Ten Commandments movie, with Charlton Heston’s post seeing God moment’s frosted tip makeover, and you can’t ever see it fresh after seeing it in the movie, you can’t imagine it after you’ve seen a cheapened version, because our eyes are so powerful in image making. . . that’s why books are often better than movies. Books like Melville wrote in his masterpiece, Moby Dick, wrote of the illusive whiteness of the whale, a whole chapter about just what “dazzling” white is, and how having seen it once Ahab was transfixed on it, but never could catch it. . . but it is always there.
Let your imagination take you there. These disciples, going up the mountain, have that kind of experience, like 911, is for my parents on their wedding anniversary, they are forever changed, every day from that day forward, every vision is marked, they are all engraved with that dazzling white image in their mind, all marked with it, all embossed with it. How could you see that white, that dazzling white, and not be forever tinged, like the blindspots you get when you accidentally look at light bulb too closely?,or the sun?
And what do the disciples want to do? What do they want to do? They want to build a monument to him right there. . . as if any monument could capture it, . And it is in that moment that God speaks to them and tells them to listen to Jesus, this is my son, listen to him. . . and Jesus doesn’t stay up there as a monument on a mountain, Jesus leaves the mountain. He comes down off the mountain. And heads toward his glory. He heads down off of that mountain, to head towards another hill. . .Jerusalem. . .  Calvary. . . Golgotha. . . the cross. . . the departure that He, and Moses, and Elijah were discussing, while Peter, James, and John were fighting off sleep, caught in a moment of dazzling brightness. But no monument could hold him, just like no cross could hold him, just like no empty tomb could hold him. Just like no one image could hold him, no creed written in ink, nor carved into stone. . . but instead through the Holy Spirit into our hearts is where that image lies, where that covenant is found. Revolutionary. . . you can’t capture it, to capture it is to cheapen it, like seeing a movie limits what you can imagine reading, you can’t capture it, like Ahab, should never catch the whale. You want to get a grip on it, but’s already moved on. To capture, to own, cheapens the power of the imagination to make it real. That’s why graven images of God are forbidden. Our sight is too powerful it stifles our mind’s ability to imagine, a much bigger spiritual God. To capture it cheapens the power of the imagination to make it real. You can’t wait on the mountain for the same experience, you can’t wait around for another bush to burn, and you can’t wait on the shore of the Red Sea for it to part again. The Spirit has moved on, and to grip it would limit it to what it no longer is.
Our 2 Corinthians passage when taken in the context of the rest of Chapter 3 is really powerful on this idea. Let me read it:
Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all;3 and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

It is from there that he talks about the veil of Moses, that he came off the mountain and had to cover his face because the people couldn’t handle the vision. He had seen God, had talked with God, had been sent by God with a covenant written in stone, and shining off of his face, but it wasn’t enough. . . and now, in this new covenant, the light doesn’t just shine from Paul to them, or from the minister to them, but from them to each other. They, the people, the people of the Church of Corinth have been able to embody the spirit themselves, and have the light radiating from them, such that no veil could cover it, no darkness could quell it, and no time could fade it, and no bushel could hide it. Christ sets that veil aside, and the light shines freely, in freedom, through the spirit, mirroring from Christ into our faces. Each of us. . . starting in verse 17
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 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.

Can you imagine the light shining from your neighbor’s face? Have you ever let yourself see your neighbor that way? Have you ever let your neighbor see your face that way? Have you ever taken away the veil. . . or let Christ take away the veil? We don’t need monuments anymore, we need each other. We need to love each other. We need to serve each other. We need to be blinded by the light of God’s glory shining through each other.
But as we’ve seen this morning, many things can get in the way of what we see in our imagining of each other. Scripture tells us we are made in the image of God. Paul writes that with the Spirit moving within us, and the covenant shining through our hearts, we radiate the light mirrored of the Glory of God. . . but what we see around us brings back the veil. We are constantly challenged in our seeing of the light by what we see around us everyday . . . and those negative images creep in, creating the illusion of darkness. My parent’s Wedding Day knew no Osama Bin Laden. . . does the fact that they see 911 in their imaginings change the truth of that day? Of course not. . . does the word green make the color any more or less green, of course not. Does the truth of my friend’s life change because the image my mind has is of him dead? No. We mustn’t let the veils, and walls, of sin and imperfection, and fear, and worry, and doubt, darken the light of God that is shining through our neighbor’s faces, nor shining back in the mirror at ourselves.
I used to teach Dante to my students, and one of the most important aspects of The Inferno, is Dante’s concept of God. He writes that God created the Inferno for Sacred Justice, but that he created it before he ever created human beings. . . that the torments of Hell are not punishments, acts of revenge and manipulation by a wrathful and reactionary God, but consequences laid out as part of a larger plan and belief. That God is unchanged in his being after our Fall. His vision of us has not changed from the creation he proclaimed Good. I used to ask them what this showed about God, and what the opposite would show about God, if it were a punishment, if Hell was created in response to Sin. Then I told them how I believe in my heart that they come into my class with amazing potential, that this potential demands my respect, and this respect demands that I treat them a certain way. They rarely lived up to that potential. . . to be fair and honest, I’m not sure they ever did. . . but I asked them, if I were to change my policies for the class, what my changing of the policies would say about me, and what would it say about them them if I reacted to their behavior, and completely changed my strategy. I told them I wouldn’t change. . . because I don’t want to cheapen their potential. As their teacher, to get them to achieve their potential, I had to see them, not as they were, but as I imagine they were created to be. Even if everyday could cause me to have doubts, if they were to reach their potential, if they were to believe in it, I would have to see it, imagine it, and get them also to be able to see and imagine it.
In their case the imagination is much more real than their reality. The same is true for each of us, for all people everywhere. Most of you all have known each other most of your lives, can you see each other anew for the potential that lives within, or are you trapped in seeing every encounter in the past, the times they let you down, or were less than they could be. It’s true we all are, we have bad days, we have times when we do not lead the lives we should, make the choices we should, it is true for all of us though. We need to learn to see beyond those images, and I know that it is hard, but we need to if we are going to become the church we want to be. That is real forgiveness, being able to see the person without the blight of their tendancies, their failures, their faults. I look back on the last 8 months and due to circumstances and my own failures, I’m sure you all have each begun to build an image of me, and when I look back on it I even see an image that isn’t me, one that I want to change, one that I want to overcome. . . I hope you all will let me. .  . you see that is what we need to do with everyone, because we all fall short.
Can we still imagine the Light of the Holy Spirit shining through each of us here this morning, or have we become blind to it because of familiarity with the delusions that sin causes, and the veil it puts on us. Let us look beneath that veil of Sin, and let us imagine the light of the Holy Spirit is shining through each other. Let the light of love, the light of the Spirit, the light of Christ burn an image into our minds of what truly is real, that all are made in the image of God, so that we then can love, and shine the light of that love, ever brighter still, to shine through the thickest veil shroud of the delusion of Sin. This is my vision for this church. . . may we become a blindingly white beacon of the image of God for the world, but to be that we have to see that, not just in ourselves, but in every one around us as well. The word Amen, means may it be so. . . this morning in saying amen I don’t just mean may it be so, but may it be blindingly so. Amen.