A sermon by the Rev. Dr. Robert D. Flanagan for the
Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
“But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”
These days, some Christians and other people wear spiritual veils that remain over their eyes and souls until they turn to the Lord. These people can’t clearly see the actions of God in their lives and the world.
In writing to the Corinthians, Paul referred to the story in Exodus about Moses. He had returned from the top of Mount Sinai with tablets in his hands and a bright shining face. It shined so brightly that the Israelites feared him and made him wear a veil. In writing about that story of Moses, Paul used the imagery of the veil to illustrate the type of faith some Corinthians had been exhibiting. We can, likewise, use the imagery of the veil to examine the challenge faith presents to some today.
I need to first note that doubt is not an aspect of veiled spirituality. Doubt is different. When people questions their faith, they tend to wrestled with the ideas and concepts of God and religion. These people, most often, have considered, evaluated, and judged deep spiritual questions. They often have actively sought answers for years. They are clear about their questions and are unafraid to say it.
What then is a veiled spirituality? People, who have a veiled spirituality, often spend their time thinking about the wrong things. They think, for instance, faith is about specific rules that must be followed to the letter. They think there is one way to be religious, their way.
Others have veils over their eyes and souls because they fear what they might discover. They think it’s best not to look too closely at the things of religion. It’s easier for these people not to let things be because too much examination might lead an uncomfortable change.
Some look at society, the world, and current events and decide there is no god. They believe that God has to be good and wouldn’t allow bad things to happen. Since bad things happen and evil exists, God doesn’t. A veil of spirituality remains over their eyes and souls.
Still others won’t remove their veils because they feel Christians are hypocrites. They see some Christians doing bad things, hurting others and behaving badly. They conclude that Christianity is a farce. So they can’t be bothered with a religion with people like that.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians suggests that these people are wrong. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, because they were acting like the people I’ve described. But Paul said to them, “Hey! Wait a minute. What you’re doing and believing are keeping you from being transformed. That’s not good. That’s having a veiled spirituality.”
In his letter, Paul was doing first-century midrash. He was using the Exodus text the way many rabbis did, “attributing to Moses a purpose that is not explicit in the original text but that uses the text to support [his] unique perspective” (357). In doing so, Paul associated the veil with a “lack of enlightenment” (358). He was calling out the Corinthians for their unwillingness to see God’s actions in the world and their lives.
In the letter, Paul criticized those Corinthians who were trying to life out their faith by attempting to follow the Laws found in Hebrew Scripture. Throughout his writings, Paul said that following the ancient Laws were impossible and one could not be faithful to God by adhering to the Law. He argued that the Law led to a strict, hardhearted faith that closed people off from the truth. That being, God loved his people and simply wanted to be in a loving relationship with them. Paul understood that people were not perfect and trying to be so went against what God desired.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that having faith was enough. No amount of right actions would bring people closer to God. Following a set of religious laws doesn’t allow people to see God’s actions in the world or their lives. Moses, for example, killed an Egyptian guard, hid the body, and ran away. That’s not the actions of a good and faithful person. Even so, he encountered God at the burning bush. God removed his spiritual veil and transformed him.
It’s the same for us. No amount of following a strict set of rules will ever bring us closer to God. Neither will the rules allow us to see God at work around us. Why? Because if we’re too busy following the rules, were not looking for God.
What God wants from us is that we simply believe in God and love God. When we do, the veil falls from our eyes and we’re free to see God’s actions in the world and in our lives.
We see that we’re not alone. God is with us.
We see that we’re loved, because God loves us, even when we don’t love ourselves.
We see that our lives matter, because God doesn’t create junk.
We see that we have a purpose. God has a plan for us.
We can have hope, because God is ultimately in control of everything.
We can be free of fear, because God protects us.
We can be people of faith and love, because that’s all God wants from us.
Spiritual transformation happens only when we let go and open ourselves to God. We stop trying to get our religion right. As you think of Lent and what you may give up, consider not trying to follow a set of rules. Instead simply love God every day. That’s the point of faith anyway. Faith is about saying yes to God and feeling grateful that God loves us.
Levine, Amy-Jill and Brettler, Marc Zvi eds. The Jewish Annotated New Testament. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Type your paragraph here.
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