by the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
February 7, 2016
2nd Corinthians 3:12-4:2
By the time we entered middle school (we called it junior high in those days), you and I, we started to understand what was socially acceptable, socially attractive. And because human beings are social animals, we began to mold ourselves into the kind of people we felt that others wanted to be with.
Some of us tried harder than others, but all of us did this. If we are to be honest, which we can be when we are here in this safe and sacred space, we will admit it: We carefully crafted masks that we thought others would like.
We bought clothes that other kids were wearing. We grew — or cut — our hair to match the way that other people’s hair looked. Some of us went out of our way to wear clothes that were out of style and present ourselves as outsiders, but usually in ways that other outsiders did.
As young men, even though we felt weak and shy, my friends and I, we put on masks of toughness and affability. Even though we felt insecure and vulnerable, we put on masks of capability and invincibility.
I remember watching with dismay as the girls with whom I’d grown up, girls I’d known since preschool, began to mold themselves into the kind of women they thought would be attractive to others.
Sometimes, this meant wearing too much makeup. Sometimes, it meant acting dumb when they were the smartest people in the room. Often, they would just not say anything, hold back, and stay quiet for fear of saying the “wrong” thing.
There has been a lot of research about this phenomenon. At about age 12 or 13, girls especially start giving up on who they are in favor of who they think others want them to be. Hopefully, as parents, we are learning to allow our daughters — and our sons — to be who they really are.
How stressful it is to act dim when you’re really bright, sporty when you’re really an artist, straight when you’re really gay, extroverted when you’re truly introverted. What a relief it is when we are able to be our authentic selves.
Our scripture reading for this morning is all about removing our veils, our masks.
Paul criticizes Moses for covering his face in the presence of God. I don’t agree with Paul here. I see Moses’ veil as a sign of humility in the presence of the Divine. Paul also claims that Christ is the only one who can clear our eyes and open them to God. In an interfaith world, this kind of claim often causes more trouble than it’s worth.
If we are to create a world in which people of various religious commitments can live together, it is important to recognize that there are many ways to connect with God. I am a Christian, but there are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and people of no particular religious tradition out there, too. If we can all respect and accept one another, and recognize each other’s pathways as legitimate, even as we are dedicated to our own pathways, the world will be a more peaceful and loving place.
So, even though I disagree with some of Paul’s conclusions, I do appreciate his primary message, which is a call to remove our masks, to stop hiding who we really are, especially in the presence of God.
But how do we do that? How do we remove the mask that we have been wearing and perfecting since we were 12 years old?
What if we are so used to being the smart one, the sexy one, the fun one, the clown, the capable one, the sad one, the happy one, the strong one, the leader, the skeptic, the outsider, the insider… What if we are so used to these roles that we have no idea who we really are or how to become our truest selves, our fullest selves?
Who are you, aside from business owner, manager, CEO, CFO, COO, consultant, designer, teacher, professor, lawyer, investor, director, nurse, pastor, student, mom, dad, matriarch? All of those roles are important and useful, but isn’t there more to you than your role? Isn’t there a man or woman there inside of you who is simply a child of God?
Paul says, when we turn to the Lord, our veils are removed. Amen to that!
But how does that happen?
Can we become vulnerable enough to allow God to remove our carefully crafted masks and help us to step outside of our practiced personas? How can we get free, as Paul says? I don’t mean that we should giving up the roles we play at work or at home, but how might we get to a place where our roles don’t define us completely?
Maybe, for some people, it’s an instantaneous decision. For most, though, I think it’s a process. It takes time. And the process, I believe, is all about accepting the grace of God.
What if we were to actually accept and believe that God loves us… and forgives us for the crappy things we’ve done? What a relief! That such a weight would be lifted from our shoulders is truly miraculous and life giving.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, says Paul. This process of connecting with God and getting free, this act of unveiling, this movement toward becoming our authentic selves, and encouraging others to do the same thing… Paul calls it a ministry.
To me, that means that when we are able to be our honest to goodness selves (our whole selves, as someone said to me after worship on Sunday), we set an example. When we are real, we encourage others to be real as well. And this is part of our calling as people of faith and as a church.
Some might think that being a Christian, being a follower of Jesus, is about putting on some kind of religious mask. Paul is helping is this morning to understand that it’s the opposite.
Following Jesus means choosing to trust God and one another enough to be ourselves. In this kind of spiritual community, the one that we are nurturing here at HCC, when we trust, we gain life itself, life to the fullest.