Sermon – Getting Past the Veil

Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:4-18

Farmville Presbyterian Church

July 7, 2024

– Looking for greater freedom in Christ


You are most likely aware that I am just returned from a long, extensive trip through the UK and Ireland.  It was a grand tour of so many things, and I look forward to sharing that experience with you probably sometime in August.  A very different trip that I took in the mid-90s with some of my students from Prince Edward included a visit to an amazing, special church right around the corner from the Vatican.  At that church (St. Peter in Chains) is a famous statue by the Renaissance master artist Michelangelo.  The statue stunned me when I laid eyes on it.  A massive, lifelike Moses was preparing to stand with fury and passion.  You could see the energy coursing through his body, even though he is made of stone.  It looked like he was about to erupt in strength, but the most interesting aspect of the statue was the fact that Moses had two horns clearly coming from the top of his head.  I’ll leave a picture of this at the front door and at the piano if you would like to see it following worship.

Believe it or not, I have read the Bible a fair bit, and one thing that has escaped my reading is Moses having horns.  I have never come across that, never found that in the Bible, because… the Bible never says that Moses had horns, much to your relief.  This came about because of the translating of Jerome (known by some as St. Jerome) in the 4th century who translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin so that more people could read it.  In his Bible, called the Vulgate, he took the passage that I read from Exodus and translated the expression for “rays of light” coming from Moses’ head as the word “horns.”  Whether Jerome actually got this confused or whether he saw what happened as horns of light, we do not know.  What we do know is that people had a lot of trouble looking at Moses after he came down from the mountain after talking to God.  He might as well have had horns.  The man glowed, and others could not stand the sight of him, so Moses wore a veil over his face to save others the difficulty of seeing his otherworldly appearance.

This aspect of Moses’ appearance is not one that we really dwell on all that much even though it is striking and fascinating.  When was the last time you had a Bible lesson on this point?  And we probably do not have much of an opinion about what this means, but Paul certainly seems to have some pretty strong opinions on the matter.  For Paul, this is about freedom and life or bondage and death.

Considering that this last week was our annual remembrance and celebration of our independence from England, and I also gained my freedom from England to come home from Heathrow Airport in London, I decided to dwell a little in this idea of freedom that is a focus for us as a people and a culture.

In Paul’s day, plenty of those who would be considered “proper Jews” still believed that the way to God was through following the Law.  The Law was God’s revealed way of life.  It was given to the people by Moses after a harrowing experience that was so intense that Moses glowed the rest of his life.  The Law was God’s gift to the people, and that seemed to be good enough for many people.  Honestly, it is still how plenty of people look at our relationship with God today: if we are only good enough, we can be acceptable to God.  If we DO the right things, we can be accepted by God.

This whole way of thinking throws the death of Christ in the rubbish bin, however.  Paul has this way of thinking in mind when he talks about the ministry of death or the ministry of condemnation.  The whole point of the Law was to show us our need for God.  It was never going to save us but give us a sense of how much we needed God to help us.  The Law exposed our sin, and the wages of sin is death.  The Law is a one-way street to a dead end if there is nothing else – no other way to go.

People have all kinds of ideas about what freedom means.  Living for ourselves will never be freedom, however.  Being able to do whatever we want will never be freedom.  Being unconcerned with the worries of this world is not real freedom.   In the end, there is one end for us all.  The wages for sin is death.  As long as death has the last word, there will never be true freedom in this life.

But what if sin did not own us?  What if our sin did not define us?  What if sin was not our inevitable end?  The Law could not fix us, but it did show how broken we were.  It continues to show how much is wrong with the world and our lives.  Sin is real.  It is just not what is most real.  We do not love the Lord our God with all that we have, and we do not love our neighbor as ourselves, but there was one who lived that kind of sacrificial love.  There is one who died that kind of sacrificial love.  There is one who calls us to share in that kind of sacrificial love.  Death did not conquer that person, and he gives his same life to us all.  This is freedom.

When Moses pulled that veil over his face, he may have thought he was doing the people a favor.  Maybe he felt he was sparing the people from having to be afraid of God, or maybe he just did not like people gawking at him.  Maybe he saw the glowing as a stigma more than a mark of distinction.  Maybe it was an embarrassment to be so different.  Certainly, that fits with our understanding of ourselves, but covering God’s glory – hiding God’s glory – is never a good idea according to Paul.  It is a joy to point out God’s glory as much as we can.  My own Facebook quest has been this task in my own small way, but Paul’s quest is to get his people to move past an ancient, hidden glory in a veiled face to a glory that is out and open and honest and perfect.

Jesus gives us his sacrificial love to share.  This is glorious freedom.  We do not need to fear for life or death.  Fear need no longer be in the equation at all.  His most frequent in the gospels was “Be Not Afraid.”  His life, his service, his grace, his love, his gift, his glory, his Spirit all give us more than enough to be free in this life.  Any freedom, any happiness in this life, though, begins in his love.

When we lose sight of his love at work, we forget our freedom and forge our own versions of freedom and what we think will make us happy.  We create tribes and lines and outsiders, and we make ourselves little gods.  None of this makes the world a better place, but we have bene doing this for centuries because it is so easy to forget the love of Christ.

How often do we remember that we are walking around in a sea of air?  How often do we remember that without gravity we would all fly off the earth?  How often do we remember that everyone on this planet has just as much a right to be here as we do?  How often do we remember that we are made in God’s image, that we are children of God, and that Jesus loves us so much that we must share that love with others?  These are questions whose answers get lost in the confusion, the rage, the doubts, the distractions, and the selfishness of this day.  This is veiling our faces – refusing to show the world that we have seen God.  We have seen God in the love of Christ.  We have seen Christ in the face of the other.  Every time we have known sacrificial love and care and devotion, we have received the grace of God’s glory.  That is freedom.  Nothing, not even death can steal that freedom.

There are chains that haunt our lives today, and we need to recognize those times when we have tried to slip on the veil, but the veil will never own us.  We are not people living in the past.  We are not a people owned by the mistakes or sins that have shaped who we are today.  Today, the gift of freedom, true freedom, is ours to share.  Grace in the Crucified One, the grace of the Crucified One, is the same grace of the Resurrected One.  Because we are free in Jesus, our neighbor is ours to love.  Because we are free in Jesus, our enemy is ours to forgive.  Because we are free in Jesus, the one lacking is ours to help.  Because we are free in Jesus, we are thankful in our giving and receiving, whatever happens.  Nothing in all creation, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  The veil is gone.  To God be the glory.  Amen.