St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2020
“But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”
BAD DREAMS for children are often anxious dreams. We dream we are seen by others in states of undress, showing up in class wearing pajamas, or nothing at all. Then we’re hiding behind the buildings and trying to get home and get dressed properly before we’re seen by friends and laughed at. Such dreams can wake you up in a sweat. Being exposed and embarrassed, your shame discovered by the world, is a primal fear.
As adolescents, we try to decide what kind of people we’re going to be, how we’d like to be seen by others, our personality type. We want to be suave and self-assured. We want to be strong and capable. We want to be attractive and desirable. We want to be friendly and approachable. We want to be thought nice. Or we want to be feared and left alone. Or intellectual and aloof.
Like Halloween masks we put on images of our favorite hero and yet, underneath this false front, we’re very different: scared, insecure, immature, just children playing dress up-in our parents’ big clothes. A little girl with too much of her mother’s make-up. A little boy trying to grow a mustache.
The carnival mask may impress other little boys and girls, or else be seen for what it is: a sad attempt to impress others while underneath is a weakling putting on airs. And why? Children can be so cruel. They find your weakness and pick on it. They look at some attribute in a vulnerable child, be it freckles or knobby knees, and taunt him and call him or her names. A kid can be bullied for being smart, for having a foreign name, for being a red-head, for being short, or tall, or pudgy, or wearing a green shirt. So we flee to our personas and we try to blend, to be approved. We’ve set up this system, and we perpetuate it. When we’re at last initiated, then as new neophytes we turn our earned scorn upon the younger chumps who are now coming up through the paddlewheel system of shame.
We may wear these masks into adulthood. They get more sophisticated, and we morph into someone that we’re becoming through pretense. You practice being a hard-edge tough guy long enough, and that’s who you naturally present of yourself to be. You act like a Holy Joe, and your demeanor bears it out, while you have an audience. I know about acting. My father was an actor. His chosen profession set him on a path to become a star, a leading man, a handsome well-spoken strong individual. And even when retired, he was always pretty much acting the part that was him. He became the job.
We fear the light, and the dark, for we fear exposure. Our public image is one thing, while inside these portrayals are our fears. We don’t want to appear weak, or simple, or as failures. We don’t want to be known for who we feel we really are. So the word light can make us shy away, a God who might shed light on the things that are inside. But we’re already well known to Him. To all of heaven.
Manifest is a word little used today. It means something readily perceived by the eye or understanding, something evident, obvious. It might mean a repressed psychological feature that, under certain circumstances, may come forward and show itself or manifest. When something is hidden, or unknown, then to manifest it is to bring it into plain sight, to prove it’s there, to put it beyond doubt or question: this is who you really are, what you’ve done, the measure of your soul.
Solomon wrote, “I thought to myself, “God is going to test humans in order to show them that they are like animals.” Humans and animals have the same destiny. One dies just like the other. All of them have the same breath of life. Humans have no advantage over animals. All of life is pointless. All life goes to the same place. All life comes from the ground, and all of it goes back to the ground.” Ecclesiastes 3:18-20 Death certainly has a way of equalizing humanity, making us all the same, even as dead animals, as mere bodies. There is nothing more vulnerable than a dead body—no defenses left, nothing to pretend, nothing covered. Solomon saw many dead.
Solomon, however, never saw the real secret that’s been hidden in plain view from the beginning of time. If he had been truly wise, he could have perceived the nature of the creation – that it reflected a good God who seeks us out and wants us restored to Him, as we truly are meant to be, as we in fact are becoming. For if we fear the disclosure of our uglier selves, showing up the sins and betrayals we’ve committed to those we’d like to think well of us, we have no idea of the deeper selves God the gold miner has descended to the depths of the earth and depths of our hearts to discover, to dig out and bring up to the light. Your heart is not evil. Your heart of hearts was set there when the first stars were formed, when the light was borne out of that eternal darkness, when God first spoke that first phrase of creation. Let there be light!
Jesus has not come as acid, as boiling oil, as torturer, as the mad whip-bearing punisher of our souls. Jesus is the light of this world. Jesus brought the light of God to earth so that we might discover with Him the human potential that illuminates Him, the God-man, and now lights you and me. In Him, all humanity is raised to a mountaintop. In Him, all humanity is forgiven and redeemed. In Him, all humans are reborn and renewed. In Him, we find our true nature, our hidden nature, hidden even to ourselves until we find ourselves in Him. If only we receive it and believe it.
Do not fear Christ’s words that, “nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither anything hid, that shall not be known.” Luke 8:17 As Jesus showed God to us, we are, in our new nature, shown to God and to the world. Christ told His Apostles, “Those who love me will have my Father’s love, and I, too, will love them and manifest myself to them.” Jn 14:21 St. Paul wrote, “if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.” 1 Cor 3:12-14
For even if we have done it all wrong, by faith we are saved and to God we shall go, and with no pretense, no false fronts, no play acting, nothing lasting that isn’t worthy of Him. For some of us that’s still a frightening revelation – ‘What, you mean that all my efforts to look righteous and do things for God will be stripped away and shown to all of heaven as pride and arrogance?’ Yes, if they are not God’s work done through you, they will burn. Let them. Would you cling to them and sink with their weight to the flames below, or will you let them be, for only a moment, a little smoke in your eyes while you find your true self, unafraid and unashamed, with no merits but one—that you are found in Jesus and Jesus in you?
John the Apostle wrote: “Don’t let anyone deceive you. Whoever does what God approves of has God’s approval as Christ has God’s approval. The person who lives a sinful life belongs to the devil, because the devil has been committing sin since the beginning. The reason that the Son of God appeared was to destroy what the devil does. Those who have been born from God don’t live sinful lives. What God has said lives in them, and they can’t live sinful lives. They have been born from God.” 1 John 3:7-9 John is looking at the end result, the ultimate nature of redeemed humanity, that in the end, we are either seeking God and godliness, or our selves and degradation. It’s not where we’ve been but where we’re going.
There’s a man on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel among the damned. He’s naked, slightly overweight, and he covers one eye with his hand in shame and horror, realizing that all he’s ever lived for is gone and he’s facing eternal pain and rejection from God. It’s the most haunting face I’ve ever seen painted. It says it all. It’s meant to frighten us from the Epistle side of the altar to the Gospel side, where the children of God are manifested.
The children of God will be manifested, will in time be shown for who and what they are. And yes, their failures will appear, yet not as blotches against their character, but as stepping stones which they used to grow in knowledge, in humility, in gratitude for God’s forgiving nature, in love for Christ’s sacrifice washing the stains from us. Our sins become markers in the sands of time, milestones that show our progress out of the deceptions of the world and into the truth and light of God’s outstretched Hand of mercy, grace and holiness. Sin informs us of our need, and pries off the masks we’ve worn so long we’d forgotten just who we truly are.
In a fallen world are humans who know the truth, the ugly and the beautiful truth. The newborn baby, a primitive islander, know in some measure what is manifest in creation about its Creator, that He sets order and beauty and right and wrong clearly before us. Nobody fails to see that.So, there is judgment for falling and then not looking up. Invisible things are clearly seen, says St. Paul, God’s power and truth. Even God’s invisible, incorporeal form may be seen by all eyes beneath the sky. And if the invisible God is seen, then we can’t hide either. Nor should we.
You were in the dark, as was I. In the dark we did things it’s not nice to say. The light has dawned on us now, and we are lit from within by the Holy Spirit of God, who by our proclaimed faith and baptism, lives within our spirits and shows us the Father and the Son. We are shown our sins, and have prayed them before God, sorry to have walked that way before. They were reproved, exposed to us, so we might learn. And now the light has manifested us to God and to the world. Who are we now in the eyes of the other children?
For some, we appear as hypocrites. “Nobody is really that good. It’s all just a game, and they look down their noses at the rest of us, who are just being honest and real.” That’s the voice of one living under his own deception, the mask that perpetuates a myth, still addicted to the vices that enthrall him. We don’t look down on him, but recognize ourselves there, as we once were. Should we now shine less, just to be accepted by the world? No.
Archbishop Morse mysteriously said that every Christian priest bears in his flesh, his hands, the invisible stigmata, the wounds of Jesus. Those wounds can be an embarrassment, a mark of too much holiness, and so we cover those wounds with our sins. We are all priests, for we all offer the one indispensable sacrifice to God that must be offered, our souls and bodies, a living sacrifice. In doing so, we’ve all received that stigmata, the wounds of Jesus. Let us not cover these precious wounds with our sins anymore. If the world sees them and recoils, just hold them out in love and God may work the miracle in them. We are bought with a price. The price tag shows. Let it show.
Light and Dark make manifest. They bring exposure—Exposure: it’s more than the setting on your camera. It’s inevitable. What and who we truly are will be known for all, and for what it’s worth, be comforted. We’re all made of the same clay. Dust we are and unto dust do we return. That’s only our body. But underneath that mud is an essence that is stardust. We are formed out of light. Let it shine, my dear friends, let it shine.