Halloween is almost here (or in some communities, it has already come.) Spiderman and Wonder Woman, ghosts and witches and cats and bearded wonders. Who knows what will show up at our doorstep? And I can guarantee you that every one of those masks is telling us something about the person behind them: the desire to be heroic and strong; a trickster, scary person, a scared person. Those masks tell us things, if for no other reason than that THAT was the mask they chose.
Masks can either hide who we are, or reveal something about us. A bank robber wears a mask to hide who they are; little Beau wears a Spiderman mask to reveal how strong he is, way down, on this inside of his 4-year old self.
What masks do you wear? At work? At school? At home? Here at church? And do you wear that mask to hide yourself, or to reveal a truth about yourself?
God wears masks. When we sing “God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” that word “persons” doesn’t mean 3 individual people.
It is a technical word that comes from Latin “Personae”- a term from Greek drama, where the actors put on different masks- personae- to portray different characters. And so there was the mask of greed worn by the villain, and there was the mask of nobility worn by the hero; and the masks were intended, not to hide the essential character of the role, but to reveal it.
When we talk about the Trinity as three persons of God, we’re talking about three masks of God, exposing something true about the character of God, but not revealing the fullness of God.
Nicene Creed: does it show the fullness of God, or certain faces of God? I don’t believe we’re supposed to take it literally, but what characteristics of the holy is it trying to express? Would you say this part of the Nicene Creed with me?
“We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible…”
Do you hear the power of that? That there is one truth that binds time and eternity together, and that truth is as intimate as a parent, as a holder of our most tender and vulnerable selves? What else do you hear in it?
And now the next section: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father. Through Christ all things were made…”
Do you hear the sheer poetry, the grandeur of that? God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God: an image of a truth and beauty that we can only touch, but not grasp. What else do you hear in it?
And now this: “For us and for our salvation Christ came down from heaven; and became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human. Jesus was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried. The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures. Christ ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end…”
Do you hear the hope in that? That death will never define us? That God will hold us in life and in death, for a purpose that will sustain us beyond our farthest imaginations? What else do you hear in it?
“And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. She proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. She spoke through the prophets. We believe in one holy, universal and apostolic church. We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come. Amen.”
Do you hear the peace in that? That Wisdom who spoke to the ancients is the same Wisdom who speaks to us now? What else do you hear in it?
Three faces of God: not the fullness of God, but enough that we might find power, and beauty, and hope and peace.
In Exodus 33:22, God tells Moses to hide his face as God comes sweeping through, because if Moses saw the full face of God, Moses would die. It would be too much… too much. The Nicene Creed doesn’t tell us everything about God, for if the fullness of God’s glory were revealed to us, we couldn’t bear it.
We’d be like that scene from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the Nazi officer opens up the Ark of the Covenant where God’s glory resides, and when God’s glory streams out, the officer melts. Literally. His face falls right off, revealing nothing but a screaming skull. Seriously, we really don’t want to see the fullness of God!
But enough of Raiders of the Lost Ark… we don’t want to see so much of God that our faces fall of; but we want to see enough of God that our masks fall off. We want to see enough of God that we might fall in love.
And so tradition reveals to us God the Creator, who out of nothing makes sunsets and mountains and a star-studded sky and the person beside us- everything we love in creation.
And tradition reveals to us God the Redeemer– Jesus- who by His integrity and love and compassion gives us a way to live in the world that brings life.
And tradition reveals to us the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, the Conscience of Humankind, Holy Wisdom. (Who, I might add, in Hebrew is a feminine word, not a masculine word, so the Holy Spirit is a She, not a He!) Is that the fullness of God? No, but it brings us closer.
There is a book I shared with our Confirmands a couple of weeks ago, about how we see parts of God-parts that give us strength, and hope, and joy. For you parents, it’s a wonderful book to share with your children. It’s called, In God’s Name, by Sandy Eisenberg. (NOTE: FOR COPYRIGHT PURPOSES, THIS CANNOT BE PRINTED FOR SOCIAL MEDIA; BUT I ENCOURAGE YOU TO GET A COPY AND READ IT- IT’S A BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOK THAT WILL OPEN YOUR EYES TO THE NATURE OF GOD.)
So many names, so many faces, so many masks. Do they show us the fullness of God? No- but they show enough of God that we may fall in love, and dwell in the hope, peace and faith that God has promised.
In the Name of the One who will never let us go; even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Resources: In God’s Name, Sandy Eisenberg, Phoebe Stone
Scripture for Oct. 28, 2018 EXODUS 33:12-23
Moses and the people of God are in the wilderness around Mt. Sinai.
Moses comes before God and speaks to God as a friend. But friendship has its limits…
Moses said to the Lord, “Look, You say to me, ‘Make the people move on,’
but You have not told me whom you are going to send with me, although You have said,
‘I know you by name and you enjoy My favor.’ If indeed I enjoy Your favor,
please show me Your ways, that I may understand You and continue in Your favor.
And remember that this nation is Your people.”
The Lord replied, “I myself shall go with you, and I shall give you rest.”
Moses replied, “If You Yourself do not come with us, don’t make us leave here,
for how can it be known that we are in Your favor, unless You come with us?
For by Your presence alone shall we be marked as different from all the peoples
on the face of the earth.”
The Lord then said to Moses, “Again I shall do what you have asked,
for you enjoy My favor and I know you by name.”
Then Moses said, “Please show me Your Glory.”
The Lord said,
“I shall make all My goodness pass before you,
and I shall pronounce the name of the Lord.
And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious,
and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
But,” said the Lord, “you cannot see My face; for no one shall see me and live.”
And the Lord continued,
“See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock;
and while My glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock,
and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by;
then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back.
But My face you cannot see.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.