Bp. Bena speaking to the ordinands
(photo-Raymond Dague)(This is the text of Bp. Bena's sermon at the ordination of the three military chaplains at CANA Council on August 1, 2009. It is very providential in its timing in the light of Mrs. Shori's recent letter to the House of Bishops. -Pat Dague)
“And we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Cor 3:18
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I have indeed been given a gift by Bishop Minns, to preach at your ordination, gentlemen. I am excited that you as chaplains are being ordained into the Anglican Communion.
Three points to today’s sermon – unveiled faces, transformation, your ministry.
Let’s start with the first point: unveiled faces. Do you have camouflaged uniforms? I’m sure you do. The idea is that by wearing your uniform and maybe some coloring of your face and hands, you can blend in with the terrain, either sand colored or forested, and even though you’re right there, you are veiled from the sight of the enemy. I don’t know if Paul knew about camouflage, but that’s what he is talking about when he declares, “and we all, with unveiled faces, behold the glory of God.” He’s referring to Moses in Exodus 34:33. When Moses spoke with God, his face would shine with splendor. His face was unveiled before God. But the people couldn’t handle the great shining. They did not have the courage. So he wore a veil before them. Even though he was right there with them, they would not have to look upon the shining. In a sense, Paul states in second Corinthians that the people couldn’t see behind the veil. They did not see the splendor of being with the Lord. Even though the Lord was right there with them, he was camouflaged. They had to depend on Moses to look upon the shekinah glory of the Lord with an unveiled face.
In Second Corinthians, Paul talks of Jesus getting rid of the camouflage. Because Jesus, God incarnate, died for our sins and was physically resurrected, he tore away the veil. And because of Jesus, you and I, if we have the courage, can confess our sins, accept Jesus into our lives, and begin to behold the glory of God. Listen again to the words of Paul, “and we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
I remember once being deployed to a base in the Egyptian desert. One hundred troopers living out there in an old Russian compound with resupply only once a week. People got a little testy at times in that environment. There was a lot of soul searching. There was one man who was going through a great trial in his soul. After getting to know me as his chaplain, he asked one day if we might take a walk. As we walked, he bared his soul, his lack of confidence in his abilities, his fear of God, and his ambivalence about even staying alive. I listened to him; I loved him; I explained the gospel love of God to him; and I prayed aloud for him. That day the veil between God and this man was torn away, from top to bottom. God reached down and touched his life, and he was transformed right there in the Sahara Desert. It was a beautiful thing. I got a letter from him several years later stating that he had become a spirit-filled catholic Christian. Alleluia!
But many today still don’t see Jesus because of the veil. They’re not able to rejoice at seeing the shekinah glory of God. Why is that?
For some, the veil is still there because they can’t seem to repent and turn away from their favorite sin or addiction or material fixation. Until we can let go of the sin which binds us, the love of God does not penetrate us and we don’t behold his glory. As chaplains, you’re called upon to represent Christ, and us, to an often marginalized portion of American society- armed forces personnel and their families. You’re called to help tear down the veils that prevent people from being saved and living in glory. Sometimes that takes just being honest about where we see our people are stuck. And telling them the truth.
Which brings a second reason the veil is still there for some. They listen to religious leaders who teach bad religion, who don’t tell them the truth. For a Christian leader to stand and say, with the whole nation listening in, that personal salvation is a heresy? In my humble opinion, that teaching insults our Heavenly Father, who wishes each one of us to have a personal, saving relationship with his Son. Perhaps this leader has not read, marked, heeded and inwardly digested Romans 10:9, “because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” and a thousand other passages from the scriptures covering the same subject are there, just lookin’ at ya.
I’m happy to say that many people to whom this unfortunate statement was made a few weeks ago recognize it to be false teaching, teaching which is not true. Many have heard this type teaching so often that they are leaving denominations which teach such unchristian things. The veil has been removed from their eyes and they want freedom and truth in their church. They are leaving these denominations for churches which teach the gospel truth. And that’s where we have some trouble today.
You see, it’s about property. Congregations who want to leave are often prevented from leaving because they fear they will lose their property. Even though they built and maintained their property and the deeds are in the name of the congregation, they are in danger of having their properties taken from them if that denomination can convince the court that said denomination is a hierarchical church and that a controversial church canon which somehow got in the canons in 1979 gives the denomination the right to own all buildings. This is a sin against us, brothers and sisters. This litigation to take these buildings from their owners, which is being visited across our country, is like the communist wall during the cold war. The communists did not want anyone to leave so they built a wall to prevent escape. What they wound up with by building this fearsome wall was a group of resentful people who mostly gave up hope for freedom and found escape in their minds through addictive behaviors. And that’s what is happening in much of that denomination today. The veil is over their faces. This wall of litigation is killing the people of that denomination. It is crippling them of any spiritual growth. The wall of litigation must come down. And so I say humbly as one sinner to another,“ Mrs. Jefforts Schori, tear down this wall!”
Lift the litigation. Let all Episcopalians freely decide which Anglicanism they wish to follow in America. And have the decency to allow them to take with them the buildings they erected and maintained, and on whose deeds are their names. Let my people go! And then the veil will be lifted, and people will see the shekinah glory of our Lord, and will be transformed.
Which brings us to point two: transformation. Once the veil is lifted and we can gaze at the shekinah glory of our Lord, we begin to change, to be transformed. What is this word transformation?
As we have studied the word transformation, we know it is the English word for metamorphein, metamorphosis. A worm becomes a beautiful butterfly through the process of metamorphosis. Theologically speaking, that same spiritual process happens in us, moving us from a sin-filled, worm-like existence into a forgiven, beautiful, butterfly existence. Paul likens the result to looking in a mirror and being surprised to see the glory of God on our faces. All of us look in the mirror from time to time. It can be a pretty scary experience as you get older. One woman, looking into her mirror, asked her husband, “honey, you don’t think I look fifty, do you?” and his absent minded response was, “no. Not anymore.” there will be big trouble in that house tonight…
And one of the neat things about being a chaplain is that while you are being transformed more and more into Christ’s likeness, you are right there in the trenches helping our people become profoundly transformed. You are God’s catalysts for transformation among armed forces personnel and their families. I still remember a middle aged commander of troops asking me to go for a ride with him. As we drove along in his jeep, he described his angst, which was making him behave and think in bizarre ways. Eventually I got what he was saying: he was going into a mid-life crisis. He just didn’t know he was middle aged. Nor did he know that this “disease” threatens only 100% of middle aged men. Because he trusted me as his chaplain, God was able to use me to touch his life, to pray for him and to give him some spiritual reading material which dealt with mid-life crises. And he was transformed from an unhealthy, forty-five year old teenager into a holy and healthy middle aged guy. And a lot of the people under his command were thrilled about his transformation.
So the veil is lifted in us and in the people God has given us – point one. We are transformed and enabled to be midwives of transformation in the lives of the people God has given us – point two. That leaves point three: putting it together in your ministry as chaplains.
There is a full length mirror on the way out of a barracks at marine corps air station, Kanoehe, Hawaii. And a sign beside the mirror says, ‘You are a marine. Do you look like one?’ The sign doesn’t say, ‘you can be a marine if you look sharp.’ They already are marines. They’re just being reminded about how they are called to represent the marine corps. ‘You are a marine. Do you look like one?’ And so I say to you chaplains, and to all Christians gathered here this morning: “You are a minister for Christ. Do you look like one?” For we all are called to see Christ with unveiled faces, to be profoundly transformed from a life that is sin-centered to a life that is Christ-centered, and to assist others to know Christ.
You have a unique ministry, chaplains, as you fulfill that call. You are to be a visible reminder of the holy to a very violent world. That’s your ministry – to bring the love of Christ to a population that has to use or threaten the use of controlled violence as a way of quelling chaotic, evil violence. You are a visible sign of the holy.
So if you will please stand, chaplains, I will give you your charge. It is also from second Corinthians – this time chapter five, verses 17-20, slightly personalized –“since you are in Christ, chaplains, you are a new creation. The old has passed away. Your new life has come. All this is from God, who through Christ has reconciled you to himself and has given you the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to you the message of reconciliation… so you are ambassadors for Christ in the armed forces, God making his appeal through you.” May God continue to bless you in this most important ministry.