Open, honest, respectful and brave – with God and each other

Sandra Lewis, 27 February 2022

Exodus 34: 29–35; 2 Corinthians 3: 12–4: 2; Luke 9: 28–36

It was mentioned that they were looking for members of the congregation to do the sermon. Mary Copping said, ‘Would you be interested?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not’. But the really funny thing was, in my head I heard the words, ‘And you are not worthy’. Mary laughed and said something like, ‘What’s that about?’ I supplied her with a whole list of reasons why I would not do the sermon. And then I told her about my thought response, and she said, ‘Hmm, interesting, but still think about it’.

‘You are not worthy.’ This is a phrase I couldn’t imagine using about myself or anybody else. It sounded biblical. Where did it come from? Horrible phrase! I don’t know, but it was there. That’s what I heard.

After a lot of thought I said I’d have a go. The first thing I needed to do was to have a look at the readings. The first reading, about Moses speaking to God: Moses was in awe of the magnificence of God, and it showed on his face. His face lit up and it shone, and when he came down the mountain people were afraid. So he chose to wear a veil so that they wouldn’t be afraid. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Moses to go up that mountain, a mere human being speaking to God Almighty? When he came down he wore the veil so that he could speak to the people and they wouldn’t be afraid.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a child, the only representation of God’s voice was a very loud American voice – it was always American, I have no idea why – and it emanated from rays coming from clouds. So this made me stop and think about talking with God.

In one of our many conversations, Mary did ask me if I prayed. I remember laughing, rather embarrassed. Um, I said, not so much praying as I kind of have a chat. I then explained that I found praying in the conventional way fine when I was in church, but other than that it was more like a chat. And then I thought, I’ve said this in front of somebody who’s ordained. Is this okay?

My prayers don’t have a lot of biblical words. They’re more phrases like, ‘Morning, God, I’ve got a bit of a problem here. I could really do with some help.’ Etcetera. Once I had established that different people prayed in many, many different ways, I felt much better.

And then I thought about God’s responses to my prayers. These were infinitely more interesting than my chats or requests. How, without that loud American voice, do I know that God responds to me?

I think God’s guidance and advice, help and support often come through other people. Meeting someone just at the right time. I remember a time when I was struggling with my work in Kenya. My husband and I run a charity here in the UK and we support and finance an orphanage and women’s projects. I was due to visit. Everything was going wrong. I felt really, really overwhelmed. And at my previous congregation there was a very nice lady (she was a retired midwife) and she just came up to me, and she said, ‘I have a message for you’. She held my hand. She said, ‘God wants you to know that he’s not going to ask you to do anything that you’re not capable of’. She squeezed my hand and smiled at me, and I knew then everything would be fine. And it was.

I also think God speaks to us more than we acknowledge. But do we have the time, do we find the quiet to listen? The messages may come as words in our head, feelings of strength and clarity, and ‘knowing’ that just guides us to the next step on our path. But the answers are there.

I think God’s messages may come as words in our head, feelings of strength and clarity, and ‘knowing’ that just guides us to the next step on our path.

In the second reading, however, we learn that when God sent his beloved Son Jesus Christ down to earth to sacrifice, to cleanse us of our sins, the veil was torn in two. What message is here? I hope it is God’s way of saying, we are all created as equals in goodness and in love, and that we can speak to him, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit directly, no veil required.

When we speak with God, we should do so with openness, honesty, respect and, of course, courage. And surely we could use this model of conversation and interaction with everybody, no veils required.

I started to think what it must be like to wear a veil and converse with somebody. I thought of brides, and other religions that require the wearing of the veil. My own recent experience of talking to people with a mask half over their face – it was horrible, not something I liked at all. For me, it was a barrier to good connectedness.

Then I thought, veils come in all forms, not just flimsy cloth. What stops us having meaningful, valuable conversations with the people around us – the people we know and the people we love? And here are some of the things I identified in myself and others.

The rush and the busyness of our lives. My daughter called me once and said, ‘Oh, I only have a minute, Mum, how are you?’ So I replied, ‘Call me when you have a bit more time. I think it’s going to take more than a minute today.’

I’ve seen mothers talking to their children when they’re texting on the phone. Too busy, too much to do, constantly juggling so much. So there’s no time to look at their children, make that wonderful eye contact, and smile as they speak.

So many other examples of people rushing, being too busy. Can we slow down, and make life simpler? And connect more, in a more meaningful way?

Another thing was prejudices, and yes, we all have them – it’s part of the human condition. They come from families, communities, countries. We need to know what our prejudices are. We need to understand them. We need to manage them, to shrink them, to let them go, because they influence the integrity of how we speak to one another.

Being attached to right and wrong. If I want to be right, then that might put you in the wrong. But if I have my way and you have yours, then we’re just different, and differences can make for the most wonderful variety, creativity, diversity and joy in our lives.

People-pleasing. Don’t want to rock that boat, Sandra, better not say anything – something I’ve never been very good at. My dear friend and mentor Rex Bradley once said to me, ‘Sandra, you’ll never please all the people all the time, so don’t compromise your values or your views’. He taught me that I can’t be responsible for how others will receive any of my words, thoughts or ideas. I can only be responsible for how I plan and deliver them to you. And today, I have tried to be open, honest, respectful and brave – no veil required.

And finally, the words in our head. We need to take time to sort them out, because I do know that God’s words are never critical. They are never threatening. They are loving, wise and supportive. Those are the words that we need to believe.

So when I next chat, I will thank God for this church, the people I’ve met here. And I thank God for this opportunity and my feelings of worth today.