The Big Reveal

cropped-wp_20160529_003.jpgScripture references:

  • OT: Exodus 34: 29-35
  • NT: 1 Corinthians 13: 9-12


HAVE YOU EVER NOTICED that there are certain things in life that are never finished? Like mowing the grass, or doing the dishes. You can mow the grass on Saturday but there’s no escaping the fact that in five or six days, that grass will begin looking shaggy and need to be mowed again. Dishes are the same story—you might have a short reprieve when the last glass is put away, but wait a couple of hours and the dishes will start to multiply in the sink. Soon you’ll be right back where you started—scrubbing and rinsing and drying again.

This isn’t the image of life we get when we watch those home renovation shows on HGTV that take old run-down rooms and turn them into beautiful, new sparkingly clean spaces. There’s something about the idea of the Big Reveal—what the vision look like fully realized—that holds our attention and inspires our imagination. We don’t see all the mundane, repetitive tasks—the non-glamorous stuff—that goes on behind the scenes. But we stay tuned, hoping to see that once-and-for-all transformation, the high point of all this effort.

I think we’re drawn toward the idea of the Big Reveal at least in part because inside we sense a goodness in life that often feels just outside our grasp. The moment of the Big Reveal says, here it is, the dream realized, the best of the best, the unveiling of what was hidden–whether we’re looking at a redecorated room, seeing a bride appear in her wedding gown, holding our newborn for the first time, or finally letting ourselves quietly settle into God’s presence. Deep down, we are transformation people, being transformed bit by bit into the likeness and image of God. It’s already in there. We’re just learning to live it out.

I’ve had a 29-gallon aquarium for a decade or more, and I love it when it’s clean. It is fun to watch the fish—they each have different personalities—and the plants in there are green and happy. I’m not so thrilled with the little snails that moved in the last time I brought home new fish from the pet store, but for the most part I enjoy the tank very much, with its soothing sound of water, the sparkle of bubbles moving toward the surface, and the colorful images of the fish darting back and forth.

But cleaning the tank if one of those continuous tasks—like washing or mowing—that I sometimes put off as long as I can. Over the last several weeks, I’d been noticing that it was time to clean the tank again—the light had a decidedly green tint to it and the water level was getting low. And this time, there were algae spots growing on the sides too. It seemed like it was going to be a big job. I’ll do it tomorrow, I thought. And then, well, tomorrow. Maybe next weekend. Okay, soon.

I think it can be hard for us to feel motivated to do these never-ending tasks because we humans like to feel we’re getting somewhere with all our effort, like we are making progress on whatever path we feel is worthwhile at the time. It might a path toward eating better or improving relationships or managing our finances. Maybe we want to deepen our spiritual life. It could be a thousand different things, but whatever it is, we want to be moving forward. We can tolerate all kinds of stress and uncertainty along the path if we just know our efforts are counting for something—that we are headed in the right direction. That attitude helps gets us through school, helps us weather uncertainty in our relationships or our jobs, gives us something to hold on to when we’re worried about the future or stressing about a change that may be coming down the road.

But with repetitive tasks we can feel like we’re not getting anywhere. It’s a never-ending cycle: wash, rinse, dry. Repeat.

I think it’s one of the confounding but true realities of life that many of the things we deal with are both/and instead of either/or. Yes, we are making progress and yes, it’s true that here we are again.

We can apply this both/and idea to our inner life as well. We may not see the full weight of our progress as we grow closer to God over time, but the deepening is happening, each time we turn God’s way, each time we wait in the silence, each time we choose love over fear or compassion over self-interest. The deepening is happening in times of repetitive tasks and in revealing moments and in moments of quiet and rest.

The Old Testament reading we heard for today is a fascinating and inspiring story of Moses—who has just come back down the mountain with the second set of stone tablets authored by God. You may remember that the first time Moses climbed Mount Sinai, he came back with the first set of 10 commandments, but when he returned the people were worshipping a golden calf they had made. Moses was so furious he threw the stone tablets to the ground and broke them.

After some time Moses had returned to Mount Sinai and followed God’s direction as he prepared—inwardly and outwardly—for a second set of tablets from God. Just before our story, we learn that God had descended in a cloud and stood there with Moses, as he renewed the covenant. It’s safe to say that Moses was as close to God physically in that moment as anyone has ever been. The story tells us that Moses was with God forty days and nights and that he neither ate bread nor drank water during that entire time. I like to think that Moses was so caught up in the love of God that he needed nothing else to sustain him.

When Moses comes back down the mountain, his face is shining in such a brilliant way that it scared the people of Israel. Even Aaron wouldn’t come close to him until he called to them and bid them come. It’s interesting to me that the face of Moses continued to shine each time he spoke with God and that when he returned to the Israelites, he wore the veil so as not to frighten those who didn’t understand. They hadn’t seen what he’d seen. They didn’t know God the way he knew God. He had been present for the ultimate Big Reveal—the living presence of God with him. And from then on, Moses knew how to return to that point of intimacy with God, again and again.

Our New Testament scripture for today reassures us that our partial seeing—this struggle to understand the Big Reveal of goodness that is always available to us—is a normal part of being human in this world. Paul encourages us to take heart that we are doing the best we can, and that one day we will know fully, even as we are fully known. Like Moses was known, when he was swept up in the love of God for forty days and nights and was transformed for the rest of his life.

So did I ever make myself complete the repetitive task I was avoiding? My fish are happy to tell you that I did. And cleaning the tank wasn’t the difficult job I thought it would be. It turns out that all it really needed besides a little water was for the hood to be cleaned—some algae had grown across the light, making everything look murky and green. The task took all of two minutes—I wiped off the hood and rinsed it—and the beautiful light shined through again, illuminating the fish and feeding the happy plants. The Big Reveal in my fish tank was simply a matter of clearing away the residue that was keeping the light from shining in.

So perhaps the story for us, when we get discouraged about the progress we’re making or we struggle to complete life’s repetitive tasks, is that the Big Reveal is always right here, right now, offering us an opportunity to meet God in the present moment of our experience. No matter what we happen to be doing—God is there in the middle of it, awaiting our noticing and our welcome.

The more we can open our hearts and minds to the real possibility of moment by moment fellowship with God, the more likely it is that our faces too will shine, revealing to the world that we are fully known—and fully loved—by God.

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