Sermon: Unmasking The Extraordinary You. Pt. 3: The Masks of the Spirit
Scripture: 2 Timothy 1:1-6
Date: March 19, 2017
Well, how are you doing identifying the masks that are imposed upon you by the world that cover up the extraordinary within you? Because there are three incontrovertible facts that emerge from scripture. First is that Jesus calls out the extraordinary that is within each of us. It’s how we were created. It’s in our DNA. And the second is that the world offers us many masks designed to cover up the extraordinary within us. Masks that if we wear them too long will rob us of the incredible life that Jesus desires for each one of us – a life that he Himself was willing to die for so that we might live it. And then third, Jesus calls us to cast off our worldly masks and live in His image by taking on a sincere faith. A sincere faith that is the opposite of the hypocrisy and sin that the world offers. So, for the last two weeks, we have been focusing on the kind of masks that the world imposes on us – and we talked about four broad categories of worldly masks that tend to cover over the extraordinary that is in each one of us. (Show picture of masks on altar) Those are the masks of the performer, and the pleaser, and the pretender and finally the masks of perfection. Now I don’t want to take a lot of time this morning talking about those again. So if you missed last week, you can go to stlukeumc.org and find last week’s message or you can order a DVD at the Welcome Center. But this week, I want to think about the tools that Christ offers to help us come out from under the mask and instead embrace the image of God that is within each one of us, because it is the presence of God within us that makes each one of us so extraordinary.
And to do that I need to begin with a disclaimer of sorts. When I started thinking and preparing this series of messages, I was thinking about the Season of Lent and the Lenten practice of “giving things up” for Lent. And so I envisioned that the first couple of messages would be focused on identifying and owning the worldly masks that we wear and that the third message (which is where we are today) would focus on “giving up” or “casting off” those worldly masks. So I called the series “Unmasking The Extraordinary You”. And we ordered the banners and came up with the art work based on that word “unmasking”. But as I have moved through the preparation of these messages, I have realized that the concept of “unmasking” is not really the Biblical Concept. I have discovered that the Biblical Concept is really replacing the worldly masks with masks that bear the image of Christ. You see, when Paul writes to Timothy about “sincere” faith, he is implying that that faith is already in Timothy. Look what he says: “I am reminded of your sincere faith that is in you that has come to you through your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice.” In other words, it was faith that Timothy was born into. It’s in his DNA. And it has been passed from generation to generation to generation. In Biblical times, genealogies were an essential part of many religious writings. Look, for instance, at the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament, it tells the story of God’s people essentially through genealogies. Who passed the faith to who. And both Matthew and Luke begin their Gospels with genealogies of Jesus. Where did his faith come from. It was passed down to him. According to Matthew through Joseph’s lineage and according to Luke through Mary. But either way He was born with it. Jesus was not transformed into the Messiah, the Savior, at some point following Bethlehem. He was born to it. It was in His lineage, His DNA. He was born with the image of God within Him. And so are we. That’s worth repeating. We are born with the image of God within us. We are born to live an Extraordinary life. So Paul is saying to Timothy, I am filled with joy when I think of the faith with which you were born. At your birth, you were already reflecting the image of God. Now for the Hebrew people, seeing God’s image was a constant quest. They longed to see the face of God, but believed that if you ever did, you would drop dead on the spot. And many times they are instructed to turn away lest they die. Well fair warning, if you still hold to that ancient belief about gazing on the image of God, then you might want to look away, but if you want to see the face of God. Here it is. (Show pictures of Newborns). I don’t believe we are ever so close to being the image of God then we are when we are first born. Pure, innocent and yet the promise of an extraordinary life to come. Of course, the problem is that almost from the moment we are born, the world tries to put other masks upon us that cover over God’s image. I think that’s why Jesus talked to Nicodemus about being “born again.” He was telling him that to follow him, to have eternal life, you must be reborn in the image of God. Reclaim your heritage, your lineage, your DNA. When we talk about our own coming to Christ, we often describe that in terms of being converted. But the truth is that it is not a conversion as much as it is a reclamation. When we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior we are not introducing something new to our DNA profile. We are simply reclaiming that which has always been within us. So Paul writes: Timothy, I rejoice when I recall the sincere faith that you were born with. Now exploring our genealogy has become a pretty popular pastime these days. It has been made easier by the advent of the computer age. Services like ancestry.com are wonderful tools that can take a little bit of information that we supply and develop our family tree for us. Well, God uses three tools to help us embrace our spiritual heritage and replace those destructive worldly masks with the image of God.
The first tool He uses is the Bible. His Word. In the third chapter of this second letter to Timothy Paul talks about this tool when he writes: The whole Bible was given to us by God and teaches us what is true and makes us realize what is wrong in our lives (in other words exposes the worldly masks for what they are) It straightens us out and helps us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us for life. (Because it reveals the image of God that is within us.). Scripture is transformational because it speaks to us individually in the midst of the circumstances of our lives. It is the Living Word because it is constantly evolving and speaking to us in all the circumstances of our life. And it exposes the worldly masks for what they are, and opens us up to the Godly masks that are within us. It is the manual for how to live an extraordinary life. Now we often hear people say that scripture is just history. That it applied to the people who lived when it was first written but is outdated, antiquated, irrelevant to 21st Century life. That human beings have evolved to the point that it no longer really speaks to the modern human condition.
I love the story about an anthropologist who went to an island in the south seas to study the native people and one day came upon a member of a tribe whom the anthropologist knew had cannibalistic tendencies. The native was sitting next to a rather large pot reading the Bible. And so he asked the native what he was doing. And the native replied, “I’m reading the Bible.” And the anthropologist laughed and said, “In spite of what the missionaries have told you, modern society has rejected that book as both irrelevant and really a pack of lies and half truths. You shouldn’t waste your time reading that.” And the native looked over the Anthropology professor and then looked at the boiling pot and then said, “Sir, if it weren’t for this book, you’d be stewing in this pot.” The Bible is transformational. It is one of the tools we use to expose the masks of the world and replace them with the image of God. Scripture reveals the extraordinary within us. Are you using the word of God to unmask the Spirit that is within you? Are you reading it. Studying it? Sharing it with others? Applying it to your life? Using it to bring out the image of God that is within you. It is your manual for how to live an extraordinary life. I once heard a preacher say that not using scripture is like having the winning powerball ticket but never looking at the numbers – just letting it sit around gathering dust, and never cashing it in. The million dollar treasure going unclaimed. If you want to reveal the image of God that is within you, you must start with this book.
And then secondly God’s Spirit works to reveal the image of God within us. God’s Spirit within us makes us extraordinary. Opens us up to the abundant life that Christ promises us. Paul writes this to the Romans.
Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them – living and breathing God! Attention to God’s Spirit leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. If God himself has taken up residence in your life you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of Him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome Him, in whom He dwells – even though you experience all the limitations of sin (wear the masks of the world) you experience life on God’s terms. (Extraordinary life) It stands to reason doesn’t it, that if the alive and present God who raised Jesus from the dead is in your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that He did in Jesus, bringing you alive. When God lives and breathes in you (and He does as surely as He did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With His Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!
I wonder if, when Paul wrote those words he had in mind the pagan custom of putting masks on the dead before they were buried. (Show death masks). They would make very ornate masks, sometimes out of gold that bore the image of the deceased, or sometimes the image of one of their gods, and place it over the face of their loved ones, sometimes in the hopes that the gods would be fooled by the beauty of the masks and look with pleasure on the image, and forget what the person looked like in life and so allow safe passage into the afterlife. I wonder if that’s what Paul had in mind when he writes to the Christians in Rome, the center of pagan practices and concludes with these words:
So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life a thing. There’s nothing in it for us – nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your life in Christ. God’s Spirit calls us. There are things to do and places to go.
The life you receive from God is adventurous, and expectant. God’s spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us – an unbelievable (extraordinary) life.
In reality, the masks that the world places on us are nothing more than death masks because they cover over the extraordinary life that God has for us. They are the image of death. But the masks of the Spirit reveal the image of God within us. They are the image of life. When we put on these masks, we claim abundant life in Christ. Rick Warren says that the Spirit’s number one purpose is to make our life like Jesus Christ. The Spirit works to call forth the image of Christ within us. And so, Paul says to Timothy, after talking about the sincere faith that he was born into, goes on to say that he must “fan into flame” the Spirit that is within him Now the imagery that Paul is using here is that of the fire pit that was outside the door of most Jewish houses in the 1st Century. The Jewish women did all of the cooking over that fire pit. It was essential to life for that family. But starting a fire every time there was cooking to be done was no easy task and so one of the everyday tasks by some member of the household was to keep the embers alive in the fire pit all the time. In tree poor Israel, there wasn’t a great deal of firewood available. So most fires would have been charcoal fires. And we know that charcoal burns very slowly, and so the task was to keep the charcoal smoldering constantly and when it came time to cook, they would fan the embers until the charcoal would flame up. This was known as “fanning the flame.” When I was a kid, I learned first hand what fanning the flame was all about. During our summer vacations in the Colorado mountains, I would often help my father cook on the grill. Now when my grandfather built our cabin, he had found an old blacksmith forge in the remains of the mining camp near where the cabin is. It looks like this. (Show picture of forge.). And my grandfather converted it into a barbecue grill. Now in the high altitudes, charcoal fires burn very slowly. It takes about twice the time for a fire to burn to a suitable cooking temperature because the lack of oxygen necessary to feed the fire. So as the assistant it was my job to keep the fire burning which meant turning the crank which operated a fan that pumped air into the embers from the bottom up. So from time to time, my dad would send me out to the grill to, as he called it, “fan the flame.” Now, on the day of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit was described as being like “tongues of fire” that came to rest on each person in the Upper Room. And from that point on the Holy Spirit was often represented as fire. So Paul uses the imagery of the fire pit in combination with the fire of the Holy Spirit and tells Timothy that when it comes to the sincere faith that is within him that he must “fan the flame.” One pastor says this is Paul’s divine enabling and that Paul’s goal is to move Timothy from sincere faith which mostly effects him to high impact faith which witnesses to others. You see, when I fanned the flame of that charcoal fire as a kid the embers went from white to red hot and would eventually burst into flame. When I fanned the flame, I could actually see the fire. For the Spirit to manifest itself within us, we must fan the flame. And when we do that then others will see the Spirit within us, we put on the masks of the spirit, and people see the image of God in us. Those manifestations are what Paul refers to as the gifts or fruits of the Spirit. Rick Warren, in his book, God’s Power To Change Your Life, says that: The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to make the child of God more like the Son of God. To put it another way, the Spirit of God pulls from within us the image of God, and places the mask of an extraordinary life, an abundant life upon us. But we must fan the flame through our worship, and prayer, and service. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul identifies those Spirit masks as the fruits of the Spirit ripening within us. And those Spirit masks, which replace our worldly masks, are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. He writes: Live by the Spirit and you will not take on the masks of the world. The masks of the world are obvious. They are: sexual immorality, impurity, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, dissension and envy and the like. I warn you that those who live under these masks will not inherit God’s Kingdom. Those who belong to Christ have overcome these, and instead wear the masks of the Spirit.
Now the New Testament actually identifies about twenty of these masks of the Spirit that Disciples are to wear. But here’s what we need to know. As we fan the flame that is within us, each one will discover their own mask. We don’t all wear the same mask, and we don’t wear all the masks. In fact, scripture is clear that God uses the various circumstances of our lives to reveal different gifts, different fruits, different masks within us. The gifts or fruits of the spirit are the image of God which is in each one of us, and He sends His Spirit into all the circumstances of our lives, good or bad, to reveal His image. Paul writes to the Romans: To those who love God, who are called according to His plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good. God chooses the circumstances of our lives to bear witness to His image within us.
C.S. Lewis wrote concerning how God uses the circumstances of our lives to reveal His image: God whispers to us in our pleasure but He shouts to us in our pain. And he calls forth the gifts of the Spirit from within us to help us deal with whatever might be forced upon us by the world. Rick Warren goes on to say:
The interesting thing about how God uses circumstances is that the source of the circumstances makes no difference to Him. We often bring problems on ourselves by faulty decisions, bad judgments, and sins. At other times our problems are caused by other people. Sometimes the devil causes things to happen to us. But God says the source is irrelevant. That it doesn’t matter who places the worldly masks upon us because God promises “I will still fit it into my great plan for your life and make you in the image of Christ.” When we fan the flame of the Spirit, no matter what mask the world places on us, God is not fooled and will replace the masks of the ordinary, even the tragic, grotesque death masks we sometimes wear, and turn them instead into masks which bear His image for all to see. So this morning we need to do a mask exchange. We need to let God, through His Spirit, exchange the masks of the world, the masks of the performer, and pleaser and pretender and perfectionist, in whatever way they have been covering over the extraordinary within us, the image of Christ that we are created with and in – we need to exchange those wordly masks for the ones that the Spirit offers us, in all circumstances, and all times. And then we can claim the extraordinary life that’s within us.