A story is told – by Fredrick Beuchner I believe – called “The Happy Hypocrite.” It is a story about a man who was born with an awful facial deformity. He grew up alone and lonely. When reaching adulthood, he decided to move from his town to begin a new life. On his way he discovered a beautiful mask that fit his making him look handsome. At first the mask was uncomfortable and he was afraid that people would find out who he really was, but he continued to wear the mask everyday.
In his new hometown, he made many friends and fell in love. But one day a wicked woman from his old home came to his town and discovered this man’s true identity. In front of his friends and fiancé, she forced him to remove his mask. When he removed the mask, it revealed a handsome face. His face had conformed to the mask.
Becoming like Christ is analogous to this. Go ahead and put on Christ. At first it may feel unnatural or uncomfortable, and maybe you may think, “who am I trying to fool?” But everyday just keep putting on Christ and everyday you will grow to look more like him.
Of course, this is not a true story, it is a parable about life change. We all love the dramatic stories of a changed life. I have often pondered Martin Luther’s promise to go to seminary if St. Anne saved him from a severe thunderstorm. (Legend states that St. Anne is Jesus’ maternal grandmother.) Or how St. Paul was stricken blind on the road to Damascus and Jesus told him to stop persecuting him (and the Christian family). Shortly after, Paul became a Christian.
However, most spiritual growth happens in baby steps. Yes, occasionally there is a giant leap forward (for some) but most people grow in small incremental ways like the man in the mask. It took time for his face to conform to the mask.
I believe one of the best ways a person can grow spiritually is to be connected to a church (like Bethel). Being in close contact with other Christians and worshipping God will eventually transform you… but it won’t happen overnight. Sometimes the change is so subtle that you won’t even notice it at first.
We all prefer “instant gratification.” We love the promise of instant change that many advertisements promise but the wisdom of the ages states, “If it is too good to be true, it probably is.”
St. Paul writes about transformation in his letter to the church of Rome. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) Essentially, he is saying, change the way you think about things. The best way to do that is to change what is being “inputted” into your brain. We are barraged with all kinds of messages where ever we go, even at home. Sunday morning is the place to receive a different kind of message. A word of hope, love, kindness and peace. But not just a word… you can experience those things as well. Come and see for yourself.
This Sunday we will continue to explore “The Joy of Bethel” and why we gather as believers. Come and experience community this Sunday, it just may change you.