Lent 5B + March 18, 2018
Once upon a time in midwinter, when the snowflakes were falling like feathers from heaven, a queen sat sewing at her window, which had a frame of black ebony wood. As she sewed she looked up at the snow and pricked her finger with her needle. Three drops of blood fell into the snow. The red on the white looked so beautiful that she thought to herself, "If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood in this frame."
Soon afterward she had a little daughter who was as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as ebony wood, and therefore they called her Little Snow-White. And as soon as the child was born, the queen died.
A year later the king took himself another wife. She was a beautiful woman, but she was proud and arrogant, and she could not stand it if anyone might surpass her in beauty. She had a magic mirror. Every morning she stood before it, looked at herself, and said: Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this land is fairest of all?
To this the mirror answered: You, my queen, are fairest of all. Then she was satisfied, for she knew that the mirror spoke the truth.
Snow-White grew up and became ever more beautiful. When she was seven years old she was as beautiful as the light of day, even more beautiful than the queen herself.
One day when the queen asked her mirror: Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this land is fairest of all? It answered: You, my queen, are fair; it is true. But Snow-White is a thousand times fairer than you.
The queen took fright and turned yellow and green with envy. From that hour on whenever she looked at Snow-White her heart turned over inside her body, so great was her hatred for the girl. The envy and pride grew ever greater, like a weed in her heart, until she had no peace day and night.
How many of you looked into the mirror this morning? It’s a standard part of everybody’s daily routine. We look into the mirror to make sure that we look OK, maybe even “look good,” maybe even “look fine,” before we go out and into the world. And as we gaze into the mirror there’s usually some work that needs to be done; we need to wash up a bit, we need to fix our hair, we need to adjust our clothes. It’s common everyday kind of stuff. But it hasn’t always been that way.
I think it can be argued that the creation of the mirror, and more importantly its continued development, (leading to its eventual mass production,) dramatically changed the way humanity saw itself. Literally of course, but more importantly, the way humanity “understood” itself.
Before the mirror, the primary way one could gaze upon their image was most likely in water. A still pond was perhaps the best way to see yourself. But for most people that was not always possible. A moving river or stream or perhaps some kind of shiny object provided the best opportunity to see what you looked like. And what you saw was a bit distorted. So, you didn’t put too much thought into what you saw. It wasn’t that big of an issue. Consequently, people lived more “inside” of their self, they understood themselves from the “inside-out.”
That all changed in a big way around the year 1500, when the mirror as we know it today began to be mass produced and made available to larger numbers of people. This development marks the beginning of a great shift in “the history of self-understanding” and begins the era in which we live today, a time shaped and perfected by Hollywood and Madison Avenue. We no longer live from the “inside-out,” we live from the “outside-in.”
What we see in the mirror defines who we are. And we compare what we see in the mirror with the images we see all around us! And suddenly, and unfortunately, we begin to judge and to shape our self and our self-understanding, even our values and our sense of worth based on external superficial things. Commercials, advertisements, and clever jingles begin to influence us. We look into the mirror and ask, “Am I attractive? Am I gaining weight? Do I measure up? Do I look good? Is that a grey hair?” Are my clothes in style? Sadly, we have become captives of the looking glass.
And we believe as the fairy tale declares, the mirror cannot tell a lie, it reflects the truth. And so, every morning when we get up and look into the mirror we are judged. We are judged by an external and superficial world. And if you are like me, the first thing you see is - every single flaw in yourself. What a mess, do I dare go out in public? Yes Indeed, the mirror holds us captive.
The most common single exhortation in the Bible is, “Be not afraid.” Yet it seems that many of us know just the opposite experience, spending way too much time living in fear, living out of fear. Out of fear we make decisions, out of fear we make judgments, out of fear we resolve to change. We look into the mirror, we see every flaw, every inadequacy, and we’re afraid that we’ll be found out, revealed as not all together, uncovered as not fitting in, exposed as being - all too human.
In today’s appointed Old Testament reading from Jeremiah we hear the good news about a new way of living, a new covenant. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
No longer are we to be judged by external laws that are impossible to fulfill, no longer are we to be judged by external images like the ones we see in the mirror, no longer is our relationship with God about “measuring up.” Suddenly it’s about what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. For God has chosen to go straight to our hearts, to be present deep within us, present with the love of grace and without condemnation! And from there, from that self-understanding, God invites us to once again live from the “inside-out!”
I suppose for me it was around college when I finally began to discover that “the mirror” actually tells us lies; that living from the “outside in” can drive you crazy and is in fact not really living at all. In a gifted moment of faith, I discovered myself from the “inside-out.” I began to see my gifts and talents from the “inside-out,” I began to believe the still small voice inside my heart that said I was good, that I was loved. I discovered God’s grace, or better yet, God’s grace discovered me. And those “moments of faith” set me free to pursue a “calling in life,” to discover that place and occasion where my passion and my dreams intersected with the Kingdom of God, the opportunity to make a difference. And living from that sense of purpose, from deep within, graced me with the freedom to prioritize those “outside-in” pressures and avoid getting caught up in too much superficial living.
You too have had those moments of faith that live deep inside you! You too have a “calling in life!” And when you are able to lean into those things, to focus on living from the “inside-out,” participating in making a difference, participating in the work of the Kingdom, you too are set free from superficial living.
Living from the “inside-out” in an “outside-in” world is not easy. And we can all be easily distracted. The mirror has a way of reaching out and pulling us in. (I confess that every morning my first reaction to my image is not always inspired by the Spirit!) And so I have a little trick that I use. Before spending too much time looking at my imperfections, I turn the water on, cup my hands in the flow, splash my face, and I remember my baptism. I am reminded that I am God’s beloved child and that I am on a mission from God. And fear is washed away by the power of love!
All of us looked into the mirror this morning, but how many of us looked deeply into our hearts? May we all add that extra step each and every day so that we might live from the “inside-out,” in the New Covenant established by God in Christ Jesus. May we be inspired by love, for in the eyes of God each of us are truly “the fairest in the land,” a thousand times fairer than the refection of any “mass-produced mirror!” May the eyes of our hearts be truly opened up, that we might see God, that we truly see ourselves, that we might believe, that we might live “brilliantly” from the “inside-out!” Amen.
31 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt--a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.