Some of my warmest memories from childhood are getting all dressed up usually in a homemade costume and going trick-or-treatingwith friends and family on Halloween. Isom’s Chapel United Methodist in Athens, Alabama, my home church, for many years hosted a haunted house in their fellowship hall for the purpose of raising money for youth mission trips and other compassionate ministries. It was playful and all in good, clean fun!
In spite of the practice nowadays of viewing Halloween as a celebration of something dark and evil, Halloween is actually a holiday with rich religious origins. As I shared in the Children’s Moment this past All Saints Sunday during Traditionsworship, the “hallow” in Halloween comes from the same root as “Hallowed be Thy Name” from the The Lord’s Prayer– “Hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done.”
Halloween is the day before the traditional Christian celebration known as All Saints Day, which is Thursday of this week, November 1. The day preceding All Saints – a commemoration of those who have died in the faith and passed on from life in to Eternal Life – was originally intended to be a “hallowed eve.”
Our tradition today in which we think of ghosts and goblins comes from ancient Celtic beliefs. The Celts believed that the souls of the departed roamed the earth one night in the Fall. Since it was a time of harvest, the people would huddle together in front of fires, eating, and telling spooky stories. Historians tell us that Halloween evolved into a holiday focusing on ghouls and fiends that can seem far removed from the original Christian celebration of All Saints Day.
But as little trick-or-treaters come to your door this evening, there is one modern-day Halloween tradition that I would like us to focus on for just a moment: the masks that people wear. The truth of the matter is that all of us wear masks from time to time.
The primeval origin of the word “hypocrite” indicates one who wears a mask. Each one of us, on occasion, plays the hypocrite. Every time I talk about taking up the cross and following Christ, I am confronted with the question of how much my faith costs me and whether I am truly giving my all. It is true of you as well if you are honest. The critics are right. The church is full of hypocrites – you and me! The more conscious you are of Christ’s call, the more you are aware of how inadequate your own witness is.
In an interview in the magazine The Door, famed psychiatrist M. Scott Peck tells about the first time he went to hear the Swiss physician Paul Tournier, one of the most influential Christian intellectuals at the time.
Following Tournier’s lecture there was a time of questions and dialogue, at which point a man stood up and asked, “Dr. Tournier, what do you think about all the hypocrites in the churches of America?”
Stumbling over the English words, Tournier apologized and said he did not understand the meaning of the word “hypocrite.” Several people offered various explanations and definitions, such as “phony, pretending to be something you are not, inauthentic, false.”
Suddenly Dr. Tournier’s eyes lit up and he said, “Ah, hypocrites, now I understand . . . C’est moi! C’est moi. I am the hypocrite.”
The closer you are to Jesus, the more you measure your life by his life, the more aware you are of your shortcomings. We cry out with Paul Tournier, “C’est moi! It’s me! I am the hypocrite.”
I guess that is why I have always appreciated the expression that if a hypocrite is standing between you and God, it just means the hypocrite is closer to God than you are. Yes, indeed, we all wear masks from time to time. But that is why we need to cultivate a greater awareness of the grace of God in our lives, and why we need celebrations like Halloween and All Saints Day to remind us of our utter dependence on the mercy of God.
Marilyn Morgan Hellenberg in an issue of Daily Guideposts tells about a chilling looking “creature” that appeared at her door one Halloween night. The rubber mask, covering the young trick-or-treater’s face and head, had grossly twisted features, a pulled-down mouth, and a bright red bleeding “wound” on the cheek. Quickly, Marilyn dropped a couple of home-baked cookies into the young man’s candy bucket and was glad when he hurried on down the street.
A couple of days later while she was out in her front lawn, when her paperboy passed by to deliver the newspaper, he said to her, “Those sure were good cookies you gave out on Halloween!” You guessed it! He was the young man behind that mask. She recognized his voice. Marilyn could hardly believe it! She was very fond of the young man and respected his recent dedication while he was working to become an Eagle Scout.
It made Marilyn wonder: Could there be a lovable child of God behind some of the ugly masks we wear? That woman with the stringy, unwashed hair who sat near me at church last Sunday. Might there be a sweet-natured child with little self-esteem behind her unkempt disguise? That opinionated man who seems so cocky. Is it possible there’s a little boy behind his blustery camouflage, hoping his fear won’t show? The pushy woman crowding in front of me at the post office. I wonder if the little girl in her has felt ignored too long?
“There’s a child in me, too,” says Marilyn Hellenberg, “and she sometimes hurts. Thank God for those special people who care enough to look beyond the false faces I sometimes wear!”
On this Halloween and All Saints Day, my prayer is that you will realize how much God really loves you, embraces you, and accepts you in spite of all the subterfuge and pretense we tend to employ to hide our true selves. Be the person that God created you to be! And leave all the rest in the Creator’s strong hands.
I wanted to also let you know that I will not be with you this coming Sunday, November 4. Pastor Kelsey will be preaching both the 8:30 and 11:00 a.m. Traditions worship services in my absence. I will be in Bakersfield, California speaking at a conference on church-growth and spiritual renewal. I am so honored and excited to be able to share our Asbury story and reflect on all that you have helped accomplish this past year with the opening of the new sanctuary, additional building renovations, and our ever-expanding congregation. I urge you to review my letter that you should have recently received concerning Asbury’s pressing budgetary and financial issues and determine to help in any way that you can.
Pastor Kelsey will be continuing with my current sermon series and theme this Sunday, but I will be back in the pulpit on November 11 and look forward to sharing the final three sermons in this current series. Here is a spoiler alert: these concluding sermons really gets to the hot, rabble-rousing and provocative portions of Jesus’ famous mountaintop sermon. You won’t want to miss it!
I wish you and your family a Happy Halloween and Blessed All Saints Day!
P.S. As always, I’ll be sharing updates and photos from the conference in Bakersfield on Twitter. If you’re a fellow Tweeter, you can follow me @LaxsonKip.