“The Light of God’s Love”
A sermon by Ginnie Glassman
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Lord, bless my words as I speak them and bless those who hear them. Amen.
Today, we find Moses coming down Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments. God had called Moses to meet on the mountain. From below, God appeared to the Israelites as a “dazzling light…like a fire burning on top of the mountain.” Moses spent “forty days and forty nights” with God. He recorded the commands from God that would form their covenant: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Moses brings the two stone tablets with God’s words to his people. When he arrives, the people saw that “the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God”. It shone so much that the people were unnerved by it. From then on, Moses hid his face with a veil, except when he spoke with God in the Tent of Meeting.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up Mount Herman to pray. While Jesus is praying, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white”. Then suddenly Moses and Elijah were there with him, discussing Jesus’ impending death in Jerusalem. Peter, James and John had been sound asleep but woke up to witness this moment when the line between heaven and earth was opened. They saw Jesus bathed in the light of God, in his heavenly body. Perhaps Peter recalled the Tent of Meeting where Moses met with God when he suggests building three tents – “one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Before he finished speaking, however, they were covered by a large cloud which frightened them. Then a voice from the cloud said “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” A moment later, they were alone with Jesus again.
Peter makes an effort to preserve this experience by wanting to build three tents to anchor it. But the event passes quickly. A mountaintop experience cannot be preserved. It is a mountaintop experience because it reveals something so different from everyday life. Sometimes we don’t even recognize it until it is over. Mountaintop experiences are a gift … but what matters is what we do with them when we return to everyday life. As soon as Jesus and the disciples are down the mountain, all is back to normal, back to work. There is a crowd waiting. A man asks Jesus to cure his epileptic son because his disciples could not and Jesus does. Peter, James and John probably wondered if it all had actually happened.
I had a mountaintop event in my life about twenty five years ago. After a long search, I joined the Episcopal Church. I had been away from church for almost ten years. I never realized how much I missed the liturgy and worshipping together until I returned. After attending a service, I talked with the rector and shared my background. Within a few weeks, I registered with the parish and began attending Sunday services every week. After a short time, I discovered that there was also a 6:30am Tuesday morning service at the church. It was a shorter, quieter service that fed my soul mid-week and got me home in time to get my girls up for school. The first time I was there, our small group was gathered around the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer. When Communion was given, I was about to cross my arms on my chest to receive a blessing. I did NOT feel prepared to accept Communion after being away for so long. The priest, however, whispered “Don’t break the community” and put the wafer in my hand. At that moment, a wave of emotions rolled over me and I felt joyfully accepted by God. That whole day, my feet felt like dancing and I felt like the sun was shining on me. The people I saw that day asked me what had happened because I looked so happy. My face must have shone and my appearance was clearly different, my whole being was rejoicing.
When I looked up the word, “transfigured,” I found that it means a “striking change in appearance or character; a metamorphosis.” I see it as a moment when the space between heaven and earth opens for a moment and we get a glimpse of heaven. Not to put myself in a class with Moses and Jesus, but each of us had the experience of being transfigured. For Moses, it lasted a long time. For Jesus, it was a few amazing minutes. For me, the next day was just an ordinary day but I can still feel the joy of that one day. I could not preserve it. I can recall it. I know that it happened. And I know that morning was the start of a long and amazing journey with the Lord that has not yet ended.
I have seen people deep in prayer or meditation whose faces shone from being in the presence of God. Sometimes it is a quiet, meditative prayer, sometimes they are praying with others, sometimes leading a group in prayer. It is the presence of God at that moment that brings that glow to their faces. Others see it and understand the depth of their faith, the sincerity of their prayers.
Last Sunday, Dinushka talked about her experience with a woman named Tammy. As the chaplain, Dinushka had heard about this woman from other staff members. Most saw her as hopeless addict, unable to get clean, no longer worth spending time helping. As I hung on Dinushka’s words about her getting to know Tammy better, I could see the transfiguration happening. She emerged from being a drug addicted woman to a real person with faith, courage and strength. She was no longer hopeless in Dinushka’s eyes but rather someone worth helping and encouraging. Perhaps neither of their faces were shining but there was a “striking change in appearance or character” in the way she was seen and understood. Dinushka could see a woman with gifts from God who needed support and recognition to further emerge.
Can people to be transfigured in this life? I often recall a sermon that I heard at a retreat in college. It was given by a young priest who had gone through some very difficult times. He thanked us for having faith in him and for trusting him to lead the retreat. He spoke of “creative contemplation.” By this he meant seeing a person not as they are right now but rather as who they could be. As Jesus called his disciples, he chose them not for what they were but for what he saw that they could become – bearers of his Good News to the world. As he created each of us, he gave us gifts and saw what we could become by using them. When we recognize these gifts and use them for his work, we can be transfigured in mind, body or heart.
Can we help others to be transfigured, to shine, to catch a glimpse of heaven?
We can …. by helping the person to discover their gifts;
by guiding, teaching and encouraging them;
by praying with them and for them;
by walking with them as they begin a new ministry.
Can we see each other as Jesus sees us?
Is the light of God’s love reflected through us to enlighten others?
One sermon writer suggested:
“When you get a moment, take a close look in the mirror.
Does the radiance of God sparkle in your eyes?
Does your face glow with the light of Christ?
Know this: The closer you walk with God, the brighter your path will be.”
As our Collect says we will then “behold by faith the light of his countenance”.
The Light of Christ.
Collect: O God, who before the passion of your only begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Exodus 34:29-35: Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
1 The Lord is King; let the people tremble; *he is enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth shake.
2 The Lord is great in Zion; *he is high above all peoples.
3 Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *he is the Holy One.
4 “O mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”
5 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God and fall down before his footstool; *he is the Holy One.
6 Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.
8 O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.
9 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2: Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]: Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. [On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.]