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Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Exodus 34:29-35, Psalm 99:1-9, II Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-43

There’s a lot of glowing going on in this week’s lectionary lessons. First there’s Exodus. When Moses comes down from the mountain after receiving the commandments from God, his face is shining so brightly that it scares the people. Moses has to cover his face with a veil. It’s a little like last week’s story about Isaiah. Being in the presence of God is a bit more than we can take. The light is too bright. It frightens us.

Then, in Luke, Jesus takes Peter and John and James and goes up a mountain to pray. Jesus’ appearance changes and his clothes become “dazzling white.” Moses and Elijah show up, figures underlining the significance of this occasion, linking the mission of Jesus to these revered ancestors. They are probably to be taken as messianic signs.

It is a moment of ecstasy. Peter just wants to stay there and build a shrine. Again, it turns a little scary. A cloud surrounds them and voice says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” I think I’d be a little freaked out too.

I’ve had some mystical moments, but never anything like these. There’s a hint of the same thing in Psalm 99 when, in verse seven, it says “He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud,” which, at night, was a pillar of fire. The epistle is a direct reflection on the Moses story, suggesting that we no longer have to be protected by a veil. The veil is referred to as a veil “over their minds.” Now we can stand in the presence of the Lord, unveiled, and let him do his work of tranformation on us. (II Corinthians 3:15-18)

So what are we to make of all this glowing? Frankly I don’t know, especially if we try to think literally. I always approach II Corinthians 3:18 with a sense of astonishment and wonder. Having grown up with a very high view of Jesus it’s astounding to think that we might be transformed into what he is. Yet, there it is. I John 3:2 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” I believe it’s not just something for the future. Jesus shows us what we are to be now. He is the model, imbuing us with light and empowering us as those who bear light into the everyday workings of life.

I still don’t know what to make of it all. I know when I was a child we sang a Sunday School song: “Climb, climb up sunshine mountain, faces all aglow.” I know we speak sometimes of people having a glow about them, a sort of radiance as if they had been touched by some great uplifting experience, or carried a mysterious and joyous secret within them. I know that the literal physics of perception mean that all I ever really see of another person is light that is reflected from them. George H.W. Bush liked to use the phrase “a thousand points of light” to describe the difference each one of us could make in life. He encouraged us to be one of those thousand points.

So I ask, metaphorically, what is it that our lives reflect? What is it that glows from within us? Another song we sang when I was younger said, “This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine,” going on to name all the places where it was going to shine. The New Testament speaks of Jesus as “The Light of the World” and calls us to let our lights shine was well.

In the tradition of my childhood church, we thought you could spot “Christians” just by looking at them. It was a naive endeavor based on narrow cultural criteria. It remains a question, though, whether those who have been close to God have any distinguishing marks. In most of the Bible, God’s people are more identified by the ministries they perform than by haloes around their heads.

Notice that Peter and John and James don’t do any better after they come down from the mountain than they did before they went up. Jesus gets impatient with them. (Luke 9:40-41) As much as I am moved by mystical experiences (and I have had a few which I could share), I’m also encouraged by the very human reactions in these stories. The people are afraid, mundane, maybe even resistant, but God uses them anyway. I’m still puzzled about the significance of mystical experiences, my own included. I go to them as assuring reminders of being touched by a power greater than myself, but I try not to let them become a goal where I worship at a shrine on the mountaintop while ignoring ministry to those facing life and death battles at the foot of the mountain.

Our reading from II Corinthians seems to hold these two aspects of religious life together. The experience of transformation in us (3:18) is the reason we are “engaged in this ministry,” the reason we “do not lose heart” (4:1), the reason we have hope and “act with great boldness.” (3:12) Would that we always remembered and acted on such truth.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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