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Thursday, February 07, 2013
Lectionary Scriptures: Exodus 34:29-35, Psalm 99:1-9, II Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:38-43a

The season of Epiphany ends with a burst of light that is beyond our comprehension.  Moses’ face glows so brightly that he must put a veil over his face so that the brightness will not overwhelm and frighten the Israelites.  We are told in Exodus 43:30, “. . . the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.”  In verse 37 we read, “. . . 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 . . .”  When Jesus stood on the mountaintop with Peter and John and James, it says, “. . . the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling.”  (Luke 9:29)

We sometimes say to a person, “You are positively glowing today,” but the kind of glow described in these passages seems to defy human experience.  Of course both Moses and Jesus had been with God whose light shone upon and in and through them in this disconcerting way.  And Moses and Elijah showed up on that mountain Jesus.  (Luke 9:30)  If that didn’t make you turn pale and pass out, it might be enough to make you glow.

The Gospel lesson records what is called “The Transfiguration of Jesus,” the event for which this Sunday is named.  It is another story in which a voice speaks from the clouds about Jesus’ identity:  “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.”  (Luke 9:35)  Who was Jesus?  How and when did his identity develop?  We don’t need to continue that centuries-old discussion here.  It’s clear that the Gospel writers want us to know that the light that shone in Jesus was the light of God, whatever theological spin and interpretation one ends up putting on that.

The kicker is that it is the same light that shines in us, if we get close enough to it and let it.  Of all the verses in the lectionary readings for this Sunday, my eye and mind and heart is drawn to II Corinthians 3:18.  The reading looks back to the glowing Moses as he puts a veil over his face.  (II Corinthians 3:13)  It moves on to declare, in that 18th verse, that “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 . . .”

We are not to be overwhelmed by light.  Instead we are to let it shine in and through us.  We don’t need a veil to protect us.  In fact, the veil in the epistle reading is seen as something that gets in the way of our understanding.  (vs. 14)

These two readings from Exodus and II Corinthians might also lead us to a discussion of authority and hierarchy in the life of faith.  In the Exodus story, the people are dependent upon Moses to interpret the glory of God.  He stands between them and the light of God.  For many years after Jesus, ordinary people didn’t have the scripture in their hands.  They could read it for themselves.  Authority for interpretation rested with the priest.  Paul reminds us that no such barriers exist anymore.  That’s what Jesus’ message was about.  We are surrounded in ordinary, everyday, life by the glory of God.

That might take us into a discussion of glory and holiness.  The reading from Psalm 99 reminds us that God is “holy.”  Twice we are told, “Holy is he!”  (Psalm 99:3 & 5)  The final verse of the Psalm declares, “Extol the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy.”  (vs. 9)  To be holy is to be so stunningly different from the ordinary that when one encounters it, one’s breath is taken away.  The word “awesome” comes to mind, and there it is in verse 3.  “Glory” is sort of an “aura” that emanates from such holiness.  It takes us into the realm of spiritual experience that is beyond words.

The astounding thing is that when we are touched by this holiness it invades our very being if we let it.  Our best attempts to put it into words may be in the songs we sing.  I grew up singing “This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

Interestingly, the disciples coming down from the mountaintop seemed to lose the power of light when faced with real life problems.  A man pleading for his son possessed by a spirit who makes him convulse says, "I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”  (Luke 9:40)  Sometimes there’s a big gap between the mountaintop experiences of our lives and our day to day expression of the love of Jesus.  Sometimes we feel the glow on Sunday morning but burn out quickly when faced with the things we find in the dark corners of life.  What are the veils that become barriers that prevent the light from escaping?

Light, of course, need not refer to a literal measurable glow on our faces, although some have made a saccharine smile and an always positive disposition the mark of being a Christian.  I guess I fall short when such measures are used.  Light, however, is a powerful metaphor.  Light is what enables us to see and appreciate life at all.  Photographers are always aware of light.  Listen to them on the extras attached to many movies on DVD.  They’re always talking about why they used this or that lighting, or waiting for the right lighting.  Photographers will wait for hours for the right light to fall across a particular rock in a canyon.  (Sorry, I’m not that committed in my photography.)  I once owned a set of slides given to me by a photographer who did a study of a doll seen in many different kinds and colors and positions of light.

What is the light we use when we look at life and interact with those around us, when we turn to scrutinize the affairs of government?  What angle of light do we seek?  Light is not just a glow but a way of living and participating in life.  It is allowing our lives to be an expression of the light of God found in the life and teachings and presence of Jesus.  Again, that verse from II Corinthians 3:18---“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 on degree of glory to another . . .”

Earlier I mentioned songs.  There are so many songs about light.  I thought of one from my earlier years, “You Light Up My Life” by Debbie Boone.  When I looked up the words, they didn’t work for what I wanted to say.  Maybe if they were rewritten so they were speaking of God lighting up our lives, they’d work---although sometimes it is people lighting up one another’s lives that are really a sign of God at work.  Who’s lighting up our lives and whose lives are we lighting up?

I leave you, though, with selected words from a song, “Shine, Jesus, Shine”, that is popular in “evangelical”circles.  It may not be a perfect selection for those of us with a more “progressive” spirit, but it’s worth thinking about the meaning and application of the words.

Lord the Light of Your Love is shining,
In midst of the darkness shining,
Jesus light of the world shine upon us,
Set us free by the truth You now bring us,
Shine on me. Shine on me.

Shine Jesus shine
Fill this land with the Father's glory
Blaze, Spirit blaze,
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth Your word
Lord and let there be light.

. . . . . . . . .

As we gaze on Your kindly brightness.
So our faces display Your likeness.
Ever changing from glory to glory,
Mirrored here may our lives tell Your story.
Shine on me. Shine on me.

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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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