Eternal One, far too often we are blinded in this world by the darkness rather than the light. We believe far too readily that things will always be the same, that they cannot be transformed. Let your light shine in us and through us, that we might reveal your glory to the world. Amen.
It’s Transfiguration Sunday—the last Sunday after the Epiphany, the final Sunday before Lent. We heard the story of Jesus going up the mountain with his three closest disciples, and while there his appearance changes to dazzling white. He shines in his glory. Two other figures appear with him–Moses and Elijah we’re told—and the disciples are dumbfounded. They don’t know what to say or make of it all. At that point a cloud envelopes them and a voice proclaims that “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him.” With that, everything instantly returns to normal. The fog rolls out, Moses and Elijah get beamed up, and Jesus’ clothes go back to their not so dazzley state. And the disciples don’t utter a word “in those days” Luke writes.
They don’t know what to make of Jesus shining in all his glory—the radiance and the light—so they kept quiet. They’re not sure anyone will get it, will believe them. So they hide.
In the passage from Exodus, Moses comes down the mountain after he receives the replacement 10 Commandments—you may recall that the first ones got broken when he saw the people of Israel worshipping the Golden Calf. But when he comes down this time, he doesn’t know that his face is shining because he spent so much time in the presence of God. He doesn’t know that his face glowed. Because of this, the whole company of Israel is afraid to come near him. He invites forward his brother Aaron and the leaders of Israel. They come and listen, and then he calls all the people to hear from God. And once he’s done they ask him to put a veil on his dazzley face because it’s too much for them to handle. They don’t want to see all that glory. And so he does that for them, he hides the brightness of God reflected in his face because it scares them.
What is it about the radiance of God’s glory that scares people? There’s the Israelites with Moses’ shining face, the disciples with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, and there’s also those shepherds on that silent, holy night. As Linus quotes from the King James version, “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” Or, as another version of the Bible puts it, “An angel from the Lord suddenly appeared to them. The glory of the Lord filled the area with light, and they were terrified.” Petrified by that glory of God filling that entire area with a radiant brightness.
There’s a great scene in the film “Akeelah and the Bee” where the main character, an 11 year old girl named Akeelah, works with her coach, Dr. Larabee, to prepare for the National Spelling Bee. Akeelah’s a reluctant participant. She only competed at her school spelling bee to avoid a detention, but she’s the real deal and soon discovers that she has a talent. But she knows that sticking out by excelling in academics can make life hard in her Los Angeles neighborhood, so she tries to keep her head down, doing just enough to get by. Larabee sees this in her, and makes her read a quote from Marianne Williamson. Akeelah reads, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? . . . Your playing small does not serve the world. . . . We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. . . . And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” When she finishes, Dr. Larabee asks her “Does that mean anything to you?” Akeelah resists giving an answer. He asks her again, “What does it mean?” “That I’m not supposed to be afraid.” “Afraid of what,” he responds. “Afraid of” she says tentatively while turning around, “me?” Silence fills the void as the camera focuses on her face.
“We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.” We are meant to shine forth God’s glory. Thomas W. Currie, Professor Emeritus of Theology at Union Presbyterian Seminary, writes, “The unbearable brightness of Moses’s face is the residue of God’s steadfast love for Israel, his faithfulness to them in the face of betrayal and even death, and his gift to them of a dignity and honor they did not choose and would never have chosen for themselves. They are meant for shining, and they shine, unaware of the weight of glory that is theirs in the God who makes his face to shine upon them.” (Feasting on the Word Year C Volume 1, 438)
We are meant for shining the residue of God’s steadfast love for us. For reflecting God’s glory. The residue of God’s steadfast love.
Which is some pretty heady stuff for us on a winter morning. So what does it mean for us today as we head out these doors for the rest of our week? And what about for our kids who will receive the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood for the first time today, what about them?
First, let us go looking for God’s glory shining around us. Let us look for God’s steadfast love and those who encourage and embody God’s peace. Let’s get out into the world and look for signs of God both high and low. And let us look most of all deep within our lives and our hearts. That glory will be reflect by us when we spend time in God’s presence—reading scripture, praying, inviting God to move in and around us.
Second, for our younger disciples: keep asking your questions about God. I invite the kids who are celebrating today to do the things we spoke about during our time together: Invite God in to your lives and welcome Jesus, listen well to God’s stories by quieting yourself—hard at times, I know, but I know you can do it!—share in receiving bread with us at this table as we remember how Jesus wants to feed us, and then finally go out and share Jesus’ love with others and especially those who need extra love from him—the poor and lonely, the hungry and the sick. If you continue to do those things, that glory of God will be shining around you to be sure!
So as we come down this mountain together, as we go from the season of epiphanies to the season of Lent, know that God’s presence is a gift to be enjoyed. Continue to spend time with God, so that you too may radiate—that you may glow—with God’s goodness and love. You know those people in your life who shine with joy and love, who exude goodness. Become like them through your time spent with God. Our world needs more of that glory. Finally, do not ever fear the beauty of that glory in you. Do not hide it. But let it shine, let yourself shine in all your dazzling glory.