Last Sunday After Epiphany
Year C, RCL
March 3, 2019
North Fork Ministries
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.
Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]
About eight days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God, 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.]
Today is the day in which we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord. Luke tells us that while Jesus was praying on the mountaintop, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
The story related in the Book of Exodus is similar. Moses comes down from Sinai, carrying the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, and the skin of his face shown, because he had been talking with God. And because his face was shining the Israelites were afraid to come near him.
These two stories have much more in common than glowing faces. They each describe the remarkable change that happens when human beings enter into the presence of the Divine – when the true nature of God and reality is revealed.
I think of both the gospel reading and the reading from the Hebrew bible as stories of enlightenment. Listen to two other tales that give us another glimpse of the nature of enlightenment.
The novelist Paulo Coelho, tells this story,
Legend has it that right after his Enlightenment; Buddha decided to go for a walk in the country. On the way he came upon a farmer, who was impressed at the light shining from the master.
“My friend, who are you?” asked the farmer. “Because I have the feeling that I am standing before an angel, or a God.”
“I am nothing of the sort,” answered Buddha.
“Maybe you’re a powerful sorcerer?”
“Not that either.”
“So, what makes you so different from the others that even a simple peasant like me notices it?”
“I am just someone who has awoken to life. That’s all. But I tell everyone that, and nobody believes me.”
And listen to this classic legend retold in one of my most cherished books, J.D. Salinger’s, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters
Duke Mu of Chin said to Po Lo: "You are now advanced in years. Is there any member of your family whom I could employ to look for horses in your stead?" Po Lo replied: "A good horse can be picked out by its general build and appearance. But the superlative horse — one that raises no dust and leaves no tracks — is something evanescent and fleeting, elusive as thin air. The talents of my sons lie on a lower plane altogether; they can tell a good horse when they see one, but they cannot tell a superlative horse. I have a friend, however, one Chiu-fang Kao, a hawker of fuel and vegetables, who in things appertaining to horses is nowise my inferior. Pray see him." Duke Mu did so, and subsequently dispatched him on the quest for a steed. Three months later, he returned with the news that he had found one. "It is now in Shach'iu" he added. "What kind of a horse is it?" asked the Duke. "Oh, it is a dun-colored mare," was the reply. However, someone being sent to fetch it, the animal turned out to be a coal-black stallion! Much displeased, the Duke sent for Po Lo. "That friend of yours," he said, "whom I commissioned to look for a horse, has made a fine mess of it. Why, he cannot even distinguish a beast's color or sex! What on earth can he know about horses?" Po Lo heaved a sigh of satisfaction. "Has he really got as far as that?" he cried. "Ah, then he is worth ten thousand of me put together. There is no comparison between us. What Kao keeps in view is the spiritual mechanism. In making sure of the essential, he forgets the homely details; intent on the inward qualities, he loses sight of the external. He sees what he wants to see, and not what he does not want to see. He looks at the things he ought to look at, and neglects those that need not be looked at. So clever a judge of horses is Kao, that he has it in him to judge something better than horses." When the horse arrived, it turned out indeed to be a superlative animal.
We are all beings of light - of light originating from a single source. God’s light is pure, radiant, undivided. But we see the light in much the way that sunlight, passing through a prism is divided into all the colors of the rainbow. We see the colors, we see the differences. And each of the colors can be quite beautiful – distinct, unique, and special. But it is a mistake to think that one color is better than another – that blue or red or yellow is superior to green or purple or orange. All the colors of the spectrum flow from the one true light.
In our country we often allow religious and cultural myopia, to blind us from the recognition that we all worship one God. The color of light that guides our path is a beautiful one. But we can’t allow a color preference to blind us to the reality of the true light.
Jesus and Moses, in their respective mountaintop experiences were enlightened to the true nature of the Divine. Moses beheld the glory of God – a glory that transcends creeds and beliefs and doctrine. And Jesus’ countenance was transformed when he became one with the Father – just as we are all one.
Today is transfiguration Sunday. May we too behold the true light and be transfigured by the presence of God. As children of God we are all meant for shining!
The theologian Karl Barth said that God is “the one who makes us radiant. We ourselves cannot put on bright faces. But neither can we prevent them from shining. Looking up to him, our faces shine.”
When we can catch a glimpse of the true light, our differences begin to fall away. When we are willing, through practice, to hold our focus on the true light, we too will be transfigured.
Now I would really like to end the sermon here, but that really wouldn’t be true to the text. Because both Moses and Jesus had to eventually come down from the mountaintop. It was glorious atop the mountain and their faces shone brightly. But when Jesus returned to the valley below, he found that there was evil to be confronted, healing to be done, and the work of the kingdom to carry forth.
The challenge for us, I think, is to find that same sense of glory that the disciples witnessed on the mountaintop, that same radiance they saw on Jesus’ face, as we carry on with the work we are called to do. Mountaintop experiences are glorious, and we should relish them when they occur. But we too have evil to confront, healing to offer others, and the sharing of the message that God’s love knows no division. May our faces reflect the glory of God as we live into our mission.