Sermon Archives

Let Your Light Shine ~ Exodus 34: 29-35; Psalm 99; Luke 9:28-36; 2 Corinthians 3: 12-4: 2

One of my favorite musicians is Sufjan Stevens. Just this morning, I was listening to Spotify and eating my bagel and his song, “The Only Thing” came up on shuffle. It’s a really beautiful song. But what kept sticking out to me, as I was preparing to preach, was the line, “Everything I see returns to you somehow.”

Now, Stevens’ lyrics are usually a little cryptic, so it’s hard to tell exactly what he’s talking about and my lyric comprehension isn’t strong. But what I kept hearing was the way that when we gather as church and read scripture together, everything keeps pointing back to God. Everything I see returns to you somehow. It’s one of those things that keeps an introvert like myself showing up to lead worship week after week. I truly believe that we’re just trying to reflect something of God, that when I preach it’s best if the words aren’t my own.

This week, that’s going to be more obviously true. As a preacher, you’re called upon to preach the Word, but sometimes the Word preaches itself. Today is one of those days.

The first thing you need to know is that when preaching, I don’t pick the scripture. John Lois, and I, for the most part, follow the Revised Common Lectionary. I would recommend the Wikipedia article on the Revised Common Lectionary for all the details, but what’s important for today is for you to know that I don’t typically choose from the entire bible which scripture I preach on in any given week. Instead, the lectionary has four readings for each week, an Old Testament reading, Psalm, Gospel reading from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, and then a New Testament reading. When I preach then I look up these readings and pray and discern which one or two seems to be the best fit for the congregation at this time. Then, it is the preacher’s job to help interpret the text and help look for God’s movement.

When I was assigned to preach this week, the first thing I did was look up the four readings you have in your bulletin today. They were four good readings, all in some way about the Transfiguration of Jesus. And they each were like mini-sermons, reflecting on the previous text, making connections, telling stories–everything a good preacher is supposed to do.

What happened then is that I had these four texts in front of me and I couldn’t choose between them.

So, I didn’t.

Today we’re going to hear all four read and you’ll hear from me just a little bit in between each reading. Scripture is something that shines light into each of our lives. It’s part of what returns us to God. With so much scripture I imagine there will be something that will speak to you. I invite you as we listen today to underline words or phrases that are meaningful to you, to write down your questions in the margins of your bulletin. Most of all, I invite you to listen with an open heart and mind. If you’re not familiar with reading a lot of scripture it can feel awkward, like reading Shakespeare for the first time. But my seminary degree doesn’t make my interpretation any more valid than yours and your own insights are likely going to allow God to speak to you in a way I will never be able to.

The glory of God is going to come to us through these texts if we can just get out of the way.

Let’s begin when this story begins, in the book of Exodus…

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.

***

This is where it all begins, with the mysterious story of Moses’ face shining and the veil he used to cover it. What made Moses’ face shine? Well, this verse says it’s because he had been talking with God.

Moses has become a visible sign of God’s presence. And for the Israelites, they have to look away. Even the leaders were afraid of Moses. Something that bright, that holy was too much for them.

And this has always made me wonder–if this is just Moses’s reflection, what did God look like?

I had this song stuck in my head this week, with all of these thoughts of shining. If you know it, feel free to join in:

This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Psalm 99
99:1 The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he! Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he! Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the LORD, and he answered them. He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them. O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings. Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.

***

What do we do when we encounter God? Psalm 99 tells us that the peoples tremble and that the earth quakes, for the LORD our God is holy. This psalm reminds us that the God who caused Moses’ face to shine is a holy God, worthy of reverence. God is holy, because God is totally other and radically different from what we can imagine ourselves.

We continue coming back to the mountain, worshiping this mighty and awesome God.

And yet, God chooses to be revealed through us.

Sing with me.

This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Luke 9:28-36
Now about eight days after these sayings 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.

***

This is the story that we call the transfiguration of Jesus, and what a weird story it is. Again, it takes place up on the mountain, but this time Jesus goes to pray to speak with God.

Jesus, that paradox of being fully human and fully divine, was first shown to us through the incarnation and the celebration of Christmas, the divine sharing in the human condition. Now, in the transfiguration a human Jesus is transfigured to be like the divine.

What was it like to see the glory of Jesus? Can we fault Peter for wanting to stay there?

This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

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.

***

The writer of 2 Corinthians hopes that we might be courageous enough to live with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord.

I hope that we can be that light-filled and that radiant.

These four texts overlap like colors in a kaleidoscope. When we look through them all we practice reading broadly and generously, without favoritism. And the result is quite beautiful. Thomas Merton wrote, “By reading the scriptures, I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God, and I feel fire and music under my feet.”

This is the way I hope we can look at our lives and the life of the church. This is one of those weeks that there seems to be so much happening. Our Black History Month celebrations are beginning just as the Lenten season is almost upon us, along with prayer classes, rallies, super bowl parties, and the list goes on. I can give you brochures, online signups, and lists of ways to get involved until your head spins. The practicalities don’t always seem so holy.

But when I look for God, when I’m paying attention to where the Spirit might be moving, I am almost blinded by the light that is coming through. The whole world is charged with the glory of God, and I feel fire and music under my feet.

Through all that we do, might the glory of God shine through us.

Hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to God’s people.

Amen.

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