Sermon from St Edward’s, Burgess Hill, 27/02/22.
Readings: Exodus 34.29–35/ Psalm 99 / 2 Cor 3:12-18 / Luke 9:28-36
Have any of you been to Rome? I’ve been a few times – the first when I was studying history of art and we did a tour of some of the sculptures of Michelangelo – you may not know that he had a strong faith and a lot of his work was commissioned by patrons for churches.
One of these is his sculpture of Moses, commissioned by Pope Julius II to go on his tomb and it is now in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter in chains – the church houses relic of those chains). Although in fact Julius was buried in St Peter’s and the tomb was never finished.
But the really interesting thing about this sculpture is that in the ‘vulgate’ an early Latin translation of the bible, the line where we read light was shining from Moses face was mistranslated as ‘horns’ coming from his face! And so this amazing work of art, this sculpture of Moses, produced by one of the most famous sculptors ever, has strangely horns coming out of its head! Moses went up the mountain to spend quality time with God and comes back with horns on his head – just seems very wrong doesn’t it!!
Now I love Moses, I find his story really helpful. I love reading of his experiences and encounters with God, because despite getting to see the glories of who God is, he can be a bit of an idiot sometimes too. I mean take the burning bush thing (Exodus 3). So here’s Moses, a shepherd at this point, in the wilderness with his Father in law’s flock and then there’s a voice speaking to him out of a bush He clearly gets that this is the voice of God, and then God gives him this amazing mission, to free the Israelites from slavery and hey Moses, you are the one I’m going to use to put it into action… but what does Moses do? He uses every excuse he can think of as to why he can’t do it.
And as if a bush that talks isn’t enough, God shows him three pretty miraculous signs, yet still, Moses is like, oh please send someone else… Understandably God gets a bit annoyed and agrees to send Aaron with him.
And then we see Moses acting as a bit of a grumpy teenager don’t we? like the time he bashes the rock instead of speaking to it, or throwing down the stone tablets in anger as the Israelites are misbehaving, and has to trek back up the mountain to get some more as we read today.
But in between all this is this amazing encounter where Moses seems transformed from his previously anxious self, for once he wants more – when God says the Israelites are to head to the promised land, he tells them I won’t go with you because you are a ‘stiff necked people’ – and yet Moses now pleads and says don’t send us without you, we need you with us. And God relents and says ok, I will go with you, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name
And I feel again this is like a teenager, sensing the right moment to ask for extra pocket money..
then Moses asks for more – he boldy asks to see God’s glory. (Ex 23)
And at that time God says, well no actually, I think that will be too much for you, but I will pass by you and declare my name over you. And it is right after that that Moses heads up the mountain again to get the second lot of tablets. And this time he stays for 40 days and 40 nights, he doesn’t eat or drink anything. He is just there in the presence of God for 40 days.
Now you’d imagine after all that time not eating and drinking he would not look in the best of health but no – when he comes down his face is radiant, shining, so much so that the people are afraid.
Moses is transformed having been in God’s presence.
Transformed from a doubtful anxious, reluctant servant of God to one who is empowered, courageous, bold, seeking more of God, who delights in spending days and nights in God’s presence. That is the power of God at work – God has the power to transform each and every one of us. We too are transformed when we spend time with God.
I don’t know about you but have you ever felt bad about something, or got up in the morning in a bad mood, or feeling anxious or angry about something and then you spend a bit of time in prayer and it all seems so different, your response is different, mood lifted? That is the power of being in God’s presence, God revealing to us the divine within our ordinary.
Or have you ever been somewhere where you have sensed God’s presence powerfully? There is something about being with God that can transform us.
For Moses it seems he has seen the glory of God as our Corinthians passage tells us, and that has such a profound effect on him that his face is shining with the glory of God.
And yet Moses covered his face with a veil because the people were afraid. He hid away the glory he had received, from the people around him. And yet each time he went back to see God he would unveil his face again and his face would shine all the more.
Perhaps there is something in this story about where the people were at – God had called them stiff necked, they had lost faith the first time Moses went up the mountain and built a golden calf to worship instead of God. And we know that only a few of this number would actually enter the promised land in the end, the rest were wandering in the desert for years. Perhaps they were not ready to see the glory of God for themselves?
When we come to our gospel passage we see a similar story where Jesus goes up the mountain to pray but he takes with him Peter, John & James. And then he is transfigured before them, his face and his clothes shining brightly. But this time instead of being afraid they see God’s glory in Jesus and in Moses and Elijah who appear before them. They are a little confused about what to do that’s for sure but they don’t lack any enthusiasm!
These passages together show us that Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s law, written on those tablets. Jesus now gives us a way to see the glory of God, to be in God’s presence and not to be afraid but to embrace it.
We need to spend time with the Lord, – even Jesus, the son of God needed to spend time with his father. And as we do, we will grow in knowing the Lord for ourselves in our own lives, and it will leave us radiant to others. But how often do we veil ourselves, hide our faith away? Don’t talk about what God has done in our lives? Are we like Moses hiding the glory of God in our lives from those around us?
Surely this is a message to us all not to ‘veil our faces’. As Christians we are supposed to be different, we are supposed to stand out. To be people who as we pray in the baptism service –
are delivered from the dominion of darkness
given a place with the saints in light.
We have received the light of Christ;
And we should walk in this light all the days of your life.
As we then say:
Shine as a light in the world,
to the glory of God the Father.
Our 2 Corinthians passage reminded us:
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Are we then being transformed? And sharing that with others?
I think we’ve all been given a great picture of this recently – wearing masks – how hard is it to recognise someone in a mask? Or to tell when they are smiling or what emotion is showing on their face? Or to understand what they are saying? When we hide our faith away we are doing the same with the gospel message, people may not recognise Christ in us, or understand what we are saying? Perhaps we are even offering a mistranslation of our faith – just like Moses being pictured with horns – do people see the negatives in the church rather than the light shining out of it?
We start Lent this week – Lent is amongst other things an opportunity for us to seek to draw closer to God again. To seek the presence of God in our lives. To start afresh if we need. So this week let’s decide we are going to see God’s presence, seek God’s glory, anew in this season. The last 2 years have been tough on us all, I know some of us are feeling that God is a bit distant, a bit remote. If that’s you why not resolve today to get up that mountain and seek God’s presence every day. You know often we fast in Lent – we give things up to draw us closer to God but I think we’ve all given up so much over the last 2 years maybe we need to take something up instead! So why not take up seeking od anew, spending tine in prayer and in God’s word each day this Lent.
And let’s seek to be people who shine with the presence of God. Not veiled but allowing the glory of God to shine through us to all we meet. Let’s be excited about who God is in our lives and what is going to do in this next season of our lives.
May the glory of God be revealed in us and through us this Lent…