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Sermon for the Last Sunday after Epiphany

Exodus 34:29-35 The Gift of Glory

Whether you realize it or not, it is very likely, no, almost certain that God has touched your life and you may not be aware of it. If you are aware, has such an event changed you and led you to be more active in your caring for others?

There are moments in the life of every human being that American psychiatrist and theologian Gerald May calls unitive moments. Ignatius of Loyola called them consolations without cause. Someone else described them as peak experiences. I am sure there are many other terms that could be used to describe these powerful events that we humans have a hard time describing and likely are experiences we have of God breaking into our lives in a moment of supernatural grace. Perhaps such experiences are a means by which God draws us to the truth. I deeply believe God wants us to experience God’s existence and reality.

In Romans, Paul writes, “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:20 NRS)

I call such experiences mini-Moses moments. I say this because I am certain the ones I have had have been gifts of God’s presence to me when I needed assurance and guidance. Moses had the burning bush and the mountaintop experience with God. Mine have been moments of insight and change that have deepened my walk with the Lord.

Encounters with God can change us for the better. Such divine encounters should produce a change that is not just a selfish experience but an experience that should help equip us to help others. Moses did not have his encounter with God out of some selfish motive, but as one who was called upon to aid God’s people. Moses had no idea that his face glowed when he returned to the others, but it confirmed to the people that what Moses was going to tell them came from God and that they needed to pay attention. Moses spiritual experience was for the good of others.

There is another instance of Moses glowing on a mountain top. This time it is long after Moses had died. Jesus, along with three disciples, encounter Moses and Elijah in what is called the Mount of Transfiguration. Matthew, Mark, and Luke give testimony of this event. Luke tells us, “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.” (Lk. 9:28-31 NRS) This experience was not for the good of Jesus, though it did help him prepare for what was to come, but for the good of the disciples, for the good of us that we might have a glimpse of the glory of God.

In our passage, God speaks to Moses as to what God is going to do for the Hebrew people. God has given Moses instructions to share with the others on the best way to live their lives and practice their faith, not for the purpose of dictatorial control but out of deep compassionate care. In Luke, Moses talks with Jesus about what God is going to do for all of humanity through Jesus’s giving his life out of God’s love. Both events give us a glimpse of what it means to be in the presence of God’s glory. Both indicate God can break into human history in surprising and amazing ways.

I imagine most of us, if not all of us, will not have such dramatic mountaintop experiences. But we will encounter God. I doubt if the encounters we will have will make our faces glow, but they can make our hearts glow. What can we learn from these events? What possible meaning can they have for us as we go about our everyday lives?

First, I believe these events remind us never to take God for granted. In the story from Exodus, fear grips the people as they are surprised by what happens to Moses. In the New Testament mountaintop event with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, Matthew tells us, “When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.” (Matt. 17:6 NRS)

Fear is a natural human reaction when we are surprised by something dramatic over which we have no control. However, we need to remember that time after time in the Scripture when people have a divine encounter, God sends the message, “Do not be afraid.” God is not about fear but about love. Yet be sure of the truth is that it is a fool who does not respect the power of God and God’s sovereignty. The Psalmist says it well, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.” (Ps. 111:10 NRS) God does expect us to respond to his decrees and commandments. Even the purest of love expects accountability. Love cannot thrive when it is taken for granted. A relationship cannot grow when it is taken for granted. To do so is to make a grave mistake.

Second, this event reminds us that God communicates and authenticates the directions God gives. Moses’s glowing face gave evidence that Moses had been with God. The people had been enslaved in a foreign land. They had been surrounded by the false gods of their oppressors. They had been influenced by the morality and ethics of that culture. They need to be liberated from this negative mental and spiritual slavery as much as they needed to be liberated physically. God, through Moses, was giving them parameters. God was giving them guidance. God was giving them much-needed directions on how to live and love. In this passage, we find that it is the message from God more than the sign that is important. Moses covers his face with a veil because he did not want to distract from what God was saying.

These accounts recorded in the Bible, these accounts that reveal the glory and power of God, give us parameters, guidance, and directions as well. They allow us to learn. They give us a means of comparison.

In many ways, the church today is like the Hebrew people of Moses’s day. We too need to be liberated mentally and spiritually. We too need to be made aware that God wants to encounter us. This is why we all have these mini-Moses moments.

But why is it so subtle today? Why do our faces not glow when God touches us? Think about it for a minute. What would happen if our faces did light up? What would happen? Well, for one thing, fear. Not a fear of God, but a fear of us. The sensation of the glow would overpower the purpose of the encounter. It would make the focus more on us than on God. The experience would be desired more than the purpose for which it is given. Too many people pursue spiritual experience more for themselves than for the good of others. I believe this is why Jesus said to those who were seeking a sign from him as recorded in Matthew and Luke, “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” (Matt. 16:4 CSB)

We have a sign. We have a means of understanding those unitive moments, those times of consolation without cause. We have the Scripture that can guide us to understanding and to the understanding that, “For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6 CSB)

Look inside yourself the next time God touches you and see if the light shines in your heart. If it does, God is calling you to be the instrument through which God brings freedom. Amen.

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