First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
March 3, 2019
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
29Moses 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. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34but 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, 35the 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.
28Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now 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. 33Just 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. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When 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.
“Be like Jesus,” they say.
“Find out what Jesus would do….. and then go and do the same. It’ll be fun.”
Problem is, some of the really cool things that Jesus did were in front of a few thousand people, or people from all over the place, or complete strangers. Sure, he’d sometimes take a handful of the disciples to a garden to pray or up on a mountain for a very cool religious experience or out in the boat for a bit. But, unless you’re hanging around with a bunch of monks, that’s not usually what the mysterious “they” are talking about.
“They” are usually talking about feeding roughly the equivalent of the entire population of Lewistown….. minus the people who were smart enough to go to Arizona for the winter. And may never come back. Because Montana may never thaw out.
“They” are usually talking about putting yourself in a crowd where someone could sneak up in the mass of sweaty, pushing people and not be seen while they run their fingers along the hem of someone’s garment. “They” might be talking about stepping into the center of an angry mob with stones in their hands, eager to cast them at someone who was accused of something many of our public figures have also been accused of.
This is all great stuff…. for the extroverts of the world. But, I’ve discovered something about us Congregationalists in Montana. We’ve stuck so close to our puritan roots that I’d be willing to bet we have the highest percentage of introverts in worship on any given Sunday. Just watch what happens when we try to become Baptist and ask folks to get up out of their seats and pass the peace. Immediately, the little thought bubbles start to appear over your heads with things like, “if I keep my eyes down, no one will know I’m here.” Or, “Maybe I can look like I’m passing the peace and then quietly slip out the back door.” Or, “A cold! I’ll tell everyone I have a cold. ….. Then, they’ll not only not want to shake my hand, when they sit back down, it’ll be way on the other side of the sanctuary.”
And that’s okay, folks. Really. Jesus had his introverted side as well. And the transfiguration is one of them. He’s just finished preaching to thousands, grabs a few of his best buddies and heads out for some mountain time. Quiet time. Time to be renewed and restored and maybe talk about something besides the weather or the latest episode of Game of Thrones.
And it happens, they get that magic time when it’s just them…. Peter, James, John and Jesus. And even when Moses and Elijah show up, that’s okay. They’re introverts too. Remember? Elijah was the guy that when the going got tough, he didn’t hang out at the bar. He hid in a cave! And Moses, well you just couldn’t keep him with the folks. He kept heading for the hills any chance he got and every time he came down he had more to say. He ended getting so renewed every time he went away onto the mountain, his face lit up.
It’s like, he was getting a little bit too much recharged. His light was shining so bright it was blinding people and they were afraid to go near him. So he put a veil on his face to cover up the brilliance.
I used to read this story about Moses and the veil thing and think that he put a veil on to cover his face so he wouldn’t be so frightening. But when you slow down and read it, that’s not it at all. All the time he’s talking to people, his head is uncovered. He’s unveiled. Why cover up the impact God has on you so that people won’t see it?
Moses’ face was uncovered while he was talking to the people. Moses’ face was uncovered while he was talking to God and getting all recharged. He was unveiled whenever he shared the experiences he had with the folk. Then, he’d climb back into his veil. But not until after he had expressed his encounter with the divine to others.
We don’t all have those mountain top experiences like Moses and the disciples did. If there’s somebody out there who has and you’re keeping quiet about it, we need to chat. Usually when God encounters people in ways that change their appearance so others can see, it’s an indication of some pretty big stuff. No, most of the time that us everyday Joe’s and Jane’s have those amazing encounters with God it’s a bit more personal and inner changing and perhaps even fleeting. That moment when you feel something slide past you and touch your soul at the just the right time to say “it’ll be okay.” Or to open your eyes to the kindness of strangers. Or when you hear something that you’ve heard before in a new way and you realize, “oh, now that makes sense.” Or when you give in to that mysterious nudging that seems to be trying to point you in a different direction in life or even for the day or the moment.
The thing is, we tend to have those experiences and then cover them up. We build a booth to put them in like the disciples wanted to. We keep them to our well-tuned, introverted, puritan selves. But look at the story again, especially that story about Moses in Exodus.
“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.” (Exodus 34:34-35)
We are called and have, apparently answered that call in some fashion, to live our faith unveiled. Not keeping it to ourselves. Not being silent about it. Not keeping whatever glory it is that God is trying to reflect through us separated from the world.
Okay, I can see the little thought bubbles perking up again. “OMG! She wants us to go knocking on doors and be all Pentecostal in talkin’ about Jesus and the love of God.”
Well, not quite. Not that that’s all bad but, again…. Introverts, puritans, Montana, humble, private… whatever adjective you want to wear on your sleeve or, because we tend to be all of those things, on our underwear where it’s seen by very few people. No, I’m not asking or expecting any of you to go all proselytizing on me. Just to not be afraid to let God’s glory shine through you or reflect off you as you go about your normal, amazing, gracious, loving lives. Because it’s there.
But the thing is, and here’s the challenge. Part of this faith calling is that it’s okay, even encouraged to let slip, every once in a while, that your amazing, gracious, humble, loving expressions might, just might have something to do with how you are living your faith. It’s okay to whisper, that you recognize that that loving, gracious, even humble, life of yours reflects something that you know or believe about God.
Moses, as humble and introverted as he was let his face be unveiled so that people could see the goodness of God shining through him.
Jesus, didn’t hesitate to step out in front of the guys in his brilliant white attire and amaze the bejeebers out of them. Okay, I get it. You’re not Jesus…. And neither am I. But, we are friends of his, followers of his, people who have recognized something about the way God lives and moves in the world through him and his teachings and the teachings of those that have followed him through the ages. And when Jesus walked down off that mountain, he went right back to revealing the goodness of God, unveiled. He healed, he taught, he forgave, he fed people, he challenged people, he loved and loved and loved.
Thank God, he loved. Unveiled.