“Shining Faces”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

March 3, 2019

Exodus 34:29-35; Luke 9:28-36


It was the first thing God created, way, way back at the beginning of creation.  The story says, in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, that the earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep, and wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  And then God spoke.  Let there be light!  And there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.

It was the first thing God created, way, way back at the beginning of creation, and I think it infused everything else God made.  Way, way back at the beginning, I think that God-light shone out of every pore and every orifice, every crack and every crevice.  I think everyone and everything was radiant.

The sky shone with sun and moon and stars.  The earth sparkled with snow and ice and sand and diamond.  The plants glowed like daffodils in springtime sun, like autumn leaves almost burning on the trees.  The creatures shone—the glint of eyes, the flash of wings, the glisten of fur, the shimmer of scales.

And the humans—they shone, too.  They were made in the very image of God, shaped and formed by the loving caress of their Maker, breathed into life by the Spirit herself.  God saw that they were good, so very good.  And they glowed with that indwelling God-light.

But with time, with hardship, with the accumulated dust of years and losses and griefs and hurts and disappointments and mistakes, the bloom came off the rose, as it were.  The shine was dulled, the gleam tarnished, the God-light obscured.  And yet it was still there, deep within.

And every so often, a person would come along who somehow was able to let that light shine.  Moses was such a one.  He saw God’s firelight in the burning bush.  He burned with its heat as he told Pharaoh to Let my people go.  He was guided in the wilderness by the pillar of cloud and fire.  And when he came down from the mountain where he talked with God, everyone else could see it, too.  His face shone.

It seems like that would have been good news for the people.  It seems like they would have seen Moses’ shining face and recognized it as a reflection of the same God-light that had illuminated their way as they journeyed through the wilderness by night.  It seems like they would have seen in Moses’ glowing countenance the same God-light that was the first thing created when God set about weaving the cosmos into being.  It seems like they would have been glad and grateful to bask in God’s glory close at hand.

But the people were not pleased about Moses’ shining face.  They did not find it reassuring.  They did not find it comforting.  On the contrary, they were afraid to come near Moses.  The glow was too much for them.  The radiance frightened them.  The shining freaked them out.  It was too bright for their eyes, for they had become accustomed to dimness, and that shining illumined things they would rather not see:  the way they had acclimated themselves to less than abundant life, the way they had compromised their hope, they way they had shrunk their dreams, the way they had lost track of their internal compass, of who they really were and to whom they really belonged.

So they asked Moses to cover his face, to wear a veil, to diminish himself in order to make them feel comfortable.  And he did, for a while, because he knew that he needed to meet the people where they were; that if he turned on the light in the middle of the night, they wouldn’t be able to see anything; that their eyes needed time to adjust to the light he bore.

But God never asked Moses—and God never asks us—to dim our God-light.  In fact, quite the opposite—God calls us to let it shine.  God keeps us glowing even when the world would have it otherwise.  God rekindles our light when it flickers and fades.  Behind that veil, the light was there, always.


And then it happened again.  This time, the radiant one was Jesus.

He took Peter and John and James and went up on a mountain to pray.  And while he was praying, something happened, and he glowed like lightning.  He appeared to be in conversation with Moses and Elijah, discussing his departure (which is the English translation of the Greek word exodus).  And his disciples were first sleepy, then discombobulated, then scared, then speechless.  They certainly didn’t know what to do, how to respond or understand the shining face of their leader, teacher, and friend.

This feels awfully familiar to me.  I aspire, we aspire, to be followers of Jesus.  But all too often, I seem, we seem, to behave as followers of Peter and John and James, and those long-ago Israelites.  We speak when we should keep silent, explaining away the radiance instead of basking in God’s glory.  We remain silent when we should surely speak, afraid of what might happen if we name the truth we have witnessed.  We see someone show up in a way we don’t expect someone like them to show up, and we ignore, or diminish, or dismiss them altogether, or we ask them (or require them) to dim their light to meet our lowered expectations.

And yet.  And yet.

And yet, in spite of our all-too-human dimness, God continues to shine through whenever people show up with authenticity, with vulnerability, with a willingness to sacrifice for the common good.  God continues to shine through in spite of the veils that may be imposed from outside or accepted from within.  God continues to kindle and rekindle God’s light within each one of us, within every one of God’s children, no matter what anyone else might say.

And the promise of these exodus stories—the story of Moses, the story of Jesus, the story of us—is this:  that that when we catch a glimpse of radiant glory, nothing less than freedom is on the way.  That when faces shine, nothing less than liberation is at hand.  That when can see the indwelling God-light in all the faces around us, when we all let that light shine in our own lives, we will find our way into the Promised Land, into the new realm God has in store:  a realm of justice and joy for all creation, a realm where every person can be their full and radiant self, a realm where the God-light is passed from one to another to another to another until it illumines every shadowed corner, until all is transfigured into glory, until God’s realm comes fully into being, on earth as it is in heaven.

May it be so.


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