A Sermon for the Last Sunday in Epiphany: Exodus 34:29-35, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a], Psalm 99
For my last quarter as a senior in college, I went with a group to England. While there, I took a side trip to Stonehenge. At the time, the public could still walk among the stones. You could feel them, not just their tactile sense, but their mystical sense. Stonehenge feels different. Even though I cannot describe it, I will remember it forever. Fast forward to sometime in the future, when Angie and I take a longed for trip to Scotland, and Italy, the lands of our respective heritages. While there we want to see the art. I’d like to see Michelangelo’s Moses with its horns. Look at the next to last page of your orders, and you will find a picture. It’s not bad, you get a sense of the statue’s grandeur; maybe even its size. But I want to be there. I wonder if being in its presence evokes a similar sense of mystery as Stonehenge did. I wonder what those horns evoke.
And no, Michelangelo did not make a mistake. The Hebrew verb ‘shone’ is derived from the noun ‘horn.’ Ancient eastern icons often show gods with horns. Pharaohs of some Egyptian dynasties are regularly shown wearing a ram’s horn on their face. At the same time, the translators are right, ancient eastern gods were believed to have glowing faces (Gavenat and Petersen). Maybe it is just possible to carve a horn and not so much to carve radiance. However, what has my attention this morning is not so much why Moses’ face glows, or Jesus’ for that matter, but the response of those around them.
Moses comes down the mountain for the second time, yep, this is after the whole golden calf debacle, and his face is glowing. The people are afraid, and they work out a deal; when Moses isn’t doing his prophet thing, he will cover his face. It is a little strange because it is possible that Moses’ radiant face just may be the reflection of grace extended by God for Israel’s idolatrous ramp with a calf (Hoezee, Exodus). Then again grace can be scary because it is also a reminder of your sinful and evil behaviors (Hoezee, Luke). Some think that by having Moses veil his face the Israelites are trying to prevent another profane act. I wonder if they are trying to keep it from being too close. We all know that Emmanuel, God is with us, is fine, but just not too close.
We also know Jesus’ transfiguration is connected to Moses shining face. Jesus, Peter, James and John go up the mountain. Jesus is praying, his face changes, his clothes glow and suddenly he is talking with Moses and Elijah about his departure. We all know ever impetuous Peter wants to build a three booths, for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. It sounds like a fine idea; it is a great way to honor all three. However, eight days ago, Peter acknowledged Jesus is God’s Messiah. Eight days ago, Jesus shared with his disciples about his future: suffering, betrayal, and death. And as Scott Hoezee points out, since then nothing! Not one word (Hoezee, Luke). I kind of get the feeling this whole messiah thing is not what Peter or any of the disciples was thinking. Jesus speaking about his future carries a pall of sin and evil; it is dark. I think that the whole booths thing, while impetuous, is a pretty clever way of getting Emmanuel back in the box. We all know that Emmanuel, God is with us, is fine, but suffering, betrayal, and death is not exactly what anyone expects, or what they want.
A common theme to these stories is Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” In Exodus, the people want to cover it up. In Luke, the disciples want to box it in. I got to wondering. When we come across Emmanuel, are we as welcoming, as we are to everyone else? Or are we more like our biblical forbearers and try to find a way to be welcoming, at a safe distance?
But here is the thing about Emmanuel and grace, they are not safe. They always remind us of our complicity in sin and evil. Because, only then, can they always remind us that we, and everyone else, are forgiven and that all creation is being healed.
It has been my experience that Emmanuel grace is generally not so much in your face (Hoezee, Luke). You know you’ve encountered Emmanuel grace by NSP, non-sensory perception; you feel it, you see it, not in a tactile or sensory way; you just know it’s presence. And, in faith, as we risk a closer encounter, we begin to glean how as each of us is made in the image of God, each of us reflects Emmanuel grace to the other, and in doing so, each strengthens the other. And the more we share, the more we trust that we can venture into the shadows of the world; because we all know, each of us have our own shadows, that are forgiven in the light of Christ (Carvalhaes).
Emmanuel grace, the grace of God, who is with us, is very much the Kingdom of God. Right here, right now, is where ever, whenever any of us happen to be. From highest mountain top to broadest plain, Emmanuel grace is ours to share anywhere anytime; from highest mountain top to broadest plain Emmanuel grace is ours to receive anywhere anytime. May we all be strengthened from glory to glory.
Carvalhaes, Cláudio. Commentary on Luke 9:28-36, (37-43). 7 2 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 7 2 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. Exodus 34:29-35. 7 2 2016.
—. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 9:28-36. 7 2 2016.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Yarchin, William. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Exodus 34:2935.” 7 2 2016. Working Preacher.