I’m calling this sermon “The Shining,” though it has nothing to do with the movie of that name, or with Jack Nicholson, whom Mary quoted last week to good effect. The only Jack Nicholson quote I know isn’t appropriate for church, or maybe anywhere else.
There’s a lot of shining going on in the Scripture lessons for this morning. And that is so spot on for this last Sunday of Epiphany, the season of the manifestation of God’s glory in the person and work of Jesus.
The shining begins with Moses who had gone up the mountain to be in the very presence of God, to receive the stone tablets of the Law. As he came back down, the Israelites noticed that his face was shining. He had absorbed some of the glory of God, and it was reflected in his face. He didn’t know he was shining, but other people saw it. And it says they were afraid to come near him, like he was radioactive or something. They were awe-struck. So, Moses put a veil over his face, but whenever he went into the tabernacle, that portable sanctuary for Israel in the wilderness, to meet with God, he took the veil off, and he’d come back out still shining. So, he’d mask up again when he came out in public. Mask off, mask on. Sounds pretty familiar. Paul, in our lesson today from First Corinthians, thinks that Moses’ veiling was about hiding from the people of Israel the fading glory of the old covenant, but the passage from Exodus doesn’t explain it. It just states that being in the presence of God caused Moses to shine, to radiate the brightness and glory of God.
In the New Testament Gospel lesson, a similar thing happens to Jesus. He takes three disciples with him up another mountain, traditionally Mount Tabor in central Galilee, on which today sits the Church of the Transfiguration. And while on the mountain, Jesus begins to shine. Luke says, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Matthew’s Gospel reports: “and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” The disciples saw Jesus’ glory, and that other shiner, Moses, was there, and Elijah, who had been taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire, the Old Testament tells us. This was a kind of pre-resurrection manifestation of Jesus’ divine nature, a revelation of his oneness with God. When God appears, there is glory, shining, radiant glory, awesome light. After all, Jesus is the Light of the world. When we get the end of Lent, which begins this Wednesday, amid the darkness of Holy Saturday Easter Vigil, just before the breaking dawn of Easter morning, the Rev. Mary Green will proclaim three times in song, “The Light of Christ!” And three times we will all respond, “Thanks be to God!”
Well, there on that mountain, the disciples were overcome with awe. They wanted to preserve this marvelous epiphany, to keep this glorious moment. They saw Moses and Elijah about to leave Jesus, and Peter called out, “Wait! Don’t leave! Jesus, let’s make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!” We want this moment to last. We need to see your glory and to hang on to it . . . longer.” Forgive him, Luke says, he did not know what he was saying. But Peter’s instinct was genuine and natural, altogether human and understandable. We want and need to see the glory of God. We need Jesus to shine, to shine in our dark and broken world, to shine also on us, right where we are, here, now, today.
At the end of this service, we are going to ask Jesus to do just that in our closing hymn, “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” We will sing, “Lord, the light of your love is shining. In the midst of the darkness, shining. Jesus, Light of the world, shine upon us. Set us free by the truth you now bring us. Shine on me, shine on me. Shine, Jesus, shine. Fill this land with the Father's glory.” And so on, an earnest prayer, not unlike Peter’s plea on the mountain.
But like Moses’ face in Exodus, the glory faded, and even while Peter was speaking, “a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud,” it says. We wanted light and the shining glory of Jesus, but we got a cloud, a dark, ominous, terrifying cloud. But then, from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" Whether it is light or dark, whether you are awestruck by glory or trembling in the shadows, listen to my Son. Listen to Jesus. And when the cloud dissipated, as Matthew puts it, “they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.” Not Moses and the Law, not Elijah and the prophets, but the one who fulfills them, Jesus alone. Listen to him.
Finally, in the epistle lesson, there is more shining. And it is unexpected, and a bit scary. At least it is for me. Paul says, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; and this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
No veil on our faces. We look at the glory of the Lord. Just like Moses on Mount Sinai, just like the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, we behold the glory of the Lord, though not directly, Paul says, but as though reflected in a mirror, perhaps the mirror or Scripture or the mirror of prayer. Elsewhere Paul says, “for now we see in a mirror dimly,” but one day face to face. Dimly or not, we behold the glory of the Lord, and a surprising thing begins to happen! We start shining. We start being transformed, little by little, transfigured, you and me transfigured, “from one degree of glory to another.” We begin to become like the Christ whom we are beholding. We start to shine with his life-changing glory. We are not doing this; it is the Holy Spirit. Jesus, who was and is the Light of the World, now says to his people, “You are the light of the world.” Let your light so shine before others that they may see and give glory to God.
By being in his presence each day, letting it soak into us, warm us, heal us, we, unknown to ourselves, begin to shine. We will have words of comfort, encouragement, and healing to offer to those around us. We become kinder, more loving, more peaceful, more patient, more like Jesus. Being with Jesus rubs off on us, and so we receive what we need, and through us light and hope can shine into other hearts and lives.
Lent is a very good time to shine. Here’s one illustration of that I read about in a newsletter I get. Randy “Schrock is a school-based counselor. He makes it a priority to bless the kids he works with—to intentionally “project good” toward them, (we might say light toward them) especially to the ones who have a rough home life.
He convicts us to slow down, to keep our eyes open for the outsider—the “alien,” to use biblical language. This person may be an actual refugee, or simply someone who, for one reason or another, finds themselves homeless of heart.
Ministry begins with learning to see the outsider or the lonely, and then slowing down long enough to truly listen to them—and, like Randy with the kids at school, faithfully see and listen day after day. When we do, our words of blessing, the shining of our Christ light, carries the authority of Christ's love.
This morning I thought of another example. Our houseplants. They all lean toward the light; they all reach out toward the light. Maybe this Lent, be a houseplant. Soak in the light, Reach for the Light.
So, spend time this Lent in the presence of God. You don’t even have to do anything, just be there and absorb, absorb the Light. On these colder early mornings, I’ve moved my meditation spot to in front of our fireplace. In half an hour, my chair and I have soaked up the warmth of the fire. Reading the Bible, using the Book of Common Prayer, waiting in silence in God’s loving presence - all these ways and others can cause you, even unknown to yourself, to shine with God’s love.
So, scary as that may be, especially for us introverts, we still pray, “Shine, Jesus, Shine.”
In the glorious name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.