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Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday

First Reading: Exodus 34:29-35

 29When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, 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 talked with them. 32Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 33And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 34Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, 35the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.


Psalm 50:1-6

1The Lord, the God of gods, has spoken; he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. 2Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory. 3Our God will come and will not keep silence; before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a raging storm. 4He calls the heavens and the earth from above to witness the judgment of his people. 5“Gather before me my loyal followers, those who have made a covenant with me and sealed it with sacrifice.” 6Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; for God himself is judge.


 Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:12-13, 4:1-6

 12Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end.

1Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.


Gospel: Mark 9:2-9

 2After six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. 9And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.


Without a Mask

Today, Transfiguration Sunday, is a festival that we celebrate each year.  It comes to us at the end of the Epiphany season, and it serves as the doorway to the season of Lent.  This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and we’ll spend the next six weeks focused on Jesus’ ministry and on His passion, crucifixion, and death during Holy Week.  Transfiguration Sunday gives us the opportunity to glimpse Jesus in all His divine splendor and to hear God the Father once again say, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to Him” (Mark 9:7b).

Transfiguration Sunday is the first book end, allowing us to contemplate the extent of just how much God loves us, and to what lengths God will go to reconcile to us to Himself.  Transfiguration Sunday is also a reminder that Jesus came to fulfill both the Law, thus the appearance of Moses, and everything foretold by the prophets, as seen in the appearance of Elijah.  Transfiguration Sunday allows us time to ponder how humankind failed repeatedly to keep the first covenant God made with us and then chose instead to make a new covenant in Jesus.  And this new covenant doesn’t depend on us, but is one that we simply receive in faith, recognizing all did in our behalf and believing and obeying all that Jesus commanded.  Transfiguration Sunday and our readings from the Old Testament and the Epistles also remind us that the sinfulness of humankind is the veil that blinds us and our ability to see God for who He truly is, the Lord of all.

In our epistle reading for today, Paul is writing to the people of Corinth, “Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside.  But their minds were hardened.  Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside.  Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  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; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.  Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.  We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2).

From 2009 to 2011 there was a television series called “Lie to Me,” which featured a scientist who could read micro-expressions.  Micro-expressions are the tiny movements of the face — the “leakage,” as he calls it, of our true emotions.  Most of the time, we present socially acceptable emotions, but our true feelings sneak out of us, despite ourselves.  These expressions come and go in a fraction of a second.  Lie to Me was only on for two seasons, but it was fascinating to watch the team of people on the show interpret faces and find the truth each week.

The TV show was based on the real-life scientist Dr. Paul Ekman, who pioneered the science of micro-expressions.  In the show, these experts in faces consult with the FBI, various police departments, and big companies, all using the science of reading faces.  These expressions come and go so quickly, in a fraction of a second, that most people can’t see them.  Every day, we see what people want to show us…what they want us to see.  But if you can read those tiny moments of truth on the human face, you would have a knowledge that most of us lack.

In this section of his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul talks about reading faces, as well.  Today is a Sunday when we talk about the revelation of the divine aspect of Jesus.  Paul recalls Moses going up the mountain to meet God.  After the meeting, Moses’ face shone with God’s glory.  It was so bright that the people couldn’t stand it, moreover they feared what they saw.  They feared the very presence of God in their midst.  So the people begged Moses to cover it up.  So, Moses had to wear a covering over his face — his encounter with God changed him in a visible way.  But Paul says, “there’s no need for that kind of veil.”  Jesus came to overcome the sin that we cannot and because of His obedience to God, we can see God’s glory directly, without a veil, without being shielded.

Because Jesus came to us in the flesh, the glory of God is visible in the world — ready for us to take it in.  We don’t have to wonder and guess about God anymore.  The bright light of God’s glory is right out there for us all to see, visible in the world, thanks to Jesus.  God’s glory is alive among us.  And because Jesus is present in His believers through the Holy Spirit, our connection to God can be visible on our faces, too.  Thanks to Jesus coming to us in the flesh, we can see the glory of God whenever we want to.  However, it still comes in micro-expressions.  God’s glory lives in the world — but we must watch for it.

For those who had children that participated in high school sports, most will agree that they encounter an interesting kind of parenting philosophy.  For many, teen sports are about teamwork and having fun, however, some families take it much more seriously.  Recalling a conversation I had with another parent some time ago, I remember her telling me about a track meet that her son competed in the week prior.  She said that she was standing with some parents, cheering for all the kids.  Another mother, at the end of the race, looked over and said, “Oh, my son is not going to be happy with his time.”  You could see by the expression on her son’s face that she was right.  Although he tried to hide it, he was disappointed with his performance.  The boys that competed were impressive runners and the parents pushed them to be their best.  However, as I learned, this wasn’t the main reason she shared her experience with me of the track meet.

The mom actually wanted to tell me about another race she saw that day.  She said that of all the athletes, she was most impressed with a girl named Callie.  As many of you know, High school cross country is about running 5 kilometers or three miles.  For most of the athletes it takes less than twenty minutes, but for others it can take thirty or more minutes for the less talented runners.  The mom admitted she was impressed with the fast ones, but she said she was even more impressed with one of the slower ones.  She smiled and said that what amazed her was that the slower ones weren’t there because they were good at it, but they competed for other reasons.  Some because the parents pushed them.

In the race this mom was referring to, she said the girl’s race started off just like any other.  However, as she watched the young women take off, she suddenly saw one young lady with braces on both her legs.  At the sound of the starter’s horn, the girl started walking, step by slow step.  The mom said she was curious about this girl and said that she looked for her at the next track meet.  Sure enough, the young lady was at the next race, too.  As the mom watched she said there was something very different about her spirit and her character, something that came through loud and clear.  It wasn’t a micro-expression, it was more on the macro end, it was something obvious.

Hers was the last race of the afternoon, so the mom said that once the crowd was gone, she asked Callie if she minded talking with her a bit.  Callie agreed.  The mom introduced herself and the girl said her name was Callie.  The mom said that Callie turned out to be the most grounded, thoughtful teenager she had met in a long time.  Callie talked about her work in the drama club, her parents, and the advice they give her, and her work as a peer counselor.  After the next race, Callie talked about school, her church, and her desire to live a life pleasing to God, as well as other things.  Track season came and went, and the mom said that she found herself hoping that the kids at Callie’s school would see past the veil of the outside, the leg braces, and physical difficulties, to see the truly interesting person Callie was on the inside.  The mom hoped that the other kids saw what she saw, the light of Jesus shining through young Callie.

The mom said her hopes became a reality when she returned the next year for her son’s track meets.  She said that when the cross-country season started the next year, at the first race of the season, Callie told the mom about her boyfriend.  The mom shared how Callie had a new person to encourage her, because her new boyfriend was doing just that, cheering her on.  The mom said that while she missed talking with Callie, she was pleased that someone else was able to see past the veil of the braces and see her for who she really was.  Someone had read her face properly and saw her value.

In the speedy world of cross country, Callie didn’t look like much.  Other kids were crossing the finish line while she still labored along the track.  But on the inside, there was so much more than a struggling athlete, there was a child of God, and it was His glory that shined through.  Once you looked past the veil of the exterior, you could easily see that she let light of Christ shine out.  The glory of God shone out from her, for the people who took time to look.  We’re all like that.

We may not look like much in a world obsessed with movie stars and full of admiration for athletes.  To my knowledge, none of us are tech billionaires, supermodels, or Wall Street wizards.  But what we have is the gifts and talents God has entrusted in us, that we can share with others.  We have all our hard-won wisdom under the surface.  We all have the presence of God and His glory in us.  You and I have been called to reflect the glory of Jesus, our savior and redeemer.  His presence lives in us, and shines out from us, when we let it.  The challenge for every child of God is to both shine with God’s glory, and to see God’s glory in each other.

God’s glory is alive in the world, not only when we look for it, but when we allow it to shine through us.  When we watch for the little moments, we find God’s glory all around us.  God is still at work, and if we watch carefully, we will find the presence of God all around us.  No veil.  Nothing hidden.  He’s right here with us in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Yes, there are times when we have to look a little harder, to the micro-moments, and micro-visions, to see God’s light.  But when we watch each other closely, we will see God’s glory blaze up and shine out.

We are more than we know, by the grace of God.  Thanks be to God for Jesus, who revealed the fullness of God to us, and for all the people and moments that lift the veil and show us the truth.  Jesus told us in Matthew chapter 5, “You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (vs. 14-16).


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