While COVID-19 makes our in-person services challenging, Knox is providing podcast services. Not everyone can access these, though, so we are also posting my sermons on our Knox Talks blog. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
Scripture: Exodus 34: 29-35
Today is Transfiguration Sunday and our reading is one that gives the example of Moses, his face transfigured by light from speaking with God, as a precursor to what would happen to Jesus.
This passage has led to some problems. The Hebrew word that describes Moses’ face as glowing is also the root word for horns and so in the Vulgate Latin translation of the bible, it says Moses was “horned” by speaking with God. This led to a lot of Medieval artwork to depict Moses with a pair of horns on his head: even Michelangelo included them on his famous statue of Moses – but it was a bad translation; Moses’ face was described as glowing.
This kind of thing gives us trouble if we take it literally. In the modern context, people who hear about “glowing faces” are likely to think about UFO contact or a nuclear accident, or even the healthy glow that comes from exercise, rather than about any kind of divine effect. All of this can lead a lot of people to dismiss this story as embarrassing.
This is too literal, and too bad because it works so very well as a metaphor.
If this time of pandemic has taught us anything it should be how much we have always relied on reading people’s faces when we communicate. Our masks have made it so hard to talk, because the cues we rely on are hidden.
Every face we see tells a story. Every face reflects inner realities, even faces that are locked down. “Poker faces” that seek to hide behind blank expressions are still telling a story and the face we present to the world has an effect on the people that see us. And all of this may happen without any of us being particularly conscious of it.
Considered that way, how could Moses come down from his mountaintop religious experience and NOT have his face tell the story?
The way the story continues, Moses wore a veil after he came down
so people wouldn’t see God’s glory fade between encounters with God. As you will see shortly, I don’t think Moses set a good example when he did that.
So what example should we be following? What are we called to in this lesson?
Glow-in-the-dark faces might be fun at Hallowe’en, but we aren’t called to embody some strange special effect. We ARE called to deal with God; to come close to the divine every day in our thoughts and prayers as we consider our decisions; as we weigh what is right and wrong; as we make choices about how to treat others.
And the more we let God guide us, the more divine influence gets into our choices, the more our faces will reflect that reality: the more people will be able to read in our faces the hope, the justice, the peace, the love, the determination to make this world a better place.
Our faces will be transfigured; they will glow, not literally, but metaphorically through body language, with a story that is there to see for those who can read it.
I would suggest that we need to present our glowing faces for the world to see right now, urgently.
We are all looking with horror at a kind of face that has always existed but that we’ve told ourselves had vanished since the second world war: the face of naked, empire-building greed and aggression as Russia has invaded the Ukraine.
It is tempting to panic, to fear for the future, to let that kind of bullying terrorize not just the Ukrainians but the rest of the world too.
That is why we need to present our transfigured faces for others to see as we go forward with the sense that people can be helped and rescued; that God is greater that Vladimir Putin and that God’s call for us to work together can salvage even this disastrous situation as we find ways to share love, healing and hope and as we work to overcome the injustice that is being played out so obviously before us.
The glowing face of Moses, bringing a message from God from the heights of Mt. Sinai made a profound difference on the people of Israel, a difference that still guides us today.
Let us show our own glowing faces to the world as God transforms us every day and inspires us to change not only our own lives but the world around us.
Until we do, we won’t know how profound a difference we can make.