Moses comes down from the mountain, Mount Sinai, where he’s been meeting with God, where God has been revealed to Moses, where God has spoken to and with Moses. Moses comes down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant, containing the Ten Commandments. This is the second time this has happened. The first time Moses came down he found the people worshipping the golden calf and he smashed the tablets. So this is a do over, for the people, for Moses and for God. This time the people have behaved themselves in Moses’ absence, and Moses is able to meet with them and to share with them the commandments of God – Aaron and the other leaders first, and then the whole community of God’s people.
Only, Moses has been changed by his encounter with God. His face is shining with the radiance of God’s glory, and the people, understandably, I think, are a little freaked out by the whole thing. So they ask Moses to cover his face with a veil.
It’s interesting, isn’t it? People never really seem to want to be as close to God as God seems to want to be to them. It’s actually pretty sad when you consider it from God’s perspective. God has created us in God’s image and likeness and all God has ever wanted is a people with whom to be in relationship. Over and over again in the Scriptures, from the beginning all the way to the end, we find this phrase repeated: I will be your God, and you will be my people.
And yet there’s a human counter strain that runs contrary to this constant theme of love and invitation, as well.
- Adam and Eve fall from grace and hide and cover themselves, but, still, God comes and covers them and makes the first promise of the coming Redeemer
- When God leads the people out of Egypt and they’re camped out at the foot of Mount Sinai, there develops this whole idea of God’s holiness being so powerful that if even a cow touches the foot of the mountain it’ll drop dead, but, still, God meets with Moses and also with the elders and even feasts with them on the mountaintop.
- The people continually chase after the gods of the pagan nations and reject the true and living God, but, still, God calls them back and raises up among them faithful leaders, prophets and kings who call them back to faithfulness.
- The people reject God as their king, and God gives them kings like the other nations when they ask for it, and those kings abuse and take advantage of the people, and the people end up conquered and exiled, but, still, God brings them home and re-establishes them in the land of promise.
- And in the end, no matter how often and how continually we humans turn against the will and the ways of God, in the end, God sends the Son to save and redeem us all. In the end, God not only makes us God’s people, but God becomes one with us in the incarnation of Jesus.
Moses has this close encounter with God and he’s changed by it – his face shines with the reflected glory of God – and the people turn away and tell him to cover it up, and we really shouldn’t be surprised by it, because that’s the human counter strain to the Lord God’s eternal song of invitation: I will be your God and you will be my people…
When we met for our congregational meeting last Sunday one of the things we did was to take a little time and to hear a sampling of highlights from a few of our ministries chosen at random. We heard about the lives that are changed by our partnership with Family Promise, and about those we feed through the Pantry. We heard about the work of Mary/Martha and Lutheran Men in Mission and others, and we celebrated together the ways that God is revealed in and through these ministries. What was really kind of cool for me as your pastor – as the one who’s charged with equipping the saints for the work of service – was to watch as a few others asked for the mic and began to share about the ministries in which they’re involved, as if they didn’t want to be left out. It was like, having seen the glory of God reflected in the faces of those who had been asked to share a ministry highlight from the past year, these saints wanted to let their light shine, too. And it was really good to watch from my perspective up in the front as we celebrated these shining examples of mission and ministry.
Nobody wanted anybody to cover up or to put a veil over this reflected glory of God. Nobody felt the need to shy away or to hide from the holiness being revealed. Instead, we celebrated together and, even those who hadn’t been asked to prepare to share brief highlights, stepped up and did so and encouraged others to get involved so that our various ministries and outreaches might grow and expand, so that the light might increase more and more…
Today, of course, is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. Today we read the story of Jesus going up on the mountaintop and meeting there with Moses and Elijah and becoming really shiny and being overshadowed by a cloud of God’s holy presence and God’s voice booming audibly from that cloud for all there to hear, saying: This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him! And, of course, we know that Peter wants to hang out a while, to build some tents up there to kind of lock down that special moment in time. But Moses and Elijah have come to speak with Jesus about his “departure”, Luke writes, using the Greek word for “exodus.” They’ve come to talk with Jesus about his impending death.
Jesus can’t stay up there on the mountaintop, no matter how special the encounter is. Jesus has work to do, and it’s time to get to it…
What happened at the meeting last Sunday was cool. It was encouraging to watch people become eager to share, to give witness to what God’s been doing through them for the sake of the Gospel. When we come together as God’s people here, in our worship, in our learning, in our service, all of them encounters with God, what happens is that we begin to reflect God’s glory. And, though we might want to keep that all right here, like Peter wanting to build tents up on the mountaintop, we simply can’t do so.
Just as Jesus leads his followers back down the mountain and back into the real world, where immediately they encounter a family in real need of real help, we can’t leave our encounter with the Holy One behind when we go out of these doors and back into the real world where we encounter real people with real needs.
Jesus leads Peter, James and John back out into mission and ministry, and in the same way, having come face to face with God almighty in Word and Sacrament and in one another, as we gather in his name, Jesus leads us forth from here with our faces shining with the radiance of God’s glory to love and serve the world in the name of Jesus, who is about to depart, about to go to Jerusalem, about to die on the cross so that the world may have life in him.