Tag Archives: Shining face

Shining Like the Son

A Sermon for 3 March 2019 – Transfiguration of the Lord

A reading from the gospel of Luke 9:28-43. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


You’ve heard it said that beautiful brides radiate. And once their bellies get big and round, everyone agrees that pregnant women have that glow. Anyone excitedly welcoming a newborn talks about them being a bundle of warmth – as if the sweetness of God reflects right through them. When parents are as proud as can be, they beam at their children. And of course, two people in love look at each other and their eyes light up an entire room.

Thomas Merton, one of the 20th Century’s most well-known monks, is famous for his epiphany in downtown Louisville on March 18, 1958. He said: “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.” He said, “It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race . . . there is no way of telling people they are all walking around shining like the sun.” . . . He went on to explain that on that day he “suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.” Merton wrote, “If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all of the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, New York: Doubleday, 1996 – http://merton.org/TMSQ.aspx).

Buried in the book of Daniel, the prophet exclaims that “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness (shall twinkle) like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).

The Exodus reading assigned by the lectionary for Transfiguration Sunday – and referred to in 2 Corinthians, which often is read on Transfiguration Sunday as well. The Exodus reading names Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the tablets of the Law. He was up on the mountaintop – in the presence or Shekinah of God. What he didn’t know as he descended from that amazing experience of being with God was that his face shone brightly – the light of God’s presence was reflecting on Moses’ skin. (Exodus 34:29-35).

Jesus himself has some sort of experience. It may not have been exactly the same. But we hear of the way Jesus was transfigured on the mountain. He’s up there praying – just eight days after he told his disciples what lie ahead. Peter, John, and James are with him. While he’s deep in prayer, they look up to see “the appearance of Jesus’ face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29). He’s transformed before their eyes. That radiance. That glow. That beaming shine like the bright summer sun. The presence of God glows right through his skin. It’s as if on that mountain, all with eyes to see finally behold the core of Christ’s reality. Who he really is: the one in whom God in-full dwells. A voice even confirms it saying: “This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)

Now, it may seem like quite a leap, but we can think about worship just like that. In Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster, worship is defined as: “when (upper case S) Spirit touches (lower case s) spirit” (Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster, 1998, p. 159). When the Holy Spirit of God connects with the spirit of God alive in us. Worship is when we get plugged in. Re-charged. Spirit unites with spirit, which we know can happen anywhere in this God-breathed creation. So that sometimes it just happens. Walking along an autumn path, the rays of the sunshine just so that it seems the world is transfixed into heaven-like streets of gold. Or any number of such unexpected, take-your-breath-away life moments that leave us speechless in awe. The times we’re not ready for God’s Spirit to wake up the one slumbering in us. And the times we actually get ourselves ready: prime the pump, it’s often called. When we go to a particular place – like here – where it seems a thin place between common and extraordinary. Holy and mundane. We attune ourselves to connect with that which is Beyond. Spirit touches spirit: worship!

It’s what the Apostle Paul is referring to when he writes that “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 (of the Lord) from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). Worship is about that connection. Seeing the glory of God. Celebrating the glory of God. Being in the glorious presence of God and never finding ourselves the same thereafter. . . . Like those disciples. Think about them. Most probably they weren’t up on that mountain to worship. I’m guessing they only went because Jesus’ asked them to. Kinda like a president’s bodyguards who have to follow around where ever the president goes. They either felt it their responsibility as Jesus’ trustworthy friends to make that trek up. Or maybe they curiously were trying to develop a prayer habit of their own. . . . According to the story, they make the climb and sit nearby as if casual observers. They planned to just sit around to watch as their dear friend Jesus prays. But what’s about to take place on that mountain isn’t something they’re able casually to observe. In the Presence of God, they’re pulled in. They hear God’s voice. And they are called to heed. Though they are silent upon the descent, eventually their sealed lips will be broken and they will be charged to go into all the world filled in the same way — with the power of the same Spirit — to witness in word and deed to the ends of the earth. . . . Worship is about that – that encounter which transforms. Our spirits unite with God’s Spirit in that glorious high that requires us then to go forth changed. Transformed to reflect God’s glory. You might even say transfigured ourselves to heed the call of Christ. Which is why there should be a sign at the sanctuary entrance that we’re all required to read on our way in: Warning – enter at your own risk, because you cannot leave here the same!

I once read a story about a preacher who tells what he saw as a young boy in the face of another man. Supposedly as a child, this would-be preacher encountered a missionary just home on furlough who was on fire for God. When first the boy saw him, he ran to get the neighborhood priest to ask who this man was. The boy was so impressed by the joy that exuded from that missionary. He never had seen someone all aglow like that. He claimed in his memoirs, which he wrote near the end of his life; that he went on to commit his life to serving God in professional ministry – largely because of the moment he encountered that missionary. He confessed that he never could get away from the influence of the light he saw radiating from that man. A shining face – glowing with the love, with the joy of Christ. The experience changed that boy’s life entirely. . . . Which just goes to show that time spent with God – Spirit connecting with spirit – true worship has power we never can underestimate. . . . Shining like the Son, may we go forth to light up the world!

© Copyright JMN – 2019  (All rights reserved.)

Also for Us

A Sermon for 26 February 2017 – Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday

A reading from the gospel of Matthew 17:1-9.  Listen for God’s word to us.

          “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”  And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.  As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

 Week ONE among you has been wonderful!  Amid the new-hire paperwork, setting up the office, and preparing for this first Sunday together; I had a chance to meet a hand-full of you.  Beebe has been incredibly welcoming and helpful.  Session members have come by to fill me in on immediate info.  A few of us already have begun dreaming about ministries to begin to strengthen your connection with one another and ready this congregation for a future filled with hope.  Day two was especially fun, as that was the day I followed the boisterous sounds of young children’s voices down the stairs, up the hall, and into the Playcare Directors’ office.  I’d already met little Ziggy earlier that day – and his momma Kendra too.  Then as I stood in the Playcare office, another little one made her presence known.  Instead of Ziggy’s shy gaze that eventually turned to smiles, the little one in the office that afternoon was beat red.  Her whole little peach-fuzz head was as scarlet as a ripened tomato.  She screamed at the top of her little baby lungs.  It turned out that I wasn’t the only one having her first week here.  For in the arms of a patient Playcare teacher was thee most unhappy three-month-old you ever did see.  She squirmed and bellowed as the teacher gently tried to satisfy what had to be insatiable screams of hunger.  It was 2:15 p.m. on day one of Playcare for that precious little girl.  And no one all day long had been able to get her to take her bottle to eat.  Her face was contorted while tears streamed down her red-hot cheeks.  You could feel the heat of her discontent all the way across the room.  Her whole countenance was unhappy!

That little one stands in stark contrast to the transfigured Christ we hear of in Matthew’s gospel.  Six days after he had asked them “who do you say I am,” six days after Peter proudly proclaimed him the Son of the living God, six days after Jesus told them the path of self-emptying love would lead directly to a cross before resurrected life could begin.  Six days after all that, Jesus’ countenance was changed too.  His face wasn’t beat red like the little Playcare three-month-old, but shining as bright as the hot summer sun.  Up on that mountain, when Peter, James, and John looked upon him; he radiated.  It was as if everything about him turned the purest white.  Translucent-like.  Like in art that circles the risen Christ with a glorious golden aura; halos around the crown of his head and something like light exuding all about.  It was a miraculous transfiguration for sure, something absolutely incredible to behold.  But it wasn’t the first time it had occurred.  In the first Scripture reading, we heard when Yahweh called Moses up on a mountain.  There he was to receive the law.  As God was working to transform the newly-freed-from-Egypt slaves into God’s very own; a cloud covered Moses and the mountain.  “The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai,” Exodus 24:16 reads.  “And the cloud covered it for six days.”  Moses face eventually would burn red-hot with anger when at last he returned to the people to discover their transgression not just of making, but also of reveling before a golden calf (Ex. 32:19).  When at last he returns to the mountain in order again to be enveloped by God, this time Moses’ face continues to carry the radiant splendor of the LORD.  The Scriptures record it as “the skin of his face” shining “because he had been talking with God” (Ex. 34:29).

I imagine it as love.  Beaming right from the center of his chest, to every cell in his body, until at last his face glimmered and his eyes sparkled from the amazing energy of God.  . . .  I’ve seen it elsewhere too, haven’t you?  In faces alight when lovers gaze into the eyes of the one who fully accepts them for who they are.  In the glow of grateful parents when first they hold their newborn child.  In the way we look when we are in our flow – using our particular gifts to meet the needs about which we care the most.  It is said about such folk that they radiate.  That they sparkle.  That they shine for all the world to see.  Every cell of their bodies filled with the loving light of God.

I can’t help but wonder if Jesus’ encounter on the mountain intentionally included three eyewitnesses just to be sure his followers would get that transfiguration is for them too.  O, it certainly was a wake-up call to the closest of his disciples.  Peter, James, and John saw their Lord changed.  They got caught up with Jesus in a cloud that overshadowed them too.  They saw the figures of Moses and Elijah with Jesus and heard the beautiful words:  “This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Mt. 17:5).  Trembling in fear they fell to the ground – maybe because they’d just heard the definitive voice of God.  Or maybe because the command to heed one who’d just told them of a path of letting it all go . . .  perhaps that Way was too much for the disciples to integrate.  At least before they saw it enacted in full in Christ.

Three Sundays ago the lectionary took us to the gospel of Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ great sermon.  I hope your guest preacher that day used The Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus brilliantly said:  “You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.”  Remember that?  “No one after lighting a lamp,” Jesus says “puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way,” he then commanded “let your light shine before others” (Matthew 5:14-16a).  Shine.  Radiate.  Glow.  Let your face sparkle with the amazing love of God for us and for all!  You know, without such joy in us.  Without such grace exuding from the very center of our beings, how are others today going to see the loving Light of God?  . . .  Sometimes we’re our own worst advertisements.  We follow the One who lit-up this world wherever he set his feet.  Yet we put on our serious, church-going faces to get all somber about what we’re supposed to be doing in here – and out there in the world as well.  We can take ourselves way too seriously and get all caught up on head trips about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit too.  But it’s a celebration to which we’ve been invited.  A party thrown by the risen Christ who does not want us to fear one thing, but to radiate with the very same Love that transfigured him on that mountain.  He’s chosen us to be behind him in this great adventure of letting ourselves go that others may join the dance too.  He commands us to be light – enlightening others as well.  Allowing all to see.  He needs us to shine.  And glow.  And sparkle with a Love that always leads to Life.

It’s why we’re here – as members of the body of Christ.  Why we, the church, exist.  To shine brightly for all the world to see.  . . .  Part of my work among you as your interim pastor will be to help you tease out – as you begin a new chapter in your life as a congregation without your previous pastor – now and in your future; what will be your unique mission?  I want to know and then help you build upon the particular difference you, as a congregation, seek to make in the lives of people.  I want to know what you are passionate about.  What matters so deeply to you all that you joyously and generously will invest your blood, sweat, and treasures into that piece of God’s mission in this world.  As a part of the body of Christ, what ministry is it that will set your hearts on fire until ya’ll brilliantly shine?!?!

This is our charge, brothers and sisters in Christ.  And the work we will undertake together.  . . .  Transfiguration is also for us.  He told us so.  For we are the light of the world.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)