The passage this
morning, from Exodus, lies behind the [New Testament] text that Beverly
read for us, the story of the Transfiguration. So let me read,
then, from the 34th chapter of Exodus.
And by the way, this
comes after the second time Moses has received the ten
commandments. You may recall in that story that the first time he
comes down from the mountain he encounters the golden calf that the
people have made. He becomes so angry, he breaks and destroys the
tablets, so he has to go back and ask God for another copy, so to speak.
He comes down, then,
the second time and we have this story:
Moses came down from
Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of
the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face
shone because he had been talking with God. 30When
Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was
shining, 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 spoke with them. 32Afterwards
all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that
the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33When
Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34but
whenever Moses went in before the Lord to
speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and
when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35the
Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was
shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went
in to speak with him.
Star Trek fans will
remember the movie "Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier", in
which a messianic figure, the Vulcan half-brother of Spock, hijacks the
Starship Enterprise in order to take it beyond the great barrier, where,
this Vulcan is convinced, they will find God. And indeed, they get
through the barrier and on this deserted planet they find
"God". And the Vulcan converses with him, and he tells
the crew of the Starship to bring the Starship closer.
Now at this point,
Captain James T. Kirk, our hero, who is standing in the background (and
of course it's his ship, he's very possessive of it, he's not about to
share this even with God) steps forward and says "Excuse me?
Excuse me?! Why does God have need of a spaceship?"
That's a good question. But God doesn't take the question too
well, and Bones (the doctor in the show), says to him "Jim, you
don't question the almighty". But, face to face with God,
Captain Kirk is unmoved. And so he engages in this first verbal
battle with the almighty that then becomes quite physical. Turns
out that "God" is not so divine that a blast from the lasers
of a spaceship won't fry his brains, and that's the end of God (at least
And the movie ends
with some mindless drivel about humanities' search for God that I've
long since forgotten. But I've never forgotten that scene and this
whole quest of the movie. This idea that there is a place, that if
we search diligently, that we may find that special place where we can
be face to face with God.
And of course there's
nothing new about that idea -- that idea is as old as religion
itself. In ancient Judaism, the temple is that place -- the Holy
of the Holies. And before that, the tent of the tabernacle.
And before that, Mt. Sinai, or Mt. Horeb as it is also
So we recall that
Moses first encountered God in the burning bush, remember, on Mt.
Sinai. Then he returns to that place to receive the ten
commandments from God. And Elijah goes up to that same place in
order to find protection from God. And it's there that in the
sound of the sheer silence that Elijah hears that still, small voice of
God, speaking to him.
so the gospel the authors conjure up that image when Jesus goes up the
mountain to pray and is joined by both Moses and Elijah on the
mountain. That story of the Transfiguration, which by the way is
recalled on this Sunday in the liturgical calendar, before the beginning
of Lent each year (next Sunday we begin Lent), familiarity with the
stories of Moses and Elijah are assumed. And especially this story
from Exodus 34, and so Luke tells us that the face of Jesus
changed. And Matthew tells us that the face of Jesus 'shone like
the sun'. In other words, Jesus, like Moses, radiates the glory of
And the point is,
when one is in the presence, in that overpowering presence of the glory
of God, it shows. It's visible. It's present in the
world. That meaning should be obvious, but unfortunately some are
so convinced that they are right they won't consider evidence to the
contrary. Even if you have bi-partisan support for your resolution
to prove it J.
That's my social commentary for the morning.
When I was a student
at Northwest Christian College (eons ago), Francis Hyland (many of you
know Frances) was a speech teacher there and I had her in my class and
she wanted me to enter the bible reading contest. Do they still
have that contest? Still do. So, I did. We had two
scriptures, one from the New Testament that you could memorize.
And the other was selected for you, to be taken out of the Hebrew
scripture and it would be given to you the night before.
I had memorized the
story of Paul's defense before King Agrippa, in the 26th chapter of
Acts. Very dramatic reading, lends itself well to that kind of
contest. And I had rehearsed that with Frances. I was well
prepared -- you know, I was going to 'wow' the committee and everyone
there with my bible reading skills.
Well, that year, the
popular book on campus and in the community, caught everyone's fancy,
was Chariots of the God, by Erich Von Daniken. Anyone remember
that book? In that book, Von Daniken makes the case that
archeology and ancient texts provide irrefutable evidence that we were
visited by alien beings in ancient times. And he lays his case out
for this. It's a fascinating and sensational claim that is too
incredible to be true. And indeed, in fact it is too incredible to
be true -- the BBC did a documentary on it years later revealing that
Von Daniken in fact fabricated his evidence. It was outright
fraud. And the other things he cited there were other explanations
But in any event, we
didn't know any of that back in 1973, 74, so folks were all caught up
with this. One of the stories in there that he cites is Ezekiel
1. Remember that account of the wheel within a wheel, this
fantastic heavenly vision that Ezekiel has, that includes, among other
things, descriptions of creatures with four faces -- a lion, an ox, an
eagle, and a human being. And the Bible reading committee, in
their infinite wisdom, selected this text as the one which we were then
to dramatically read for the contest. Let me tell you, reading
that text with conviction and authority is a challenge. It would
be much like using Lewis Carroll's Jabberrwocky for a sermon!
Except that poem makes sense J.
the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"
Well, at least we
understand that, right? Well, suffice it to say, my well-rehearsed
dramatic reading of Paul's great speech under the tutelage of Frances
Hyland was undone by my pitiful stammering through the psychedelic
vision of Ezekiel, and all was lost that day at chapel at NCC. I
think I finished third.
Well, the point of
that whole story (you can forget most of that, it really has nothing to
do with the sermon) is that Van Daniken cites this story in Exodus as
evidence for E.T. -- extra-terrestrials that visited the earth.
And he provides this helpful explanation: Moses receives the
ten commandments from alien beings (obviously superior, smarter, and so
forth), and that place where Moses can confer with God face to face
actually was a spaceship. Which, of course, was nuclear
powered, hence Moses was radiated. And his face would shine when
he came forth!
Now aren't you glad
you come to church to be enlightened in such ways on scripture?!
Folks, we do not need
Von Daniken, Captain Kirk, E.T. or Steven Spielberg to explain scripture
for us. Well, maybe Captain Kirk, he can be helpful at times J.
In fact, the meaning of this odd little story here in Exodus is really
quite simple. And it does not require supernatural explanations or
the suspension of the laws of nature to understand. Better yet,
properly understood, it is a story with a powerful message from which we
can all benefit.
What I do recommend
is that we suspend the requirement to read such stories literally, as if
the face of Moses literally shone, rather than metaphorically lit up
with the radiance of God. But, whether you read it literally or
metaphorically, in the end really doesn't change the meaning that is
First of all, the
glory of God is real.
Secondly, that it is
a power that is visible in human affairs.
And third, that it
leads to transformation. Changes. Not only in individual
lives, it can change the course of nations, as was the case in ancient
who popularized the saying "God is dead", also said, from his
observations in church, "Christians ought to look more
redeemed". I sure hope he hadn't been to our church, talking
about us. But Nietzsche is right, Christians should look different
from the rest of humanity. We who believe in the power of God's
love should look like loving people. We who believe in life beyond
death should not look like we're already dead, especially not on Sunday
morning! We who believe that Christ was the prince of peace should
not look like we really believe that war is the answer to the world's
problems. Christians ought to look more redeemed--like our
encounters with God really have made a difference in our lives.
Now there are those
people, those mentors of faith, I think that we all have who have that
look. You might call to mind some people. In our spiritual
formation group that meets on Thursday mornings, one of our members
mentioned Dr. E.V. Moon. How many remember Dr. Moon? Great
story, from the Northwest, became a missionary in the Congo and his
stories inspired the Disciples of Oregon to raise enough money to buy a
riverboat that traveled up and down the Congo river. And Dr. Moon
would come back and share those stories. And when he shared those
stories with the people, his face shone with the radiance of God.
Another person I
think of is Dr. Ronald Osborn, a member of this church who touched my
life very deeply in seminary, is a person I've always looked up to as a
mentor, who really had that look of the presence of God.
Another person who I
had the privilege of meeting in seminary was Dr. Harold Fey. Some
will recognize him when I share this story, because you know about
him. But before I tell you that story, let me share with you his
conversion experience. Dr. Fey was born at the beginning of the
last century, he says in-between his junior and senior year, he 'got'
religion. More accurately, he writes, "the eternal reached me
through the simple piety of a country church. That year, the
preacher was a somewhat attractive woman, probably in her 30s, I cannot
recall her name, but I remember she ran a rescue mission at Ft.
Leavenworth. Saving fallen women was her specialty and I suppose
the stories she told of her experiences helped generate a not altogether
holy curiosity in rural minds. Also, few had ever heard a woman
preach. Soon, the little country church, perched high on a prairie
hill, was crowded night after night. My interest at first was
mainly social--my friends would be there, either outside the church or
inside on the back rows. As night followed night, I began to worry
about the condition of my immortal soul. That concern would be
described as under the conviction of sin. The last night, tension
was high, the revival was nearing its close and there had been few
converts. As the evening wore on, it seemed to me that the room
had become unbearably hot. The altar call was sounded and I broke
into a sweat. While the evangelists exhorted, the choir sang
softly and tenderly "Jesus is coming, sinner, or sinner, come
home". I held onto the back of the seat in front of me until
I looked at mother. Her eyes brimmed with tears as she looked at
me and nodded. Suddenly, I moved into the aisle and stumbled
forward to the altar rail. After I had been leaning there in
contrite prayer, dumbly reaching out to the eternal, I felt an enormous
sense of relief. I knew the sweet touch of forgiveness and
acceptance. I do not wish to exaggerate, but in honesty, I have to
declare that that total experience of conversion and confession was a
lasting, valid, authentic touch of the grace of God. Henceforth,
the tone of my life was changed. I was soon to discover that old
habits would re-assert themselves, that I had not been saved, but had
only been set on the way to liberation. More, many more
conversions lay in the future. But this one was decisive".
Dr. Fey went on to
become a missionary in the Philippines, where he witnessed the start of
World War II. Had to come back to this country, and became the
editor of World Call magazine, one of the leading publications of our
denomination. And from there he went on to become editor of
Christian Century, the leading publication of liberal protestants of the
time. In that capacity, Dr. Fey was one of the leading Disciple
clergy, one of the leading voices throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and even
the 1970s, for things like civil rights, Native American rights, nuclear
disarmament, opposition to the war in Vietnam and other peace and
And it all began with
that initial encounter with the glory of God that not only changed his
life as a teenager, it opened him up to new possibilities and further
changes throughout his life as his encounter with God continually
challenged him to apply his faith to the relevant issues of his day.
Even now, as I
remember Dr. Fey, I can see the glow of that radiance of his encounter
with the divine.
Martin Buber, the
great Jewish Philosopher, said: "The encounter with God does
not come to us in order that we may henceforth cling to God, but in
order that we may prove its meaning in action in the world. All
revelation is a calling and a mission." But, Buber said,
"we prefer tending to God than tending to the world, and therefore
we make God into an object. A divine "it" to be admired,
studied, worshipped. Rather than a divine "thou", the
one to whom we are called into relationship."
And to do that,
requires that we remove that metaphorical veil between us and God, that
we, like Moses, may be transformed for a purpose. To take God's
commandments, God's word, God's glory, into the world. That it
too, might be transformed.
The true face-to-face
encounters with God leave a dramatic and lasting impact that changes us
in very real ways. How we look, how we act, who we are, what we
do. That's the message of this story. That's the message of
The only question, or
challenge, to us, is this: how long will we hide behind that veil
that keeps that spark of God's light from shining in the world?