Transforming Presence

Transforming Presence

Will you pray with me: O holy God, you graciously reveal the light of your wisdom to humankind. We stand in awe of you. In Christ, you set aside the veil that separated us from you. Your Spirit is transforming us to become more like Jesus.  May you use me your servant to speak to your people. Amen.

Exodus 34:29-35
34:29 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.  34:30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.  34:31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them.  34:32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 34:33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34:34 but 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, 34:35 the 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.

Presence if a funny thing. So often we crave the presence of others – and separation from our loved ones seems almost unbearable. Yet at other times, the presence of even those we love the most can be irritating, annoying, and just uncomfortable for almost no reason at all. I find the differences between us as people fascinating. Sociologists say that the primary difference between those of us who are extroverted or introverted is not how well we interact with others or even large groups, but where our energy comes from. An extrovert gains energy from interacting with others, while this costs an introvert energy – to recharge, they need time alone.

As a capital E extrovert myself – as far on that spectrum as tests show – I recognize the importance of the presence of others around me. Yet my husband is incredibly introverted. He needs to have dedicated time for him to just be alone and relax. These differences, and many more I find inspiring, that God could create us all to fit together and complement each other when we allow our differences to shine.

In both our Old Testament passage and gospel lesson for this week, the week of the transfiguration, we take a closer look at the awe inspiring presence of God.

If we go back just a few chapters in Exodus from what we just heard – we see that this isn’t the first time Moses came down from the mountain. In fact – it’s not actually the first time he came down with the 2 tablets and the 10 commandments written on them.  Just 3 chapters ago, Moses was descending with the tablets only to discover the people of God engaged in loud and lively worship of a golden calf they had made. Moses was so angry at the people, he threw the tablets on the ground, breaking them.

Today’s passage happens after Moses went back up to the mountain and after talking with God, Moses asked to see God’s face. God informs Moses that no one can see God’s face and live, yet agrees to hide Moses in the cleft of a rock and allow him to see God as God passes. It is coming back from this encounter that Moses face is glowing so much, it frightens the people. This reminds me of other stories we know about touching the hem of God’s cloak, or the woman who touched Jesus’s robe and was healed.

In our world, it is so easy to see chaos and tragedy – we lose sight of the awe inspiring power of the presence of God.

This presence and power isn’t like our modern day super hero’s. God’s power is something we can call on, and build our faith in. However, as I tell the youth – God is not a vending machine. We can’t expect to simply pick what we want God to give us and it to just come as simple as that. While we don’t always understand the actions or inactions of God, we are promised that God’s presence is always with us. That we are beloved children of God, and God will never leave us.

After his encounter with God, Moses wore a veil when he was around the people, but not when he was with God. This is somewhat backwards of what we may think today. How many of us are familiar with various traditions of coverings to approach God?  Prayer shawls, head coverings, or Sunday hats?  I remember when my sister and her husband were planning a trip to the Vatican with her catholic in-laws and their church choir. She received a beautiful lace head covering for Christmas. Growing up United Methodist she wasn’t used to this tradition, but her mother in law assured her that it was important for her to have for their visits to the various churches and chapels in the Holy City. Upon coming back, she talked about how using her head covering and experiencing the great cathedrals was a very humbling experience for her.

Yet Moses removed his covering when he approached God. I wonder – Do we have the same courage to seek the presence of God? To remove the veils of our own making and come to God just as we are? Do we want to really see God?

This week in the lectionary serves as an important transition between the season of epiphany we have been in to the season of lent. As we prepare ourselves for the self reflection of lent, the journey we take along with God, we continue to be inspired today by the amazing and transforming presence of God. Both through the story of Moses’s shining face, as well as through the gospel of Luke’s telling of the transfiguration of Jesus we take the time to be in awe of God, to remember who we are disciple of, and what we are called to as disciples.

In each gospel, this moment is a turning point for Jesus as well. He transitions from his Ministry in Galilee and begins his journey to Jerusalem. Yet before he begins this journey. He takes time away from the crowds to prepare. Let’s hear this passage together:

Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)
9:28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 9:29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 9:30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 9:31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 9:32 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. 9:33 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. 9:34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 9:35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 9:36 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.

At the top of the mountain top the presence of Moses and Elijah give Jesus strength and guidance as they discuss what is to come. And yet, our time away always comes to an end, or it wouldn’t be time away. The disciples don’t understand this with the suggestion of building dwellings to stay here in this awe inspiring event.

I think we all can agree, this story sounds so amazing, we would want it to last as long as possible too. And then the voice of God comes proclaiming what they had just had confirmed 8 days ago, that their teacher and friend Jesus was the Messiah. And that we are called to listen to him.

The next days and weeks go on as Jesus and the disciples travel to Jerusalem, teaching and healing as they go.

Today these stories give us a moment to sit back in awe of the transforming presence of God. Reminding us that despite our mistakes, despite our quick judgments and bad choices, despite our sins – God’s presence is healing, and purifying. We are called to be disciples.  The United Methodist tradition teaches that discipleship is a careful balance of two spectrums. First – piety and mercy.  We each must take the time for worship, for study, for devotions. This time is precious and important. Yet on the other side of this spectrum is acts of compassion- allowing our faith life to shape our actions towards others. With our given gifts, we are each equipped for different acts of compassion. The other axis is public and private. Sometimes I think it helps to think of this as communal and individual. Corporate worship together and bible study with other believers is very different than our own private study and reading. They both have their place and our faith needs us to have both.

In a world where many state that they are spiritual but not religious, I wonder how they see this call to both community and private piety?  Our works of mercy are also called to be done in community and in private. Some of us stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters struggling with homelessness, others of us serve on boards of agencies that work to provide crucial education assistance for children who don’t succeed in the traditional classroom. We are all called to our work.

Beloved children of God, on this special holy day – as we celebrate the powerful presence of God I encourage you to take time in the places you most strongly feel God’s presence. Perhaps like me for you it is a sanctuary full of singing worshipers, or perhaps it is a quiet spot down by the lake.

Seek the powerful presence of God in your life. Take off your veils and allow God to transform you through God’s word, and God’s love. Let God’s presence heal you, comfort you, and equip you to go out into the world shinning to walk the path you have in front of you.

The good news is that God’s transforming power is working in us and in our community today. We are invited into God’s work, but we must accept God’s call.  Through God’s grace, we will be inspired to live lives of discipleship. Amen.