(Exodus 34, Luke 9)
I still remember some years ago, during a summer vacation, Patty and I were attending a worship service on a warm Sunday morning at a church nearby to where we were staying.
We were sitting in a pew near the back, so we had a good view of the back of everyone’s head.
There was a boy maybe six or seven years old, siting with his parents a few pews ahead of us.
He was a bit restless, squirming around in the pew.
I remember at one point, he turned around to see all the faces looking forward at him.
Then, after a second or two, a big and broad glowing smile appeared on his face. He just kept smiling, and smiling, and smiling.
And soon we were all smiling, sharing in this moment of wordless delight, fun, and joy.
All because of the big glow on the boy’s face.
The power and contagion of a joyful smile on someone’s face!
We have scripture readings this morning that lift up an image of God whose glory shines out, a kind of bold and live-out-loud God, whose power, glory, and majesty shines on us.
Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello had this great one-liner: “Behold God…. beholding YOU … and smiling!”
God’s glory shining on us!
At the end of every Sunday morning worship service, we’re reminded of that image of God smiling on us every time the Presiding Pastor gives the final benediction, the blessing of Aaron, Moses’ side-kick recorded in the book of Numbers:
“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you …”
Instinctively we know that when God’s face shines on us, good things happen.
In the Gospel reading, on the mountaintop, Jesus is “transfigured” before the disciples’ eyes.
Big, bright, blinding light bathes Jesus, and shines out on the disciples.
And, in the reading from Exodus, after encountering God on Mt. Sinai, the skin of Moses’ face shines with this strange glow.
Others around him are so perturbed and afraid by this, that Moses is forced to cover up his face with a veil.
The Exodus text says that his face began to shine, only after Moses “had been talking with God” on Mt. Sinai.
Obviously, close proximity to divine presence, has its consequences!
It inevitably changed Moses – in a physical way at least.
But it also changes us, for the better, for the good.
We’re reminded here of the importance of nurturing that first, basic relationship with God!
We may not end up having shining faces like Moses, but no doubt, there’s a primal strength, and a goodness, that results in our lives on account of that first, basic relationship with the Divine.
Through prayer, meditation, we become increasingly aware that God has always been near to us, close to us … never having left our side.
We realize that it’s not so much about seeking, and striving valiantly “to get close to God”… but rather… falling upon the humbling realization that God has always been there all along, and we didn’t even know it!
That very awareness begins to change and transform us, and we begin to shine some of God’s glory.
But what exactly does that look like?
We might initially think that it means:
… rejecting our ordinary, broken, imperfect selves,
… disowning our shadow sides,
… fleeing from our wounds, fears and vulnerabilities.
This is a dualistic way of thinking; an either-or, oppositional way of thinking.
The reality of the spiritual life, however, is far more balanced and integrated.
Shining God’s glory, reflecting the light of Christ happens not in spite of our ordinary, imperfect selves, but rather in the midst of them.
Both imperfection AND divine glory are held together at the same time, in the same moment, in an integrated, dynamic whole.
Remember that Moses’ face may’ve been shining God’s glory, but the rest of his body remained exactly as it was: with warts and all.
And we know that Moses continued to be a far-from-perfect human being: failing to trust in God, taking credit where credit was not his due, having continual outbursts of frustration and anger over the Hebrew people’s antics… to name just a few of his flaws.
Even Moses’ face-to-face encounters with God did not make him into some paradigm of perfection!
And of course, we’re all too familiar with the fumbles and stumbles of the disciples Peter, James and John, even though they were constantly in such close proximity to Jesus!
For us today, we need to recover a sense of the holy in the midst of the ordinary, imperfect circumstances of our lives.
Because as the scriptures show us, out of deep love for us, God breaks into our mundane, unspectacular, broken existence, and right in the middle of that, shines glory, the glory of compassionate love and goodness.
I’m reminded of, and have mentioned in the past, the important story of Jean Vanier, a Canadian-born priest who was living in France in the 1960s.
It was there, when he decided to use the space of his house effectively, generously, hospitably.
He invited two other people to live with him, Raphael and Philippe, who needed extra special care and attention.
They each had physical and intellectual disabilities, requiring around-the-clock assistance for basic survival.
And so, Jean Vanier assumed the role of a true servant.
On a daily basis he cared for Raphael and Philippe — dressing them, bathing, feeding and relating with them in a close, interpersonal way.
They became more than mere house-mates. They became friends.
This is how Jean Vanier chose to spend his energy, his time, his focus and love.
Nothing notably “spectacular”, picture-perfect or pretty about these circumstances.
But nevertheless, anyone from the outside looking in at this situation would most certainly detect something truly beautiful and good shining out from there.
God’s glory. God’s majesty shining out from truly humble, ordinary circumstances of mutual servanthood, friendship, in community.
Eventually, this small community of three, developed and grew over the next years and decades to become what is today known as L ’Arche, a worldwide community of homes where those with pronounced needs, and their assistants, live together in relationships of mutual service and friendship.
This becomes really the most important question for us as a church community today, considering our mission and ministry.
To ask the question:
How can we – in fresh, new ways today, in this time and this place – shine and reflect God’s glory, and be witnesses to the light, life, and love of God?
How can we – today – be sure to nurture that essential relationship with God, that awareness that God is near?
And maybe, just maybe, some of God’s glory can rub off on us.