Moses? February 7

By Bob Reid

Texts in view: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36

How to explain Jesus to the world? This is the question that the authors of the New Testament faced as they wrote their gospels and letters. Often, they turned to the story of Israel, looking for metaphors that would be adequate to the task of setting forth the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. On Transfiguration Sunday the lectionary brought us to two passages of scripture where two of the most powerful metaphors of Israel’s story are applied to Jesus: TheExodus and the giving of the law on Mount Sinai.

In the mysterious transfiguration of Jesus we encounter Jesus in the company of Elijah and Moses, who are mysteriously brought by the Holy Spirit back into this world just for this moment. Luke tells us that “they appeared in glory and were speaking of his <Jesus’> departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem”. The word used for departure is literally, exodus. And with the use of that word we are transported back to God’s emancipation of Israel in the great Exodus from Egypt; and to Moses’ own mountaintop experience when God gives him the Law, Holy Torah, for the well being of the people. The experience of Moses’ in God’s presence during the receiving of the Torah is just about as mysterious as what happens to Jesus during his transfiguration. Moses’ multiple encounters with God around the giving of Torah cause his face to shine so brightly, radiating God’s glory, that he has to cover his face with a veil whenever he talks to the Israelites.

Here is snippet from Exodus 34: “When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him…. 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, 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.”.

Poignantly, the glory that Moses brought with the giving of the Torah fades more that in shines in Israel’s history and the Old Testament ends with this promise: “I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.”

Fast forward to Jesus’ transfiguration. Elijah has already come figuratively in John the Baptist (Mark 9:13) but he comes literally at Jesus’ transfiguration. Together with Moses he speaks of the New Exodus, Jesus’ death on the cross, his “departure” (Luke 9:31). The torch has been passed and the events in Jerusalem will be the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring a lasting peace and reconciliation: there will be no curse because Jesus will have bear the curse on the cross. The glory of the cross will be a lasting glory and available to everyone. No veils anymore. St. Paul was not present at the Transfiguration of Jesus and yet the glory of Jesus that burned hot in the form of love for Paul knocked him off his horse and transformed his life (Acts 9).

Previously bent on destroying the church, Paul became its most fervent missionary. And about two decades later he will write the following words to the church at Corinth: “Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And 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 from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

Caleb wrapped up his homily by urging us to receive the truth that now, because of Jesus, we can each carry around the glory of Jesus on our faces! - as we embody the same self-giving love that enacted Jesus’ “exodus” in Jerusalem. Our faces carry Jesus’ glory as we love and serve others in his name; our faces shine forth his glory when we receive God’s forgiveness and depend on God’s grace to enable us to live in conformity with what is good for us, good for others, and pleasing to God. Jesus’ glory is on our face when we take communion, when we love our children, and when we make a plate of food for those in need. Jesus’ glory is everywhere now! May we become better and better at drawing attention to it!

Caleb urged us to see the mystery in the passages in Luke and Corinthians as wonderful examples of Jesus’ followers straining to find metaphors that do justice to the wonder of Jesus and all that they had experienced with him and from him. Pregnant and palpable in Caleb’s words were the exhortation to each of us to strain until we find words and symbols that explain Jesus to those with whom we have to do. May God give us the grace to do just that.

Horizontal Faith; January 24

Many parts, one body.

Paul says that the church is like the human body.  The simile would have been familiar to 1st Century folks. In fact, it was used by the powerful to remind the lowly of their proper place. If you are a foot, then at the bottom you belong. Those at the top used the analogy of the human body to reinforce social roles that kept the bottom at the bottom and the top at the top.

When Paul launches into this analogy in 1 Corinthians 12, his readers might anticipate a similar line of thought.  But instead, Paul uses the image to affirm that each member of the body is equal. The head cannot say to the feet, “I have no need of you.” “On the Contrary,” Paul says, “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…God has so arranged the body giving the greater honor to the inferior member.” So, I guess, he doesn't actually say they are equal...he actually says that those regarded as less, for the Christian church, ought to be regarded as superior.

Churches preach blessings to the poor, but internally, they often overlook the meek. Cultivating a culture of listening to quieter members and minority voices is not as easy as giving it lip service.

The first step in creating a culture that values everyone is recognizing God’s image in the people seated next to you. Pastor Bob talked about the dichotomy we often draw between our vertical relationship (Between God and ourselves) and our horizontal relationships (between other people and creation). We have an expectation that God is ‘up there’ and that our relationship with him is created when we stop looking horizontally and focus only vertically. While time spent focusing on God alone is necessary, scripture more often identifies God being present on a horizontal level, among people.

As you stand in line for communion, one way of approaching God might be to think of your sister in front of you and pray for the eyes to see her as Christ sees her and to see the Christ in her. The church is so necessary for Christians because it is in our relationships with one another that we constitute the Body of Christ.

God so often seems silent, particularly when we sit quietly expecting to hear some sort of audible voice. I was encouraged this week to listen for God’s voice by looking for Christ at work, not only in the vertical, but in the horizontal of the everyday grind.