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Can you see the glow?

A sermon by Rev Andrew Gamman

One of the lovely things about the First Testament is that it is full of interesting stories. Our reading today comes at the end of one of these. So let’s start a little earlier in the narrative…

It was the day when the Lord God appeared before the Israelites on Mt Sinai. His presence was accompanied with thunder, lightning, smoke and fire. To even approach the mountain where God was present would be fatal. The people were terrified. As they didn’t want to hear from God directly, they asked Moses to go on their behalf and hear from God. At their behest Moses went up the mountain where he met with the Lord God. There he received the Law which was engraved on tablets of stone.

When he descended the mountain to return to the Israelite camp, he was horrified to find that the people were worshipping a golden calf. In his anger Moses threw down the tablets with the Ten Commandments and smashed them to pieces. After this, the people faced a terrible punishment for their actions. Then Moses set about to renew the covenant with God. Returning alone back up the mountain, Moses once again met with the Lord God. On behalf of the Israelites, he pleaded for God’s pardon. In response God offered his forgiveness and renewed the covenant with the people.

After 40 days on the mountain with God, Moses again returned with the Law engraved on new stone tablets.

This brings us to today’s reading from Exodus 34. Moses was unaware that his face was glowing as a result of his communion with God. (The Latin Vulgate Bible – mis-translated the Hebrew and instead of “face was glowing” rendered “face was horned”. This translation was followed by renaissance artists – see the sculpture on the left by Michelangelo). BUT the passage says that his face was glowing. So bright was the radiance of his face that and the people were afraid to go near him. To shield the people from his shining face he covered it with a veil.

Our reading from 2 Corinthians today picked up this image of Moses’ veil. Paul suggests that the veil, which originally protected the Israelites from the glowing glory of his face, over a period of time served to prevent them from seeing that the glory was beginning to fade. Paul’s point is to emphasise the superiority and permanence of the New Covenant, which is written on the heart rather than the one that was written on the stone tablets. The New Covenant, which is brought by Christ, has a glory that does not fade but endures. And this applies to us. Because, using this imager,. Paul proclaims that we Christians “show the bright glory of the Lord, as the Lord’s Spirit makes us more and more like our glorious Lord” (2 Corinthians 3.18).

Can you see the glow?

Over the summer break I spent some time with the family at Graham’s Beach. Graham’s Beach is at the end of the Awhitu Peninsula. (Auckland city has a peninsula on its west coast, called Awhitu, as well as the one where I live on its east coast, called Whangaparaoa.) On the last night of our stay, there was a spectacular sunset. A red glow in the western sky at sunset is not unusual, but on this night the sky was painted with a brilliant red radiance in every direction. I took photos of this dusk glow facing east as well as west. I always feel that the displays of beauty in nature are evidence of the fingerprint of God. This sunset glow seemed to be particularly suggestive of God’s glory.

In our reading from Exodus today Moses had a meeting with God. It changed him. He looked different because there was a new glow about him, and people could see it. Somehow the glory of God was reflected in the person of Moses.

A genuine encounter with God alters us in a way that can be seen by others. Spending time with God gives us:

- a new hope,

- a renewed love,

- a joy in seeing goodness,

- and a sorrow about brokenness;

- we catch and share some of God’s wonderful grace.

This transformation comes about slowly and can be described in terms of a “glow”. The glow doesn’t come from ourselves, just as the moon has no light of its own. The moon only glows because the sun is shining on it. As we spend time in the light of God we glow.

Have you ever had such an encounter?

Have you ever sensed the divine presence?

Have you stood under the glow of the Lord God?

Sometimes it is unexpected… but it can come to any of us as we look to the Lord. It may happen when in the quiet and alone we seek him. But it also may come when together we gather as a church.

Is this what church community provides?

Do we expect an encounter with God as we gather together to worship?

The priority of our Sunday worship is not fellowship, or exploring ideas about the Christian faith, or singing our favourite songs - as good these things may be. Our priority is an encounter with the living God. This comes as we look to the Lord and expect his transforming presence. It is by encountering God in our worship on Sunday that we are motivated to go out and serve him on Monday, where others may see the glow that we carry.

Can I finish by unpacking this marvellous sentence that Paul wrote?

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” (1 Corinthians 3.18 NRSV).

First there is a big Greek word that, depending on the version of the Bible you are using, is variously translated with the meaning “as though reflected as a mirror” or “contemplating.” Both are good translations and it is true that, as we look to Jesus or contemplate him, we begin to reflect his light to others.

Do you get the point? The more we look to Jesus, the more we are changed to become like him, and the light gets brighter and brighter.

Next – is the word “metamorphosis”.

It means to be transformed, literally changed from the inside to the out, like a caterpillar that changes into a butterfly. Here in Corinthians, it is in the passive mood we: “are being transformed”

This is not something we do – we don’t go about changing ourselves. We just look to the Lord and he will transform us. This is important – we are just to keep looking to the Lord, asking, “What do you want Lord?” and “What do you want of me Lord?” And he brings the transformation… And he does it bit by bit – “more and more” (CEV) or “from one degree of glory to another” (NRSV).

Finally notice this promise is in the plural. (As with most of the Bible promises) It is not just me that is being changed it is “all of us”. With our Western individualism, so often we read these promises in terms of I and me, but in this verse it is we, the church, that reflect the light and are changed to be brighter and brighter.

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” (1 Corinthians 3.18 NRSV).


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