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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Exodus 24:12-18
March 2, 2014 - Transfiguration

         Dazzling light blazes, music soars, and one man is chosen to come up into the light and glory. No, it’s not Moses. It’s not Jesus transfigured on the mountain. It’s Roy Neary played by Richard Dreyfuss in Steven Spielberg’s classic film, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Roy discovers what he’s been seeking by piling up heaps of mashed potatoes on the dining room table and creating a huge sculpture of a mountain in his living room. He goes to meet aliens at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, is welcomed into their ship and soars off into space.

         I don’t know about you, but my ability to imagine and picture both this text from Exodus and the Transfiguration account in Matthew 1 has been deeply affected by movie depictions of everything from “close encounters” to the discovery of the perfect Christmas in Chevy Chase’s “Christmas Vacation.” Music starts playing, light streams down from the sky, and glory is revealed. That’s how it’s supposed to go.

         Yet as I read and really think about Moses going up the mountain to meet God, I wonder if it was very much like Hollywood would film it at all. Verses 15 and 17 suggest the glory of God may have looked more like the flames and smoke of forest fire, covering the mountain in a bright cloud.

         The fact is we just don’t know. And I don’t think CGI is going to help us here, anymore than it is going to help us picture what happened to Jesus hundreds of years later on another mountain. Take a look at the front of your bulletin. I tried to find an image that showed Jesus transfigured, but everything I came up with just looked silly. Imagination fails us a bit when we try to visualize these texts.

         What we can be sure about is that both Moses and Jesus’ disciples understood that they were in the presence of God. That’s clear here in Exodus even before Moses goes on up. In verses 9 and 10 Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and seventy other elders of Israel go part way up and actually see God. And imagination failed them as they tried to describe what they saw, “Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the sky for clearness.” Note that “something like.” These people knew they met God, but words to describe the experience failed them.

         We hear the same thing about the Transfiguration. They saw glory in Jesus, but all they can do is compare it to the light of the sun. And if you turn over to Mark’s Gospel chapter 9 you get a pretty lame statement that sounds like an detergent commercial, that His clothes became whiter than any launderer could bleach them.

         The glory of God came to ordinary human beings and they were left confused and stammering about what they saw, what they experienced. The glory of God came right into the middle of everyday human life. Look in verse 14 at what Moses has to tell those seventy elders as he gets ready to climb the mountain. “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.” He’s getting ready to meet God, but Moses still has to worry about who is going to settle the petty squabbles which will arise among the people while he’s gone.

         You might think Moses should have worried about daily business a little more. As it turns out, when we jump over to chapter 32, Aaron is less than able at keeping the people out of trouble, and before Moses even brings God’s Commandments down the mountain, His people are breaking the first two in style, worshipping an idol made by Aaron instead of the God whose glory they can see on the mountain.

         Peter on the mountain with Jesus saw the glory of God in Jesus’ face, but he ends up concerned about basic needs like shelter. He wants to make tents, little shelters like they use on the Feast of Tabernacles, for Jesus and Moses and Elijah. He’s ready to start gathering sticks and branches and making camp.

         That’s how God’s glory comes to us. We’re in the middle of perfectly legitimate, perfectly ordinary concerns. We are resolving disputes between our children or among employees. We’re worrying about keeping roofs over our heads and getting enough sleep and doing everything God expects of us. Then His glory shows up. He shows up. And we are lost for words and confused about what to do next.

         All I want to suggest this morning is that experiencing God’s glory is worth it. It can be worth letting things get a little crazy back at home, like the people of Israel went nuts while Moses was up on the mountain. It can be worth ignoring for awhile some practical questions like where everyone is going to sleep or what are we going to do if it rains.

         A year or two after I came here twenty years ago we were doing the family shelter here in our sanctuary in March like we’re going to do in a couple weeks. The Gathering Place hadn’t been built. The picnic shelter up at the Bible College hadn’t been built. If we were going to worship, the only place to do it was outside. Good sense would have just cancelled our worship service for that Sunday.

         But I was new here, didn’t really understand the weather and it had been warm and sunny for a few days. So I said, “Let’s go ahead.” We set up on a cloudy Sunday morning with very little planning. We put our worship team under the doorway and spread chairs out on the patio, cold metal folding chairs. People bundled up and a gentle Oregon drizzle started coming down. In a lot of ways it was just miserable and uncomfortable. Yet God met us. Someone walking by decided to join us. We sang and prayed and listened to the Word, and God was there. People talked about it afterward.

         I can’t imagine Moses was truly comfortable up there on the mountain for forty days. Peter obviously wanted to get everyone in out of the elements on that mount of Transfiguration. Yet there was where God showed up, when God was present.

         Moses was up there forty days and then he and all the people spent forty years traveling with God before they finally arrived in the promised land. Peter, James and John were only up on that mountain with Jesus maybe a day and a night, but they still had another year or so of journeying with Him before they came to the Cross.

         You and I have different amounts of time to go before we each come finally and completely into the presence of God, before we look into the shining face of Jesus our Savior. What these texts ask  us is if we will look for and see our Lord’s glory coming to us in the meantime. Are we willing to leave some daily cares behind for at least a little while, and wait to see if He shows up?

         The forty days we are about to enter in the church year remembers Moses’ forty days there on the mountain with God. It recalls Israel’s forty years there in the desert, in the wilderness around Mount Sinai. And it remembers Jesus’ own forty days in the wilderness fasting and praying and waiting on God the Father and the Holy Spirit. We mark out forty days, not counting Sundays, between Ash Wednesday and Easter, for you and I to leave something behind, go to some place different or do something new, and to wait for the glory of God.

         Fasting is one way Christians have traditionally left ordinary cares behind for a little while. Jesus fasted. We can pretty much assume that Moses was fasting during those forty days up on the mountain with God. As we will read Wednesday night, Jesus took it for granted His followers would fast. Yesterday morning our new conference superintendent suggested we as Covenant people recapture the spiritual discipline of fasting as we seek to meet God and hear what He has to say to us.

         So in consultation with the ten of you who gathered to talk about it last week, we’re going to invite all of us to join together in a fast each week at the same time, on Fridays, the day our Lord died for us, at noon. If you can do it without medical concerns or other issues, then let’s refrain from Friday lunch and let us all, wherever we are at that time, join together in prayer, in seeking God, in waiting to see His glory around us.

         Now you may be thinking, because I know I sometimes do it, that you usually skip that noon meal anyway. You just work right through lunch. So you may imagine that you are already golden on this one, that you are fasting already. But if that’s what you are doing, then you need a different sort of fast to join us on Friday. You need to fast from work for a little while, to be like Moses leaving behind his work of arbitration and mediation for people’s disputes so he could go up on the mountain. The point is for us together to spend at least a few minutes listening, looking for God, whether it’s a meal or work or a computer game you need to set aside for a bit to do that.

         Beth and I drove up Thursday to Washington in the rain and went to bed under gloomy skies in a hotel room so I could help with ministerial license interviews and then give a talk at the Leadership Matrix. Like most hotel rooms it had dim lights and thick drapes to block light from outside. We woke in that dark room and left the drapes closed for awhile, but once we were dressed we pulled them back and found brilliant sun shining in on us. God’s glory is like that. If we’ll just take a moment to pull back whatever is in the way, it will shine in upon us.

         I hope that all of us who can will join in this Friday experience, and that many of us will come on Wednesday evenings to sit and pray together. And if you just can’t do either of those things, then please find some other way, some other time to pull back the drapes of everyday worries and issues, and look for the Lord’s glory to shine on you.

         Last October in a castle being restored in Milan, workers peeled several coats of whitewash off a wall to find underneath a mural by Leonardo da Vinci. Another work of the master was there, just waiting to be discovered, to shine forth in all its artistry and glory. So it is with God for you and me.

         And the best place to look, to listen for the glory and voice of God is this. It’s where Moses met God for the second time on a mountain, as we read in Matthew 17. God told Peter and James and John, “This is my beloved Son… listen to him!” Let you and I seek God’s glory in that same place, in that same face, in Jesus Christ, taking the time to peel away everything else and just listen to Him.


         Valley Covenant Church
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Last updated March 2, 2014