First let’s pray: Holy and loving God, thank you for gathering us together today in this time and space, and for calling us to be your people. As we do, remind us of your sovereignty and your grace. Enlighten us and stir us up, so that we are renewed and ready to be ambassadors of your love and grace to everyone. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, so that we may be encouraged by your faithful and unconditional love, and filled to overflowing with renewed hope in your great goodness. Make us shine with your love. Thank you for sending us Jesus. Thank you for his words and his work on the cross for us all. It’s in his holy name that we gather and pray. Amen.
Read Exodus 34:29-35 and Luke 9:28-36 here.
Have you ever seen bioluminescence? We’re probably most familiar with the bioluminescence in fireflies. This is caused by a chemical reaction in their bodies that makes them glow. Maybe you’ve caught fireflies in a jar. Do you know how you make a firefly happy? You let it glow.
I saw another kind of bioluminescence once Galveston. Galveston is a long, thin island, and one of its main roads runs along the ocean, the Gulf of Mexico. One night our son Tristan was driving home down that oceanfront road and he saw bioluminescence. The ocean waves were glowing. He called us and said, “You have to come see this,” so we did. Even though we were seeing it, we were having trouble believing it. Maybe one of the hotels has black lights pointed at the ocean? No, we weren’t near any of the hotels. We were amazed. This is caused by a chemical reaction that happens inside a kind of plankton, tiny organisms in the water that in certain conditions give off this blue-green light.
Did you know that scientists have discovered that humans really do glow? Our bioluminescence is much more subtle. The amount of photons, light particles, being emitted is 1000 times less than what the human eye can see, but using super-sensitive cameras, scientists have been able to document this phenomenon. It’s caused by cell respiration, a chemical reaction involving the lipids and proteins. They believe it’s strongest on our faces and neck because those parts of us are exposed to light the most. They found the glow to be stronger during the late afternoon, the part of the day when our metabolisms are burning the most energy.
There’s an old saying that men perspire, but a lady glows. We may not have known this scientifically, but I think we have a sense of it. We also say this about someone who is in love. We say they are glowing.
We know from what the Bible tells us that God is love (1 John 4:16) and God is light (1 John 1:5), so it’s really not surprising that love would make us glow, or that when Moses was meeting with God who is love that he would come out from those meetings glowing. “…the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God” (Ex. 34:29). It’s also not surprising that “When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses … they were afraid to come near him” (Ex. 34:30). They didn’t understand what was happening and we tend to fear things we don’t understand.
We read about what was happening with Moses today to help us understand what was happening with Jesus in our gospel reading today. Not that Jesus was spending time with God and glowing like Moses, but that Jesus IS God. That same light that Moses was reflecting is the light of Jesus because Jesus IS light. He told us this. He said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). That light is what Peter, James and John get to see. Years later, in his letter, Peter explains, “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).
They saw the lovelight of God and Peter wanted to honor Jesus by building tabernacles for them. But then God came in a cloud and overshadowed them, and said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 6:35) Listen to him. Listening would be important, since they were heading toward Jerusalem and the days of Jesus’ time on earth were drawing to a close. Luke tells us that this is what Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah about. Discussing the exit strategy. We know now that Jesus’ exit from this world involved being crucified on a cross, taking on our sins in his death, and being resurrected, and glorified. And that because he did, through faith in him, we have his light living in us. And the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, says that when we turn to Jesus, we glow like Moses did. Moses would put a veil over his face to hide the glow because the people were afraid of it. But because of Jesus we can remove the veil.
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. (2 Cor. 3:18)
At our session meeting this past week, we talked about this idea of the veil and how it didn’t seem like the veil was completely gone. Paul presents an either-or scenario: veil or no veil. But our experience is not quite that simple. Instead it seems as if the veil has layers, and though some layers are gone, others remain. This is similar to how Martin Luther described our situation. He said we are at the same time justified and yet still sinners. This why for all of our lives we are in the process of being sanctified. We are made right with God instantly through our faith in Jesus, and because of his work on the cross, but we are not complete until that day when we are glorified, crossing over from our earthly life into heavenly glory. Until then, we are working on removing more layers.
“…when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (2 Cor 3:16)
We reflect God’s glory when we turn to him. The more time we spend with our faces turned to God, the more we reflect His light. We may not realize it, but others can see it.
I remember the first time our church in California had a 24-hour prayer vigil. People signed up to come pray for an hour at a time. I didn’t sign up, but one of my friends did. I happened to be there when her group came out of their hour of prayer, and I was surprised to see that there was indeed a glow about them. A certain je ne sais quoi in their faces. I didn’t understand it then, but I did sign up for the next prayer vigil because I wanted that same glow to be in me.
We see a similar glow when people are coming out of a movie or a play that has been inspiring. We see it in the faces of performers who are thoroughly engaged in their performance. Where have you seen this glow in people?
When we trust in Jesus, the Holy Spirit goes to work in us, changing us. We are being transformed. The veil of sin, the layers of sin that obscure the light of God’s glory, that get in the way of our seeing and hearing Jesus, and that get in the way of how much we reflect the light of Jesus to the people around us, those layers get peeled away.
“…when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (2 Cor 3:16)
We remove the veils by confessing that we have them and asking Jesus to help us remove them.
What are those veils? They are judgment, and fear. They are selfishness. Shame. Misperception, prejudice. Maybe the thickest veil is hate. Those are just a few of the many. We each have our own. On our own, we are not as successful at removing them, but with God all things are possible. Jesus died to take away our sin, to take away the things that cloud our vision and keep us from seeing God, and from reflecting God’s glory.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the day that begins the season that we call lent. It’s a season of reflection and prayer in preparation for remembering what Jesus did for us on the cross during Holy Week, and celebrating the resurrection on Easter. This year on Ash Wednesday we’re providing an opportunity to come and pray and reflect. We’ll have six interactive prayer stations set up here in the sanctuary, six opportunities to consider some of the veils that dim the light of Jesus in our lives, and to ask Jesus to help us remove those veils.
There have been a few times in my life when the fog cleared and I could see clearly. Life came into sharp focus, my vision of God and eternity made perfect sense, and I knew exactly what I was about and where I was going. Those moments have been few but exceedingly beautiful and encouraging, and I thank God for those. Peter, James and John got one of those that day on the mountain.
May God bless you with some moments like that, too. In between, may you know that God’s grace is certain and true, and Jesus is walking with you whether you can see him or not, and may you shine like the stars from the outflow of that grace.
Thanks be to God!
Let’s pray: Loving God, we can’t always see you, and we don’t always understand what you’re up to with us or with the world. We know you are there because you promised to never leave us. Thank you for your presence and for your grace. Help us to remove the veils that cloud our vision and our thinking so that we more fully reflect the beautiful glory of your holiness and your love to the people around us. Thank you that we can because of yourson Jesus. We ask in his name. Amen.