February 27, 2022, Living Unafraid: Meeting The Divine, by Pastor David

Exodus 34: 29-35  When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai. When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

Meditation: In our moment of silence this morning, let’s quiet our minds, notice our breath, and listen for the Spirit that says, ‘You are one with the Light of God’ 

February 27, 2022 Living Unafraid: Meeting the Divine

Radiant! His face was radiant. Which is to say he was on fire. He glowed with a sense of purpose and excitement. Rev. Nic O’Rourke appeared on the cover of the Metro section of the Inquirer yesterday, his mouth open, singing. I had to laugh, because I have often seen Rev. O’Rourke with his mouth open and his spirit on fire - as he led people into the capitol in Harrisburg or, as the paper showed yesterday, as he sang, leading a service for 23 homeless people who died in the last year. No wonder his face was radiant. He was engaged in a holy witness.

If you think about it, you can probably remember times when you were in the presence of the Spirit in that way - with people whose faces were radiant, whose spirits were on fire, inspiring those around them. You might think about someone thrilled to be getting married, radiant with the delight of a day surrounded by love and excitement. We might think about the radiant face of someone who has a new baby - like . There’s a happiness that comes with being a new parent, but I’m talking about something beyond that - a radiance that indicates a presence of the Spirit that can grab us and inspire us beyond mere happiness. 

In my former church, Calvary United Methodist in West Philadelphia, we always worshipped in the chapel, which was a beautiful round room with dark wood and murals by Richard Watson painted on the walls in the balcony. I loved preaching there. 

In this picture you can see the pulpit down on the lower right and you can also see how, when the preacher is speaking, she or he is facing a stained glass window up on the second floor. It’s a portrayal of Jesus. It’s hard to see it in this picture, but many years ago, the stained glass face of Jesus fell off of the window. The window was left with a space instead of a face. When you’re preaching there, the sun shines through the space and creates a radiant Christ that is quite brilliant. 

I always think of that window on Transfiguration Sunday, the Sunday right before Lent, when we read the story of Jesus and three disciples climbing to the top of the mountain. While they are their Jesus is transfigured, lit up and radiant, and Moses and Elijah appear beside him. Our sanctuary also reminds me of the Transfiguration because our beautiful side windows feature Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Paul is the window in the back. The light shines through them this day.

The radiance of Jesus on Transfiguration Sunday is a reference to Moses in our reading from Exodus - where Moses meets with the living God to receive the 10 commandments. The write imagines Moses coming down from the mountain with the tablets and he doesn’t even realize how his face is shining. The passage Fred read for us from Texas reads: “When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.” 

Now why were they afraid to go near Moses? Sometimes we are afraid to get close to people who are radiant with the Spirit. Who was the most famous person you ever met? Whether they were radiant with the Spirit or not, you probably kept your distance a little bit. Partly we don’t want to bother people who don’t know us, but there may be a little of the Moses effect, a little fear that makes us keep our distance. We don’t feel good enough to connect with someone so well known. It’s partly why being a leader can be so lonely. People are afraid to connect with them.

Well, there’s just three things I want to notice about the radiance of leaders among us. 

1. in relation to Ukraine, we will be hearing in coming days about people who rose to the moment to resist the invasion by Russia. It is unlikely that the meager Ukrainian army is going to be able to do more than slow down the invasion by Russia, but the radiance of the people, the leaders will not be conquered. The resistance will continue long after the Russian army thinks it has won. The Spirit will win in the end.

2. in relation to the changes happening at St. Luke. As Paul Himmelberg says, “The only stable thing is change.” and in the midst of these changes our radiant leaders are stepping forward in new ways to provide the strength and resilience to move our congregation into the new and exciting time. During the pandemic we have had new leaders step forward and they are going to help us all stay strong. You can tell who they are by the way they radiate the energy of the Spirit. Sometimes we get a little scared to be near them because we know they are going to ask us to do something - to help make things better. And that gets me to my third point.

3. All of us, all of us connect at various times to the radiance of the Spirit of the Living God. We do not need to be afraid of meeting the divine, whether in the form of a charismatic leader, a famous celebrity, or a someone who is on fire in ministry. That light resonates with something inside of us and calls us to action, calls us to ministry, calls us to witness to the presence of the spirit. 

The light is real. You can see it in the face of a new mother or a dedicated leader - and what that light is has another name - it is the light of love. Real radiance sees through appearances, sees through the fears that hide our true nature. That real radiance calls out our love as well to be active in the world - sometimes through caring and being there for a loved one, and sometimes through resisting oppression when action is called for. And sometimes that radiance comes out in energy for ministry in a community going through changes. The Spirit grabs us and lights up our souls, sets us on fire and calls out courage to be there for each other and for the world.
This is God’s good news. Thanks be to God.