Lectionary: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)
Speaking as a veteran of an interminable number of Sunday School classes and Bible studies, that is the standard answer a captive student gives when he hasn’t been paying attention and the teacher asks him a question. (Confession: I have a ripe history of mind-wandering in any kind of class. Posthumous apologies to the frequently annoyed Mrs. Hewitt – it was me, not you…)
As it turns out, God is kind of a big deal. Each of the readings today emphasize the clouds, the trembling, the fearsomeness, the holiness of God’s presence. In these grandly written passages, we are conflicted by the proclamations of how unapproachable God is on one hand, yet he is entirely approachable on the other.
It is unimaginable that everything, I mean everything, came from him and continues at his pleasure, so we do the human thing and make God our size, so to speak, and measure him with our measurements and judge him with our wisdom. We make excuses for him or else we blame him outright – either way, he gets put on trial and either convicted or exonerated.
God pretty much gets blamed for most things outside of our control: things big, things small, things good, things bad. There are some who pray often for miracles and then work too hard at seeing them in random circumstances; there are others who would never see or acknowledge God’s intervention in any event. *
In the Exodus passage, Moses’ face has to be covered with a veil after each meeting with God because of the way his face shines in an otherworldly way. In the last Luke passage, it is Jesus whose face and clothing are transformed into luminescent otherworldliness. His momentary ‘transfiguration’ is what gives us this day on the Christian calendar, known as Transfiguration Sunday.
His transfiguration was a peek into the future that awaited him and a new, transformed way of being. It is also a hint at our resurrected, renewed future following our current lives – we will be transfigured – made alive again in a supernatural way.
Today’s readings are about God’s glory but there is a progression shown in them as well. The progression is for those who allow their minds to be unveiled by the Spirit of God.
“Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold. We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away. But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand.
“But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” – 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:10 (NLT)
Notice in the above reading that ‘… whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.’ When we turn to God there is something changed about how we see and are seen.
I watched a news piece about a butterfly sanctuary in the path of a section of the controversial southern border wall. As I took in the information it seemed such a contrast: contractors with loud, heavy equipment shredding trees, digging trenches and blindly building a concrete structure versus the gentle, natural vegetation housing thousands of beautiful, fragile butterflies. Bull vs china in a shop.
One view of life plows through and sees only its own agenda. The other view pauses and embraces life that can’t see without looking.
Turning to God can be subtle or exceptional, emotional or intellectual, instantaneous or prolonged. It can be from any background or personality or predisposition; there are volumes of stories about the unlikeliest people becoming believers. But God always asks us to stop our own agenda and look at him with eyes that see.
In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter much how we come to see God, just that we sincerely search and wrestle. C.S. Lewis found himself searching for God as a young professor at Oxford and in Surprised By Joy he recalls the moment when, after much internal and intellectual struggle, ‘I gave in and admitted that God was God.’
Do you feel God asking you to give in and admit that he is God?
* (The subject of miracles is an interesting one for a future post.)