Sermon for Sunday, March 3, 2019 || Last Epiphany C || Exodus 34:29-35
There are people in our lives who so fully embrace the love of God that we can’t help but feel closer to God when we’re around them. They live and breathe the Way of Love so fully that half a smile or a touch on the shoulder or a quick word is more than enough for you to reorient yourself on that Way of Love as well. God has blessed me with relationships with a few such people over the years, and I’ve noticed they all have one thing in common – one thing that makes their connection to God’s love even more special. They have no idea just how amazing their connection is. If you compliment them for their incredible generosity of spirit or their welcoming manner, they will wave away the comment as undeserved. Or they will shine the compliment back on you because they have no desire to stand in the limelight.
I bring up these special people because a verse in today’s reading from the book of Exodus made me think of my life’s primary example of such a person. Moses has been up and down and up the mountain over the last several weeks: talking with God, witnessing the tail end of God’s majesty passing by, receiving the tablets containing the commandments (twice, for he broke the first set). Finally, his current audience is over, and he makes his way down the mountain again. And here’s how the scripture describes him: “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.”
Why was Moses shining? Was his skin aglow because he saw God? No – in fact, the story takes great pains to say that the only part of God Moses saw, from his vantage point in the cleft of the rock, was God’s tail end. Rather, Moses’s skin was shining because God saw him.
And you know what? God see each and every one of us. And not just us, but all people everywhere, no matter if others treat them as invisible. And not just all people, but all creatures and all living things and all non-living things for that matter. Every mote of space dust and every speeding photon of light and every vibrating elemental particle that make up God’s Creation, God sees. And what God sees, God loves. And what God loves, God marks with goodness. That’s how the Genesis story tells it: “And God saw that the light was good…And God saw that it was good…And God saw that it was good…God saw everything that [God] had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
So Moses comes down the mountain with his skin shining because God saw him. And in that wondrous moment, Moses had yet to cover this marker of God’s sight. Later he puts on a veil, but not yet. First his brother Aaron and the people see his luminous presence, the byproduct of God seeing him and blessing him.
Could we possibly believe that we, too, and all people everywhere, own such radiance? What would that mean for us? What would it mean for us to recognize God’s light shining within us? And not just recognize its inner glow, but actually remove the veils from our own persons and let that light shine?
Why is that so hard to do? Why is it so hard to embrace God’s radiance? Oh, so many reasons. First, we don’t believe God’s light shines on us. We’re not worthy. Or we’re too broken. Or we’re not ready yet. Second, this world does not appreciate the contented self-image that comes from living in God’s light. The world is too busy trying to tell us how we’re deficient in order to sell us things. Third, acknowledging the goodness of God’s light shining on us means we must acknowledge the same in everyone else, no matter the ways they might be different from us. But we’re not programmed to think like this. The light makes us feel special and if everyone is special, then no one really is, right?
Wrong. You know the old song: God’s “eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” If God’s is seeing even this tiny bird, if God is shining on the sparrow, loving the sparrow, marking the sparrow with God’s goodness, then specialness takes on a whole new meaning. Specialness is just another word for God’s creative love.
And yet, I began this sermon talking about special people who so fully embrace the love of God that we can’t help but feel closer to God when we’re around them. We call them special not because they are especially blessed – inordinately blessed – but because they don’t wear the veil.
The primary example in my life is a woman named Ruby. I wrote an entire novel about a fictionalized version of her because I was grappling with how she managed to live without that veil. She was elderly when I met her in 2008, but her long years had done nothing to dim her brightness. She loved as easily as she breathed. Her caring presence was a part of her just like my arm is a part of me. Her speaking voice and her praying voice were exactly the same; that is to say, she was always praying no matter the words. I learned more from Ruby about how to do my job than in all three years of seminary because Ruby taught me something seminary could never teach. Ruby taught me what God’s love looks like: the humility that makes such love subtle and the immensity that makes such love life-changing.
Ruby died in 2012. She was an extraordinary person – a mentor, a friend, a fellow traveler on the Way of Love. But she would have just called herself a person. She was the sparrow, and she knew God was watching her. Just as God watches us. Just as God shines light on us. Just as God marks us with goodness. And here we live with these veils covering our radiance. What would happen if we took them off?
I’ll tell you. God’s light would shine forth from us, just as the moon shines with the borrowed light of the sun. God’s light would shine forth and illumine the Way of Love before us, this way that brings our light in contact with the light of so many others who travel the Way of Love from all walks of life. And with our collective light shining, we can show this darkened world the true meaning of God’s love – the love that embraces and enlivens all of creation, bring healing, reconciliation, and new life.
(Totally intentional The Incredibles reference in this sermon.)