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  • Writer's pictureSt. Luke's

Let It Shine

The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield

We Christians love our shining lights. It’s the first thing God brings into being in the first chapter of our first book of the Bible. "You are the light of the world," Jesus tells the crowds in the Sermon on the Mount. "No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house." Saul is knocked to the ground by a light when he becomes Paul and one of the greatest teachers and theologians of our faith. And in the very last chapter of our Bible in the Revelation to John, we are told of a city that has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

But today, I think our readings reveal a more ambivalent take on light. Maybe not on first glance, but let’s take a deeper look.

We hear first about Moses who has just come off Mt. Sinai after talking directly with God. In fact, there’s been a bit of a back and forth where Moses has had to convince God not to destroy the Israelites for worshiping a golden calf. After much negotiation over several meetings, God establishes through Moses a covenant with the people of Israel—on two tablets that Moses brings down from the mountain. We’re told that after speaking with God, Moses’ face is shining.

And how do the Israelites react to Moses shining? Are they in awe? Do they bask in the beautiful light?

No, they are afraid to come near him. Unless Moses is speaking to either God or telling the Israelites what God said, he wears a veil over his head, because the shining does not fade. Moses has to cover up the light so that he doesn’t freak people out.

And then we get to the main event, the thing for which today’s feast day is named: the Transfiguration. First, what happens to Moses happens to Jesus: “While he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” But not only that, Moses actually shows up, along with Elijah, and Jesus has a chat with them. Moses, who brought the Law to the people. Elijah, the great prophet of the Hebrew Bible. Two massively important figures in Jesus’ Jewish faith. Jesus, we’re told through this scripture, is on par with these foundational men. They changed everything, and so would he.

And how does Peter respond? Is he in awe? Does he bask in this light with these incredible people?

No, he stops to do the ancient version of pulling out his cell phone to take a picture. “Let us make three dwellings,” he proposes, “one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” We need to capture this moment, keep it, never let it go.

Which is when God interrupts and says, this isn’t the time! You’re missing it all!

Moses and Elijah speak to Jesus about his death, the gospel tells us. “They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” I think it’s interesting that this is what they’re talking about right after the Transfiguration, the revealing of light in Jesus.

“This is my Son, my Chosen, my light,” God tells Peter, and John and James who were with him.

And how will Jerusalem respond to Jesus’ light? Will they be in awe? Will they bask in the beauty of it? No, they’ll ridicule him, flog him, and hang him on a cross.

Like I said, we humans seem to have an ambivalent relationship with light.

As far as I understand it, Transfiguration is a change in appearance that shows the reflection of God in a person. I don’t think of this in terms of light versus darkness so much as a radiance of God’s presence in a person versus the muting of that presence. Moses spent so much time in God’s presence that he was filled with it. Jesus was God’s own son, so he was imbued with it.

In Bible Study, Nathan—our local Bible geek, and believe me I appreciate it!—suggested that a reading from 2 Corinthians should have been selected for today’s lectionary’s lesson: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 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.”

Through the Spirit, Paul is saying, God’s radiance shines in all of us. And it’s growing from one degree of glory to another all the time. Now that radiance looks different in each of us. “To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

We all shine in different ways.

And, unfortunately, the world—or we—often react to people’s shining in similar ways to the Israelites or Peter or even the folks in Jerusalem.

I’m thinking of a precocious child. Seven or eight years old. She’s a talker, and she loves asking questions to learn more about the world and how everything works. She shines with exuberant curiosity. And a lot of the time, her parents don’t have answers to her questions. They’ve never thought about half the things she wonders about. It makes them feel insecure, afraid even. So they ask her to put a veil over her radiance. Her mom breathes a heavy sigh when she’s asked yet another question about volcanoes. “Can you stop talking for two minutes?” she snaps. “I just need some peace and quiet.”

I’m thinking of a young man who showed a remarkable talent for the cello when he was ten years old. The music teacher pulled aside his parents and told them he was special, that he had a gift. And the boy loved playing. He loved the feel of the music through his body, he loved how hitting certain notes made him want to laugh for the sheer joy of its sound.

His parents put him in a special music school, and he loved it at first. He got to play every day with other people who loved music as much as him. But then his parents insisted on sending him on auditions—for prestigious orchestras, for recording opportunities, for famous pop musicians. We need to capture his shining! Keep it! Capitalize on it!

But auditions terrified the boy. He felt so much pressure to play well that he forgot his joy. Without the joy, the quality of his playing slipped, and people started telling him he wasn’t good enough. The man is now in his thirties, and his cello has been collecting dust in a closet for years.

I’m thinking of a man who had a remarkable ability to see and name the cracks in the world. To see injustice and oppression, their roots and their effects. But he also had a clear sense of how to heal those cracks, how to call people to their best selves, to rise to the challenge of authentic love and gracious equity. He was a-once-in-a-century leader.

But many people thought this man’s shining was a threat to their way of being. They were so afraid of his message of collective liberation that they silenced him forever as he stood outside a hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee. It was April 4, 1968.

We have all been asked to turn down the volume on how God radiates through us. And we have all been guilty of dimming how others shine.

After that moment of Jesus radiating God’s light, God said to the disciples, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” And yes, that is God directly giving authority to Jesus and telling all of us that Jesus is who we need to follow.

But what if it *also* means: “You are all my children, my chosen, listen to each other.” See my shining in one another and do not be afraid. You don’t need a veil. You don’t need a dwelling. And for the love of God, you do not need to harm one another.

Listen to each other. Make space for the way God shines in each person. Make space for the way God shines in you.

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