The Transfiguration of the Lord – 1/21/2024
Rev. Christopher W. Brademeyer
That portion of God’s holy Word for consideration this morning is our Old Testament lesson from Exodus chapter thirty-four, with special emphasis on verses twenty-nine through thirty which read as follows:
“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.”
Thus far the Scriptures.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God is not a casual God. Let me explain. While it is most certainly true that God wishes us to become His beloved sons and inheritors of all the gifts of salvation through Jesus Christ by adoption, this should not be taken to mean that God ceases to be the Almighty or the Creator of all things both seen and unseen. In other words, though God desires you and your salvation more than anything else, this love and mercy on His part does not excuse disrespect on ours.
What kind of God do we confess as Christians? Certainly the true and living God who is beyond all knowing and greater than the total of all things. A God who not only created all things with but a Word but who constantly sustains and preserves all things with the same. In other words, God is such that we owe Him the respect and, as Luther reminds us in the Small Catechism in explaining the First Commandment, even fear. This God is beyond us and has such power and authority over every facet of creation that but a wish can cause whole worlds to cease to exist, and anyone who considers this would be strange if such thinking did not breed fear. More still, this God is our King and Lord. We respect and honor lessor, human authorities; how much more should we respect and honor our God!
And this is to say nothing of the great admiration and honor that is owned to the Lord of His salvation of us through the death of our Lord Jesus. No honor or praise can ever be enough to give to the Lord what He is due for this great gift.
This, dear friends in Christ, is something of what we see in our reading from Exodus this morning. This passage picks up shortly after our reading last week. To recap: the Israelites were freed from slavery by God through Moses. God used plagues, including the last plague in which the first born of Egypt were killed by an angel of death, but the Israelites were passed over and spared by putting blood of an unblemished lamb on the doorposts and lintel (the board over the top of a door) of their houses. This foreshadowed the blood earned forgiveness of Jesus. After this, God led His people by a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, including through the Red Sea by parting the waters. He settled His glory and presence on Mt. Sinai and there gave Moses the Ten Commandments and the other Laws of the Old Testament. Moses, after forty days on the mountain, came down to find that Israel had made a golden calf idol and were worshiping it. He wrecked the tablets of the Law that God had written, destroyed the calf, and then pleaded with God to not withdraw from them. Earlier in chapter thirty-three, Moses is ordered to lead the people from Sinai. God also commanded Moses to set up a tent of meeting where God would talk to Moses and give responses to the questions of the people. After this was the conversation of God and Moses we read last week. Shortly after it, God orders Moses to carve again the tables of the covenant up on Mt. Sinai and God then renews His covenantal promise to Israel.
But when Moses came down from the mountain this second time, the radiance, the holiness, the very divine light of God had made Moses’s face to shine. Just like a glow in the dark toy absorbs something of the light to shine in the dark, so Moses’s face would radiate the very light of God. And not only this every time Moses went into the tent of meeting to talk with God, his face would shine again. Just the reflected light of God’s glory in the face of Moses was enough to cause trembling and fear among the Israelites. And Moses veiled His face. St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that the veil of Moses was not for what seems obvious, that is, to keep Israel from fearing him, rather, Moses covered his face so that Israel would not be enamored with the passing glory of the Law as God had intended from the beginning to do something greater than the Law, namely unite Himself with our human race by becoming a man among us and so that by doing so, our salvation would be ensured through His death and resurrection.
Now, this is all to not something very basic: if even the reflected glory of God caused such fear among Israel, why do we spend so much time doing everything we can to make our Christian life and celebrations of God’s Word casual and ordinary? We do not even need to bring up the low hanging fruit here of those who replace reverence with entertainment in the form of radically changing their worship services to look like rock concerts. No, even here we suffer from the same sentiment. If we are honest, we will find that we much prefer the easy and, dare I say, lazy path to the more difficult and reverent things that we owe God. Let me give an example that I think most, if not all, churches have fallen into at one time or another, including ours. For whatever reason, the appointment of church sanctuaries typically devolves into a discussion or, too often, a fight about which faction or person in the church’s taste should prevail in such matters. Some like a simpler, more arts and craft aesthetic. Others want sleek and clean. Some want homey. Others might like churchy. Some people want a simple and clutter free space. Others see no issues with a great many paintings, banners, etc. filling the chancel. But what is missing in all of this is that your opinion, as well as mine, does not really matter! Instead of looking to what God commands, as for example in the Temple or Tabernacle in the Old Testament, we look to ourselves. Instead of asking what gives the greater respect and honor to God, we instead ask what is easiest for us. Instead of trying to give people an impression of the splendor of God and His salvation, we tend to focus on simple usefulness. In other words, whether we mean to or not, we tend to outfit our church sanctuaries in such a way that lends, at best, to a very diminished and comfortable, even casual, view of God instead of using our human gifts and talents given by Him to confess the majesty and glory of God through fitting reverence.
Now I am not saying that if a church does not have a $40,000 communion set or an 18-foot-tall pulpit with hand carved mahogany that it is not being faithful in these matters. Sometimes, especially for poor or small congregations, the choices in such things are very limited. I simply wish to point out that our actions in church, how we conduct our services, how we outfit our sanctuary, and everything related to that, these teach people about who God is. Therefore, we should to everything in our power to make sure that we teach God as He has revealed Himself to us, with all the proper reverence and respect that comes with it.
Now the truth of the matter here is simple: while we often like to pretend otherwise, we do not have a casual God. He is mighty and just, imposing terror and awe on us mere mortals. But, just as God was patient with Moses and Israel, and even permitted His glory to reflect off of imperfect Moses, so God is patient and merciful with us. And while it is certainly good of us to do our very best in everything related to our church and our lives and Christians, we know even more that we have a God who is merciful and forgiving even to the point of giving His Son for us.
This is the reason behind all that we do as Christians, at the end of the day, that is, that Jesus gave Himself for us. While it is certainly true that God deserves glory and respect because of Who He is and because of His being the Creator of all, at the end of the day, we seek to do well in reverence and respect for God because He has first loved and saved us. And, if we fall short as we so often do, we know that a merciful Savior stands, arms outstretched, in love, mercy, and compassion for all of us, yes, even you. His love shines forth on us, enlightening us, and granting us life and salvation. Just as it lit up Moses, so too it enlightens our souls.
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 English Standard Version
 2 Corinthians 3:13-18