Just Look at That Face

given on Sunday, February 14, 2010

I want you to stop a minute, close your eyes, and think back to a moment in time when you either met that special someone or when your son or daughter met that someone special and they rushed in to tell you.  Can you picture that face?  What was the special quality?  Have you seen it at other times?  Has it changed over the years?

Technically this is a 3-part sermon today:

  • Part I—Getting back to the basics;
  • Part II—Tools for reading and applying the scripture
  • Part III—Love’s radiance

Preparing a sermon that is meaningful, solid in scripture, and insightful is always somewhat a mystery, but it always comes together and it has to be due to the Holy Spirit.

One cannot ignore the significance of today, February 14, Valentine’s Day.  February is packed with special features.  The shortest month in the year is filled:

  • Groundhogs Day (we are tired of winter),
  • Abraham Lincoln and George Washington birthdays (official holiday for the state offices only)
  • Presidents Day (after all, there have been more than just two),
  • Black History Month, and
  • Heart Health Month.

All of this packed into the shortest month of the year.  Still there is more:

  • Mardi Gras
  • Ash Wednesday, and
  • Lent begins.

Enough, one might shout.  With all this going on, including winter storms, the challenge to make since of our lives can be overwhelming.  How can a person manage?

God.  The answer to all this is so basic:  God loves us.  God sent his Son to show us how to love one another.  God’s love in the only law needed; it is the basics of life.

The problem comes when we do not stay focused on God.  This week reading the lectionary helped to keep focused and guided me to today’s thoughts, but so much keeps stepping between God’s words and daily life—remember February’s agenda.  Getting back to the basics of Christian living can be challenging, and it should be easy.  Part I of today’s sermon is the reminder that the basics of our Christian faith is the scripture.

Just look at the scripture today.  (The other related scriptures are on the bulletin for your reference.)  A set of scriptures from the Old Testament, another from the Gospels, and a third from Paul’s letters weave the same visual element in and out of the verses.  Reading these passages became a jigsaw puzzle.  Here were all these pieces spread all over the place, unfortunately the picture on the box was missing.  How does one put it all together?

Part II of today’s focus is the answer:  a study tool known as John Wesley’s quadrilateral.  (On the bulletin’s cover, you can see the four sides of Wesley’s pattern to read and to find God’s message in the scripture:  scripture, tradition, experience and reason.  The method Wesley used is outlined on the United Methodist’s website:

  1. Scripture: According to the UMC website, the Bible tells the story of the Israelites and Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection.  But the words that follow develop how to read the Bible:

In our theological journey we study the Bible within the believing community.  Even when we study it alone, we’re guided and corrected through dialogue with other Christians.  We interpret individual texts in light of their place in the Bible as a whole.  We use concordances, commentaries, and other aids prepared by the scholars.  With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we try to discern both the original intention of the text and its meaning for our own faith and life.

  1. 2. Tradition: The UMC website continues with the second principle helping us to understand the history of the people between Jesus’ time and today:

Between the New Testament age and our own era stand countless witnesses on whom we rely in our theological journey.  Through their words in creed, hymn, discourse, and prayer, through their music and art, through their courageous deeds, we discover Christian insight by which our study of the Bible is illuminated.

  1. 3. Experience: Living our faith cannot be separated from the events of our life.  Reading the scripture, understanding the tradition all contribute to our faith.  The UMC website explains:

So we interpret the Bible in light of our cumulative experiences.  We interpret our life’s experience in light of the biblical message.  We do so not only for our experience individually but also for the experience of the whole human family.

  1. 4. Reason: With all the Bible reading, the understanding of tradition and our own experiences, we must also use our own careful sense of reason.  We must use our own intelligence, carefully, to put the teachings of God into practice.  The UMC websites states it like this:

We use our reason in reading and interpreting the Scripture.  We use it in relating the Scripture and tradition to our experience and in organizing our theological witness in a way that’s internally coherent.  We use our reason in relating our beliefs to the full range of human knowledge and in expressing our faith to others in clear and appealing ways.

Still we are so busy that applying the study process seems unmanageable.  We must take all those words from thousands of years and hundreds of different people and apply it to today’s day.  The task sounds impossible.

In order for us to intentionally develop our personal faith, we do have to put some effort into it.  The tools, lectio divina and Wesley’s quadrilateral, are compatible and when prayer is added we hear God talking to us.  The jigsaw’s border is put together and with the ability to reason through all the traditions and experiences of the Israelites and the Christians since Jesus began his ministry, the puzzle can be completed.

The stories in today’s scripture provide us the final picture.  The radiance of God shines so brightly in Moses’ face and in Jesus’ face.  In Exodus, the radiance was so evident to the people that it was proof to them that Moses had spoken to God.  The radiance did fade though.  Even though the prophets kept trying to tell the Israelites that they needed to prepare for Christ’s coming, Moses’ veil originally kept the radiance from distracting the people on a daily basis, but over time the veil also hid the loss of radiance.  The visible image of God’s love disappeared.  The distance between the people and God grew.

The prophets tried to keep the focus on God.  They may not have had the one-on-one conversation with God like Moses did, but God spoke to them and they were given the task to keep the focus on the promise of God.  Still the Old Covenant Moses delivered on stone tablets became hidden behind all the laws that the people kept adding.  The radiance of God’s love faded; the laws shadowed it.

Back to the basic:  the New Testament begins telling the people how the Old Covenant had to be replaced by the New Covenant.  That statement sounds so simple, but remember how we humans are.  The skeptics, the busy people, the need for the basics of food, shelter and clothing clouded the radiance of God’s love.

Jesus arrived, and using the tools to read the gospels, we grow in our faith.  We begin seeing the radiance of God’s love.  We may not be able to go to a mountaintop and have a face-to-face meeting with God, but we can go back to the basics of the Bible and listen for God.  The radiance will begin to show on your face.  You will step into the shoes of Peter, James and John as you see the light in Christ’s face.  You will understand, like Paul, how the transfiguration of Jesus makes a difference even on our faces as we return to the basics of our faith.  Look at the words from Paul:

Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and they are – face-to-face!  They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone.  And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete.  …We are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”

Just look at that face!  Part III in today’s sermon is the topic of Valentines Day.  We honor so many different people in February, but today, February 14, we honor love.  Typically our society places the emphasis on all those special relationships we have in our lives—spouses, significant others, children, grandchildren, and friends.  Today is about love stories.  No wonder the lectionary selected all these scriptures.  No love we have can even compare to God’s love, but today we see God in the faces of all those around us.  Today we celebrate the radiance we find in faces of our earthly love, just like Moses and Jesus shared the radiance of God’s love with the people around them.

Today, just look at the faces of those you love.  Remember back to that glow that sparkled in the eyes when love strangely warmed your heart.  Look at those around you and see the radiance in their faces.  Those who are solid in the basics of their Christian faith have a radiance that draws you to them.  Just look at the faces of those who are alone, who have no God in their lives.  Look at the faces of those who are hurt, down trodden, sick, and do not know God.  We have a job to do.  We need to look at those darkened faces and share God’s love with them.

Happy Valentines!  Today let’s reaffirm the need for God’s love in our lives.  Today let’s share love with one another as a way of saying thank you to our Heavenly Father.  Today, lets decide to look at the darkened faces of those around us and tell them we love them, too.  I can just imagine seeing the radiance brighten them up when they come face-to-face with God’s love, too.

Dear Radiant Father,

Just look at the faces.  We have recieved your love on this Valentine’s Day.  We thank you for letting us share love with each other, as you shared love with us.  We ask yous to speak to us as we read your word.  We ask you to give us the tools to understand the message, but also the tools to help others learn of your love.  We want to see the radiance of your love on the faces of all those around us.  We want others to see your radiance in our faces, too.  We want to just look at faces and see your radiance.         –Amen

Scriptures for today’s thoughts:

Exodus 34:29-35 (New King James Version)

The Shining Face of Moses

29 Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him.  30 So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.  31 Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them.  32 Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai.  33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.  34 But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded.  35 And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.

Luke 9:28-36 (New International Version)

The Transfiguration

28About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.  29As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.  30Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.  They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.  32Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.  33As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here.  Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)  [New Kings James Version reads, let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.]

34While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  35A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone.  The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 (The Message)

12-15With that kind of hope to excite us, nothing holds us back.  Unlike Moses, we have nothing to hide.  Everything is out in the open with us.  He wore a veil so the children of Israel wouldn’t notice that the glory was fading away—and they didn’t notice.  They didn’t notice it then and they don’t notice it now, don’t notice that there’s nothing left behind that veil.  Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt government are read out, they can’t see through it.  Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for themselves that there’s nothing there.

16-18 Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone.  And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete.  We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face.  And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

2 Corinthians 4

Trial and Torture

1-2 Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times.  We refuse to wear masks and play games.  We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes.  And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves.  Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.

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