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Sermon Briefs: Exodus 34:29-35 Part 2

A sermon by Colin Sedgwick from Kenton, London, in The Expository Times of February, 1995 is the only sermon found in the last ten years which focused only on this Exodus text. Sedgwick draws upon the character, “the reddleman,” who is so involved in the work of “redding” sheep, that his own flesh is a bright red. For Colin Sedgwick this character is like Moses who was so involved in his relationship with God that God’s glory permeated his flesh so that when Moses comes down that glory is still pouring out of Moses. There are three ways in which this story reminds us of our relationship with God: 1) The glow on Moses suggests that is what closeness to God does for us. The closer we draw to God the more God’s glory will shine through us. 2) Moses’ ignorance of the glow is the perfect parable of true humility. God’s saints are those who have the glow but are not proud of it. 3) The human response to Moses’ glow is our human response to the presence of true holiness. Most of the time when we discover we are in the presence of the holiness of God our reaction is fear and apprehension. We are afraid to come close. We want some protection. We cannot stand the sight of glory very long. Annie Dillard once suggested that even from glory our human eyes soon tire and turn away.
Four other outstanding sermons merge all the lectionary texts into the same sermon. When lectionary preaching was becoming a major part of contemporary preaching, the idea of weaving all three or four texts into one sermon was frequently mentioned. But it was an objective that was more difficult and time consuming than most preachers had time for. “Pick one and just go with it” became the norm.
J. Barry Vaughan in The Library of Distinctive Sermons, vol. 3 takes the common thread of light shining to draw together the three texts. The light shinning from Moses is the light of God’s love shining out of Jesus which enables us to see each other as children of God. It is the light of God shinning in which enables the dawn to come. It is dawn when there is enough light to see that the face of the one coming towards you is a friend and not an enemy.
Edwina Hunter, in the Pulpit Digest of 1990, begins with the Lukan story of the disciples on the mountain and the transfiguration. What were the three, Moses, Jesus, and Elijah talking about? The Exodus of Jesus. Jesus talking with Moses about his coming death, his exodus. Jesus, like Moses, will lead his people into a new life through a different kind of exodus. To set my people free.
The freedom which Jesus is prepared to give his people by his death is the freedom Paul is talking about in the Corinthian text. Paul is using this Exodus story as the basis for his discussion of the freedom given by Jesus, and Paul goes to the end where Moses puts the veil over his face. Jesus is setting people free from the veil, the legalistic mindset, the attitude with which we read scripture and believe we have the only right answers. Hunter then gives a pounding illustration of that negative legalistic attitude. Jesus’ exodus is to set us free from the slavery of the law to the freedom of grace, and we are to enjoy that freedom by sharing that freedom with others, that is now our ministry to the world. Hunter concludes with a number of examples of congregations and people who are living out the ministry she thinks that Paul has in mind, the freedom in Christ.
Mark Trotter, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in San Diego, California, worked these texts together around the theme of joy instead of freedom. Trotter starts with some questions about the way we look in photographs. Our faces, our expressions, our attitudes are seen in the way we look. This discussion about faces and how we look takes Trotter to Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s comments in Wind, Sand, and Stars about some migrant worker’s faces on a train, their faces suggested that they “had lost half their human quality.” This long introduction leads to Paul telling his Corinthian friends that they are his pictures. People will look at them and learn a lot about Paul. So Paul is concerned about how they look, what kind of impression they make.
The face leads to the face of Moses. The Exodus text is summarized and the veil comes out at the end of the telling. Nobody could listen to what Moses had to say because of the glow on his face so they covered the glow with a veil. When Paul gets to the veil he slides over to a veil still between the people and the Word of God. When we remove the veil between ourselves and God in Jesus Christ we are “changed from one degree of glory to another.” Paul thinks that glory will be read in the faces of his church people. Trotter says that glory is joy. “If your life is filled with joy, it will show on your face.”
Trotter works his way from there to a discussion of how those in tough places can find joy and show joy and how joy must be “written in our hearts to be seen in our faces.” It is written in our hearts when we realize and accept that God’s love is for us.
Barbara Brown Taylor begins with the Exodus text in the sermon Glory Doors in Bread of Angels. Her beginning is Michelangelo’s statue of Moses with horns. It seems in Hebrew “shinning” and “horn” have the same consonants. Taylor talks about what happened to Moses. Moses seeing the light of God’s presence on earth and even more. Moses sees the back side of God’s glory, and it is so intense that it makes others afraid of him.
The same thing happened, Taylor says, in the transfiguration of Jesus. Only the glow of the glory did not last as long for Jesus. He never had a veil. Maybe things would have been better for Jesus if the glory had lasted longer. But both of these transfigurations are events that happened to the person. It is not something either of them did. It happened to them. They were changed by the glory of God.
What we are asked to believe is that at certain moments in time, the glory of God is visible. Sometimes the only real purpose in life may be the seeking to see that glory. But we are also asked to believe in the glory even when we cannot and do not see it. We live in a world where glory is possible. We live in the hope that glory may happen to us, or at least, happen near us so we can see it. We may also have to live in the world where all we have is the story of glory happening to others. Such is the struggle and the challenge of faith.