Sermon Ideas For Exodus 34:29-35 Part 5
Relationships and liberation theology are two themes that interweave with pastoral implications in today’s readings. Since the Law given to Moses at Mt. Sinai contains so many “thou shalt not” prohibitions, it is not always obvious that they are meant to liberate. It can be good to remind the congregation that they are part and parcel of the Exodus story. God has rescued the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt. Then, before they enter the Promised Land, God gives them the Law so that they will be able to live as a truly free people. We simply cannot live freely, for instance, if we have to worry about everyone in the neighborhood wanting to steal our possessions. People today who live with bars on their windows or in gated communities realize this.
However, people have always known the liberating truth of these basic laws. The trick has been to actually live them. Thus, the key to the Law in the Judeo-Christian tradition is the first commandment that says to remember the Lord our God who brought us out of the house of bondage, and said “you shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:1-6). Whoever or whatever the reality is behind the mystery of God, the great I AM, our tradition tells us there is a personal quality. No matter how much we realize that we project and attribute inappropriate anthropological qualities to this Mystery, a relationship with it is possible. Not only possible, it is a necessity for discovering what it means to be human and/or divine. Biblical history is the history of being encountered by this Other, and discerning how to be in a liberating, redemptive relationship with It, so that we are indeed empowered to live in right-relationships with one another on earth.
Often in the tradition, as in today’s readings, God’s presence is revealed to people mysteriously in the ambiguity of a cloud. The Otherness of God must find a way to grasp, encounter, and teach us. God led the people through the wilderness, a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Moses climbed the mountain to communicate with God in the cloud. The result of being exposed to God’s presence or glory was that Moses’ face shone. The reaction of the people to this reflection of God was fear. For them, at this point in their pilgrimage, the glory of God was an extension of the glory of Pharaoh, which is a fearsome, awesome thing from which one could die. Moses accommodated their fear through wearing a veil. Likewise, in the story of the transfiguration in Luke, God’s presence comes to the disciples in a cloud. They have not been listening to Jesus since he began talk of needing to die in Jerusalem. The fearsome encounter with God this time yields the unmistakable message from out of the cloud, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Lk 9:35).
Later, Paul will suggest in 2 Corinthians 3 and elsewhere that we need to listen to Jesus because “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Once again, the theme is liberation. Paul says the veil of fear which lay over the minds of the Israelites which kept them from living the Law, is now lifted. We no longer need to obey out of fear, for the law is written on our hearts because we have seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We now know that the glory of God is not the glory of Pharaoh or Caesar, but the glory of the cross of Jesus Christ, the glory of seeking, saving, suffering love.
Paul then affirms “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory [presence] of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18). Growing into the likeness of God is accomplished through a relationship with Jesus, primarily from being in his presence. Jonathon Edwards took this as the basis for pastoral care evaluations. He would assess from someone’s countenance or being how much they had been impacted by the beauty of God known through Christ. This impact should extend to Christian community as well, where greeting and relating to one another through the beatific love of Jesus should be a forming-transforming power.
Critics of Christianity such as Friedrich Nietzshe, who was a preacher’s kid and knew the church up close, noted that this is precisely what was not happening. “Christians,” he said, “ought to look more redeemed.” However, today’s sermon could call attention to the relational power of a number of those who have lived in the light of God’s presence and passed it on. Mother Teresa, for one, literally brought people back to life and health just through looking at them through the eyes of Christ.
Prior to World War II, some ministers had dinner with William Temple, the Archbishop of York, where there was heated dialogue. When Temple was engaged in the discussion, the report was that one simply could not be small, petty, or cutthroat in his presence. When Don Quixote sees Aldonza the Whore, he looks at her as My Lady Dulcinea, and she is transformed. When Sancho Panza speaks to her as Aldonza after Quixote dies, she replies with powerful serenity, “My name is Dulcinea.” My name is Paul, not Saul. People in the congregation know the power of having been seen through the eyes of a beloved. If polled about how they came to church, they invariably begin to name persons who encountered them in graceful ways, thus granting them new freedoms.