Sermon Ideas For Exodus 34:29-35 Part 6
A face streaming with light, a pillar of fire, a light-radiant cloud, blinding white clothes, lightning—some form of light seems to be an essential part of almost any manifestation of the divine.
In the movie, The Green Mile, a gentle giant named John Coughie surprises everyone from time to time by generating a silver-gold light. He has been falsely accused of murder and imprisoned in a corridor of cells reserved for condemned men. While he is there, he begins to show signs of unusual powers.
A vindictive guard kills a prisoner’s pet mouse, and John speaks up. “Give him to me. It may not be too late.” As the giant cups the mouse in his huge hands, a silver-gold light shimmers through his fingers. John concentrates, and the glow intensifies. Finally he opens his hands, and the mouse climbs out, alive and healthy.
Convinced that John Coughie is no murderer but one of God’s “own true,” the head warden sneaks him out of the prison one night to see if he can heal a dying friend. John enters the woman’s sick room, gently lifts her head and sets his mouth upon hers. Light pulses golden between them as he breathes his healing power into her and takes her sickness into himself. When he releases her, her face is radiant, her body healed.
The Green Mile is, at most, a modern day parable of Christ, and, at least, a reminder to keep our eyes and ears open because God’s angels are among us today, going about their light-filled work. Most of the time there is a veil between us and reality, between us and the glory of God, but God honors anyone’s earnest desire to know him more fully, and sometimes the glory breaks through.
Vincent Van Gogh possessed a burning desire “to grasp life at its depth.” One night he looked out his window, and the sky was spinning with glory. His painting, The Starry Night, is composed of vivid indigos, yellows, golds, greens, blues and blacks. A tree on the left ripples up like flame. Chimney smoke from village houses connects with the stars. And the sky! The sky is filled with mammoth stars that whirl across the canvas like living things.
Joseph Haydn was an earnest Christian who said his heart “leaped for joy” at the thought of God. Because Haydn loved God and longed to probe God’s depths with music, God gave him a vision of God’s glory that still inspires and enlightens us today.
In Haydn’s oratorio, The Creation, the angel Uriel sings mysteriously of the creation of the sun, the moon, and finally the stars. Then a choir of angels bursts out in praise. “The heavens are telling the glory of God. The wonder of His work displays the firmament.”
The voices begin singing in simple four-part harmony. Gradually the music becomes more and more complex. The basses boom. The timpani rumble. The trumpets sound. “The wonder of his work! The wonder of his work!” Tenors and basses, then sopranos and altos, sing separate parts in an intricate weaving back and forth. The parts come back together. Then, as one voice, the choir shouts out “displays the firmament!”
Again and again, the voices sing melody against melody, then reunite to proclaim God’s glory more brilliantly than before. What I hear the composer saying is that every time I tell someone what I’ve seen of God, and they share with me what they’ve seen, both of us apprehend his glory more fully than ever before.
Moses had much occasion to see the glory of God, in the night sky, yes, but also in the bush that was burning and the pillar of cloud and fire. There came a time for Moses, however, when even those manifestations weren’t enough.
During the days following his discovery of his people worshipping a golden calf, Moses must have felt his life was falling apart. His people had flagrantly violated God’s most important command. God had instigated the slaughter of three thousand unrepentant men, and Moses himself had become so enraged at the people’s idolatry that he’d shattered tablets engraved by God’s own hand.
I can imagine him in the night hours, tossing and turning upon his bed. “We’ve failed again, Lord, and this time more miserably than ever before. I’m so alone. I need to see Your glory, to be assured of all You are. Lift me out of this chaos into the certainty and vastness that is You.”
Pleased by the request, God arranged for God’s glory to break forth on Mt. Sinai, letting it pass before him with such terrible majesty that God had to station Moses in the cleft of a rock to protect him. When Moses returned to the camp, rays of light were streaming from his face. Like the halo or nimbus around the heads of saints in sacred art, the radiance of Moses’ countenance was a sign of a special relationship with God. Its source was not the man Moses, but the creator-God.
The more we spend time in the Word, ask the right questions and refuse to be satisfied with someone else’s experience of God, the more of God we will apprehend. The closer we draw to the ideal of desiring God’s presence more than we desire anything on earth, the further God will move us into the light. We will begin to understand the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.”1
We will begin to experience that we find certitude, meaning and joy, not by analysis and reason, but by focusing on the mystery, compassion and majesty that is God.
1. Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,” quoted in C.K. Williams, The Essential Hopkins (Hopewell, New