“The Face of God” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with worship for the weekend of February 14, 2021. The text on which it is based is Luke 9:28-43.
“The Face of God”
Transfiguration Sunday (NL3) John B. Valentine
Luke 9:28-43 February 14, 2021
“THE FACE OF ..... GOD!”
The football season is over! Finally ... officially ... OVER!
Which means that now I can turn my attention to basketball!
Speaking of basketball ... did any of you see that video clip of Steph Curry earlier this week??
The one where he made that truly-mind-boggling no-look layup against the Spurs??
It truly was amazing ... leaving even his opponents all agog.
But appended to that video ... at least on the website on which I saw it ... was this question: “Can’t we all just admit that Steph is the face of the NBA?”
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“THE FACE OF THE NBA”.
You know that phrase ... “The Face of”???
The Face of this ... the Face of that ....
What does it mean to be “The Face” of something???
Doesn’t it mean to be so personally-interconnected to something that ... when someone sees your face that immediately start to thinking of whatever it is that you’re “the face of”???
So ... for instance ...
• Mark Zuckerberg ... the head of Facebook ... is currently the Face of Social Media. And ...
• Kim Kardashian is the Face of 21st-Century Influencer Culture. And ...
• Jake Angeli ... the Q-Anon Shaman ... is the Face of the Capitol Riot.
I mean ... when we see certain faces ... we just naturally associate them with certain ideas or certain events ... do we not???
• Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking are the faces of .... Quantum Physics. And ...
• Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. are the faces of .... Civil Rights.
• Queen Elizabeth is the face of ... the United Kingdom.
• Sigmund Freud is the face of ... Psychology.
• Beethoven is the face of Classical Music ... and ...
• Elvis ... at least ‘young Elvis’ hopefully ... is the face of Rock 'n' Roll.
So ... for instance ...
• Imagine you saw a picture of Sigmund Freud talking with Mark Zuckeberg ... you’d assume that Freud was trying to understand the psychology behind social media ... no???
• If you saw Elvis in a room talking to Einstein ... you might say, "Rock 'n roll meets science."
• If you saw Martin Luther King talking to Queen Elizabeth ... you’d assume the conversation would be about the state of Civil Rights in Great Britain ... right???
But ... at least for today ... I want to add a couple of other “faces” to our list.
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You see ... this week ... in the context of worship ... we’re celebrating the last Sunday of the Season of Epiphany ... something traditionally referred to as “Transfiguration Sunday” ... or ... more formally ... “The Transfiguration of Our Lord”.
For every year ... on this last Sunday before Ash Wednesday ... we hear the story of Jesus’ transfiguration up on the mountain ...
Jesus ... in the presence of just a few of his disciples ... having this supernatural encounter with Moses and Elijah.
Now Moses is someone we probably know.
Heck ... we probably even assume that he looks a whole lot like Charlton Heston!
Moses ... the central human figure of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy ...
• Moses and the Burning Bush ...
• Moses and the Plagues of Egypt ...
• Moses and the Parting of the Red Sea ...
But what we really know Moses for is as the face of the Ten Commandments ... “the Face of the Law” ... as it were.
In fact ... were you to visit our nation’s capital ... and ... I hate to say it ... if those public buildings there are ever opened to the public again ... you could see a whole number of portrayals of Moses.
• There’s a large statue of Moses in the Library of Congress ...
• There’s a least eight statues and carvings of Moses in and on the Supreme Court Building ... and curiously ... and if you look carefully you might notice it in one or another of the news clips that’s come out of Washington in recent days ...
• There’s a marble etching of Moses overlooking the chamber of the House of Representatives ... with Moses portrayed as “forward-facing” ... and there are twenty-two other figures from the history of human governance who all have their profiles facing toward Moses!
Because even in our own nation ... Moses is the Face of the Law.
You see ... every government in the history of humankind has had some system of law.
Democracies ... monarchies ... oligarchies ALL have to have laws.
Communists ... fascists ... socialists ... capitalists ALL have to have laws.
We may not always LIKE the law ... but laws ... at least ‘just laws’ ... are in place for our long-term benefit. They show us how to live together.
Laws are about being responsible ... to one another ... to the society in which we live ... even to God himself!
And Moses is that face of that responsibility.
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Now Elijah ... on the other hand ... is significantly LESS well-known.
Like Moses ... Elijah was a prophet of God ...
But his story is just a portion of the books of First and Second Kings ... and one small shout-out in Second Chronicles.
Like Moses ... Elijah worked some amazing miracles ...
But those miracles are ... for the most part ... on a smaller scale than the signs and wonders which Moses performed.
Like Moses ... Elijah is deemed particularly instrumental in the history of the people fo God
But ... so far as I can discern ... there’s only ONE portrayal of Elijah in our nation’s capital ... and that one is located in the National Cathedral.
Nonetheless ... what Elijah IS known for is being the voice and the face of accountability:
• Calling out leaders who compromise their faith and integrity for the sake of political expediency ... and
• Calling on the power of God to be revealed in acts of wonder and power ... and
• Calling all people back into worshipful relationships with the one true God.
• Reminding HIS nation’s leaders again and again and again that those who are beholden of earthly power and riches will never be able to do justice and love integrity and walk humbly with God.
So when ... in the Gospels ... John the Baptist shows up preaching “a Baptism of Repentance” ... everyone just naturally assumes that he’s channeling the spirit of Elijah ... the face of accountability.
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So now imagine the shock that Jesus’ disciples must have felt when they saw their teacher in conversation with Moses ... the Face of the Law ... and Elijah ... the Face of the Prophets ... up there on the mountain!!
• It must have been awe-inspiring and amazing and all that...
• But It also must have been more than a wee bit terrifying ... no???
After all ...
Peter and James and John knew the Law which Moses embodied ... for they’d been steeped in those words since the time they were young boys ...
And they KNEW that they’d fallen short of heeding that Law ...
That they hadn’t been as responsible as Moses called them to be.
Then again ... they knew the prophetic calling to accountability ... for they’d been steeped in those words too since the time they were young boys as well.
And ... as regards the words of the Prophets ... they KNEW that that shoe fit ... even if they didn’t much like it.
But what about us?
• We've met Moses!
• We've met Elijah!
I mean ...
We know the Law ..... we know that call to responsibility and we know we fail miserably at trying to keep it.
We've heard the Prophets ..... we know we're called to lives of holiness and integrity and accountability ... and we know we've failed miserably to live righteously as we should.
And were we in the place of Peter and James and John up there on the mountaintop ... I suspect that we’d be every bit as terrified as they were!
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But now here’s where things get REALLY interesting!
As important as Moses ... the Face of the Law ... is to the people of God ...
And as important as Elijah ... the Face of the Prophets ... is to the people of God ...
At the end of the day ... the Voice from the cloud says what?
“This one ... THIS One ... this Jesus one ... THIS One is my Son ... my Chosen ... LISTEN TO HIM!”
It’s not that Moses and Elijah don’t matter ...
It’s just that they pale in importance to Jesus ... for He is the One whose words matter the most.
It’s not that the words of the Law and the Prophets don’t matter ...
It’s just that they pale in importance to the Good News that Jesus brings.
It’s not that Responsibility and Accountability don’t matter ...
It’s just that forgiveness and grace and love matter more.
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Remember how I told you that in our nations’s Capitol that are all those bas-relief profiles of famous legal figures from history all looking to a forward-facing Moses ...
As if to acknowledge that Moses ... in the realm of human governance ... is the one who gets It just right??
Maybe this story from up on the mountain is basically trying to do the same thing.
Inviting us to see that ... if Moses and Elijah ... the Law and the Prophets look to Jesus ... maybe we should too!
For this Jesus is God’s Chosen One ... ought we not listen to him??