Reflections of God’s Light

Drew’s sermon from February 10th, 2013. The text for the sermon comes from Exodus 34:29-35, in which Moses’ comes down from the mountain changed from having met God face to face. We have all had times in which we’ve found ourselves upon the mountain top, and we’re called to come back down like Moses and reflect that light onto the people in our lives.

Reflections of God’s Light

It can be as quick as a photograph or as slow as a Sunday afternoon. It can overwhelm us with power, or just be with us, like a warm blanket on the couch. Moses knew it, stuck in the cleft of the rock as God’s glory passed him by. Peter, James, and John saw it too: there he was, standing with Moses and Elijah, the very voice of God proclaiming him “Son.” Even people like us catch a glimpse of it sometimes, I think all of us have had moments like that, where suddenly God’s presence is made known to us. Taking an evening walk in the back yard after the day’s work has been done or having a breakthrough with a child we’ve been working with. It can even happen in church, though the way we treat church these days may make it seem unlikely.

We catch a glimpse of the light and our faces shine, and we return home giddy, euphoric, and maybe a little sunburned, but brimming with excitement for what we’ve seen.

The summer before my first year of high school, I went with to a Youth Conference in Montreat North Carolina. Every year they have these big Youth conferences, more than a thousand youth per week from all over the country come to these conferences, and the worship is wonderful and the sermons are powerful and the experience is incredible.

Every night, we would come together for Back Home group and talk about our day, and our faith, and sing a couple of songs, and these conversations were so deep and meaningful, we’d stay up until 1 in the morning just talking. A few of the older guys had truly transformative experiences, and they wanted the whole world to know it. The last night of the conference there was a talent show. They wrote new verses to a rap song they knew, talking about what this week had meant to them, and how they got to know God. They were unbelievably excited, they worked all night the previous night practicing, and the organizers were so impressed with their act that they made it the final one for the night.

Derek came up and did the first verse (I’m changing names so that I don’t accidentally call someone out), and it was great. Even though he’d written it the night before he had it memorized perfectly, and you could tell how passionate he was to share his experience with everyone. Then came the second verse, to be sung by John. John took the mic in his hands, and put it up to his mouth, but no sound came out. To this day we’re not sure why. John says that he was singing, that the mic must have cut out, but the sound guys checked the mic and started the verse over, but we still couldn’t hear anything. It may be that he just lost his nerve, and couldn’t get his voice to make any sound. What it caused, though, was incredible.

The sound problem messed everything up. All the guys on stage, in front of more than a thousand people, didn’t know what to do. One of the back up dancers did a breakdancing move, “The Worm.” The crowd roared. Derek got up, and said, “Hey y’all, we’re sorry, we just wanted to come here and rap for you and share what God did for us, but we messed up and we’re sorry. We’re just going to offer up some dance moves now, and God bless. They bounced around and danced until the song ended, with each new move getting an even louder response. When the song ended, there was a standing ovation. I know nearly everything seems to get a perfunctory standing O these days, but this one was genuine. It was immediate, and loud, and it lasted for five full minutes. The effect for all of us, was transcendent. Here they were, putting themselves out there to talk about God’s forgiveness and love, and they found themselves on the receiving end of it.

When we went home, every single one of us was still aglow with the Spirit. I heard later that Derek and another one of the older guys sent emails to everyone they knew talking about the experience they had. Everyone, even the people who weren’t involved in the performance at all, talked about it, and was amazed at the experience. We had Montreat Sunday at church, and Derek and the guys led the church in songs and told them what this trip had meant to them. We couldn’t help but share what we had seen, because we had had a mountaintop experience, and our faces glowed with its brilliance.

When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, his face shone with brilliance as well, the brilliance of having encountered God face to face. He didn’t realize it, but his face shined so brightly that when he got down from the mountain, everyone was afraid of him, and ran and hid. It was only when they heard the sound of his voice and realized that he was still Moses did they come out. Even then, his face was so bright, for the rest of his life he had to wear a veil over it, taken off only when he was serving as God’s messenger.

The story seems a little far-fetched, but the truth is undeniable. To bathe in God’s light is to have God’s light reflect on everyone around you. As Melissa Sevier puts it, when you’ve spent time with God, it can’t help but show.[1]

You start planning mission work, and you share your excitement with other people you know. You go to a funeral, and commiserate with your coworker about love and loss. You teach Sunday School, and find yourself much more forgiving of your neighbor who’s kids are always messing up your flowers.

And it’s not just at church. Anywhere you encounter God, any time you can get up on the mountaintop, it will reflect onto the people around you. The peace that you find watching the sunset cools an argument forming over dinner. A song you hum on the way to work reminds you to keep on the sunny side when someone backs into your car. Your time in God’s light can be as quick as a photograph or as long as a Sunday afternoon, but you can’t help but reflect it on the people around you. When you let God into your life, you end up reflecting God’s light all over everyone you meet.

There are obstacles, of course. Sometimes it is tempting to stay up there. This is what Peter wanted. “Let’d build three dwellings,” he said. But if we try to keep the moment for ourselves, it disappears. There people down at the foot of the mountain who need us, there are broken hearts that need mending, hungry mouths that need nourishment, pain that needs soothing. With all the dark places in our world, how do we not let our light shine?

Other times you come down from the mountain all aglow with passion, and people are afraid of what you might do. Given the way God often asks us to turn our worlds upside down, they probably should be. When Moses came down, the people were afraid. But when they heard the sound of his voice, they drew near. Call out to people in the language of love and their fears will melt away.

The author Robert Fulghum, when he goes to a lecture and the speaker asks, “Are there any questions?” he likes to ask big questions, like “What is the meaning of life?” Usually that gets a big laugh, and everyone starts to get up and talk to their neighbor and make there way to the nearest exit. But one time, Fulghum was hearing a man speak, whose name was Alexander Papaderos, an old teacher who had worked to repair some of the damage done by World War II.

At the end of the speech Fulghum asked his question, and everyone laughed and started to get up until they realized that Papaderos had his finger in the air. “I will answer your question,” he said.

When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.

I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light in to dark places where the sun would never shine – in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. But light – truth, understanding, knowledge – is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.

I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world – into the black places in the hearts of men – and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of life.[2]

Moses spent 40 days fasting on the mountain, and his face shone for the rest of his life.  On Wednesday, Lent begins. 40 days in commemoration of the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness. It is a time of repentance, and often self-denial. Let us not forget that we don’t do these for their own sake or for our health, but to get closer to God.

Find sometime this Lent, to make your way up to the mountaintop. Do something that gets you closer to God. Pray at the same time every day. Invite someone to study the Bible with you. Recalibrate your habits to be consistent with God’s will. Take evening walks. Invite someone to share a meal with you. Have long conversations that last deep into the night.  Go find a way to soak up as much of God’s transcendent, earth shattering Good News as you can get.

And then come back down the mountain, and shine that light into the dark places it might not reach. May you shine with the reflected light of God’s presence to the ends of the earth.

[1] Sevier, Melissa. “Shiny Faces” Contemplative Viewfinder. 8 February 2010. Accessed 9 February 2013.

[2] Fulghum, Robert. It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It. New York: Villard Books, 1990. p. 176-177.


About Drew

I'm the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pitman, NJ. I love camping, rhetorical criticism, and classic movies. I'm passionate about God's love, and the messy, beautiful ways it shows itself in our communities every day.
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