Sunday, January 29, 2023

Veiled Glory

 Exodus 34:29-35

And it came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses' hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him.  So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.  Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers in the congregation returned to him; and Moses spoke to them.  And afterward all the sons of Israel came near, and he commanded them to do everything that the LORD had spoken to him on Mount Sinai.  When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.  But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded, the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone.  So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with Him.

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday                             1/29/23

Veiled Glory

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

When I was a student in Junior High school, we read this story about the Minister's Black Veil by Nathaniel Hawthorn.  The story was fascinating – the preacher – a normally calm and well-liked man – suddenly started to wear this black veil constantly.  It covered his eyes and nose.  No one saw his face for years.  No one understood why he wore the veil, and he never said.  It changed his life.  Even his fiancee backed away from him.  The climax of the story was when was dying and they pleaded with him to remove the veil, but he refused.  After he passed away, no one dared to move the veil from his face even as he lay in the casket.  They all just wondered if he was disfigured, or hiding some secret shame, or what.

I wonder if that the idea came from Moses.  He went up into the Mountain of the Lord, Mount Sinai, to receive the Law from God, and He stood in the presence of the glory of the Lord so long that his face began to shine with a reflected radiance, like one of those green phosphorescent crosses that were so common when I was a child, except I doubt it shone green.  The shining of his face so unnerved his people, even his brother Aaron, that he began to wear a veil to cover his face and hide the troubling sight from his countrymen.  It appears that Moses wore that veil for the rest of his life – and no one took it off after his death because he died alone on Mt. Nebo.  This is something of an object lesson in advance pointing forward to the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Our theme this morning is veiled glory.

This is such an Transfiguration kind of Old Testament Lesson.  Here we see the glory of God shining from the face of the man Moses.  It is "borrowed glory" as we sing in the hymn, but it is the glory of God.  In the Transfiguration of Jesus, we see the glory of God shining forth from God through the veil of the humanity of Jesus.  Unlike Moses, Jesus did not put on His veil and take it off from time to time.  The mystery of Jesus Christ is that He put on the veil of Human nature and human flesh and blood at His conception, and has never taken it off.  At the time of the Transfiguration, Jesus allowed the glory that was His own to shine through the veil.  But He has never taken that veil off.  Today, the glory of God permeates and shine through the humanity of Jesus full-time.  That time of humility and meekness has passed.  He is true God, and has always been.  Now, all the glory and power and might and every attribute of His divine nature is at work full time even in and through His human nature!

What does that mean for us?  It means that wherever you find God, or imagine Him to be, the man Jesus must be there.  You cannot have God without Jesus.  That is what Jesus meant when He said, in John 5, "For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him."

That highlights the problem with Judaism, Islam, and all of those other religions, even those so-called Christian religions that do not know Jesus as true God.  When they use the word, "God," they mean something fundamentally and radically different than we do – no matter what they say.  When they pray, they pray either to a creature of their own vain imaginings, or they pray to a demon – but where God truly is, there you will find - and have –  and pray to Jesus.  This does not mean that you cannot pray to the Father – it means that you cannot pray to the Father if Jesus is not true God in your faith, or if you imagine that you can pray to the Father without Jesus also hearing.

That is what is fundamentally wrong with the all those community prayer services for the National Day of Prayer and joint, community worship services, such as those for Thanksgiving or Good Friday.   We cannot pray side by side with those who deny the deity of Christ without at least implying by our actions that their prayers are heard by God, are just like ours, and that their God is the true God, just like ours.  That may not be the thought in the mind of anyone when they pray with others of other religions, but it is what the action says – and actions very often do speak louder – and more honestly – than words.

And before I move on, let me answer one of the false charges that has often been tossed about to silence people who say the sort of thing that I have just said.  It is said that those Lutherans who object to syncretistic actions, like community prayer services or joint Day of Prayer observances, are saying that we are forbidding prayer in the presence of others, even of our relatives who belong to other Christian church bodies.  We are not.  You can pray anytime and anywhere.  There is a difference between praying in someone's presence, and praying with them.  There is a difference between praying to the true God in the presence of and for the welfare of others, and inviting those who do not believe in the Triune God to pray with you as though they could, or joining with them in their prayer.  To do so is just fundamentally deceptive and dishonest.  

And there is a difference between family members praying together at a family gathering, and an ordained clergyman praying as a leader in a public worship service.  The prayer of the layman is as precious to God, and answered just as surely as the prayer of the preacher, but the public function and witness of the prayer of the preacher is different by several degrees from the private, family prayer with those understood to be fellow Christians.  He is to be a leader, a teacher, and an example.

Back to Moses: the light shining from the face of Moses meant something.  It spooked Aaron and the company of Israel because it was a visible, undeniable reminder that they were dealing with the true God!  This glow was the evidence that Moses was staring into the face of the Glory of God!  The ability to pretend that other deities were "just like Yahweh," or that they were surely as legitimate and valid as He is, vanished.  Yahweh sent the plagues.  He made the Red Sea part for Israel.  He made Manna appear to feed them every morning – except, of course, on the Sabbath.  He was the Maker of the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day, and was visibly present by means of it.  And now His glory was luminescing from the face of His prophet, Moses.  There was no room for confusion.  Unbelief could be done – and it was from time to time – but there was no room for confusion.  This glow revealed that Moses spoke with the true God and that the Word Moses proclaimed was God's Word!

St. Paul also mentions the veil of Moses.  He referred to it to describe the stubborn unbelief of Israel, and of all other unbelievers, who read the Word of God and do not find Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of mankind therein.  In Second Corinthians, Paul says that when they read the Old Covenant, their heart is veiled – they cannot see the glory of God in Christ.  But when they are brought to faith, Christ lifts the veil and they can see the glory of God.

And what is the glory of God?  The answer to that question is the same as the answer to "And what is the will of God for us?"  This is the glory that Paul wrote about in Second Corinthians 4:6 – For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

The glory of God is that He sent His Son to become one of us, to live for us, and then die in our place -- on a cross, no less, so that our sins might be forgiven, and we might be made heirs of everlasting life.

And don't let the word "might" fool you.  It expresses purpose – not uncertainty.  Jesus accomplished all that He came to do.  Your sins have been atoned for.  You have been redeemed.  Your sins are forgiven, and God pours out everlasting life upon all, that the one that believes might receive and possess and enjoy that life beyond sin and sickness, sorrow and death.  He that believes and is baptized, shall be saved!

The glory which shone from the face of Moses, like the glory of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, also speaks to us about the promise of God for us.  That glory of Moses is just a pale foretaste of what God has planned for us.  God has promised to transform us into the image of His glory.  We have that glory now, but, like Moses we have it hidden behind a veil.  God would have us to walk by faith, not by sight.  It would be an interesting world if Christians glowed, while unbelievers did not – but surely the world would postulate some sort of scientific explanation to threaten that this "glowing" will damage our health or shorten our life-span, and people would run in fear from us, fearing contagion.  And Hypocrites would be unable to hide in the church.

No, the glory of the Children of God in Christ is hidden.  The only way God will let us show it right now is by lives of faithfulness and holiness – loving one another, and serving our neighbor for the sake of Christ – you know, "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."  And our visible glory – when we are finally transformed into the image of His glory – will come on that great day of resurrection and home-going.  On that day, our Lord Jesus "will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself."  Or, as John writes, in his first Epistle, "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is."

So, like Moses, let us remove the veil whenever we come before the Lord, when we enter into His presence in the Word, and in the fellowship of the body of Christ, and in the blessed Sacrament.  Let us behold His glory in Jesus Christ – a glory that is veiled to unbelievers, pagans, and hypocrites.  And when we leave this place, let us reflect that glory by lives transformed by the Word, shining with the glory of God's love and grace toward us.

And remember Moses, and Jesus.  The path for Moses was not smooth and easy – he faced the unbelief and hostility of many.  He finally died being given just the view of the promised land, but not allowed to enter it.  Jesus walked down the Mount of Transfiguration and walked the road to Jerusalem to suffer and to die.  Just because we carry the glory of God within ourselves does not mean we will enjoy peace and prosperity and comfort in this world.  It means, in fact, just the opposite.  We will know the attacks of Satan, the hostility of the world, and all those things which we can lump together under the phrase, "the cross appointed to us."  We will bear the cross, if we are truly Christ's people, "for the Father disciplines those whom He loves," and the world hates us as it does Christ, for we are His people and His body in this dark and sinful age.

And the glory we possess as His children is veiled.  Everyone would want some if it merely made us rich and happy and kept trouble at bay.  But God wants faith, not greed, lust, and the selfishness of the flesh to be our connection.  He has appointed faith as the hand that receives His blessing.  So walk by faith – not measuring by what we see or how it feels, or what others – any others – think of us.  Our measure is the Word of God.  Our goal is to walk humbly with our God.  And our true glory – like that of Jesus, or even the glory which shined from the face of Moses – is veiled glory.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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