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“In Light, We Are Made Light”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Ephesians 5:6-14a
Matthew 17:1-9

 

Ephesians 5:6-14a

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.

 

Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.


 

These images of light and darkness weave through our scriptures.  As we see in this scripture about Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop, Jesus’ face shines by the sun, his clothes dazzling white, because Christ is in fact, the Light of the World.

 

Light helps us see.

Light exposes dirt and grime.

Light helps heal diseases that grow in darkness.

Light makes new life grow.

 

And Jesus Christ does all these things too!

Through Jesus, God’s heart is revealed.

Through Jesus, God’s justice is realized.

Through Jesus, we see just how far we stand from God’s holiness and righteousness.

Through Jesus, we are healed of the sins that weigh us down and separate us from God.

And in Christ, we are set free to grow into our identities as children of the Most High God.

 

Jesus is light.

And Jesus’ disciples get to glimpse this truth that day on the mountaintop.

It is everything they have believed and hoped against hope.  Their faith is validated that day on the mountain; God speaks, claiming Jesus as God’s Son, the Beloved.  This is precisely what they’ve been believing and now want everyone to see.  Perhaps if they can set up camp there, others can witness Jesus’ glory.

But that is not what Jesus has in mind, for that is not what Christ has come for:  Jesus has a purpose, and to fulfill that purpose he will surrender himself into the hands of the world.  He like Elijah, John the Baptist, will suffer at the hand of humankind.

And this, mind you, is quite the opposite of what the disciples want to see.  They want to see him glorified.  They want to see him lifted up.  They want others to see and believe that Jesus is the anointed one, the Beloved sent by God.

But Jesus will have none of it.  The worst that they fear will come true.  The restlessness in Jerusalem will boil over.  Jesus will be handed over to the authorities.  Jesus will be killed.  And to them, I imagine it must have seemed so unnecessary.

If others could only see what they see, they would believe, right?

 

Well Jesus knew our hearts better.  And Christ still knows our hearts better than we know them ourselves.  In order to see, we must first believe.  We cannot see that which we do not have eyes to see.  It is the believing that opens us to truth – and not the other way around.  How many of us have been educated around the facts of an issue, but still are not convinced?  It is not in fact the facts that change minds and hearts.  No.  We must start with the heart and move to the head.

And that is how Christ lived.  Before healing, Christ would ask if the individual wanted to be made well.  As crazy as it sounds, many of us actually do not.  Change feels scary.  Transformation is difficult.

But Christ started with the human heart.  Christ loved.  Christ ate with folks unworthy.  Christ forgave.  Christ restored.  …and Christ died.

 

Christ lived love.

Christ demonstrated love.

 

Christ didn’t just preach, as his cousin did in the desert.  He didn’t just make his home in the temple, sharing wisdom and guidance.  No, he lived his love – in healing the sick, in compassion for the lost, in justice for the outcast, in feeding the hungry, in forgiving sins, and in welcoming the repentant heart back home.

 

And when we spend time in Christ’s presence,…

When we take refuge under God’s wings of protection,…

When we meet with God in prayer that opens us up to God,…

We too shine.

WE shine.

 

We reflect the glory of the Lord.

We reflect the beauty and righteousness of God.

We shine, bringing evil to light and making wrong things right.

 

Just like Christ, we are called to live love.

We are called to shine in the darkness.

We are called to DO justice.

We are called to heal the brokenhearted ones,

To set the prisoners free,

To declare the year of God’s favor.

 

What a tremendous and beautiful calling!

What grace, that in Christ’s light, we too are made light.

Halleluia!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Friendship with God, Unveiled”

Katherine Todd
Hebrews 4:14-16
Exodus 24:29-35

 

Hebrews 4:14-16

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Exodus 24:29-35

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.


 

I love how in these Old Testament texts we can still see foreshadowings of Christ and insights into the whole of God’s character.

We hear that having just coming from being in the presence of God, Moses’ face is shining, but he doesn’t know it.  It isn’t until he meets his brother Aaron and the leaders of the people – who are afraid of him because of his shininess – that he learns that he is indeed shining.  His face we are told is radiant, reflecting the light of God.  And Moses adopts the practice of veiling his face after he has been in the presence of God.

 

How magnificent this must have been!

To a people who are naturally drawn to shiny things, this must have been very alluring.  As you will recall, the people had pooled all their gold jewelry together to make a golden calf the first time Moses was gone to meet with God.  So afraid were they that they had created a shiny idol for themselves.

But this time, the people hold fast while Moses meets with God.  And when Moses returns, the skin on his face is shining.

 

What grace God shows the people here.  If they had any doubt, if they needed reassurance, if they needed something shiny to make them feel secure, they got it.

And I also love that Moses does not veil his face later in order to be with God.  Many future generations of Israelites would be separate from God by a veil.  In fact a veil would separate the people from that innermost part of the sanctuary called the Holiest of Holies in the temple.  But here, we see that Moses meets with God, unveiled.  So the veil is not like the veil of the temple, meant to separate the sinful people from a holy God.  Moses’ veil is not meant to provide a barrier between him and God.  Rather the veil is for Moses’ interactions with the people.  Perhaps it helped the people feel less afraid of him, distracted, or perhaps even blinded in his presence.  We don’t exactly know.  But the veil was not because of sin.

 

How wonderful that God met with Moses!  How wonderful that this Old Testament God met with Moses.  This God who was understood to be so holy and fierce, this God met with Moses and talked with him, as one would talk to a friend.  What a wonderful thing!

 

Few other humans are known to have talked with God in such a direct fashion.  No others to my knowledge returned from those talks with their faces literally shining.

Many still veil themselves before God, whether it be their own personal veil or a veil like that in the Hebrew temple.  But remember that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, the veil in the Jerusalem temple was torn in two.  And understanding what Christ did on that cross for us, we confess that Christ broke down the dividing wall of sin between us and God, taking the weight and stain of our sin upon himself, that we might be made clean, children of the Most High God, adopted into the family of God.  In Christ that dividing wall, the veil, is torn in two!  In Christ, we are invited to come boldly before the throne of grace!  In Christ, we are invited to talk with God, as one would talk to a friend.  In Christ, we come before God as a friend.

And here, we have Moses, the pioneer, in whose relationship with God, we have this foreshadowing of intimacy with God.  Through Moses, we get a glimpse of who God is – a God who wants to be with us, to lead us, to speak with us as a friend.

And through Moses, the law comes to the people, that they might become ready, a people set apart and ready to bear Christ into the world, God’s greatest gift to creation.

 

We serve a magnificent God.  We serve a holy and good God.  We serve a God who wants to be with us.  And we serve a God who made a way that this impossible desire would become reality:  God made a way for us, ordinary and sinful people, to dwell with God in fellowship and wholeness.

And Christ is that way.

Christ opened our eyes.

Christ taught us what mattered most.

And Christ became that pure and holy sacrifice for our sins.

 

Through Christ we are might right with God.

Through Christ, we are able to abide in God and to talk with God, as we would talk to a friend.

 

Thanks be to God for this incredible gift!!!

 

May we take this gift

And spending time in the presence of the Lord,

May we too radiate the light of our God. 

“Make Us Wise”

Isaiah 60:1-6
Romans 1:20
Matthew 2:1-12

Isaiah 60:1-6

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Romans 1:20

Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 


 

In this story, we learn of a great power scare.  The ruler Herod feels threatened by this prophecy about a promised ruler coming to shepherd the people.  As many around him, he thinks this ruler will be a challenge to his Kingdom.  He does not know that Christ is the King of all the world and not another political challenger for the nation of Israel.

And so, feigning interest and reverence, he asks the council of the wise men from the East – to gather information about where he might find the child.  And covering all his bases, he asks that the wise men check back in with him, after they’ve found the child, “that I may also go and pay him homage,” he says.  But the wise men, who are apparently wise both in name and in character, are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they return to their homes by another road.

In a birth story with so many twists and turns, Christ comes to live among us, born as a little baby, just like us.  And God is moving heaven and earth that we might this heavenly love letter, this little child, our Savior.

 

I am struck by the wise men.  We are told they are from the East.  Beyond that, we can only speculate who they might have been.  But what we know for sure is that they are not Israelites.  They are not the chosen people of Israel, and yet they are in tune with the greatest revelation of God!  And how did they hear?  How did they know?  How did they see?

They saw in the stars.  They were students of the stars.  They watched creation.  They knew something spectacular was happening, and they were not going to miss it.  And so these star gazers from the East find themselves prostrate before a tiny baby, King of the World.

 

I love how God’s heart for humanity is not bound by race or family, religion or creed.  When God shows up, God makes it known in the stars, for any and all to see.  After all, the whole point of choosing a people at all was they would themselves become a beacon, a city on a hill, a light for the nations.  This gift is for the whole world!

God’s heart has always been for all people.  It has just taken us a long time to believe it.

In fact, it’s still something we struggle to believe today.

It’s far too easy to revert to thinking God loves some and not others.

It’s far too tempting to think our blessings are for ourselves alone.

But in fact, we are blessed – in order to be a blessing!

We are called for a purpose, and not simply for privilege.

 

I am glad these men from the East are known today as “wise men” for indeed they were wise men.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains that everyone is without excuse when they sin – because, he reasons, God has made Godself known through everything created.  ALL AROUND US, God is visible.  In every created thing, God’s fingerprints can be seen.  God can be known simply by paying attention to the created world.

And here we see the wise men, studying what God has made, following where it leads them, and coming face to face with God-made-flesh.

 

Friends, we are not called by God in order to feel safe and good and privileged.  We are called because we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good!  We are called because so many need to know that God is good.  So many need to know that God is for them.  So many need to know that they are loved by the King of Heaven and Earth, just as they are.  So many need to know that their lives matter.

You and I are called to be light.

The Psalmist writes:

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Indeed thick darkness covers this world.  We create such darkness in our world.  But in God’s great mercy and steadfast love, God has come.  God comes into our cycles of death and darkness, breaking in with unquenchable light.

And this light has broken upon us, piercing our darkness, in the unthreatening brightness of a little baby, laid in a manger.

And in this light, we shine.

Not because we are the light ourselves, but because our Light has come!  Christ has come!

And we who are witnesses to God’s in-breaking Light,

We are called to arise.

We are called to shine.

In the presence of God-with-us, we radiate the love and light of our Lord,

When we are present to,

Alert to,

Waiting and watching,

Witnessing God’s present in-breaking into our day to day lives,

We reflect God’s life-giving light.   

And scripture tells us

“Kings and nations will come to the brightness of our dawn.”

 

So friends, keep alert.

Our God is visible in EVERYTHING God has made.

And our God is here.

 

May we too be wise children of God.

May we SEE and be radiant!

So that many more may know

the boundless,

Life-changing

Love of God.