Shining Through Us
Transparency. In our reading from 2 Corinthians, Paul draws on the Exodus story, where Moses led the people out of slavery and through the forty years in the wilderness. Much of that time was spent at the foot of Mount Sinai, where the people waited while Moses conferred with God at the summit.
Moses would spend vast amounts of time in private consultation with God. And when he would return to the base of the mountain to share these conversations, God’s glory would still be surrounding him in such a way that it became distracting to the people. And so, Moses began the practice of descending wearing a veil so as to focus attention to the words of God.
I can’t help but think of it like Moses spending so much time in God’s luminous presence that he would start looking like he had fallen asleep at the tanning bed, getting that weird orange tint to his skin, making it impossible to take what he said seriously. And so, somehow, covering his face meant that the Israelites could focus on his words without their minds wandering and wondering what sort of odd, toxic radiation he had been exposed to up above the cloud cover.
God was understood to be so “other”, so separate, so different as to be inaccessible. Anyone who had the kind of direct access that Moses had would be affected to the core, transformed. Or, as the saying went, “No one has seen God and lived.”
For Paul, that whole story shifts with the arrival of Jesus. No longer was God disconnected from our reality. Instead, God had become present, immediate, fleshy, incarnate, human, in Jesus himself. There was no longer this need to veil faces. To be in the presence of Christ is to be transformed. And it ought to give us this otherworldly, heavenly glow that can then reflect to those around us.
And that’s the key right there: transparency. It is God’s light, as the prayer for our capital campaign says, “shining through us”, that reflects love into the world. And the best thing we can do is get out of the way.
There is an apocryphal story told of John Calvin, the great French theologian of the 16th century. When preaching in his church in Geneva, he would ascend the staircase to the elevated pulpit, covered from head to toe in black fabric. I’ve heard it described as wearing a Presbyterian version of the burqa. The legend goes that he did not want his physical presence to distract from the word of God. I have not found any discussion of a weird, orange-ish glow.
Now, that story may or may not be true, but the underlying point is carried through by one that is: When Calvin died, he had requested that he be buried in an unmarked grave in Geneva. As influential a figure as Calvin was, he knew that, ultimately, it wasn’t about him at all: it was about the God he served and the Christ he worshiped.
Transparency. It’s a word that we use a lot here at OPC. We have an open-book policy. Our finances are transparent, available to anyone who wants to see them. Our Session meetings, where most decisions of church policy and direction are made, are open meetings, held the third Sunday of every month. In fact, you’re welcome to join us after worship today in the Library! The congregation elects the committee that nominates our leadership, and elects those leaders once they’ve been nominated. And then, we approve the minutes of the meeting that we just had to elect those we have nominated!
I know that there are times when it can seem as though we do process for the sake of process, but the point that lies behind it all is a simple one: transparency. As a matter of principle, we Presbyterians don’t do things in the shadows, hidden behind a veil; but in the light of day, where they may be seen.
We are not perfect by any stretch. If we are truly transparent, then the light of God passes through us completely unchanged. But we get in the way. And yet, when we shape our lives in such a way that we yearn for transparency, that light may come out imperfect, but reflected nonetheless. And if it’s really God’s light anyway, then no matter how much we might screw it up, it is going to get through. The great songwriter Leonard Cohen puts it this way: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” And, I would add, that’s how the light gets out! Our cracks, our imperfections, are what allow God in; and they are also, paradoxically, the places where God can shine out to the world.
That’s the heart of transparency: not pretending as though we are perfect, but to let our imperfections exist as proof that God is at work in our lives! Who else would take us as we are and say, “Yeah, I can use that”?
With the conflict escalating in the Middle East again, my mind is brought back to our time there more than ten years ago. One of our students’ homes was located right in the firing line, and the family would often hunker down at night as shells rained down in the fields next to their house. In the morning, the kids would go out and look for spent casings – aware of the danger, but also seeing it as a kind of treasure hunt. One morning, the eldest brother found one of the empty tank shells that no longer posed any danger. He brought it into the house, where he put a candle in it. The family took this relic of war and turned it into a vessel of light.
That is how God sees us! We don’t get it right…but God doesn’t see that as a reason to dispose of us; rather, God sees that as the reason that we can be God’s instruments of light!
One final story today. Most of you know that a few months ago, our friend Ted Kloss was diagnosed with cancer. You can ask him yourself about how this community has surrounded him with love and care, acting as those agents of grace and light in his life at a time when darkness could have easily taken hold.
Last weekend, Ted’s musician friends hosted a benefit to raise money for his treatment. Four tables full of OPCers were in attendance. And when Ted’s band got on stage to perform, the first thing he did was call several of us up on stage to introduce us to the audience. He told them in no uncertain terms that his family, his friends, and his church were the ones who had made it possible for him to move forward in the midst of treatment.
Think about that for a second: more than a hundred baby boomers have come out for a fun night of classic rock and dancing. And in the middle of the concert, one of the musicians takes time to give a shout out to his church? What’s wrong – or should I say, what’s right – with this picture?
The simple truth is that it was a night where God’s light shone through transparent souls: the OPCers who were there because it was one way they knew to show God’s light to one whom they loved; the bass player who felt that love so clearly that he wanted everyone to know it. Not a single hymn was sung, but I’m pretty sure we went to church that night!
Friends, this prayer of ours, that God’s light would shine through us so that we might reflect divine love into the world, this prayer is already true! The question that remains is this: how is it that we take that light into the world with us? How is it that your life is changed by being in the presence of Christ? How is it that that weird, orange-ish glow is made manifest in your appearance? Do you veil it up for fear of distracting? Or do you let it shine, so that the glory of the Lord may be made visible to all who see it?