II Corinthians 3:12-4:2
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
February 7, 2016
University Baptist Church
It’s transfiguration Sunday, so as we finish off our season of Epiphany, there is one more Sunday focused on an aspect of light. On the heels of Groundhog Day or Candlemas, we are enjoying the increasing light. We enjoy it when the snow melts. It means that the sap will soon be running and the spring will surely come. But it’s still a few weeks off. We get excited about it on days like this.
When Peter, James and John saw a bright light, they got excited too. They thought they saw Jesus transfigured to resemble Moses and Elijah, the pioneers of their faith. It was a sign and they sought to preserve the moment, by boldly building tents for each of them. Jesus chastised them, not for their boldness, but for their misguided energy.
How do we use our energy? Is it placed in the best spots of our lives? Or do we sometimes put our eggs in the wrong basket? Some of us put our faith in candidates, in programs, in the stock market, in people we expect to be trustworthy. And invariably, they all disappoint us at one time or another. Yet, we still put our trust in them.
Moses put his trust in the Hebrew people and they disappointed him time and again. The people trusted Moses to lead them out of slavery, but longed for the fleshpots of Egypt. Freedom in the parched desert was looking as bad as slavery in Egypt. There were hostile tribes in the desert who did not appreciate this strange Hebrew presence. Sometimes the devil you know is better than the angel you don’t.
Since Moses had a connection with God, they could give him credit and blame. When God spoke good words, they liked Moses. When God was silent or spoke angry words, it was Moses’ fault.
Moses had a special relationship with God. He alone had seen God at a burning bush. He received the law of God etched in stone only to have his hopes crushed when he descended to the wilderness camp to find Aaron, Miriam and the rest of the people of Israel worshipping a golden calf. In a fit of rage, Moses threw the stone tablets onto the ground as if to signify his own shattered dreams.
Had everything he had done and stood for in bringing these people out of Egyptian slavery been all for naught? Had God’s purpose been an illusion?
Moses had righteous anger. It was kindled by betrayal and his own willingness to stand in the middle. The people of Israel were a stiff-necked people. He stewed a while in rage and self-pity. And then he took another bold step. He went back up the mountain to again encounter God. He had just about lost his faith. But God did not lose faith in him. God gave him another set of laws, yet again written in stone.
This time when Moses came down from the mountain, his face shone with the glory of God in a way that made people afraid to come near him. Was it rage? Was it inspiration? Whatever it was, they knew something was different about Moses. Maybe it was the way his face reflected their own fears and hopes. This time, they took the tablets and established the Law of God in the wilderness. They believed in the message of God, boldly given to their glowing leader.
Moses’ face shown forth with such radiance that he had to cover it. It was too scary, too bold. When Moses spoke with God, the veils were lifted.
Paul takes this covering of Moses’ face as a metaphor for the Hebrew people being shielded from the power of God that is now revealed in Jesus Christ. I’m not sure that’s what Moses was getting at.
He was covering his face, for the radiance of God was too much for them. It could be interpreted as pride.
But Paul says, “since we have such faith, we are bold.”
Bold. There’s a word for us. Are we bold in our beliefs? Bold in our actions? Bold in our relationships? I think bold is another word for confident.
We are drawn to people who have conviction, who tap our own sense of longing. There is an emotional thread that people connect with. It’s the sweet spot of campaigns. All of the explaining a candidate does will not replace passion and conviction and charisma. I think that’s what Moses had. It’s certainly what Jesus had. And we are drawn in by it.
Of course, there is a shadow-side to boldness. It is arrogance. We have seen planet of evidence of that. But I think of boldness as a life-giving sense of priority. In the Anglican liturgy, the liturgist intones that “we are bold to say” the Lord’s Prayer. It takes boldness to declare who God is, but it also takes boldness to ask forgiveness and to not be led into temptation.
Micah gave bold words when he said, what does the Lord require of you but to do justice love mercy and walk humbly with God. Some of our bold preachers and even candidates forget the walk humbly portion.
Anne Lamott said that you can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
In Nicaragua, my host family often put on the TV DVD’s of televangelists. I guess they think that’s what I would want to watch. They were very bold, convicted even, but I was not swept up in the wave of enthusiasm as much as their crowds were. There’s a fine line between attractive boldness and repulsive exactitude. We are to be bold in what we believe and humble enough to know that we might be wrong.
Dick Myers, a retired pastor from Rochester, NY and one of the participants in our delegation said, “the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.” I like that. I want to be bold like that.
I saw some evidence of boldness when I was in Nicaragua. I spent some time at the clinic in San Carlos. This rural clinic about 10 KM outside of Leon was built with the help of Project Minnesota/Leon (PML) back in 2012. And once the project was done, the leadership moved on to different things. They had a bold vision, but not great follow-through. The building lacked electricity. And because it lacked electricity, it lacked water. You needed electric pumps to run the well. Try to clean and sanitize a clinic without water.
There was a doctor there one day a week who was rather disengaged. She looked down on her patients and often disrespected them. Imagine if you are a patient and the doctor told you that you needed to sit in a chair tied to a wall from the other side of the room, while you told the doctor your ailments. No human touch. Imagine that you are being given a prenatal exam with the door open. So, people stopped coming to the clinic.
But PML got a new community organizer who went house to house to find out what was needed. They unearthed stories about the doctor, but also about other needs in the community. They had a beautiful clinic building that was not serving the community. They could choose to acquiesce to the current situation, or take a bold set of steps to the future. They decided that this was their clinic, their community and they were going to change things.
They pulled together a petition signed by the entire community asking for a meeting of the Ministry of Health. They elected five women to represent the community.
They took the trip into Leon and parked themselves in front of the Ministry of Health until their grievances were heard. They petitioned the electric company to turn on the lights. They organized the youth to advocate and get a fairer price for the school bus into Leon—they had previously had to pay more than the people living at the beach 15 miles further than they were. They even got a new doctor. Now the clinic has electricity, water, a young caring doctor who is there 5 days a week and the clinic is acting as a center of community. It’s not because a US agency gave them money. It’s because they took hold of their lives and decided that they were going to be bold. They were going to take their clinic back and really provide health and hope for the community. You don’t mess with bold mothers.
We saw and heard bold singing from our sister church. They have very large speakers in a very small space. Part of that is because they have drums. And you need to amplify in order to be heard over the drums. Their keyboards are electric and they again need speakers to carry. I think there is also a sense that the louder they are, the bolder they are. This is certainly the case and it took a while for our ears to adjust. I’m still adjusting.
But we also heard and experienced great boldness in the gentle and firm love they have for each other, and the affection they feel for our congregation. They love their children who are not put aside and told to be quiet. Maybe that’s another reason for the sound system. People talk over it and kids run around. But their devotion to their children is infectious.
So, what are you bold about? What ought we to be more bold about?
Is it about our convictions and our opinions?
Is it our faith?
Imagine if we acted with humble boldness, trusting that we are not alone, that God is on our side. Imagine what we could do.
We have already done this in the relationship we have with our sister church. PML says that we are the only church to take seriously the commitment to have visits back and forth on a consistent basis. It takes a boldness to do that. It takes resources. It takes time, energy, money. But look at the return on that investment. People are taught and cared for in a tough and changing part of the city.
We look beyond our easy answers and our theological differences to find connection across culture and even language. All of that is bold and audacious work.
We are bold enough to know that we don’t have all of the answers. But we will not shy away from the questions. For in the struggle, we find the word of God for our lives.
We are tempted to build booths, to take snapshots of our moments of epiphany, but we seek to be bold enough to take other steps because of that revelation. That’s where God really starts to work in us.
We are tempted to cover our faces, hide the touch of God in our lives. But then we come down off the mountain with Good News that will set people free. And we boldly take the next steps into or out of the wilderness.
We are tempted by cowardice. But we follow one who was bold enough to say, cast your nets aside and follow me.
Bold enough to say, today this scripture has been fulfilled in your presence.
Bold enough to say, thy will be done on earth, not just in heaven.
Bold enough to say, let those without sin cast the first stone.
Bold enough to say, you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.
Bold enough to say with Paul, “Having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s countenance in the sight of God.” (II Corinthians 4:1-2)
Sisters and brothers, as we enter black history month and ease into the Lenten Season, be bold. Remember that God works through you as you humbly traverse the path through this life. Know what you know. Admit what you do not. And remember that God is by your side. And that is good news, indeed.