November 25, 2001
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets
of the covenant in his hand, he was not aware 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. Afterwards all the Israelites came
near, and he gave them as commandments all that the Lord had
spoken to 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 God. (Exodus 34:29–35)
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on
the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance
of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Sud-denly
they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They
appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he
was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his com-panions
were weighed down with sleep; but when they were fully
awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.
Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is
good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings: one for you,
one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.
While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed
them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen;
listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found
alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of
the things they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36)
Reading from Swedenborg
“Moses was not aware that the skin of his face shone because he
had been talking with God” refers to the inward level of the Bible
within the outward, which shines forth without the outward level
grasping it. We should understand that “the inward things in the
Bible shining out into the outward” means the inner meaning
within the outward meaning.
The inner meaning constantly shines forth and scintillates in
the outward meaning. However, no one notices this except those
who have attained to the inner meaning. People who focus on the
outward things that contain the inward ones—who are religious
on a more surface level—do not notice it. Yet it is still there with-out
their knowing it, and does touch them. . . .
But when people are interested only in the outward meaning,
without the inner meaning—as the nation of Israel was at that
time—they can’t stand the inner meaning, nor the light that flows
into the outward meaning from it. That is why it says in the next
few verses that they were afraid to approach Moses, and that when
Moses spoke to them, he put a veil over his face.
The inner meaning shines out because it contains the type of
divine truth that exists in heaven. Divine truth flowing out from
the Lord is seen by the angels as light. In fact, divine truth is the
light of heaven. (Arcana Coelestia #10691)
Not long ago there was a movie done about a man who performed
admirably in spite of his difficult childhood and
medical challenges. It was a movie about a man who played piano,
and it was called Shine.
I have no intention of saying anything more about that movie,
other than to recommend it, and to point out that the language of
the Transfiguration story has become common usage. When
someone is performing well, working efficiently and with style, we
say that they are “shining.” And there are “rising stars,” blinding
us with their “brilliance.” This has been said of many different
individuals in many different disciplines throughout history. It
can be said of communities as well.
Having said that, let me suggest that as individuals and as a
community, we are called upon to shine. We mentioned in the
children’s message this morning that since all people have God’s
light within them, everyone shines to a certain extent. And the
song we sang, “This Little Light of Mine,” suggests that some-times
we feel compelled to hide our light from each other.
Why is that? God’s light is such a beautiful thing when we let
it shine through! Why do we want to hide it under a bushel basket,
metaphorically speaking? As strange as it sounds, maybe we
don’t let our light shine because we have such a hard time seeing
each other’s light. After all, what business do we have shining
when those around us aren’t shining?
To explain this, let me take an example from real life. It’s been
my observation, in the services I’ve led in various churches, that
many individuals have a difficult time with the singing part of worship. I have sensed tension and awkwardness, and a supreme
effort made to sing more quietly than the musical accompaniment—
which is especially difficult when we’re singing a cappella!
I’ve heard some beautiful voices coming through; yet many prefer
to sing into their songbook, or not sing at all. I can’t count the
number of one-on-one conversations I’ve had where people say
that they don’t sing well—even going so far as to say that they
can’t carry a tune in a bucket.
Let’s bear in mind that although there are many Psalms that
encourage us to sing, not one of them tells us that we have to get
all the notes right. We do not shine because our performance is
perfect; we shine because we are filled with joy!
There is another image from the movies that conveys this specific
point. In The Accidental Tourist, there is a scene in which
Gina Davis is washing dishes and singing at the top of her lungs.
William Hurt, who plays a very reserved and repressed writer,
watches her from the doorway in complete awe, wondering how
on earth this woman managed to sing hitting every note except the
right one. He was learning what she already knew: that the act of
singing doesn’t have to be for the purpose of dazzling everyone
with our operatic precision. We sing because we need to express
the joy that we feel.
Yet so many of us, when it comes time to sing, hide our light.
We sing low and quietly, if at all, hoping that everyone else is so
involved in the music that they aren’t listening to us. We are so
concerned about how people will perceive us if they hear us that
we forget that God invites us to shine.
What is true for us as individuals is also true for us as a
church. We can get really wrapped up in making certain that we
do everything that people expect a church to do. We can hope
that we will do it well enough that people will be in awe of what a
nice little church we are. We can be overly concerned with not
upsetting people too much, because after all, we want them to
This puts us in the same position Moses was in. Moses’ calling
was to lead the people and help them on their journey. Nowhere
in the entire Exodus story did Moses come before God anxious
because people didn’t like him. Being liked wasn’t one of his priorities.
He was there to perform a very specific task: to get these
people to the Promised Land.
When he was centered in that goal, Moses was an excellent
leader. He shone as a leader. The Bible story relates a few instances
where he was uncertain in his position, and where he made some
mistakes. In fact, it was due to one of these bad decisions that he
was not permitted to enter into the Promised Land himself.
One of these errors in judgment, in my opinion, may have
been that he found it necessary to wear a veil. The people had
such a problem with his shining that he felt he had to hide it from
them. That veil was his “bushel basket.” But note that he removed
the veil in the presence of God. He approached God unashamed
and unapologetic. And if we accept what our theology teaches—
that we are always in the presence of God—why do we insist on
veiling ourselves? Why do we not let others see us shine?
Our calling here is simply this: reconnect with the joy that we
feel, and shine with it!
When you can let yourself do that, here’s what will happen:
there will be some who will want to move away from you a little
bit. Don’t let that bother you. It is only because they are uncomfortable
with their own light, and they are afraid to come out
from under their particular bushel basket. Others, though, will be
drawn to you when you let yourself shine. They will be summoned
into your community by the joy that you are expressing.
They will wonder, and perhaps even feel brave enough to ask,
what you have discovered that enables you to shine so well.
When they ask, do not be ashamed to tell them that it is the
same light that shines within them. It is light that was meant to be
set free so that it can enlighten the world. It is the light of God’s
magnificent love. That’s the reality. In spite of our fears, our uncertainties and every flat note we hear ourselves sing—or think
we hear—that light cannot be hidden.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
Come into God’s presence with singing.
For the Lord is good,
God’s steadfast love endures forever
And God’s faithfulness is to all generations.
(Psalm 100:1, 2, 5)
Lord, this world can be a beautiful place in every season. It is
beauty that often goes unnoticed. But when we tear ourselves
from our busy schedules, we are in awe of the grandeur of your
presence. We are aware of the beauty around us, but seldom do we
let ourselves admit that the beauty exists within us as well.
Lord, help us to shine. Help us to connect with your love,
which emanates light and warmth like a candle flame within our
spirit. Help us to embrace that light and warmth and allow it to
shine through our skin. Though the joy you implant in us is often
veiled by our doubt and our fear, we know that it can never be
extinguished. And so we ask you to help us remember that when
we can express that joy without apology, we are helping you to
help the world find its joy. Amen.
Rev. Eric Hoffman