Exodus 34:29-35; Luke 9:28-36

Transfiguration Sunday



You don’t have to raise your hand, but is there anyone in this room who worries about your appearance? Most of us, right?

You may remember that time-honored story of the woman who was working in her front yard when a moving van pulled up next door. Her new neighbors drove up behind the moving van. While the movers were unloading the van, the new neighbors walked over and greeted the woman. She was a bit self-conscious because she had dirt on her hands and face and was wearing dirty, old clothes.

A few days later the new neighbors invited the woman and her husband to an open house. This was the woman’s opportunity to make a better impression. She colored her hair, put on a girdle, glossed her lips, applied eye-shadow and false eyelashes, polished her fingernails, and popped in her colored contact lenses. She stepped to the mirror and admiringly told her husband, “Now the new neighbors will get to see the real me.”

For years advertisers have sold us many new products because of our obsession with how we look. But now I understand they’ve taken a completely new tack. They are using the actual faces of college kids as walking billboards.

College kids in need of pizza money can now earn it by slapping temporary  tattoo-ads on their foreheads. A company called Headvertise, a Providence, Rhode Island firm, sells these ads mostly through websites geared to those 18 to 24.

Live billboards like Johnson & Wales University sophomore Amy Johnson can earn up to $200 a week. It’s easy money, she says. “You don’t do much, except suffer a little bit of your pride.”

What will they think of next? Advertising on the faces of college students. But this got me thinking along another line: Many people advertise what’s in their heart by what’s on their face.

Let me tell you a story of two young people who made quite a stunning couple. John and Amy were two beautiful young people. He was captain of the high school swim team as well as the president of their church’s youth group. Amy was a member of the National Honor Society. She could’ve been a professional model. John and Amy were from affluent families, active families in their church. Their faces shown with promise and possibilities.

One day on a youth outing Amy was sitting beside the church’s youth pastor while the other young people played the game of volleyball. Whether out of defiance or out of need to share the burden of her young heart, Amy startled the young pastor by saying, “I just wanted you to know, pastor, John and I are sleeping together. It’s all right. We love each other and when we get out of school, we are going to marry. I just thought you might like to have this information.”

Well, what do you say at this point? There’s really not much you can say, and the youth pastor didn’t even try. He wanted to maintain a pastoral relationship with these young people, and he knew that any sort of condemnation would close the door.

A few weeks later, on a weekend retreat, he noticed that Amy was cooler toward John. And on Saturday evening, quite late, the youth pastor saw Amy sneaking around with Paul, another boy on the retreat. Later it was evident that John and Amy had broken up.

Over the next year Amy had several true loves. And then she went off to college. The youth pastor lost touch for a while, but one day while visiting the town where Amy’s college was located, he ran into her. They visited for a few moments and then she was off, with a new fellow on her arm. “You know, it was really quite noticeable to me,” said the youth pastor. “Amy was still quite an attractive young woman, but there was a difference. There was a time when Amy’s face literally shown with youth in wholesomeness. Now the shine is gone.”

Do you know what he’s talking about? “The shine is gone.” Now someone may protest, “What about John? How many true loves had he had? Did his face still shine?” Probably not. But this is not about gender. It’s not even about sex. It’s about something far more profound.

Our Scripture lesson from the Old Testament is really quite interesting. It’s about that time when Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, the writer of Exodus describes him like this: “Moses did not know that the skin on his face shone because he had been talking with God.”

Let’s talk for a few moments about people with shining faces. Do you know anybody who has a shining face?

Abraham Lincoln said that everyone over 40 is responsible for his or her own face. This is to say that whatever is in our hearts will gradually reveal itself in our outward appearance. Spend a great deal of time worrying? Someday it will show up on your face. Have bitterness and envy in your heart? Beware. You are chiseling in flesh what you harbor in your most private emotions.

When Moses came down from the mountain after his encounter with God, his face shone. Rather than spending a fortune on plastic surgery, it sounds to me like you and I need to spend more time in God’s presence if we really care anything about our appearance.

There’s a story about a woman named Hannah. Hannah was one of those shining face people. Someone called Hannah a walking prayer. In her heart, she was in constant communion with God. People would see her on the streets, carrying her groceries with a light step, all the while with eyes glancing upward, a soundless prayer on her lips. Pass by her window and you would see her by the stove or by the sink, lips lost in prayer pleading with the heavens for something, for anything, for everything.

A neighbor with a jealous eye one day came to her and whispered, “And so why hasn’t God answered all your impassioned prayers?”

Hannah was shaken. What if this neighbor was right? When will God answer; and why should I wait? And so Hannah abandoned her beseeching. She gave up on her yearning. And though the groceries seemed heavier, the stove colder, she refused to pray.

Until one night a divine voice called out to Hannah in a dream, “Why have you stopped praying to me?”

Hannah retorted, “Well you never answered, so I stopped asking.”

To which the Divine replied, “Don’t you realize, every call of yours IS itself my response? Your great yearning is my greatest gift.”

With this, Hannah’s ceaseless prayer came back to her lips. Her burden was again lightened, her stove was ablaze. Her face shone once again.

Many of us treat prayer as a summons to God in order for God to do our bidding. What Hannah discovered is that the primary purpose of prayer is to spend time with God, so that God can do God’s work in our life.

When Moses came down from the mountain after his encounter with God, his face shone.

Notice that Moses wasn’t aware that his face was shining. This speaks volumes to us about the God-life. Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses’ face shining, and they were afraid to come near him, that Moses wasn’t even aware of it. There is a humility that comes from an encounter with God.

Some years ago Mother Theresa was being introduced to speak at a prayer breakfast in Washington, DC. The person who introduced her said, “I now have the pleasure and privilege of introducing to you the greatest woman in the world, Mother Teresa.” There was a round of applause as people stood to their feet.

As the 4’11” woman stepped to the podium, she was so short that she had to stand on a box so that she could be seen. As the people continued to applaud, she lifted her frail arms and said, “Please, please be seated.” After everyone was seated and it was quiet, she said, “I believe that if I was indeed the greatest woman in the world, God would have made me somewhat taller than I am. No, I am not the greatest woman in the world. I am but a pencil in the hands of a writing God who writes love letters to the world through people like me and people like you.”

Mother Teresa would have been unaware of her shining face. She spent more time looking into the faces of the people she served, rather than in a mirror. Moses was unaware that his face shone.

But also notice the reaction of Aaron and the rest of the people when they saw Moses’ face: “They were afraid to come near him …”

That’s a common reaction, isn’t it? Mediocre people are often uncomfortable in the presence of excellence.

Imagine that you were invited to play a round of golf with Tiger Woods, perhaps one of the greatest golfers ever to make his way around a course. Of course, if you were a golfer, you would be honored to be in his presence, but wouldn’t you be a little uncomfortable with your own game? Would you be self-conscious about your own stroke? I mean, you may be good, but in comparison to Tiger Woods? For that round of golf, you might be a tad self-conscious. That’s the way we are around really excellent performers.

Aaron and the people of Israel were afraid to come near Moses’ shining face. In fact, Moses wore a veil after his encounters with God. I guess this was to keep from intimidating his audience, that is how uncomfortable they were. When we are in the presence of excellence, all our mediocrities seem that much more exposed. That’s why the people were afraid in Moses’ presence.

But Moses wasn’t interested in winning popularity among his people. Moses was focused on serving God.

There was another leader in Scripture who had a shining face. In Luke’s Gospel we read about the time when Jesus was on the mountain with three of his disciples “and while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Jesus, more than anyone who ever lived, was focused on serving God. “Not my will, but thine be done.” And it is because he was so focused on doing God’s will that he made it possible for you and me to have faces that shine as well.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon and best-selling author, tells a remarkable story that speaks to me of the love that caused Christ to exchange is throne in glory for the cross of Calvary.

A man had been injured in a fire while attempting to save his parents from a burning house. He couldn’t get to them. They perished. His face was burned and disfigured. He mistakenly interpreted his pain as God’s punishment. The man wouldn’t let anyone see him–not even his wife.

She went to Dr. Maltz for help. He told the woman not to worry. “I can restore his face.” The wife was unenthusiastic. Her husband had repeatedly refused any help. She knew he would again.

Then why her visit? “I want you to disfigure my face so I can be like him!” she said. “If I can share in his pain, then maybe he will let me back into his life.”

Dr. Maltz was shocked. He denied her request but was so moved by this woman’s love that he went to speak with her husband. Knocking on the man’s bedroom door, he called loudly, “I’m a plastic surgeon, and I want you to know that I can restore your face.”

No response.

“Please come out.”

Again there was no answer.

Still speaking through the door, Dr. Maltz told the man of his wife’s proposal. “She wants me to disfigure her face, to make her face like yours in the hope that you will let her back into your life. That’s how much she loves you.”

There was a brief moment of silence, and then, ever so slowly, the doorknob began to turn.

How could that husband not respond to such love? How can you and I not respond to Christ’s love? In one of Isaiah’s messianic prophecies, here is how he described the coming Messiah: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Why did Christ yield himself to experience such debasement? Why was he disfigured? So that you and I might be people with shining faces. People whose love, peace and joy show from our heart into our eyes. Don’t you want a shining face?