Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
Missionaries in many parts of the world witness people performing very pious rituals. The people are devout and reverent. Many Japanese have an extremely strong sense of what they call, “kami,” spiritual matters about the religious mystery of life and nature. But there is often no faith and no love, toward God, humanity or society. Having witnessed such observances, more than one missionary has heard the observers say, “We are very devout (Buddhists, animists or whatever), but we don’t believe anything.”
Many people in the United States use the church for certain rituals, particularly weddings, funerals and “christenings,” but like their counterparts in other cultures they don’t really believe anything. They distance themselves from anything that might involve their serious thought and commitment.
Dr. Hugh T. Kerr told about an American teacher in Japan who was a strong contrast to the people of both his own culture and the one in which he taught. He was employed with the strict understanding that during school hours he should not utter a single word on the subject of Christianity. He had agreed and lived up to that agreement.
Yet, though he never spoke one word about it, he lived the Christ-life. So attractive was his character and so shining his example, that 40 of his students met in a grove one day, without his knowledge, and signed a covenant to accept his faith. As a matter of fact, 25 of them entered the Kyoto Christian Training School, and some of them are now preaching the Gospel that their teacher had unconsciously and silently commended.
Here is an interesting thought–how tall was this teacher? What color were his eyes and hair? Was he white, black, brown or even green? You don’t know because I didn’t tell you. I don’t know either, because Dr. Kerr failed to mention the insignificant facts. In our day, the faces of prominent people are placed before us over and over in magazines and newspapers and on TV, usually in full color. If a photograph or sketch is not available, a description will often be given in words. It is interesting that we have no idea what Jesus, Paul, Peter, Elijah, Moses or Abraham looked like. Neither Testament bothers with these insignificant facts.
The faces of two of them are mentioned. Both Moses and Jesus had moments when their faces made people turn away because of their radiance or glow. In a more literal manner than the Christian teacher in Japan, perhaps, they were shining examples to their followers–they had spoken face to face with El Shaddai (God Almighty) and they were different because of it. The Bible may not tell us how they looked, but it tells what happened to those who looked at them.
When Moses came down from the Mount of the Lord with the Tablets of Law under his arm, his countenance was aglow from having stood face to face with God. The people were afraid and cleared out until he wore a veil. They recognized what had happened, and they thought they knew all about God–He was the sender of snakes, blood, frogs, gnats, flies, some sort of kine (but unkind) disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and death. The Egyptians were bad, but God was “badder!”
Actually, while God was insistent that the Egyptians let His people go, He was very patient with them. His display of power, however, was awesome and apparently more effective on the Israelites than on their slave-masters. When the Israelites saw the face that saw the face of El Shaddai, they were scared to death! What they failed to see was that God was not against the Egyptians, He was for the Israelites.
He was their God–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob–the God of love. He came, not to set the Egyptians on their heels, but to set His people free. So did Jesus.
This Sunday’s Gospel is the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. The emotions of the disciples are a mix of thrilling excitement and fear, but they did not run away, nor did they want Jesus to cover His glory. He had already given them a glimpse of the grace, acceptance, love and forgiveness of God. When God appeared in a cloud and spoke to them, they were afraid, but not “scared to death.” Jesus was with them and that gave them a degree of confidence and faith.
The depth of Jesus’ grace and love would not become fully clear to them until after His resurrection, but they had begun to understand that God’s glory and mercy are inseparable. In Sunday’s Epistle lesson, Paul also recognizes the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
Like Peter, James and John, Paul had witnessed a flash of the brilliance of God’s glory–it had blinded him for three days. Also like them, he had become a witness to the light of the Gospel. Apparently, some people thought that Paul was being unclear with his witness, because some unbelievers had rejected him. It is interesting how a message and the messenger can be confused and garbled. Paul says that if the Gospel is “veiled” it is not his doing, but the “god of this world” has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.
The “god of this world” is still hard at work today. Most people wander around in his darkness. Some are devout, but they don’t believe anything. Some believe but are too busy to devote any substantial time to the Word and Sacraments. They want to be religious, but not too religious. The power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit is available to them, but they want to maintain a safe distance. Like the people of Israel who could have been thrilled and inspired by the countenance of Moses, they prefer a cover-up instead.
Jewelers and watchmakers tell you to fully wind a watch every morning because a taut spring can handle the day’s shocks much better than one that is half run-down. People’s lives also handle the shocks better and go farther when their spirits have been wound up in worship and their hearts have been filled with the grace and love of God.
In some cultures, the most devoutly ritualistic people are also the most deeply entrenched in unbelief. Do you let God come to you or are you too busy trying to please Him, build tents for Him and get to Him?
The disciples on the mountain of Transfiguration probably never forgot what they saw. But what they saw on Golgotha, the mountain of Crucifixion was what changed them forever. On that mountain they saw God’s power and glory revealed, not in spectacular clothing and a flashy face, but in flesh and blood…in profound grace and mercy…in amazing forgiveness and sacrificial love. This was no shallow ritual. This was El Shaddai in the flesh, reconciling the world to Himself. That light shone in the hearts and faces of those disciples forever and for all the world to see.
God wants to lift up His countenance upon us and make His face shine on us. Do we joyfully seek His power, blessing and direction for mission? Or do we find a way to duck out, roll over and cover up? The God who comes to us in Christ to give us eternal life by giving His life for us, also calls us to let our light shine for others. If the glory of God is not aglow within us, the darkness of the world will be. Come and bask in the glory of God in the face of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Then go to tell His grace and goodness to the world.