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Does Your Face Shine?
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
February 7, 2016
Exodus 34:29-35 Luke 9:28-36 Psalm 99
Our readings this morning are about transcendental states. Transcendental states are when God feels particularly close to us and we are filled with God.
This happened to Moses when he approached God. When he came down from Mount Sinai, bringing with him the Ten Commandments, his face shined. It was so bright and startling that the people of Israel were scared. Whenever Moses came into God’s presence, his face shined. So much so that he wore a veil when speaking God’s words to the people.
Jesus’ whole person shone bright white when He was on the mountain top with Peter and John. His face was transfigured and His clothes shined brighter white than any ordinary fabric. Also Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, appeared with Jesus and the three were talking together. Like the Israelites who were scared when Moses’ face shined, so John and Peter were scared to witness Jesus’ transfiguration. Not knowing what else to do, they asked Jesus if they should build three altars for Moses, Elijah, and for Jesus.
Both Moses and Jesus shined brightly because they encountered God. Moses first shined when he came down from Mount Sinai, when God spoke the words of the law directly to Moses. And Jesus shined brightly because at the time of the transfiguration He was filled with God’s power and presence. We talk about this in our statement of faith every Sunday. We say that Jesus, “united His humanity with the divine depths of His origins.” This means that Jesus united Himself with God who always was and is still. Jesus and God have become one in the person of Jesus Christ. And the infinite and eternal God who always was and is now is as the soul of the person Jesus Christ.
This process of union with God went on throughout the life of Jesus. Jesus was born with a human body the same way we are born with a human body. This human body was given Him by His mother Mary. Throughout His life on earth, Jesus made this mortal body divine. That meant putting off what is finite and earthly in this body and putting on what is infinite and divine. This was the process by which Jesus became God and God became Jesus. The ancient Christian creeds state this clearly. They say that Jesus is “Fully God and Fully Man.”
I say that this process was a gradual process. Jesus didn’t become united fully with God immediately. Rather, Jesus progressed gradually in coming to God and letting God into His humanity. Swedenborg teaches that there were two kinds of states that Jesus went through in becoming divine. There was the process of emptying, when His humanity was left to struggle with His inherited tendencies to evil. For yes, Jesus’ human body had human tendencies toward evil as we all do too. But with us, and with Jesus, these are only tendencies. These tendencies to sin were what allowed hell to tempt Jesus. The Gospels tell us that immediately after Jesus’ baptism, He went into the wilderness and was tempted by the devil for forty days. The Gospels also tell us that after the 40 days, the devil departed for a spell. They don’t say that the devil went away for good. They say that the devil went away for a spell. Luke 4:13 reads, “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” Jesus went through periods of temptation throughout His life.
But Jesus also had states of union with God. One of these states is recorded in the Gospels which we heard this morning. Jesus is on the mountain and He becomes fully filled with divinity. Along with periods of temptation, Jesus also knew periods when He was filled with God. Since God was Jesus’ origin, being filled with God is union with Jesus’ origins.
My theology professor at Harvard told us that the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain was actually an Easter event put back into the story of Jesus life on earth. That is, this is a story of an event that happened after Jesus’ resurrection that the Gospel writer stuck back into an earlier part of the Gospel story. I think that he said this because of the supernatural aspect of this story. Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white and His face was transfigured. I think that my professor thought that these things couldn’t happen to an earthly human being. This must have been a supernatural being that didn’t have real a real, physical body.
But our church teaches that Jesus’ earthly body had God as its soul. When God and Man was united, then divinity could shine through the body of Jesus. The spiritual sight of the Apostles were opened and they could see the spiritual world. They could see the light shining from God’s body and they could see the spirits of Moses and Elijah. To many people, the thought of seeing spirits seems hard to accept. However, we belong to a spiritual path that teaches that spirits are everywhere around us and when the thin veil of matter is lifted, we see what is immaterial.
This has never happened to me. I have never seen into the spiritual world. Except maybe once. Halfway between sleep and wakefulness I saw a brightly colored chariot. The colors were so vivid and the image was so clear that it was beyond anything that I have ever seen in the material world—asleep or awake. However, other than being an interesting vision, it didn’t do anything for me spiritually. And it changed my life in no substantial way.
But I suggest that there are times in our lives in which divinity is a very real presence. These are moments that do change our lives substantially. These are moments when we feel God in our hearts and in our thoughts as present and real. Sometimes the feeling is so strong that we feel only God, and we can lose our selfhood in these moments of ecstasy. Mystics have written about these states.
Maybe these states come to us in special places. For me, often when I am at church camp I can feel these states. It is the spiritual atmosphere, the morning and evening chapel services. And especially when I am around children when worship is taking place. Children are close to God and I feel that atmosphere when I come around them in God’s name. Usually at church I am lifted out of my worldly thoughts and I find an uplifting spiritual feeling come over me an elevate my consciousness. Usually when I am involved in study of John’s Gospel for the commentary I am writing on it, the words of the Apostle lift my whole spirit up into a transcendental state. For this reason many religions recommend daily reading and meditation on the Bible or their own sacred scriptures.
But also, usually, these states don’t last. They come and go. This is true even for yogis who meditate often. These peak spiritual states do not stay with us all the time. One could say that one of the goals of religion is to make these states come more often and to last longer. We are told that even in the next life, these transcendental states wax and wane. Even in the highest heaven, angels find themselves at times filled with God’s heat and light and at other times less so.
For us on earth, the difference can be dramatic. We can feel profoundly in touch with God and painfully distant from God. I think that as we progress spiritually, the highs and lows level out to some degree. The prophet Isaiah said that every valley shall be raised up and every mountain be made low and the rough places made level. Just as the seasons change from winter through spring and summer, so our connection with God goes through cycles of deep union like the joys of spring, and distance like the cold of winter.
As we progress in our growth into angelhood, we will know God more dearly. And we will fall away less often and less distantly. And we will find higher and more loving closeness. Swedenborg tells us that the highest angels go through spiritual seasons also. But for them the seasons are like those in more tropical climates when winters are mild and summers are pleasant. Maybe the mountain regions of Mexico. The point is that our faces can and do shine at times when we feel close to God. Maybe we only perceive this in a person’s eyes. Maybe in their tone of voice. Those of us more attuned to psychic realities can pick up a vibe from people. I think that most of us do not actually see a face shining with its own light. But we can expect to feel closer and more distant from God as we walk our pilgrimage into the Holy City. Jesus’ face and clothes shined on the mountain top. But He and the Apostles came down from the mountain, too.
Lord, we thank you for those blessed times when we feel you near to us. We praise you for filling us with your love and lifting us up out of the mire of the world and its vanities. Those blessed times are never forgotten. They make up the dearest part of our soul. We remember our childhood and the early feelings for love we knew from our parents and teachers. And as we progress spiritually, we know our love for you through meditation and loving service in the world. But we also lament those times when you feel distant. Times when we let self and selfish desires drag us away from you, your kingdom, and your love. We pray that you abide with us in those dark times, and that you reach down to us and lift us up, that you always come to us and save.
And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.