Sermon:  “The Glory of Love”

14 February 2010

The Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany
February 14, 2010

“The Glory of Love”

Exodus 34:29-30
Luke 9:28-36
1 Corinthians 13:8, 12-13

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our minds and hearts here together be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

Have you ever seen a person’s face transformed completely by the glory of love?  It’s amazing!  That’s why, I’m sure, writers throughout time have tried to capture those moments in words.  In Exodus we read that the face of Moses “shone because he had been talking with God.”  And in Luke’s Gospel, Peter and John and James have this “mountaintop experience” of seeing the glory of God visible on the face of Christ.  While Jesus was praying, it says “the appearance of his face changed,” and even his clothes “became dazzling white.”  And in his first letter to the Corinthians, when Paul reminds us that God’s eternal love is something that one day “we will see face to face,” he says that then we “will know fully, even as [we] have been fully known.”  It’s not hard to imagine what knowledge of that kind of ultimate and unconditional love would do to a face. 

Maybe it’s because it’s Valentine’s Day, but I will never forget the memory of my husband’s glowing, beaming face when I was walking down the aisle toward him on our wedding day.  And I’ve seen the pictures of me – I looked just as “twitter-pated,” to quote the Gospel according to “Bambi.”  Do you remember that scene?  Even the skunk Flower got caught up in the glory of love when he found a mate – as did Pepe Le Pew, but that’s a whole different cartoon.  Pepe’s love was tragically unrequited by that poor cat, which was the whole point, really.  But Pepe’s endless chasing of his lost love captures one great truth about romantic love – that big love that goes on sale tomorrow – no matter how much you try to contain it or package it or save it for later, you just can’t put real, true and forever love in a box.  You can try, but you can’t quite hold on to those precious moments of transcendence, when the glory of love shines all around you.

That’s what makes Peter so charming in this miraculous transfiguration story – as Jesus prays, he becomes radiant with the glory of God’s love, and these glorious visions of Moses and Elijah arrive. But all Peter can think to do is try to build “shelters” for his Bible heroes to live inside.  His instinct when the vision begins to fade is to literally try to capture the moment and keep it forever.  We read that “33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ —not knowing what he said.” 

Peter doesn’t know, but Luke knows and we know:  the power of God’s love is too great to be contained.  The glory of God’s love overwhelms and contains us – not vice versa.  Luke says that while Peter was speaking, “a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified.”  They were right to be afraid, because there is nothing so awesome as the glory of God’s love.  It is strong enough to hold us and never let us go.  It is utter futility for us to try to manipulate it or control it or keep it for ourselves.  In the face of God’s love, the wise thing to do – the only thing to do – is to surrender to it. 

But like Pepe’s reluctant girlfriend, and like the disciples with Jesus on that foggy mountaintop, we too often run away in fear.  We are paralyzed with doubt.  As I said in last week’s sermon, we are so tempted (like Adam and Eve in the garden) to dive deep into the bushes when we sense the glory of God’s presence drawing near – and that is tragic – because God so loves us and so wants us to run into his arms.  I love those familiar words of Psalm 100, “3Know that the Lord is God. It is God who made us, and we belong to God; we are God’s people, and the sheep of God’s pasture…. 5For the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, and the Lord’s faithfulness to all generations.”  God’s steadfast, eternal love is the one love that can be trusted to never ever let us go.  The Lord never gives up on us.  Children go astray and leave us, lovers cheat on each other, husbands and wives get divorces, friends betray friends, and parents do even disown their children.  But not God – God is faithful forever. 

The Hebrew word chesed is most often translated as the “steadfast love” or “mercy” of God.  It’s closely related to the Greek word charis, again translated into English as “charity.”  “Charity,” though, doesn’t begin to express the eternal and amazing grace of God.  Chesed, or steadfast love, in Hebrew most often is used to describe love within families – the force that keeps us together no matter what – love powerful enough to draw a mother to her son’s execution and gives her the strength to watch until it’s over.

The prophet Hosea, I think, really God’s heartbreak at our estrangement from Holy Love.  As a parent, I love Hosea, chapter 11, where the prophet voices God’s longing for reconciliation with us:  “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2The more I called them, the more they went from me; …” Both toddlers and teenagers have this way of running off in the wrong direction. “3Yet it was I who taught them to walk,” God says. “I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them. …8How can I give you up?”  This is the great tragic love story that runs throughout the Hebrew Scriptures – that still plagues the world today.  God is calling to us – God is still speaking, as we say here in the United Church of Christ – but we are still running away.

I want to close with a story of a mountaintop experience I had just yesterday.  I was literally at the mountaintop, nearing the end of my ride on the Boulder Summit lift at Mohawk mountain, when I could see a scene unfolding below that reminded me of not too long ago when my kids were little.  I could see right away what had happened.  A father and daughter had been skiing together.  They got to the top of the mountain, to a black diamond (advanced) slope they call “the Chute,” and they had started down.  The first part of the run was the worst – with a pretty steep and narrow drop-off.  He had zipped on down the first 50 yards or so, assuming she was right behind him.  But she had, it looked like, thought the better of it.  She had just gone about 10 yards and stopped.  And the poor father couldn’t very well climb his way back up to her.  So there he was. 

He was left to helplessly watch as she cried and refused to move.  He was begging her to keep trying and not give up, but she was having none of it.  But you see why this kind of parent-child metaphor is so perfect for the steadfast love of God?  There was absolutely no way that man would have left his daughter out there all alone.  He was willing her to move with every fiber of his being.  With the wind blowing down below, I couldn’t hear, but I could see in his body, he was trying everything – every trick in the book – he was coaxing, threatening, bribing her – just trying to reach out to her in any and every way possible.  Just like God in practically every chapter of the Bible!

She was frozen with fear, literally paralyzed.  I mean, she couldn’t have been more than 5 – who could blame her?  It’s the top part of the slope where I fell 3 years ago and sprained my ankle, so she was wise to be cautious.  In fact, I was planning myself to take a slightly easier way down.  So I said a quick prayer – asking for God’s help – because I needed to find some calm and courage for her.  So I gave her a smile and talked to her about “making pizza pie” with her skis as I inched down to her.  I invited her to follow, but I had no idea whether or not she would.  When she started slowly zig-zagging down the hill again, she was following like a baby duck in my wake.  I kept on yakking and yakking, trying to encourage her all the way to her dad.  He was a big, tall strong man, but you could see he was practically crying himself.  But the funny thing was, as soon as she could get close enough to lock onto his knees in one of those death-grip hugs only a preschooler can manage, she started babbling to him in German.  So much for all those kind words, right?  She didn’t understand a word of it.  But it brought to my mind those famous words from the very beginning of First Corinthians, chapter 13: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  It didn’t matter in the least what I said to her.  She knew I cared and that I was not going to leave her there all alone.

Now as much I hated telling a story where I was the hero, in the spirit of our Lenten theme – “We Are Witnesses: Telling Our Stories” – I thought I should share with you my testimony.  When we witness the glory of love in the flesh – as I saw in the bond between that father and daughter – we as Christians are called to tell it.  I wanted you to see how simple it is, not only to put your faith into action, but to talk about it.  It’s just a daily choice to choose those random acts kindness in a world where most people are heading downhill fast and not looking at other people on the way.  But like Moses, like Peter, like Paul – it’s our job as people of faith to bear witness to God’s steadfast love, whenever and wherever we see it. 

Thanks be to God for this Good News.  Amen.



Exodus 34:29-30

29Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.

Luke 9:28-36

28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When 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.

1 Corinthians 13:8, 12-13

8Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.



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