Shiny Faces & Propheteering

Exodus 34:29-35   and Luke 9:28, 29; 37, 38

What does it mean to have a shiny face?

Okay, think about it.

shine.jpegShiny face is real. By midday, your face just might have a little sheen. It’s called sebum [combo of dead skin cells and lipids]. This sebum protects your skin from drying out. But it can look oily and make your face shiny. Over-exfoliation?

I’ve had that problem before. After running outside in the cold winter weather, I’m not sweating as a normally do, but my face gets really shiny. My skin is overcompensating for the dry weather. My forehead is shiny. Or, sometimes I over-moisturize with face cream and, shiny face. And finally, if I get some nice sun, could very well be…shiny face.

This is not about complexion, pigmentation or whatever. Everybody can get the shiny face. Even light reflecting off of you the right way can give you the shiny face. It’s hard to photoshop, too.

Apparently both Moses and Jesus had the shiny face issue.

Now in American Christianity we don’t talk much about the Moses-Jesus connection. But we should. The two characters, though centuries removed from each other, have a lot in common. Both were considered prophets. And in this story, both got shiny faces when they met up with God.

Also keep in mind that Luke’s Gospel is not hiding the fact that the Jesus story is parallel to the Exodus story. Moses and the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. Then, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt to Jerusalem. After that, the Israelites were exiled to Babylon and other places. Jesus, a Jew himself, would now return to Jerusalem. It’s a full-circle moment. And of course it’s clear in this particular story in Luke that the author is making connections between Moses and Jesus. Moses appears in the story, on the mountaintop, with the other prophet Elijah. The story tells us that Moses led the people to freedom and now Jesus will do the same—albeit via a different road. Luke even starts his story saying that Jesus, Peter, John, and James went up the mountain eight days after a series of teachings. This is to indicate the wholeness of what was about to happen—for the eighth day in Hebrew tradition, was the day of new creation.

Just like Moses on Mt Sinai, Jesus is changed by light. Luke uses the Greek word heteron which means changed, different, other. But Luke adds a detail that the original author of this story, Mark, doesn’t say. Mark says that Jesus was transfigured before them. Luke says that the appearance of Jesus’ face was changed. It’s Moses all over again. His clothes also turn a dazzling white. Maybe like a really good Elvis impersonator? But this time, there was no veil, nothing to cover up before the presence of Divine Light. Jesus shone brightly and then they all had to come down from that mountain.

Inevitably, once you come down from any mountaintop experience, reality hits quickly. And so it did. Just as soon as they are down on the ground, a great crowd comes. And then a man shouts out: I beg you! Help my son!

The transfiguration story can be interpreted in a lot of ways. Here’s what I’m thinking this time around. I’m seeing prophets and shiny faces.

Let’s talk a bit about prophets and the idea of someone being prophetic or engaging in propheteering [hehe].

There are two extremes in Christian traditions in regards to what it means to be prophetic. First, there is the common-held belief that prophets tell the future or predict things. They have special knowledge. Thus, we have thousands of books written by people who claim to be prophetic. It’s pathetic.

prophecyOn the other hand, some Christians hold the view that being prophetic means being social-justice oriented or political.

It’s important to be familiar with the extremes and then to encounter a more balanced and grounded perspective about prophets.

For example, I appreciate what Jewish Rabbi Abraham Heschel and NT scholar Walter Brueggemann have to say. First, Brueggemann. He wrote The Prophetic Imagination, in which he writes, “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”[1]

For Brueggemann, a prophet should not only criticize social and spiritual deficiencies, but he/she should also energize people with the hope that alternatives are possible. Again, he writes: “Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate despair so that new futures can be believed in and embraced by us.”[2]

And then there is Abraham Heschel, who wrote The Prophets. He states: “The prophet was an individual who said no to his [or her] society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism. [The prophet] was often compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what [his or her] heart expected. [The prophets] fundamental objective was to reconcile [humanity] and God.”[3]

So in both cases, being prophetic is about bringing people together. It is about reconciliation. In both the Testaments of the Bible, the prophets spoke out against the ills of society and did not avoid controversial subjects. Yet at the same time, they offered hope and a possible path to wholeness, peace, and reconciliation.

And this leads me to shiny faces again, for prophets are certainly not superficial and they seek to get to heart of the matter.

We tend to see the surface and superficial side of things more often than not. Shiny faces are, well, shiny faces because of oily skin or overexposure to the sun. But that’s not what the symbolism is all about.

Shiny faces reflect light because of what is inside.

In the case of both Moses and Jesus, their faces shone because of the light within them. And it certainly became contagious. Eventually, other people started to recognize the light within them–that they were worthwhile, and capable, and even possibly prophetic if they chose to be.

On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, people smear ashes on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. It’s a visible thing that people see. It’s fine, I guess, but it’s not enough. Because you don’t really need to smear ashes on your forehead for others to see.

But it really WOULD be something if your face was shiny for all to see. If the light within you became visible to others—spreading hope, love, mercy, and peace and reconciling rather than separating.

Wouldn’t that be something, if our faces shone with the light that comes from within?

We’re all capable of the shiny face, you know. We all have light within us. We just need to nurture it, let it breathe and grow, let it flourish freely. If you think that you’re not someone with light in you because you’re going through some difficult times right now, or you have incredible challenges, or you just don’t feel light at all. Remember this Leonard Cohen lyric from the song Anthem: There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.[4]

So may all the cracks in your life remind of the light that lives within you. May your light shine through your face and your life. And may all the prophets and reconcilers and bridge-builders and truth-tellers show themselves.

[1] Brueggemann, Walter, The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd Edition, June 1, 2001.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Heschel, Abraham, The Prophets, 1962.

[4] Leonard Cohen, Anthem.

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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