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Toshiki Toma

I see the shine around your face

Flutt 21. janúar 2018 · í enskri messu í Breiðholtskirkju

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -Amen.

Today’s Gospel is about transfiguration of Jesus. I will read once again from Matthew: “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.”(Mat. 17:1-3)

“Transfiguration” means that the shape or the outward appearance of somebody changes. In case of Jesus, his face began to shine like the sun and his clothes became so white as they almost became shining. This means that the glory of Jesus, his perfection as the son of God the Father, has been revealed directly with nothing hidden.

In our daily lives, do we believe that people can change their appearance completely without any tools like wigs, masks or makeup? I mean that he or she changes himself or herself? No, usually we don’t think it’s possible. A few examples of transfiguration that have popped up in my thought are the “Hulk” in the movie “Incredible Hulk”; or the werewolf, a monster of legend.

But seeing the transfiguration in the meaning of “shining”, then we do transfigure by ourselves occasionally, even without noticing it. For example, when someone has achieved something great – such as having won a gold medal in the Olympics – these athletes often shine, seeming much different from how they are most of the time.

And even we, everyday people, come across this kind of “shining” opportunity in our lives, too. Most ladies shine during their wedding ceremonies. I can affirm that it’s not because of the makeup and the beautiful wedding dress: the shine comes from within the bride herself.

This kind of experience is based on one’s personal circumstances; and it can happen to anybody, regardless of one’s religious background. But at the same time, since this state is based on us our particular circumstances, when our status changes, the shining can disappear, too. The shining bride can lose her shine when she encounters the reality of married life.

There is another type of shining in our lives. A shining that is not based on our personal lives or personal experiences, but is based on God and his glory.

In the Old Testament’s Book of Exodus, there is a very interesting story. It’s about Moses. In the process of God giving the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people, Moses had opportunities to talk with God alone and directly several times. Once Moses asked God to show him the glory of God, and God fulfilled his request.

And then this happened: “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant (shining) because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.”(Ex. 34:29-30)

We need to pay attention to two points, here. First, it’s not Moses himself who shone: this radiance proceeded from the glory of God. The glory of God reflected from Moses’ face for a while. Secondly, Moses didn’t know that his face was shining. It was the people around him who pointed it out.

Another episode on the theme of the glory of God is the last moments of Saint Stephen in the Acts in the New Testament. I prefer to call it “the glory of Jesus” here. Stephen served in the church in its very early days, together with Peter, Paul and other disciples of Jesus. He was a really talented person and was a great preacher.

But because of the preaching, many Jews felt anger towards Stephen, and finally they killed him by stoning. Stephen was the first martyr (one who is killed because of his belief in Jesus) in the Christian church. And just before he was killed he saw the glory of God.

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”(Act. 7:54)

It is not said that Stephen’s face was shining, but I presume so in the context of the story. But anyway, Stephen had seen the glory of Jesus just before he died.

From this story, we should understand that receiving the glory of Jesus, or seeing it, doesn’t necessarily mean that it brings us happiness or comfort in the everyday sense: that is, superficial satisfaction. But it brings us a deep satisfaction in life, and gives real value to our existence as believers.

I want to emphasize some points about the particularity of the glory of Jesus. First, we can receive the glory of Jesus, and it makes us shine. Secondly, we don’t notice it by ourselves, even though we shine upon others. The others can see it. Thirdly, the glory of Jesus leads us to the real value and satisfaction in our earthly lives, but it doesn’t guarantee everyday comfort. It might even bring a sort of hardship.

About 28 years ago, I was a new pastor in a small church in Japan. Only a few months after I began serving there, I officiated at a funeral for the first time. A man in his sixties had died of cancer. He had a wife, and a grown up son and daughter. The whole family was Christian, but this man was a rather difficult person and had been away from the church for years until then because of some disagreement between him and the local church.

While this man was still alive, his wife asked me to visit him at the hospital and I went. I was an inexperienced pastor, and it was also my first time visiting a dying man at hospital. I didn’t have much confidence in myself, and was considerably nervous.

Two reliable members of the church came with me so that I wouldn’t run away, and the man’s wife and the son were at the hospital, too. I asked the man in the bed if he wanted to receive Holy Communion.

Holy Communion is the symbol that we are forgiven, and that we are reconciled with God the Father. It was important for the man and his family to receive Communion. The man couldn’t speak but nodded to express “yes” to my question. And so we partook in Holy Communion in the patient’s room. It had been many years since the man and his family had done so.

After we left the hospital, one of the church members with me said: “Pastor Toma, I saw a shine like a halo around your head”. I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. He said the same thing several times at the church later.

Still, I thought that he was trying to flatter me or to encourage the inexperienced young pastor, but much later I began to understand what it meant. I was thinking only about the dying man and his family, but it was also important for that church member to be there with the family and participate the Communion, because he had known that man who died and his absence from the church for a long time, and he had been wishing that that man might return to the church some day.

And now it had happened, finally. He felt the grace from Jesus so much at that moment! That was the reason why he felt as if he saw the light shining around me.

You know? It is not about me. It’ not like I did something remarkable or I was a good pastor. No, it’s not. Please, don’t misunderstand it, otherwise I sound really arrogant. It’s not about me, but in that particular situation, I took the role of performing the Communion that was significant for the family and also for that church member. I happened to be there, and acted as Jesus wished, though I didn’t realize its meaning well enough.

Thus we receive the glory of Jesus and act as his servants. And this happens to any of us. And at that time, we are shining, even though we don’t notice it by ourselves. Other people can see the shine that we carry. This is a part of the manifestation of the kingdom of God.

Jesus gives us a reflection of his own glory and lets us shine. And it is not to let us boast of ourselves, or allow us to be conceited. It is not because we are fine people, pious believers or doing good works. Nobody can claim a share of the glory of Jesus as his right. We have to be very careful about it. To be arrogant in the name of God is one of the easiest and largest temptations in our daily lives.

We need to be humble and to concentrate on following Jesus. While we are doing so, Jesus can give us the reflection of his glory even while we are not aware of it. He does it so that we can participate in his task of salvation on the earth: namely, so that we can bring his love and mercy to our neighbors. And this is a mutual thing. We serve our neighbors, and they serve us. We serve each other.

This is the important thing, because Jesus works for people in this way. When we serve our neighbors, Jesus is working through us. This can be really astonishing, but still it’s true. Jesus is so close to us. And we shouldn’t be shy, or hesitate to accompany Jesus in our daily lives.

On the contrary, we should be aware of the closeness of Jesus in our lives, and actively try to serve in his name. That’s the responsible attitude as Christians. Being humble, being active and being responsible: those three can stand together.

At last, once again, we receive the reflection of the glory of God even without noticing. In the end of the service, both in English and in Icelandic, the priest says the word of blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”(Num. 6:24-26)

“The Lord make his face shine on you…” Let’s walk each day of this week, maintaining this shine from our Lord.
The Grace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Amen.

The text:

Matthew 17:1-3

1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

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