“Up Close and Personal” – Exodus 32-34
The Transfiguration of our Lord – February 11, 2018
Introduction: The movie…
Some of you will remember the 1996 romantic drama “Up Close and Personal” starring Robert
Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s about an ambitious, aspiring news reporter, who is hired by a
news director who carefully guides her career to new heights, all the while becoming
increasingly attracted to her.
Today’s sermon has nothing to do with the movie. They just share the same title. Today’s
message is based on two events that took place on mountains – Up – where individuals – Moses,
and then Peter, James and John – got close and personal with God. Up… close and personal.
1. The first event
The first event took place in the Book of Exodus. Moses had led the people of Israel out of
Egypt, across the Red Sea, and into the Sinai Desert. God had called him up the mountain and
had given him the two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. (That will be our Old
Testament lesson and sermon in 3 weeks.) Moses was on Mt. Sinai in the presence of God for so
long that the people got impatient. They asked Moses’ brother, Aaron, to make some gods for
them to lead them. He took their gold jewellery and fashioned it into the shape of a calf, and the
people said, “These are your gods… who brought you up out of Egypt.” (How ridiculous is that!
Being led out of Egypt, and then making gods that they said brought them out of Egypt? That’s
fake news if you’ve ever heard it.) Finally, Moses came down from the mountain, saw the golden
calf and the revelry, and smashed the two tablets. He burned the calf in fire, ground it to powder,
scattered the powder on the water and made the Israelites drink it. He called the people on this
great and grievous sin, but then he interceded on behalf of the people and repented before God,
asking God not to destroy them.
A little later, we read that the LORD would speak to Moses face to face. But this phrase “face to
face” doesn’t mean that Moses saw God’s face. It’s a Hebrew expression for intimacy… up close
and personal. In fact, it adds, “as a man speaks with his friend.” This tells us that God spoke to
Moses directly, not through visions and dreams. In this way Moses was unique among the
prophets. But Moses wanted more, so He asked God to show him His glory. God replied, “You
cannot see my face for no one may see me and live.” So, God put Moses UP… in the cleft of a
rock, covered Moses with His hand, passed by CLOSE AND PERSONAL, and allowed Moses
to see His back… but not His face.
Then God called Moses to come back up Mt. Sinai with two tablets of stone. Moses stayed up
the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights this time, and then God sent him back down to the
people, after having inscribed the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets for a second time.
This time, as Moses came down the mountain, his face was shining and radiant… from being in
the very presence of God. The people were afraid of him, so Moses put a veil over his face until
such time as he went to speak with the Lord again.
2. The second event
The second event is commonly called the Transfiguration of Jesus, and it, too, is an up close and
personal moment. We heard Mark’s account of it in our Gospel reading. Peter, James and John
were the participants this time. A different mountain was the venue… but still UP. They were
there with Jesus (whose clothes and appearance became dazzling white), and then Moses and the
prophet Elijah showed up and talked with Jesus. Peter, James and John experienced the CLOSE
AND PERSONAL encounter with these big name Old Testament characters… and Jesus! Peter
was kind of bewildered by what was happening, but at the same time inspired by what was
happening, and he offered to build three tents – one each for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. He wanted
to stay longer. It was like heaven’s door was open a crack and he was peering in to see Jesus’ full
glory. If that door was open any wider, he may have needed a veil, too, so that his buddy
disciples who didn’t join this experience wouldn’t be frightened of his radiant, glowing face. Oh,
and God’s voice of affirmation boomed from a cloud saying, “This is my Son, whom I love.
Listen to Him!” I think Peter, James and John were already doing that, but this was an extra
encouragement for them to keep listening to Jesus, especially as they were on their way to
Jerusalem where Jesus would suffer, die and rise again for them, and for us.
3. You… Up close and personal with God
a. What it is not
What does it take for us to get up close and personal with God?
Well, first let me say that some people think that getting up gets them close and personal with
God. So, those people find their religious experience up a mountain or otherwise in nature. They
think that communing with nature equals communing with the God who created nature. The
trouble with that is that they may not actually think about or worship or thank God while they are
up that mountain that God made, AND Jesus is generally not in the mix at all. If you are thinking
about God apart from Jesus, if you only have a sense of a higher being, a divine power, an
ultimate creator, a generic God, you are probably neither close nor personal with the true God,
for the true God has especially made Himself known through Jesus. The Book of Hebrews makes
that clear as it begins: “In these last days God has spoken to us by His Son [who] is the radiance
of God’s glory and the exact representation (or fingerprint) of His being.” Paul made that clear in
Colossians 1 when He said that “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God.” Even Jesus made that
clear when He told His disciples, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” and “[When a
man] looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.” This is all for our sake, so that we have a sure
and certain way to get up close and personal with God beyond just hiking up a mountain that
God made. We get up close and personal with God when we get up close and personal with
b. Hate sin
If you want to be up close and personal with God, you’ve got to hate sin. God really hates sin.
After all, it separates people from Him. When the people of Israel made that golden calf, God
said to Moses, “These are a stiff-necked people. Leave me alone that my anger may burn against
them.” Moses hated sin, too. His anger burned when he came down the mountain and saw the
golden calf idol, and what he did with it. But Moses was also willing to do whatever it took to
save the people. He interceded for them – standing as it were between them and God’s fierce
anger over their sin.
If you want to be a God-person in our world, you’ve got to hate sin, too. First of all, you’ve got
to hate your own sin – your thoughts, words, and actions that displease and anger God. You’ve
got to authentically repent of them, asking for God’s mercy and forgiveness. And if you truly
want to be a God-person, truly love God, you want to strive for obedience, as Jesus said, “If you
love me, you will obey what I command.” That implies knowing what Jesus commands – things
like loving God, and loving your neighbour, things like doing to others what you would have
them do to you, things like obeying your parents, acting justly, loving mercy, and walking
humbly with God. When you know what Jesus commands, then, with the help of the Holy Spirit,
you commit to a God-pleasing life.
Besides hating your own sins, you’ve also got to hate the sins of others, at the same time as
loving them enough to warn them of their sin and to stand between them and the anger of God,
as Moses did with the Israelites. Think of the worst sin of someone you know – a co-worker, a
family member, a friend. (PAUSE) That sin is nothing, NOTHING compared with the idolatry of
the Israelites as they fashioned a god that they said led them out of slavery. The first and most
important Commandment on those tablets that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai was: “You
shall have no other gods before me.” And yet the Israelites make and worship a golden idol. God
forgave them. And God can forgive the worst sin that your friend is involved in… oh, and the
worst sin that you have ever committed, too.
c. Relationship with God
If you want to be up close and personal with God, there must be evidence of a relationship with
God in your daily life. For Moses and the people of Israel, God was with them, in a very tangible
way, in the pillar of cloud that descended when Moses went into the tent to meet God. When the
people saw the cloud, they knew the glory of God was right there, in their presence. Peter, James
and John walked and talked with Jesus as their mentor for three years. On the mountain, Peter
wanted to build a tent – smaller than the Old Testament worship tent – but a tent for Jesus so that
they could extend that wonderful mountain top experience a little longer.
We don’t have the privilege of seeing God’s presence in a tangible way like that pillar of cloud,
but we do have certain ways of getting up close and personal with God.
At Jesus’ transfiguration, God’s voice said, “This is my Son, listen to Him.” Those words were
not only for Peter, James and John. They are also for us… to solidify our relationship with Him,
to keep us close and personal. In God’s Word, we can see the very heart of God, we can hear the
very words of Jesus, we can witness the very love of God in His actions of grace toward people
who – like us – don’t always get things right. Among Jesus’ last earthly words to His disciples
were these ones: “I am with you always to the very end of the age.” How is He with us?
Well, let me tell you… Jesus is more than WITH us! He is IN us. He said to His disciples that
when he went away He would give them a paraclete, a counselor, the Holy Spirit – to give them
inner peace, to give them words to say, to guide them into all truth. Here is what Jesus said in
John 14: “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever –
the Spirit of truth… He lives with you and will be in you.” And a couple of Sundays ago we
heard Paul’s reminder to the Christians in Corinth that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit
who is IN you…” That’s God’s up close and personal presence every day!!
One other way that God is tangibly with us is in the body and blood of Jesus in the bread and
wine of Holy Communion. And actually that’s not just with us but in us, too. As we take in
Christ’s body and blood, we are forgiven of our sins, strengthened in our faith walk, and assured
of our salvation accomplished when Jesus sacrificed Himself – body and blood – on the cross of
We can be up close and personal with God because He wants to be up close and personal with
d. A radiant face and life
One last thing… In Exodus, Moses’ radiant face was also evidence of him having been in the
very presence of God. God transfigures our lives, transforming us from sinners to saints. God is
in us, and our faces, our lives can express the joy and the radiance of knowing God’s
forgiveness, God’s salvation, God’s peace… all in Jesus.
Sometimes, we are the first point of contact for other people to get up close and personal with
God. We want to season our speech with grace and love and compassion. We want to let the light
of Christ shine through our actions of mercy and humility and servanthood and forgiveness. As
we do that, people will see God in and through us, and the Holy Spirit will use that first contact
to generate a desire, a hunger for them to get up close and personal with God.
Sometimes God doesn’t show us – up close and personal – His full glory or everything He is
going to do. Moses didn’t get to see God’s face that day. Peter didn’t get to stay up the
transfiguration mountain for several days or have the door of heaven opened fully on Jesus, but
just peeked at Jesus’ heavenly glory. Sometimes God puts His hand in front of our future, and
just gives us a glimpse of His back, a glimpse of His actions, His purposes, His will, and His
glory – and that must be enough… until that final day when we will be UP, CLOSE and
PERSONAL with God forever. Amen.