"God Has Many Faces"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 10, 2005

Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9

    The experience of Jesus and three of his disciples in our lesson today took place on what tradition calls The Mount of Transfiguration.  This story is very familiar to us.  Jesus’ face suddenly shown “as bright as the sun” as he spoke to two other radiant beings defined as Moses and Elijah.  A cloud descended on them and a voice declared Jesus to be God’s valued son.  The three disciples became terrified and threw themselves face down on the ground. 

     The lesson from the Hebrew Bible, also read for us this morning, featured an experience that was  equally spectacular.   Moses and Joshua had climbed Mt. Sinai.  While they were there, the dazzling light of the Lord’s presence descended on the mountain.   Upon being spoken to by God, Moses entered the cloud and stayed 40 days where it was recorded that he received the Ten Commandments. 

     These episodes are among the astounding stories found in the lore of our collective faith journey, stories that were passed on for thousands of years among the faithful.  How can they empower our lives today?  How can we use these ancient testimonies of God’s revelations to energize how we perceive God’s activity in our personal lives? 

     When we remember that God is a being who comes to us, it should give us pause to reflect on these questions. How do God’s presence, instruction and guidance come to us?  Sometimes the form of guidance is spectacular.  Not everyone, however, is given instruction through a burning bush, or by a star that appeared in the East or by a blinding light accompanied by the voice of Jesus as happened to the Apostle Paul while he traveled to Damascus.  How has guidance come to the majority of us? 

     What would happen to the way we think if we began to understand that everything requiring a response from us is a face of God?  Think of the implications of such a thought.  Rather than responding to someone’s insensitivity as a personal attack, such an episode could be instantly transformed into thoughts that would serve us. 

     Suppose we have a colleague at work that is overbearing, critical and repulsive.  In fact, many in the office have labeled him or her “a toxic personality.”  Such people are out there and most of us would prefer not to be around them.  Suppose this person is another face of God.  

     Our responses always reflect who we are and nothing more.  For example, a kind person sees an opportunity either to make a friend or to find a more congenial environment in which to work.  A hurt person knows only defensiveness, withdrawal and daily pain. 

     A young mother came to me two years ago and said, “Shirley Bickel has asked me to teach a Church School class.  I’ve never taught anything in my life.  I don’t think I can do it.  There must be others in the church who are more experienced and would do a better job.”  I answered,  “Suppose there is a teacher inside of you that would surface if you gave her some practice time”  She stuck with it and is still teaching for us.  Children adore her.  Was this request from Shirley another face of God?  

    Why would I suggest these possibilities as different forms of God’s presence? Does our skill at expressing loving energy result from our experience of group discussions, sermons, inspiring worship services, reading books or from heeding the lessons from a chosen mentor who is coaching us?  Remember, the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, as spectacular as it was, did very little to give the disciples the skills of courage and confidence when later they had to face the Jewish authorities and the Romans.   

     Think about this!  How do we acquire the skill of patience? How do we develop the spirit of kindness, generosity and peacefulness?  How do we become excellent communicators?  Who helps us learn the value of forgiving every offense every time?  Do we think others can teach us these things by their testimonies, reading the Scriptures or by our studying various aspects of faith?  Such things do not work.  They are guides to spiritual development but they cannot put us in possession of such skills. 

     We do not strengthen our body’s muscular structure by having someone tell us about lifting weights, aerobics or running.  We can be well read and recite many wise ideas, but the real revelations from God quite often come in the areas of our greatest weakness, i.e., those areas that cause us the most pain, revulsion and fear.  

     As we reviewed our lesson, we noticed that Jesus was the confident one among the four.  It was the disciples who threw themselves face down on the ground.  Rather than seizing the moment to stand with Jesus, they hid.  How many times do we miss seeing God’s guidance because we despise or are afraid of the source of instruction?  Our anger and fear often prevent us for perceiving correctly. 

     We can feel neglected by God when we observe how others appear to be successful in every relationship and endeavor. They are very involved in the work of the church.  They are constantly looking for more ways to serve. They appear happy all the time.  They handle criticism with grace and recover quickly when they stumble in their decision-making.  We conclude that such people “have it all together, while I’m still a wreck.”    

     What we observe in such people comes from a world that is invisible.  What we cannot see are the internal battles of character that were fought for and won, where people chose forgiveness rather than holding on with a smoldering bitterness, where they chose patience rather than resentment and where they developed understanding rather than judging others with condescending attitudes.  They learned that God comes in many forms and they chose the road less traveled. Their decisions made all the difference in how they energized and learned how to express themselves. 

     We become true students of life when we recognize that every circumstance, relationship and environment has the face of God in it, pointing to our inner world as an infinite vault that contains our true wealth.  Once we understand that it is our purpose to develop our one-of-a-kind nature, we will discover that we cannot grow by staying inside our cocoons of security.  We will never grow by refusing to engage life when aspects of it confront and challenge us.    

     Courage never develops from remaining in comfortable places or by retreating.  We must learn to breathe new meaning into our hurt feelings, disappointments and fears. We must learn to interpret when a door has closed, when symbols are causing us to reconsider our working environment or when we have engaged in excuse making instead of making a decision. 

     We retreat into uninformed responses only because of our lack of skill and not because of what is standing in front of us. Our potential can be unleashed when we recognize that our pain and fears are nothing more than sources of guidance. Once we understand this, we will be transfigured and become the bold disciples Jesus invited us to become. 


    We thank you, God, for creating within us the ability to make mercy, peace and kindness visible.  We would enjoy a visit from you, a visit that conforms to our image of a still small voice or a miracle.  How often we miss seeing you because of how we perceive you coming.  You might be the one who angers us so we might develop patience.  You might be the one who tempts us so that we might strengthen our integrity and character.  You might come in the form of an unanswered prayer, a need from a friend or a spouse who is testing our resolve to stay in our marriage.  Help us listen for your message coming to us within unexpected experiences, strained relationships and awkward circumstances.  Amen.  


    Loving, faithful God, our lives often reflect our being on a seesaw, just like the ice of last Sunday and the Spring-like temperatures of today.   May we not judge our lives in terms of “good days” and “bad days” because all of them have a message of guidance for us. 

    Thank you for helping us discover our confidence to step into the rapids of life, knowing that we no longer need to fear the sounds and the pull of the currents.  Thank you for teaching us how to release to you the outcome of our forthcoming surgical procedure, our pressing business decision, an issue in our primary relationship or our choice for life’s next adventure.  You know what it is we need to learn.  And you know how blind and resistant we are to seeing guidance when it does not come packaged as we would like. 

    Help us move beyond judging “the right” and “the wrong” aspects of life, so that we think in terms of how best to serve, how best to make a difference, how best to redefine our discipleship so that our lives might represent your presence and not our own. Inspire us to play big, to wear more smiles, to bring more laughter and to spread more joy, while we seek those who appear to know only their shadow-side.  Give us patience and perseverance to make your spirit visible.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .