Sunday, February 10, 2013

to love, and to be changed....

Today is transfiguration sunday- transfiguration means ‘change in appearance’. We most often talk about the ‘transfiguration of Jesus’ spoken of in the gospels- but I have instead decided to preach on the lectionary text from Exodus- which is the less known- transfiguration of Moses--

This text comes to us late in the book of Exodus, - and to catch you up- in case you haven’t read the book of Exodus lately- Exodus tells the story of Moses.... Moses has brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. This is not a pleasant story- but one full of plagues and violence, hunger and lots of whining, and finally the rebellion of the people of Israel who have grown impatient and decide to make their own God- a golden calf. 

After this God flies off the handle and Moses steps in to save the people of Israel again- this time from God’s anger. Moses has gone up the mountain Sinai to plea for God’s mercy-- which God delivers wholeheartedly. In fact God sings a song of mercy to Moses: God sings: I am a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. 
This is when we arrive to todays text...

Exodus 34:29-35
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. 31But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

This week, while with my Beatitudes Fellowship, I had the opportunity to see the shining face of a modern day Moses.

Her name is Becca Stevens, and she is a woman who helps liberate women from prostitution, trafficking, and addiction in Nashville to help them find healing and life.

Becca came to us on Monday night, a little weary and incredibly passionate. As we sat around the circle with the eight of us young leaders in ministry --she shared her story in a raw, authentic tennessee accent-. She shared her story in a way that was vulnerable, funny, and real.

Becca was sexually abused as a child by someone in her church... despite this pain, she went on to become an episcopal priest. She says she loved the gospel when she was growing up because she just had to believe it was true. She longed for the truth that love can overcome all pain. From early on she felt a call to create space for healing for women.

As a chaplain at Vanderbilt University in her first call out of seminary, she had this clear vision that she should build a house- a nice house- and invite 4 to 6 women to live for two years, rent free, and to support them as they got clean, learned job skills, received therapy, and as they found healing. She raised a million dollars that year- and her dream became a reality.

That was nearly 20 years ago. Today there are six homes in the Nashville area housing 30 women that are served through the organization ‘Magdalene’.. Women come to Magdalene from prison, and from the streets from around the country. Most women were sexually abused as children, began using alcohol and drugs by the age of 13, and have been arrested on average 100 times. 

Beyond housing, healing, and support, Becca realized that the women, many of whom had nothing to put on a resume or job application, needed a way to support themselves- so she began an enterprise where the women make and sell bodycare products. The business is called “Thistle Farms”- the women take thistle- a plant that is regarded as a useless weed, also has healing properties-- they make lotions, and soaps, and candles using the oil of thistle- and sell the products to support the ministry. 

Becca has seen it all. She tells stories of success and stories of failure. While 72% of the women who join Magdalene are clean and sober 2 1/2 years later- that means 28 % cannot make it. She has been to funerals, of women who have been raped and murdered. Everyday she has to turn women away who long for healing because they don’t have space for another person.

When asked if this gets her down - she says bluntly and flatly, “No. It is what it is. The world is a difficult place.” She says when she hears of a woman who is murdered- “At least, for that moment that we got to know her - and she was loved- at least we heard her story.”

Becca fights for the liberation of these women like Moses fought for the liberation of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Like the Israelites, the women Becca fights for struggle to live healthy, whole lives. Sometimes they mess up.


In our Text today-- after a painful process of liberation from Egypt-- after journeying through the desert-- After the people fall short and create their own god--Moses heads up the mountain to again seek reconciliation for the people of Israel who have messed up pretty badly.

Moses confronts God’s and pleas for God’s mercy. In response- God speaks the profound message of love and mercy that undergirds all of the Bible- Old and New... 
The Lord, the Lord, is
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,*
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,

This love does not negate consequences- but loves even while consequences are playing out. 

God’s love and mercy are strong- God’s love and mercy are stronger than all of the pain- all of the betrayal.

 God’s love heals and God’s love transforms lives and faces.

God re-commits to covenant with Moses and the people of Israel. New tablets are made, and Moses is sent back to share this good news with the people.

This message that Moses received from God is the same central message Becca brings to the women of Magdalene- and the message that is imprinted on each label of bodycare products sold by thistle farms....

Love heals... in the end, love is more powerful than all the forces that drive women to the streets. Love is more powerful than our own search for idols to fill our empty spaces.

This is the love that makes Moses’s face glow.


When Moses comes down the mountain to share his message of God’s mercy- his face is glowing...

It’s funny- in my minds eye this glow looks less like an angelic glowing white light- and more like a sun-kissed orange sunburn-- weathered and battered- exhausted and invigorated at the same time. I imagine the face of one who has been working hard-- the glow of the face of a gardener after a long day in the beating sun doing something they love...

The glow of internal joy mixed with pure will....


Rather than rejoicing at the site of Moses and his glowing face- his brother Aaron and the Israelites are fearful- they don’t want to get close to this glowing faced man...

Is this glow contagious-- whatever made him glow like that? If we get too close- will we get burned? Will we too be changed?

I have to admit that hearing the story of Becca Stevens and Magdalene and the Thistle farms on Monday night- I felt a little fearful...

I felt overwhelmed by the grandness of her work. I felt overwhelmed by all of the great needs in our world. Where are we to start? How can I- how can we- possibly change the world like that?

It seems like an unachievable destination. 

This is when Becca- glowing face and all- said something that calmed my nerves and allowed me to step closer....

“None of us are called to change the world. 

**None of us are called to change the world.** 

We are called to love the world... 

and to be willing to be changed in the process.”


One person at a time- in our own little corner of the planet- we are called to love. To love with mercy and grace- in spite of all that hurts and betrays. To love the unlovable among us.

We are called to be open to being changed-- to be willing to let go of what we know-- to step out and take risks on new ways of thinking and being... to let our own hearts soften- to accept God’s grace and to extend God’s grace....

And when we do- when we engage in the hard work of truly loving... when we let ourselves be changed in the process....

We may find ourselves coming down from the mountain, or sitting in the circle- face aglow-

sharing the story of God’s healing and transformative love.

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