Frederick Buechner Sermon Illustration - Transfiguration Sunday: Moses

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next week we will celebrate Transfiguration Sunday. Here is this week’s reading from Exodus:

Exodus 24:12-18

The LORD said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction." So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, "Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them." Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

The following is Buechner’s article on Moses, first published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words).

WHENEVER HOLLYWOOD cranks out a movie about Moses, they always give the part to somebody like Charlton Heston in fake whiskers. The truth of it is he probably looked a lot more like Tevye the milkman.

Forty years of tramping around the wilderness with the Israelites was enough to take it out of anybody. When they weren't raising hell about running out of food, they were raising it about running out of water. They were always hankering after the fleshpots of Egypt and making bitter remarks about how they should have stayed home and let well enough alone. As soon as his back was turned, they started whooping it up around the Golden Calf, and when somebody stood up and said he ought to be thrown out, the motion was seconded by thousands. Any spare time he had left after taking care of things like that he spent trying to persuade God not to wipe them out altogether, as they deserved.

And then, of course, there was the hardest blow of all. When he finally had it all but made and got them as far as the top of Mt. Pisgah, where the whole Promised Land stretched out before them as far as the eye could see, God spoke up and said this was the place all right, but for reasons that were never made entirely clear, Moses was not to enter it with them. So he died there in his one hundred and twentieth year, and after a month of hanging around and wishing they'd treated him better, the Israelites went on in without him.

Like Abraham before him and Noah before that, not to mention like a lot of others since, the figure of Moses breathing his last up there in the hills with his sore feet and aching back serves as a good example of the fact that when God puts the finger on people, their troubles have just begun.

And yet there's not a doubt in the world that in the last analysis Moses, like the rest of those tough old birds, wouldn't have had it any different. Hunkered down in the cleft of a rock once, with God's hand over him for added protection, he had been allowed to see the Glory itself passing by and, although all God let him see was the back part, it was something to hold on to for the rest of his life. And then there was one other thing that was even better than that.

Way back when he was just getting started and when out of the burning bush God had collared him for the first time, he had asked God what God's name was, and God had told him, so that from then on he could get in touch with God anytime he wanted. Nobody had ever known God's name before Moses did, and nobody would ever have known it afterward except for his having passed it on; and with that thought in his heart up there on Pisgah, and with that name on his lips, and with the sunset in his whiskers, he became in the end a kind of burning bush himself.