Sermon: Shine On, Shine On

February 27, 2022

Exodus 34:29-35
Luke 9:28-43a

by Eric Anderson

The young noio – in English, that’s a black noddy, and I don’t know about you but noio sounds better to me – was a father for the first time, which was very exciting for him and for the newly hatched chick’s mother. For several days one or the other was at their cliffside nest above the pounding ocean, nestling the hatchling into their feathers if it was cold and standing with wings spread to shield them from the direct sun. They’d take turns to fish or to drink and swiftly return. All in all, the noio was flying high – well, in spirit anyway.

He wasn’t flying all that high above the ground. Noio rarely do. Because they catch fish swimming close to the surface, they tend to fly low over the water. When flying over land – to their nests or to take a break – they tend to stay within ten feet of the ground.

But this noio had seen some things in his young life, and one of those things was an ‘iwa, the great frigatebird, flying high overhead. With his heart so full and his spirit in full flight, he decided that he could outfly the ‘iwa. That would take some doing – they’ve been seen flying 13,000 feet up – which is a lot higher than ten feet. A lot.

“I feel so amazing,” he said aloud. “I can outfly the ‘iwa.”

“Would you get food for the chick first?” said his practical wife.

It was a few days before he set out to try it, by which time the chick was big enough that it didn’t need to be attended all the time. Father and mother had both been out to fish together with the great flock of noio, and his heart just beat higher and higher.

“I can outfly the ‘iwa!” he shouted one morning.

A few noio looked curiously at him at that, but they said nothing, and quickly turned their eyes back to the ocean surface looking for their next meal.

“Here I go!” he cried, and began to climb in a great sweeping spiral, always looking toward the sky. Most of the other noio ignored him, but his wife followed his progress with concern and affection.

He climbed and climbed and climbed, seeing more and more of Hawai’i Island below and more and more of the sea extending beyond. He found the air getting thinner, which made him work harder both to breathe and to move air with his wings. Suddenly he wasn’t alone. He was flying alongside a great tropicbird, an ‘iwa, soaring serenely beside him but looking curiously at him.

“What are you doing up here, young noio?”

“I’m outflying the ‘iwa!” said the noio happily. Fortunately the ‘iwa wasn’t offended.

“Why?” he asked.

The noio talked about how he felt so great as a new father that he could outfly the ‘iwa, who listened without interruption as the noio praised his wife, his nestling, his family, and his flock. Eventually he stopped to catch his breath.

“I see,” said the ‘iwa. “Let me point something out, though. Nothing that has given you a lift is up here. Everything that has raised you to this height is down there.”

The noio said nothing for a few moments, then nodded his thanks before he shifted his wings and began his descent, cruising downward in great spirals that led back to home.

You might recall that Jesus told a story about a lost sheep. “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” You’ll find that version in Luke 15. So it seems a little funny that here in chapter nine, Jesus took three disciples up the mountain and left nine behind. And it was the nine who had to cope with the lost sheep. As Maren Tirabassi writes at her blog GiftsInOpenHands:

while they greet
an endless rumpled multitude of needers
“your healing is important to us,
please stay in the line…”

And, even after the shiners and shriners
return with their precious secrets,

Jude and Thad, Tom, Nate, Andy
and the others
are already the saints of the left-out –

Through my years of ministry, I’ve always turned my eye to, well, to the bright lights on the mountaintop. I’ve turned my ear to the thundering voice on the mountaintop. I’ve celebrated the mountaintop experiences of these three disciples – and of Jesus, of course – and essentially ignored the bottom of the mountain experience of Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot. Just a few verses before, in chapter nine verse six, they’d left Jesus to visit more communities in Galilee and successfully cured diseases everywhere they went. In this moment, however, all their efforts failed. Not only did they miss the stunning confirmation of Jesus’ identity, they seemed to lose faith in themselves.

They didn’t get any sympathy for it, either. Jesus on his return was about as cranky as you’ll find in the Gospels. It’s really only the money-changers in the Temple who received more of his ire. Peter, James, and John saw the possibilities and the power. The nine experienced the desperation and the defeat.

Rather like us, wouldn’t you say?

I do believe that nearly every person has had some kind of mountaintop experience. Most of them aren’t nearly as showy as Jesus’ Transfiguration was, but nearly everyone who’s been willing to tell me their story has had some moment of epiphany, of clarity, of transcendent encounter with God. They’ve occurred in churches and in homes and in places of astonishing natural beauty – like a mountaintop.

But these are exceptional moments. We’ve spent much more of our lives at the foot of the slope, wrestling with demands that we can’t quite meet, desperate to address the needs before us and… not having what’s required to do it.

And wishing we could be up on the mountaintop with Jesus away from these pressing crowds even if we end up being quoted down the centuries with a silly offer to build some shelters.

Debie Thomas writes at, “The danger of ‘God on the mountaintop’ Christianity is that it prompts me to compartmentalize my life. As if God is somehow more present during a rousing choral anthem, a stirring sermon, or a silent retreat in a seaside monastery, than God is when I’m doing the laundry, buying my groceries, or sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic.”

Or… dealing with the stresses of others’ needs.

I really want Jesus to be shining in front of me now and next hour and on into forever. Jesus expects me to be shining in front of others. “Shine on, shine on,” Jesus says even when those before me say, “I begged your disciple for help, but he could not.” “Shine on, shine on,” Jesus says when I ask when it’s my turn for a mountaintop moment. “Shine on, shine on,” Jesus says when I feel the fires of my faith fading.

“Shine on, shine on.”

Debie Thomas continues, “So here’s the great challenge of the Christian life: can we speak glory to agony, and agony to glory? Can we hold the mountain and the valley as one — denying neither, and embracing both? Can we do this hard work out of love and compassion for each other, so that no one among us is left to hurt and suffer in the places where God’s presence is harder to discern?”

That is a good question. Can we?

The likely answer is: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. That’s what happens with disciples. Moses, you might recall, had an up-and-down relationship with God. Elijah fled from royal threats and, on coming to “the mountain of God,” got sent right back again with no real divine sympathy. James and John, along with eight other disciples, ran away from Jesus when he was arrested. Simon Peter is actually better known for his three denials of Jesus than for his thoughtless inclination toward mountaintop shelter construction.

In the midst of it all, Jesus keeps urging, “Shine on, shine on.”

It’s possible that Jesus’ tone gets a little testy from time to time.

Our successes as Jesus’ followers do not guarantee future success. In the same way, our failures as Jesus’ followers do not guarantee future failure. Sometimes our light flickers, and sometimes it is so bright that folks might well ask for us to veil it so they protect their eyes. Sometimes we might be among the privileged at the summit, and often we will be among the desperate on the plain. Still we strain. Still we struggle. Still we strive: to shine on, to shine on.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The video above includes the complete service of February 27, 2022. Clicking “Play” will jump to the beginning of the sermon.

Pastor Eric likes to think that when he says something different from what he’s written, it’s an improvement.

The image comes from the 1903 book Our Paradise Home by Sands Harvey Lane. Scanned by Internet Archive Book Images – Source book page:, No restrictions,

Categories Worship | Tags: | Posted on February 27, 2022

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