Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Change Is Gonna Come: Sermon Preached on Transfiguration Sunday at Ainsworth UCC on February 15, 2015

February 15, 2015                                                                                               
Mark 9:2-9
                                                                 “A Change Is Gonna Come”


 In the name of the Triune God.  Amen.
Mark’s Gospel is the earliest and shortest gospel about Jesus in the New Testament.  Short, even abrupt, sentences characteriz Mark’s narrative. It is as if Mark is in a hurry, with no time for frills or fillers.  We are introduced to Jesus not with any beautiful birth narratives: The archangel Gabriel does not appear to Mary to announce that she would become the mother of the long awaited messiah;, no angels come to Joseph to comfort and assure him that Mary’s child will be the Saviour of the world; there is no angelic choir in the heavens; no shepherds are led to the holy family, there are no magis with presents for the baby Jesus;   There is….well…nothing but the ordinary.  Or so it appears.
Instead we are introduced to Jesus as he rises from the cold waters of the river Jordan and the skies appears to be ripping apart.  The Spirit appears as a dove to descend upon him, and he, and he alone, hears a thunderous voice proclaiming that he is God’s beloved.  Then “at once” he disappears into the desert.  47 times Mark will use the phrase “at once” (that can be translated “without delay”, “immediately”, “quickly”).
He emerges out of the desert following the arrest of his cousin John and picks up and expands John’s critique of the oppressive political and economic system.   In an almost frenetic pace, he travels throughout the land, calling followers, healing the sick, releasing the demonic, and proclaiming God’s new realm.
Perhaps because they were first mesmerized by the signs that Jesus performed, crowds began to follow him.  The authorities kept an eye on him. Jesus was just one of many street preachers in the land.  Throughout the villages people were talking about this young man, the miracles he performed, the words he preached, and speculated who he was and what he intended to do in the future. In small groups people gossiped about his origins and his intentions.
Speculations abound- and indeed a growing consensus begins to emerge that perhaps indeed, this man from a small country town was more than a simple country preacher; perhaps the aged old hope of a liberator would be revealed in the person of this man Jesus. Peter declares Jesus as the Messiah. For Mark’s listeners this term was not a casual addendum at the end of vain prayers, or what Jesus’ followers would assert to affirm that they had a special personal relationship with the divine, but a bold political statement which directly challenged the ruling powers’ authority and legitimacy.  It was a revolutionary and incendiary term that if uttered was viewed as terrorist speech by the ruling powers. Ched Myers reminds us that “The Messiah was understood by many Jews in first-century Palestine to be a royal figure who would someday restore the political fortunes of Israel” (“Say to This Mountain”: Mark’s Story of Discipleship).
Peter’s revolutionary declaration appeared to be affirmed by what he and two of his friends experienced when they were invited by Jesus to ascend the mountain.  There, as they reach the top of the mountain, the place where the heavens touch the earth, they experienced what was perhaps inexplicable.
The writer declares that Jesus’ clothes “became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” (v.3). It is a faint hearted attempt to capture something which cannot be captured. It is described in rabbinic writings, but not in the Old Testament, as the Shekinah of Yahweh. Shekinah expressed divine imminence or universal presence. The word literally means “that which dwells” and clearly designated Yahweh’s dwelling on earth as in heaven.
The writer continues that in the midst of this luminosity Jesus appears with the greatest of all leaders, Moses, who represents God’s covenant or testimony, to be with the people as their guide and protector;  and Elijah, the prophet who represents denunciation of idolatry and corruption of God’s ideal.
Well, Peter is often ridiculed or disparaged as being too quick to speak to try to explain. And as he has done before and will do again, Peter speaks when he should have been quiet. But who can fault Peter?  Have you ever experienced something that surprised, or overwhelmed you?  And instead of standing in silent awe you felt the need to speak, to try to explain, to try to control?  Perhaps not.  But I have.
After Peter’s poor attempt to take control of the situation, the listeners once again hears a voice that was heard at the beginning of Mark. “This is my Son, my beloved, listen to him”. Peter, James, and John look up and the only person remaining is Jesus.  Moses is gone.  Elijah is gone. At this point, all are silent: including the loquacious Peter and even Jesus. 
I cannot explain what happened that day. What I can say is that for those who were with Jesus that day, it served as a confirmation of what could and would be.  That even though the situation of the people is seemingly hopeless, the vision and determination to live out that vision, empowered them as they descended the mountain and began their final journey into Jerusalem to confront the power which held a death like grip on the people’s aspiration to freedom.
Jesus is about to enter the city of Jerusalem.  This city viewed as the spiritual center of the world, as holiest place on earth was occupied by a hostile military force.  The people’s dream of freedom, wholeness, had been thwarted time and time again over the centuries by one hostile occupying force after another. One potential leader after another had risen and fallen.  Nothing really changed except the name of the occupying army.
Within a few weeks of that event on the mountain Jesus and his rag tag group of followers will gather additional followers as they wandered into Jerusalem.  Hope would mix with fear.  Courage will be followed by cowardice. Unity would break down into dissent and fracturing of the movement. And within days of what appeared to be a triumphant entrance into the holy city,  Jesus would be lynched and hung on a tree, Peter and the others would go into hiding, and the Romans would be congratulating themselves on crushing another weak coup attempt by delusional fanatics.  And things would return to what was normal.  Or so it appeared.
Mark ends his narrative by recalling that the few women who remained loyal to Jesus to the end, went to his grave to anoint the body only to find his body missing and told that Jesus had been raised.  In the direct and abrupt style that characterized his narrative, Mark ends his story with these words: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16.8).
But we know that they did say something, and that they were not overcome by fear. They recognized that the world is in fact a disfigured world, and can and will be transfigured.
They remembered and were empowered by the vision of the Transfiguration.  That God has not and will not abandon God’s people.  That the way of the world can be transfigured.
Racism is a reality in our world today.  However we affirm that it is not the ultimate reality for our world.  Racism is a disfigurement of the human condition.  We must continue to be guided and inspired by the vision of the Transfiguration, of what the human condition is called to be.
Where are the signs of transfiguration in regards to racial justice?  They are in our communities everywhere:  They are:
·         Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi: young queer black women who started the #blacklivesmatter campaign and are examples of the mobilization of a new generation of black activists
·         The immigration rights movement that are led by  young people, known as “dreamers” who have come out of the shadows of fear and unashamedly proclaim their immigration status and thus risk being deported to countries they never knew.  These young people who walk the corridors of powers in Washington and confront legislators, engage in civil disobedience such as sit in in government offices, are fueling the  movement for a just immigration policy in our country.
·         #IdleNoMore campaign of First Nations people on this continent is only the latest incarnation of the sustained Indigenous Resistance to the rape, pillage and exploitation of this continent and its women that has existed since 1492.
The signs of Transfiguration occur in the midst of movements that remind and inspire us of our goals and destiny.  They are often momentary, gone to soon, but are nevertheless empowering.  Like Jesus and the three we must come down from the mountain of inspiration and confront the valley of opposition. 
Mark places the Transfiguration story in the middle of his gospel, as the story shifts and moves forward toward its climax in Jerusalem. It serves as a reminder and inspiration as we continue the struggle. We are not there yet, we will be confronted by setbacks, pushbacks, disappointments, pain and death.  The disciples desired to remain on the mountain and to bask in the radiance of the Shekinah.  We too may want to remain at places and moments of inspiration and hope.  Yet we know that the work continues, that God continues to beckon us to follow the way and will of Jesus, which is the way of the cross, the way of choosing to stand with those who are struggling for justice.
Fifty years ago our nation was in the midst of an era of advocacy and movement for racial justice. Those who were active in the movement testify that our nation was experiencing profound changes in attitudes and behavior. Lest we romanticize that era, we must remember the countless numbers of people who sacrificed careers, families, health, and those who were martyrs of the freedom struggle.
 “On October 8, 1963,  [the singer Sam] Cooke called ahead to the Holiday Inn North in Shreveport, LA to make reservations for his wife, Barbara and himself, but when he and his group arrived, the desk clerk glanced nervously and explained there were no vacancies. While his brother Charles protested, Sam was fuming, yelling to see the manager and refusing to leave until he received an answer. His wife nudged him, attempting to calm him down, telling him, "They'll kill you," to which he responded, "They ain't gonna kill me, because I'm Sam Cooke." When they eventually persuaded Cooke to leave, the group drove away calling out insults and blaring their horns. When they arrived at the Castle Motel on Sprague Street downtown, the police were waiting for them, arresting them for disturbing the peace. The New York Times ran an AP report the following day headlined "Negro Band Leader Held in  Shreveport,”  
African- Americans were outraged.
That incident inspired Sam Cooke to write the song “A Change Is Gonna Come”, that would become an anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement. In the midst of difficult times, we need to recall and be empowered by our experiences of Transfiguration.  Although fleeting these experiences are real and are empowering.  They will strengthen us in difficult times and remind us things will not remain as they appear.  We will be able to affirm and sing:
There been times when I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gon' come, oh yes it will”


1 comment:

  1. Thank you Cecil for your inspiration and encouragement