Feb 14th | The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming | Mark 9:2-9
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There is a lot going on in this morning’s worship. Liturgically, this is the day when we celebrate the Transfiguration of the Lord. Culturally, it is Valentine’s Day – a day once hallowed by the church for an ancient martyr, but now completely consumed by the world. And, in Evansville this weekend, 35 congregations, representing various faith traditions and denominations, are devoting the weekend to considering the issue of racial justice. So, if every there was a challenge for a preacher, here it is.
Even without all of the competing interests, the Transfiguration of the Lord is a challenge to preach. As on scholar notes, it is never a subject we can approach with the assumption we can understand it. We can’t. The biblical record doesn’t give us an avenue for interpretation.
Especially in Mark’s gospel, the story is told to us straight-forwardly. It is a scene of wonder – a vision sublime and apparently – and oddly enough – terrifying. Words flow from Peter’s lips that make little or no sense. His words are attributed to the terror he is experiencing. The words suggest that the disciples were fearful of being harmed.
And just as quickly as the whole thing comes upon them, it is gone. Moses and Elijah are no longer present. Jesus apparently no longer “shines.” Everything is as it was before, but the disciples are charged not to speak of any of it for the time being.
Transfiguration. What does it mean? Scholar Melinda Quivik tells us:
To be transfigured is to be changed in outward form or appearance. Jesus’ transfiguration does not alter who he is but gives to those who see the changed visage a new understanding of him because they see him outwardly in a different light. 1
The transfigured Jesus is exactly the same Jesus who went up the mountain and came back down the mountain with the disciples. What has changed is how the disciples view and understand him.
Transformation. We might use that word interchangeably with transfiguration. But, again as Melinda Quivik shares with us:
When we speak of transformation we tend to mean a complete or essential change in composition or structure.2
Those two words – transfiguration and transformation – seem, to this preacher, what we are talking about throughout this Racial Justice Sabbath. Let me tell you what I mean.
When we take an eyes-wide-open view of Jesus Christ, we cannot help but see that Jesus was all about justice and impartiality. He treated Gentiles with the same respect as Jews. He didn’t see some people as too sinful to be beyond his notice and touch. He spoke and interacted with women, which is something that men of his day did not do. He played with children, which many would have seen as imbecilic, in that men did not play with children. When we take an eyes wide-open view of Jesus, we see him in a different “light.” The transfigured Jesus offers us a new understanding of who he is and what he is about.
Encountering that Jesus, prompts us to be transformed. Confronting that Jesus challenges us to think in new ways and act in new ways. Meeting that Jesus can disavow us of some of the notions we have previously held about who our Lord is and who our Lord isn’t.
The Transfigured Jesus calls those who would follow him to be people who do justice and call forth justice. The Transfigured Jesus echoes the words of the prophet Amos:
Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you,
just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-15)
I do not need to remind you of the injustices that exist between races today. We like to think we have come a long way from the days of Jim Crow and segregation, but have we? The many instances of injustice visited upon black Americans this past summer, which spawned the Black Lives Matter movement, are just the beginning. The pandemic has adversely affected a high percentage of black and brown Americans than white Americans. White Americans do not have to have “the talk” with their white sons about what to do when pulled over by the police. Black and brown Americans are suspect when they walk into the same stores that you and I enter as White Americans. The history we teach our children in schools is, for the most part, “white” history, written by white historians, from a white perspective, and we placate ourselves by offering one month each year – the shortest month of the year – to Black history. Discriminatory policies are still in place in far too many companies and corporations. A far higher percentage of Black and Brown Americans live in poverty and cannot escape its clutches. Schools with predominantly black and brown students are not given equal facilities and opportunities as predominantly white schools within the same school corporation – and, yes, I am talking about the EVSC. And, as painful as that litany is, it is incomplete.
And, in the interest of justice, let us confess the silence and impotence of the church – of religious folk – in addressing the problem. From time to time, we raise our heads from the sand and squawk out a proclamation or two. But, far too often, we prefer silence and the comfort of the sidelines. Like those disciples on the mountain, we are terrified – afraid that harm will come to us if we say or do anything that might be classified as “controversial.” We are intimidated to take on the power structures and to challenge the misguided and malformed decisions of the decision makers. We cower in fear that someone will think less of us if we raise a witness to justice.
But, if we truly encounter the Transfigured Christ, we are called to be Transformed Disciples. We are called to “a complete or essential change in composition or structure.” We are to live into the words of the Apostle:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Cor. 5:17)
We cannot encounter – truly encounter – the Transfigured Christ and remain as we once were. To encounter the Transfigured Christ means to be a Transformed disciple.
So, let us recommit ourselves to the new life of discipleship. Let us claim our responsibility to
Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate…
Let us break down the dividing walls of prejudice and discrimination. Let us take up the work of societal and systemic change, for this is the duty of a Transformed Christian. Let us speak out for those whose voices have been silenced. Let us use our power and privilege in the cause of equality and equity among all people.
And let us not falter or waver, fade or vacillate, in the work of justice, righteousness, and reconciliation. Let us never stagger or stumble on the road to integrity and equality. Let us never stammer or mumble when crying out against injustice.
Let us be Transformed Disciples of our Transfigured Lord.
For now and evermore. Amen.
1.) Melinda Quivik, Working Preacher.org, February 14, 2021