Mark 9: 2- 9
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
February 11, 2018
In the past year, it seems like there has been a lot of “breaking news”. Breaking news with wildfires; breaking news with mudslides; breaking news with earthquakes; breaking news with mass shootings. But for once, I would love to turn on CNN and hear this breaking news. (Play video).
Happy Black History month! This is the breaking news I want to hear. Breaking news: Black excellence is at an all time high. Black folks consistently go high. What does Michelle Obama say? “When they go low, we go high!” Or as in the words of one of the young commentators we just heard, “Black folks have always been dope and will always be dope. Nothing fake about that news.” During this Black History month, I celebrate how our black brothers, sisters, siblings inspire us to go high – especially during the turning points of life.
This morning in our scripture reading, during a turning point in his life, Jesus goes high. This is the last Sunday of the Season of Epiphany. An epiphany is a moment of divine revelation or insight. The Transfiguration is the peak Epiphany story. This story takes place at its highest geographical elevation on Mount Hermon, the highest peak in Palestine. Symbolically, this passage is a “high mountain” at the center of Mark’s Gospel and it is almost exactly the midpoint of Mark’s Gospel. On the one side, during the first 9 chapters of Mark, we climb up the mountain through stories of Jesus’ healing, teaching, liberating ministry. On the other side of this mountain, that is for the rest of the book of Mark, we descend to the cross and beyond. Here atop Mount Hermon, we arrive at a clearing on the peak. From here we can see how far we’ve come and we can survey the 40 day journey ahead. We turn away from the twinkling stars of Christmas and turn toward the deep wilderness of Lent. This is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus takes Peter, James and John, with him to the top of Mountain. There were twelve disciples, but three of them made up the inner circle. Those three are Peter, James and John. Jesus takes them to the top of the mountain. In the ancient world, people believed that mountains were special places, places where heaven and earth intersected. And there on the top of the mountain, Jesus’ face begins to shine, his clothes dazzling white. A light so bright it almost hurts the eyes. If that were not mysterious enough, two other people are there with him, all of them standing in the same bright light. Who are they? Can’t be. Moses. Elijah. These men who died thousands of years before come back to life. The Divine glory, lighting up the night.
Why Moses? Why Elijah? Moses and Elijah are Israel’s two most prestigious prophets. In the Hebrew scriptures, both of them went to the mountaintop and encountered the Holy. Jesus, Moses and Elijah are transfigured. But they are not the only ones who are transfigured. Peter, James, and John become gradually, spiritually transfigured too.
From this moment on, Jesus is on a death march, entering the gloomiest season of his life. Yet, in this radiant light, we see not a victim, but a victor. It’s as if Mark is saying: We’re now making the turn toward Golgotha, and that means descending into the valley of the shadow of death. But fear not! You carry a radiant light within you. Carry that light like a torch, for it can help show the way – not least because it gives us a glimpse of where all of this is headed – a glorious resurrection morning where there will an angel standing in dazzling white at an empty tomb declaring the good news of new life (SALT Project, 2/5/17).
Likewise, Martin Luther King, Jr. faced a turning point in his life. The very last sermon that Martin Luther King, Jr. preached was called “I’ve been to the Mountaintop”. The very next day, King was assassinated. It was if he somehow knew that he was turning toward his own Golgotha. His final words of that last sermon were these:
“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter to me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. God’s allowed me to go to the mountaintop. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not go there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the Lord!”
When we’ve seen the glory, when we’ve experienced the radiant light that is within us all, really, we can face the journey ahead. We can face the turning points of life with dignity, grace, peace, and much light.
During this Black History month, I think of the turning point of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which King led with dignity and grace. The year was 1955. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person on the bus. The driver warned Park’s, “I’m going to have you arrested.” And she answered, “You may do that.” In essence, she was taking her power back and giving permission to be arrested. But she was also not willing participate in injustice. She refused to participate in the abasement of self or others by taking a stand for what is good, just and whole.
On Dec. 17th of that year the Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery’s buses be desegregated. King prepared guidelines for mass distribution knowing that there would be challenges ahead. He wrote,
“This is a historic week because segregation on buses has now been declared unconstitutional. This places upon us all a tremendous responsibility of maintaining, in face of what could be some unpleasantness, a calm and loving dignity befitting good citizens and members of our race. If there is violence in word and deed it must not be our people who commit it.” In other words, he knew that there would be people who would go low with this ruling – who may express some unpleasantness, so he spoke of how important it was that he and others go high. He offered 8 general suggestions and 7 specific suggestions on how to go high. Among some of those suggestions are the following:
- Not all people are opposed to integrated buses. Accept goodwill on the part of many.
- Pray for guidance and commit yourself to complete non-violence in word and action as you enter the bus.
- Remember that this is not a victory for Negroes alone, but for all Montgomery and the South. Do not boast! Do not brag!
- Be quiet but friendly; proud, but not arrogant; joyous but not boisterous.
- Be loving enough to absorb evil and understanding enough to turn an enemy into a friend.
- In sitting down by a person, white or colored, say “May I” or “Pardon me” as you sit.
- If cursed, do not curse back. If pushed, do not push back. If struck, do not strike back, but evidence love and goodwill at all times.
- If you cannot take it, walk for another week or two. We have confidence in our people. God bless you all.
This was a pivotal moment, a turning point in Black History, and King as well as others met this turning point with dignity, grace, peace and so much light. He had been to the mountaintop and experienced the divine glory. When others went low, King and so many of our African American siblings went high.
King will trace the influence of his non-violent approach back through Gandhi, Socrates and of course, Jesus.
Most recently, Tracy Blackmon, an UCC black minister who also serves as the UCC Minister of Witness and Justice recently preached these words at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, “When violence and hatred rise up, it is necessary that perseverance and love show up…Where there is hatred, we will come wielding love. Where is violence, we will come wielding peace. Where there is dehumanization, we will reclaim the Divine. Where there is vitriol, we will come planting prayer. We cannot hate because others hate. We cannot defile because others defile. What are the weapons of justice? They are love; they are compassion; they are healing; they unity without the requirement of uniformity” (Tracy Blackmon, “Where Are All the Dreamers?”, 1/14/2018).
Undoubtedly, our breaking news young broadcasters are right. Black folks consistently go high. When we face pivotal moments, turning points in life, may we too go high – meeting such moments with dignity, grace, peace and light. When facing challenges, may we each be able to say with King, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead…But I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I’ve seen the promised land. I’m not worried about anything. Mine eyes have seen the glory…” Amen.