As I prepared for this sermon, I was both humbled and a bit overwhelmed to preach on the Transfiguration and Racial Justice. How to draw parallels that make sense and speak to the reality of now. On this last Sunday of the season of Epiphany we read in the Gospel of Mark about an appearance of not just 1 divine being, but 3 – Moses, Elijah and Jesus.
The transfiguration of Jesus is a mountaintop experience. One of those experiences that is simply unforgettable. Amazing. Awe inspiring. Words don’t come close to describing the experience.
Jesus and 3 disciples climbed up a high mountain. I’ve not been to the holy land so I have no idea what the mountains look like – I imagine our mountains and that this was not an easy hike or climb. Climbing up, I imagine, was inspiring itself. Stopping to catch their breath occasionally. Looking at the views, the landscape. Listening to one another and the wanderings of their mind and imagination. And there on the top there was this miraculous event, this epiphany and Jesus literally changed before their eyes. The great prophets Moses and Elijah showed up and they watched in wonder … the text says they were terrified. What was happening? Why? What do we do? What do we make of this appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus? It seems as if Moses & Elijah are blessing Jesus to carry on their work. And Peter, terrified & uncomfortable, searching for something to say or do blurts out something to try and make sense out of the situation. And God speaks and that was that. I imagine the 3 disciples were discombobulated. What just happened? That was spectacular, What now? And they were brave enough to stay and not run away. That’s something.
Transfiguration … a complete transformation of Jesus before their eyes. The text does not say this, but I make up that the 3 disciples were transformed too. How could they not be after witnessing such a spectacular event? But don’t tell anyone until after the Son of Man is dead. Clearly, since we know the story, they were brave enough to share their experience and the epiphany they witnessed. Some listeners, no doubt, made fun of, dis-believed or tried to discredit this as nothing but wild imagination.
Have you had any kind of mountaintop experience that left you feeling high and amazed at the spectacular, wonderous thing you just experienced? Words sometimes escape you to describe it. Others don’t understand it. And you are changed, transformed and never the same going forward. Did you embrace your courage and bravery?
Sometimes, I think, mountaintop experiences aren’t always pleasant and pretty.
Which brings me to Racial Justice. In the UCC this Sunday is designated as Racial Justice Sunday, a time to bring forth racial justice topics and issues. Once you get involved in racial justice, you are transformed. You can’t unsee what you’ve discovered. It may not quite be a mountaintop experience in terms of wonderous and amazing, but one that changes you anyway. And it requires you to summon your bravery and courage.
Before going to seminary, a friend shared with me Alice Walker’s book, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens. The stories I read from her perspective as a black woman shook me. As a 20 something young white woman, this was not my experience. Stories of slavery, the civil war and reconstruction were history, not real today. We didn’t learn much in school about Jim Crow laws, the civil rights movement or the brutal lynchings still occurring. Martin Luther King was espoused as a hero and martyr, but we didn’t go very deep into what really happened or what the movement was about – it was all pretty cursory and surface level. In seminary my eyes were opened further as we learned, read and talked more about the history of this country from a non-white, and non-christian perspective. It was the beginning of my own transformation and personal reckoning with my Christian faith’s involvement with and perpetuation of white supremacy and racism.
Years later, the killings of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Elijah McClain, Michael Brown and countless others unnerved me, but I felt paralyzed with what to do about the systemic nature of racism. And then last year the killings of Ahmaud Arberry, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor shook something loose in me and I couldn’t contain my rage, grief and despair any longer. My white privilege had protected me for a long time, but I could no longer unsee and unknow and pretend it will all go away without some work on my part. Perhaps I was finally brave enough to face the reality of racial injustice in this country and my complicity in it.
Maybe you can relate. Many of you have felt called to join in on CUCC’s Dismantling Racism events and I am grateful that you are willing to join in on the journey to uncover, dismantle and name racism within ourselves, the church, Boulder and the country. Maybe this is today’s version of transfiguration. Seeing what is possible and helping to create and transform our church, our community, our country and ourselves.
Peggy Hahn, the Executive Director of an organization dedicated to empowering Christian leaders and transforming faith communities said this in her blog this week entitled My Part in Black History. “This is not a liberal agenda. It is an awakening of ordinary white people who have been so busy with our own lives that we have ignored our neighbor. This is loving our neighbor as ourselves. In all the uncertainty around us, as we think about the church moving forward, what will your church be known for? It starts with us, as leaders, doing our own work.” ( Peggy Hahn, https://waytolead.org/my-part-in-black-history-month/?mc_cid=5b1647ad8b&mc_eid=03e8ea4fe5)
What do we want our church to be known for? What do you want to be known for? What do we need to be brave enough to look at and transfigure and what do we need to be brave enough to live into? How do we love our neighbor as ourselves?
Our friend Sarah Dawn has shared somewhere, forgive me I can’t remember in what context, but she has shared that being involved in racial justice and speaking up and out about racism has caused her to lose some friends. Others of you have said the same thing.
It isn’t easy work, but it is necessary. I find the way forward is to link up with others who want to help be the change, to be the light, to do the work, so that something new can be created. As Lea’s song goes … “Let justice, love, peace roll down like a mighty stream. Children, don’t get weary, walk together believe in the dream. When the going gets rough we’ll make a new way.”
A mighty stream is made up of lots of little drops of water and water makes its way regardless of anything in its path. This stream is made up of many people seeking to heed the call of God to ensure that all of God’s people are loved and cared for and treated equally and fairly. It takes a community to make this mighty stream of justice, peace and love roll down and dismantle structures and ideologies that hold so many down.
Velda Love, UCC Minister for Social Justice wrote this:
…”In America, the topic of race continues to be difficult to discuss in many social settings. Very few Christian churches are leading bold and courageous conversations, engaging in direct social activism, and participating in civil disobedience as a way to bring attention to and disrupt racist systems and structures.
The Christian Church is the catalyst for addressing historical and contemporary issues regarding the intersections of race and racism that continues to harm communities of color. The United Church of Christ acknowledges and supports the equality of all humans. In 1993, The Nineteenth General Synod called upon UCC congregations in all its settings to be a true multiracial and multicultural church. Today the call continues to go forth.
The call to be a multiracial and multicultural church is an acknowledgement that racial justice is the inclusiveness of all humans and never excludes anyone based on skin color, culture or ethnic origin. The United Church of Christ stands in solidarity with the creation narrative in Genesis 1:26-27, which clearly outlines what matters to God—all of humankind and a just world for all. God created humankind in God’s image and likeness, women and men are image bearers, sharing equal status as human beings. God did not create race, racism, superior groups of humans, and hierarchical and hegemonic social structures. God does not sanction human suffering …” (Rev. Velda Love, UCC Minister for Racial Justice – from https://www.ucc.org/what-we-do-2/justice-local-church-ministries/justice/faithful-action-ministries/racial-justice/)
And so our work continues.
Some of you know I am a huge fan of Brene Brown, especially her podcasts. On an episode aired last fall, she interviewed author and activist Sonya Renee Taylor. If you haven’t listened to it, I encourage you to check it out, there is much for us to reflect about. The one thing I will share here is Taylor’s notion of Unapologetic Action. I’ll have to paraphrase, but she basically says it’s all fine & good to learn, talk and/or read books, but it’s time to do something. If you aren’t prepared to do something now that you know all this, if you aren’t actively engaged in dismantling the structure that keeps some oppressed and you in comfort, what good are you doing? What can we do today that is practical/revolutionary/transformative? (Sonya Renee Taylor on “The Body is Not an Apology” Podcast on Unlocking Us with Brene Brown)
So what actions might you take? Join us in our Dismantling Racism sessions. We will be reading me and white supremacy by Layla F Saad and working through the journal prompts she offers, doing our own personal work and looking at systemic structures of oppression. The weekly e-news is full of other opportunities for you to explore, discuss and learn more about systemic racism in our community. You could join the Boulder chapter of the NAACP and serve on a committee. You could donate to our February Justice Offering that will support a local film about being black in Boulder titled, This is [Not] Who We Are. You’ll hear more about that in a few minutes. You could participate in our Social Action Commission activities. You can look at your investment portfolio and the companies your money supports and divest from companies that are not socially responsible. You could get involved with the Colorado Poor People’s Campaign. You can seek out BIPOC owned businesses and support them by purchasing goods or services. And so much more … these are only a few ideas.
Beloved of God, let us move forward towards the light of a new day where all people are treated justly. As Amanda Gorman, the beautiful inaugural poet says –
“we have the power to author a new chapter. …
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover. …
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Let’s be brave enough together.