February 19, 2012
Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday.We celebrate this Sunday every year at the end of Epiphany--the season of light, the season of the revealing of God’s goodness and hope through Jesus the Christ. This day signals one end and soon we begin the journey to the cross through the darkness and wilderness of Lent. It is the day when we hear the fanciful story of climbing a mountain and seeing the radiance, of Jesus all decked out in dazzling white.
This Sunday, we also find ourselves in the middle of Black History Month. If you and I are facebook friends and I show up in your news feed, you will have noticed that I have been posting black history moments everyday.....poems, prayers and little snippets of African American life and culture. It has been fun, a reminder of who I am and where I come from.
I have also been reminded along with the rest of the world, of three giants of the African American community, celebrities of the music industry that we have lost already this year Etta James, Don Cornelus and Whitney Houston.
Etta James began as a gospel singer in the early 1940’s. We know her best for her soulful ballad “At Last.” She died on January 20, with complications of leukemia, dementia and hepatitis C.
Don Cornelus, died on Feb. 1 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. For those of you who don’t know, Cornelus was the creator and producer of "Soul Train," the African American equivalent to American Bandstand. Soul Train began in 1970. At that time the show gave a never-before-seen glimpse of black music, fashion and culture on television. It was broadcast nationally from 1971 to 2006 and became one of television's longest running syndicated shows.
It came on every Saturday morning. When I was a teenager, my sisters and I would finish our chores and get ready for the Soul Train line. We would watch and then try out all the dance moves. It was the show where we saw, the likes of Aretha Franklin, Barry White, James Brown and others. Don Cornelus with his smooth, soulful, baritone voice, would close each show with: "We wish you love, peace, and SOUL."
And Whitney Houston who died last Saturday of undisclosed causes.
Don’t worry, my sermon is not about Whitney Houston, this morning but about Jesus who climbs a mountain......
We are not sure what mountain he climbs in our gospel text this morning but the mountain is reminiscent of the mountain in Exodus, that mountain where God’s glory is revealed to Moses.
Anyway Jesus climbs this mountain with three of his followers Peter, James and John. They climb the mountain with Jesus perhaps they think that this will be a great time of rest and relaxation, a break in all their busyness.
They need to relax especially Jesus. He really has been busy. Thus far in Mark’s gospel --Jesus has called a cadre of followers, has traveled about the countryside....curing the sick, feeding 5000 and talking about the kingdom of God. Everywhere he went people were pushing in on him like he were a pop star.
And just when he thought his disciples understood who he was, Jesus has a sort of knock down, drag out, a very powerful argument with Peter. He is trying to explain his path to them. The path of suffering and death that he must walk. The argument is so fierce, he calls Peter Satan.
Perhaps they need a rest, so they climb the mountain and the glory of the Lord is revealed.
For sure the three powerful celebrities we lost had intense mountaintop experiences. Etta James won Grammies. She received a Grammy for “Let’s Roll” best blues album in 2003, along with other awards.
Don Cornelus had a platform, a spotlight every Saturday morning for decades. They won fortune and acclaim. Whitney was known as The Voice; she was not only an incredible singer but a successful actress starring with Kevin Costner in the 1993 film “the Bodyguard.
No, my sermon this morning is not about Whitney Houston who like Cornelus and James had moments of dazzling and dizzying heights in their lives. This sermon is about a Jesus who is on the mountaintop with each of them and each of us. This sermon is about a God who revels in our joys and successes, our accomplishments and good times. This God smiles when we smile, laughs when we laugh and delights in our delights. We all have mountaintop experiences and in the midst of them God through Jesus the Christ rejoices with us.
And what a delight, what a sight they behold on that mountaintop with Jesus. His clothes are whiter than any bleach could bleach them and Moses and Elijah fathers of their faith appear.
When Peter, so in awe of what he is witnessing, says "man this is beautiful we should stay right here, build dwellings and hang out. Let’s forget about that walking around helping people stuff...."
Then a cloud overshadowed them and voice coming from the clouds is heard “this is my son the beloved listen to him” This voice is reminiscent of the voice at Jesus’ baptism. Then the voice says:“You are my son the beloved.....Then the voice was addressed to Jesus to encourage him to begin his ministry.
This time the voice is addressed to Peter, James and John as they stand in fear. This time the voice is addressed to us “Listen to him.”
Listen to Jesus because he knows the journey he will take; listen to him put away your doubt, put away your fear; do what he says and follow him.
After the voice, looking around, all the excitement is over, no more dazzling white, no more Moses and Elijah. I can imagine deflated Peter, James and John start down the mountain. Back into the fray.
Down the mountain came Etta, Don and Whitney. Yes, they were celebrities; yes, they often held the spotlight; yes, their lives were full of dizzying heights, but they couldn’t stay there forever.
Etta James struggled with drugs and there are rumors that Ms. James was jealous because Beyonce Knowles got to sing her song “At Last” at Obama’s Inauguration party.
Don Cornelus took his own life. We aren’t sure why, but we can speculate that he was no longer the strong, powerful man that he had been for years. His health was failing and he couldn’t stand the thought of growing old and being sick.
And Whitney--well we all watched her life unravel right on the television screen.
The bible says“As they were coming down the mountain. . .” As Peter, James and John move down the mountain we are reminded that the God we know through Jesus the Christ also knows that joys, delights, dizzying heights are not the only part of our lives. That our lives are full of fears. Yesterday during her funeral we heard Kevin Costner speak of the doubt and fear that plagued even superstar Whitney.
It is evidence that as good as the mountaintop experiences are the depth or our fear and sorrow can also be great. As part of the human family we experience pain and sickness; we are diagnosed with disease; Yet Jesus is not on the mountain looking down at us-----Jesus comes down the mountain.
One preacher writes: “Think of it: Jesus could have stayed there. Perhaps he should have stayed there. After all, this transfigured state, attended by Moses and Elijah, and his three disciples, was much closer to the state of glory that Jesus deserved than what’s coming.”*
Yet, Jesus comes down. Down into the chaos and confusion of ordinary life, down into a world of despair and disease, of misunderstandings and quarrels. Jesus comes down and stands with us, holds us up and comforts us, guides us and empowers us. Because he comes down, we don’t ever experience the highest highs or the deep downs of life alone.
Jesus comes down and continues on his path, of suffering, pain and death for us, because he loves us......all of us........Etta, Don and Whitney all of us no matter our addictions, our trouble our faults.
And because of this love we can all say…Alleluia one more time; we can all shout …..Alleluia.
*David Lose from his commentary on workingpreacher.org