February 27 Sermon

Gospel lesson and Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from Sunday, February 27, 2022

Message from February 27, Transfiguration of Our Lord

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

On my way home for supper last Wednesday afternoon, I stopped by the church office to check on the lessons for this Sunday’s worship services. I knew today would be Transfiguration Sunday; I wanted to refresh my mind rereading the text prior to working on a sermon Thursday morning.

When I returned home, I checked the computer for any last-minute e-mails. Curiously, I received one from a friend of mine who lives in Austin, Texas. Even more curiously, he forwarded me a copy of Martin Luther King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail. The only explanation my friend offered for sending me this e-mail was he thought the letter was worth rereading. I took a copy of the letter, along with Sunday’s lesson, home to read.

That night, when I read both the gospel and the letter, I was surprised to find a related theme running through both texts. I never would have connected the Transfiguration and the Letter from the Birmingham jail on my own. The Biblical story of the transfiguration and King’s stay in jail are separated by time, place, and circumstance. It might be helpful, however, if I share with you some facts related to the writing of King’s letter.

Martin Luther King had been arrested and confined to the city jail in Birmingham, Alabama, in the spring of 1963, following demonstrations against laws requiring racial segregation. While in jail King wrote a response to a letter from eight local clergymen calling his demonstrations in Birmingham “unwise and untimely.”

The letter is not short. King noted that writing from a narrow jail cell gave a person plenty of time to write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers. In his letter, he defended himself and the civil rights movement and indicted a society which for too long had tolerated racial bigotry and segregation. The civil rights movement stood at a crossroads. King believed a great sacrifice to be required of himself and others to end racial segregation in the United States.

In his letter, King lays out the problems experienced by the black community in Birmingham and defends the movements right to challenge unjust laws. He expresses his disappointment with the lack of support from other religious groups, grounded his actions in Biblical teachings and sets his sights on a day when the radiant stars of brotherhood will shine over this great nation with scintillating beauty.

Martin Luther King in his Letter from the Birmingham jail justifies the civil rights movement and dedicates himself to the long and dangerous struggle facing him and others, a struggle ultimately leading to his own death. Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship, and Martin Luther’s address to the Diet of Worms offer similar portraits of individuals in great causes who prepare themselves to make a personal and sacrificial commitment to achieve great change.

Today the Lutheran church observes the Festival of the Transfiguration. The Gospel for the day tells the story of Jesus at a time when he faced a momentous turning point in his ministry. He takes three disciples, Peter, James, and John to a high mountain. While he prays, the appearance of his face changes and his clothes become dazzling white. Moses and Elijah speak with him about his journey to Jerusalem. A cloud overshadows Jesus and a voice from heaven says: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him! “As Jesus comes down from the mountain, a man who asks him to cure his son of an evil spirit. Jesus heals the boy. This event marks the beginning of the journey to Jerusalem and the events leading to Good Friday and Easter.

An important note should be added to the story of the Transfiguration. Immediately, before going up on the mountain, Jesus told his disciples he must journey to Jerusalem to suffer and die, but also to be raised from the dead on the third day. The Apostle Peter took issue, but Jesus said, “If anyone wants to become my follower, they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” The event of the Transfiguration stands, therefore, between the call to take up the cross and Jesus and his disciples setting out on that great journey for Jerusalem.

Now here is where a connection between event of the Transfiguration and the Letter from the Birmingham Jail can be made. Both events mark turning points in a life. Jesus resolves to go to Jerusalem; despite the fact he faces suffering and death by crucifixion. In his letter King resolves to carry the fight for equality through to the end; no matter what the personal costs. Martin Luther made a similar commitment before the Diet of Worms, when he said to the Emperor, “Here I stand; I can no other.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1937 wrote: “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer understood the necessity of his choice to resist the Nazi government in Germany. He was undaunted by the martyrdom that lay before him.

The point of my sermon is this. When we become disciples of Christ, we accept the cross as the reality of discipleship. The cross is a symbol of unfinished work. It is a weight we bear, a direction we take, a task we accept. When we walk down a difficult road in the name of Jesus Christ, we stand with him as disciples on the mountain of the transfiguration.

The journey Christ calls us to make is never easy and requires commitment and difficult decisions. We will never find ourselves, like a Martin Luther King, writing a letter from the Birmingham Jail, nor like a Martin Luther or a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, facing martyrdom for the commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our lives are lived out in more ordinary ways. We face decisions about the care of children and parents. We are called to make difficult decisions at our place of employment.

Remember what Jesus told his disciples: “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.” If we cannot be faithful in the ordinary decisions of life, we should not expect to be faithful in the extraordinary ones.

Even in ordinary lives we encounter mountain top experiences where we must commit ourselves to a difficulty journey. This journey may require service and sacrifice from us. We will not hear a voice from heaven to assure us, but we have faith in Christ to guide us. We have the knowledge Christ walks with us when bear the cross. Therefore, do not think the Transfiguration nothing more than a turning point in the life of Jesus. Instead, see yourself as a disciple walking with Christ down the mountain. Be willing to undertake journey through life that culminates with God’s act of grace and salvation in Jerusalem on your own Easter Day. Amen

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your minds and heart in Christ Jesus.