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THE HOPE IN THE TRANSFIGURATION


In the Winter of 1966, a voters registration card arrived in the mail at the home of Vernon Dahmer. On the surface, something like this is no big deal; it happens every day. But this was different, for a number of reasons. It was different because Vernon Dahmer was a African-American in Mississippi, and this was the first year he could vote just like any other person, without the encumbrance of oppressive poll taxes or backhanded laws of discrimination. It was different because Vernon had worked hard to make this a reality. It was different, tragically, because Vernon Dahmer had died only weeks before.


He died on January 11 of horrible burns to his lungs. The night before, several members of the White Knights of the KKK carried out a plan to punish Dahmer for his efforts to bring equal voting rights to the black community. In the middle of the night, several KKK members began firing guns at the house, while others threw firebombs through the windows. Vernon grabbed a shotgun and ran to the front of the house to provide cover fire while the rest of his family escaped out a back window. They all lived. But Vernon was overcome by smoke and flames. Hours later, he was dead.


It’s so heartbreaking that he never got to see all of his efforts come to fruition with his own eyes. But so many others benefitted from his sacrifice, bravery, and leadership.


When we read the story of the transfiguration, we are actually reading the story of our own redemption and forgiveness and the new life that Christ won for us with his blood.


It’s a beautiful thing! But the truth is that your transfigured life has already begun. It matters for your future, but it also matters right now, it matters today. You have the hope of God’s plan for you alive in you today. And this leads us to live differently today, to share the love of Christ in our lives today.


This was certainly true of Vernon Dahmer’s widow, Ellie. Because in August 1998, 32 years after such cruel men attacked her home and stole the life of her husband and her children’s father, something amazing happened. She met one of the attackers face to face for the first time. A reporter by the name of Jerry Mitchell found one of the participants in the crime, a guy named Billy Roy Pitts. And Billy testified in the trial of Sam Bowers, the ringleader of the White Knights of the KKK in Mississippi. Bowers was convicted and jailed.

But as Billy Roy Pitts left the courtroom after his testimony, he happened to walk right by Ellie Dahmer and her family. But he didn’t keep walking, he stopped and turned to her and, with tears in his eyes, he told her how sorry he was for what he did and asked her forgiveness. It was an awkward and intense moment.


But what happened was so breathtaking, no one who was there will ever forget it, I’m sure. This woman who endured so many days over so many decades missing her husband, with tears in HER eyes said, "I forgive you." And then the children who missed their dad so much, and thought about all the things he never got to see, and they never got to share with him said, "I forgive you." And the grandchildren who never got a chance to meet this great man, who had to know him only though pictures and stories, said, "I forgive you."


And in its own way, we can say this was truly a testimony to their faith in Christ, to what God revealed to them, and all the faithful in the transfiguration. Because what we see in this brief moment is HOPE. Hope sure and certain. Hope born on the cross. Hope for folks like the disciples, and Elijah and Moses from the Gospel reading. Hope for people like Ellie Dahmer and her husband Vernon. Hope even for folks like Billy Roy Pitts. Hope even for people like you and me.


(From a sermon by Matt Hoffman, "Transfiguration: Moses and Us," 2/9/2010)

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