Summary: For both Transfiguration Sunday and Black History Month: We must not fall asleep to our racial and ethnic history, to the history of action for justice, or to our own personal histories and who has shaped us.
Takoma Park Baptist Church, Washington, DC February 13, 1994
This, as you know, is Black History Month. Black History Month. What image does the word "history" conjure up for you?
It may be that you are with industrialist Henry Ford, who said, "History is mostly bunk". Well, that's short and simple, though not so sweet.
It may be that you belong with the political philosopher HegeI, who argued, "What experience and history teach is this: that people and governments never have learned anything from history". Pretty cynical. And if you believe that people have never learned anything from history and that they never will, you may as well go to sleep right now. People do go to sleep in the history class, you know.
Although, if anyone is tempted to fall asleep during this sermon, I refer you to the Book of Acts, chapter 20, verse 9, where you will find out what happened to a brother named Eutychus when he fell asleep during the sermon!
When I was a college student, it seemed as though the luck of the draw always dictated that I had history classes in the lute afternoon. No matter how much I attempted to juggle my schedule, it always came out that at 3 or 4 o'clock, I was sentenced to an hour or two in a history lecture.
Now don't get me wrong. I like to study history. In fact, after my ill-fated fling with chemical engineering, I even became a history major. But there's something about taking a history class in the late afternoon. Something about listening to a recital of kings, dates, and battles when the room is getting warmer and the days are getting longer and it's been a long time since coffee break. Hmph. Drowsy, very drowsy. Drowsy always in the history class.
Some of you have had the misfortune of dealing with me in the late afternoon. You know what that's like. You know that unless I've had a shot of caffeine straight into the veins, no matter how interesting or gripping your story is, I am going to yawn and struggle to stay awake. Why, last Sunday I visited in one of your homes. I arrived about 4:30. And when you offered mea cup of coffee, what did I say? I said, "Oh, Thankyouthankyouthankyou". I needed that.
I get drowsy. I especially got drowsy during those long, boring, poorly taught history classes. So I can sympathize with Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, who, though they were witnessing something awesome, still got so sleepy that they almost missed it. Luke tells us that they were weighed down with sleep and barely stayed awake to catch a glimpse of Jesus, glowing with light and meeting with long-dead patriarchs. They were drowsy and they almost missed a pageant of living history.
Now one of the things I learned as a student is that if you are drowsy in the history class, you are likely to miss something important. Why, one time I went to sleep during the Middle Ages and didn't wake up until they were starting World War I! But missing something in the history class can hurt you. If you are drowsy in the history class, you may not grasp the fact that you have just been exposed to the professor's pet theory, which will very definitely show up on the final exam. If you don't get it, you don't get it. And you will be hurt.
Peter, James, and John were drowsy in Jesus' great history class, and they almost missed something important. They were almost damaged beyond repair. Fortunately they stayed awake and saw the glory. That's what I hope for you too.
So stay awake, now, as best you can, In the Lord's history class. Lest we forget. Lest we forget where we came from, lest we forget who we are, lest we forget to live in the present.
The first historical figure that arrived on the Mount of Transfiguration there with Jesus was Moses. Moses the great Iiberator, Moses who had led the people out of Egypt more than thirteen hundred years before. Moses stands on the Mount of Transfiguration, and, if Peter, James, John, and you and I stay awake, there is something to learn from Moses' presence. Something which, in fact, if we do not learn, we will be hurt.
Moses represents the cultural and ethnic history of God's people. Moses represents the distinctive history of the race of people called Israel. The presence of Moses is a history lesson teaching us that God makes a people for Himself in a very distinctive way.
Don't be drowsy in the history class, or you will forget how God makes a people. God makes a people by leading them through a time of oppression and slavery and then bringing them out on the other side. God makes a people using a Moses, using a liberator. That's very special. That's truly wonderful. Don't go to sleep; don't miss that. For if you miss that, your racial pride will be damaged. Your sense of belonging to a proud people will be hurt. You need to know that you are a people like no other people; for a great and loving God has reached down with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and freed you. That's very special.