February 14, 2018

Razzle Dazzle them?

I had a chance to see “The Greatest Showman”, a movie based loosely on the life of PT Barnum, who happily exploits humans that people will pay money to stare at, bearded ladies, conjoined twins, little people and the like, all so Barnum can make a quick buck.  The feeling he gets when he stands in the spotlight, a lovely sense of his own importance as he drinks in the applause of the audience is also a huge motivation.  He’d rather be in glittery circus outfits than at home watching his beautiful young daughters grow up.  He loves anything he can do to get attention and doesn’t even mind snobbish reviews as they are free publicity that help sell tickets to his events.
Contrast his extravagant behaviour with today’s scriptures.  Jesus is on a mountaintop with his three special students when something amazing happens and Peter, James and John catch a glimpse of who Jesus really is.  They don’t know what to do next.  Let’s set up some tents, and under the big top, our main attraction, Glow in the Dark Jesus! Did they plan to charge admission or to live in tents with him, or were they trying to keep Jesus from lighting up the neighborhood and blinding them in the process?  Or even, outlandish as it might sound, were they trying to start a new religious holiday like the Festival of Booths that celebrates the harvest and even now has devout Jewish people build tents and temporary shelters to remember their history of escaping Egypt and living in tents while they wandered the wilderness?
We will never know.  But it’s striking to compare Jesus or even Paul to PT Barnum.  Paul repeatedly says that he’s not in the business of being a Ring Master or a carnival hawker.  There’s no glib, “step right up, get your tickets here folks and put your hands together for the one, the only Apostle Paul, all the way from Jerusalem with Good News for all!” 
No, quite the contrary, Paul insists that he is not the star attraction, only Jesus is, and only because Jesus is an image of God, and gives us a glorious idea of what God is like.
Transfiguration Sunday celebrates that we, like the disciples, get glimpses of God when we have Jesus as the lens in which we see God, our lives and the world, sometimes in surprising ways.
One such moment was last fall when I stood on the hill in the Amber Valley graveyard overlooking the fields and farmland that stretched for miles as far as I could see.  With me were black ministers here to learn about the story of freedom and bravery of early settlers escaping racist oppression in the United States.  One lady wrote about it for this year’s Black history month worship resource and said,
It is hard to imagine how anyone, Black or White, would take their families on such a treacherous trip from Oklahoma to northern Alberta, and especially in the days of little to no infrastructure. What a gruelling experience that must have been—to come to settle in the Great North with minus 50 weather. According to the National Post, Canadian Whites weren’t at all crazy about the idea of a bunch of “coloured folk” coming to settle in Alberta, but they took no action against talks of the migration because they strongly doubted that Black people (even those dodging Jim Crow laws) would want to or be able to survive the northern Alberta winters.
That little field trip we assisted with, which had folks coming from as far away as Detroit and London England, was more than just a glimpse into the past; it was a clarion call for action in the present.
Someone said to me that when they heard scriptures say, “his clothes became dazzling white such as no one on earth could bleach them,” or “the light shone in the darkness and the darkness knew it not,”
they felt like the Bible has institutionalized ‘whiteness’ as good and pure and ‘darkness’ as evil to be fought against and as justification for racism.  Given the fact that some United Churches in Alberta had connections with the Klu Klux Clan back in the 1920’s, these scriptures could have been misused in just that way.  We must never allow that to happen again, but always remember that Jesus called us to love our neighbor, and that Paul reminded us that there is no male or female, neither slave nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus.
Transfiguration, the light of God breaking into the world, happens in the oddest ways and at the oddest times.  P. T. Barnum retired from the spotlight, became a politician and became a member of the new anti-slavery Republican Party. In one of Barnum’s speeches, he said, "A human soul, ‘that God has created and Christ died for,’ is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab or a Hottentot – it is still an immortal spirit."  Lest you think that our work is done, and our world is perfect, even though the antislavery law was passed in the US in 1850, Mississippi did not ratify it until 2013.
God is still breaking into our world, shining a spotlight on the challenges, inhumanities and injustices that people are suffering under.  God is still speaking to us, reminding us to love our neighbors no matter what, and to rise above and challenge discrimination and racism wherever we may find it.  And may we all remember that God’s grace is still with us when we work for justice and love in amazing ways.  Our work here in this little church impacts congregations across Canada just as their work helps support us on our journey.  May we all be transfigured into people ready to speak good news of amazing grace to everyone we meet.  Amen.

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