The Oscar nominations have been out for a while; with the Super Bowl behind us (if we are ever able to let that last play go) it’s time to get out and see the movies nominated for Best Picture
I recently saw Selma. While the critics suggest that the movie doesn’t do justice to President Johnson’s support, or lack there-of, for the civil rights movement it is a movie with building intensity. Like other attempts to portray history it brings alive memories, takes you back to that time in our culture. We are reminded of the four little girls killed in the bombing of the church they attended.
Martin Luther King is portrayed as a leader finding his way. He is clear about his belief in non-violence as a way to confront the need for change. He and other leaders in the Civil Rights movement believe that the time has come to fight for the right to have access to the voting booth unencumbered. “Having the vote” is seen as the key to electing leaders who will open doors to safety and education and care for the poor.
It is a powerful portrayal of that time in history. The danger, the risk to the lives of those who walked is right there on the edge: brutal beatings, horses and clubs even to the point of death.
It was very real for me. It’s a little disquieting to realize that movies that have historic content are now being made about my time in history. Most of those people who walked with Martin are now no longer alive. The march occurred when I was a college student. I had been much impressed with President Kennedy; his challenge to the country asking not about ourselves but what we could contribute to the country was a rallying cry. A challenge to an impressionable high school student. His assassination my freshman year had been an overwhelming loss. A wake up call that cut through some of the optimism he had inspired. The challenge remained: the sit-ins at counters around the South, like the one here in Richmond, brought home the growing discontent, openly challenging our past history.
My dad was a Lutheran pastor in a small Lutheran Parish in Baton Rouge, La. He took stands on behalf of those in the movement. His phone was tapped and signs were placed in his yard. He was a highly ethical and risk-taking pastor.
When the call came for people to join the march in Selma I was stirred up. I wanted to make my way to Alabama. I called my dad and asked him if we could meet there to walk together. After a long pause he said no, he held back. I listened to him and did not go.
In retrospect I know that he was afraid for my life. He was willing to put his own life on the line. He was not willing to risk losing me.
Now as a father of my own children, grandchildren I can better understand where he came from. I don’t have many regrets in my life but as I watched the movie the other night I think that this may be one. I held my dad in great respect; to have marched beside him would have been a powerful experience. I can only imagine what it could have been like as I watched those who marched, those who were beaten, those who died for what they believed.
Today we come to the end of the Epiphany Season. The lessons since Christmas have been revealing of who Jesus is.
He has told stories, healed various people; he has anointed disciples, sent them out to carry the good news. He has experienced the death of John the Baptist. Jesus is becoming aware of his path. A path that will take him to the cross. Jesus has taken his closest leaders up to the mountain top.
In the Biblical narrative things often happen on the top of a mountain. Moses leaves the people, goes on up the sides of the mountain. The clouds surround him. He returns changed, he brings word of the law.
Elijah, the first real prophet of the Old Testament, comes to the end of his life. He moves toward God and he is swept up. Chariots and horses of fire sweep over him. He is caught up in a whirlwind and disappears.
Jesus goes up on the mountain. The clouds move in. Those disciples with him perceive the presence of Jesus in conversation with those old fathers of the past.
The natural response is temple building. Let’s put up a monument to this moment. A booth for Moses, one for Elijah. Words pierce the moment that hark back to John’s Baptism. This is my son, my beloved, listen to him and it was suddenly over. The cloud lifted, the disciples join Jesus in walking down the mountain into life and ultimately the Crucifixion.
It was a time to be transfigured. To be changed in perception. Moving from teaching to action. From life toward the risk of death 2,000 years later. It is Transfiguration Sunday again. How will we see Jesus in this new light as we move from worship into our congregational meeting? How will we experience the call as you enter the six weeks of the Lenten season? Will you take on a discipline? Open yourself to an inner search? Will you look for direction? What are you created to become? What are we willing to risk as a church in this community?
I don’t know what would have happened to me had I walked in Selma. I do know that some years later – a few months after Martin Luther King was killed – I had the opportunity to work in Memphis City Hospitals. My sense of who I could become – what I could do with my life – became clearer, but nothing is cut in stone.
Periodically each of us as individuals, all of us collectively, need to ask what we are called to become. Transfiguration Sunday we are invited to the mountain top. We are enveloped by the cloud of God’s presence, called to see what we are being called to become. The same God that acknowledged his son acknowledges each of us as part of his creation.
Let us open our hearts to that invitation. Knowing that the spiritual life involves risk. Amen