That Moment In Time


This is the message I presented on Transfiguration Sunday, 2 March 2003, at Tompkins Corners UMC. The Scriptures were 2 Kings 2:1 – 12, 2 Corinthians 4:3 – 6, and Mark 9: 2 – 9.

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Our lives can easily be seen as a journey. It is a journey that for some takes them to faraway places while others stay within reasonable distance of where they were born and grew up. But no matter whether your journey through life has involved great distances and various settings, it is a journey that has passed through time.

Each of our own journeys is marked by certain moments in time. Some of these are private moments, shared with those close to us. Others are public moments that allow us to be part of the world around us. Others are internal, that only we know and choose to share when we desire.

We mark our journey through life with private moments in times such as our own birth or the birth of our children and grandchildren, our marriage and the marriages of our children. Our yearly journey through time is marked by that singular day, though as we grow older the celebrations often grow more somber and less announced. We all remember the approach to our 16th birthday when we knew the independence that it would mark. Somehow, as parents, we view the 16th birthday of our children will a little less celebration and much more trepidation.

Public moments in time are those moments when others come to know who we are and what we are. You cannot make such moments in time happen but the moments in time that do happen will define who you are. Those who try to force time to march to their own tune often find their efforts futile.

In 1857, John Brown led a raid on the armory at Harpers’ Ferry, Virginia (now in West Virginia) with the intent of inciting the slaves of northern Virginia to rebel against their owners. But the raid was a failure and though some in the anti-slavery movements of the time may have considered him a martyr, it is hard to see how. John Brown chose to use violence as a means of fighting violence. No matter if one feels that their actions are correct, when you use the same methods as those whom you oppose, you are more likely to fail. John Brown’s actions did not solve anything, if anything they hastened inevitable conflict between the North and the South and brought more bloodshed to that period in time when blood was being spilled; in fact, in one of those interesting sidelights to history, the first casualty in the John Brown’s raid was a freed black.

But there are times when the moment is decided by other events. When Rosa Parks got on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, the cold December 1st in 1955, she had no intention of becoming a landmark in time, a moment to remember for years to come. It had been a long day of work and she was tired, so she sat down. But she sat down in the front of the bus, an act that, according to the laws of Montgomery at that time, was illegal for her to do. Rosa Parks was black and the laws of the time required that she go to the back of the bus. It made no difference if there were empty seats in the front or there were no empty seats in the back, the law required that she go to the back of the bus.

But she was tired, so she sat down and shortly thereafter was arrested. Her arrest led to the boycott of the Montgomery bus lines by the blacks of Montgomery (who represented the majority of the riders on the bus system at that time). This boycott was organized by Martin Luther King, Jr., a young preacher, fresh from seminary and new to Montgomery. This single incident is marked as the watershed event in the struggle for civil and human rights and brought Dr. King to the forefront of black leadership. It was the beginning of Dr. King’s work to bring equality to all and led him to Memphis in 1968 where he helped the sanitation works in their efforts to earn a living wage. That is where, of course, Dr. King’s journey through life ended, killed by an assassin on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

The reading from the Old Testament today also represents a moment in time, a passage from the old to the new. Elijah had been the Israel’s major prophet but his time had come and his journey was ended. The reward for his journey was a trip to heaven, one of such spectacular nature that it is memorialized by its early position in the 2nd Book of Kings. Now it is someone else’s turn. For Elisha, Elijah’s student, this is a moment of uncertainty. Elisha repeats three times that he will stay with Elijah no matter what happens, even though Elijah cautions him to stay where he is.

But at that moment when Elijah departs, Elisha wants an assurance that he will receive a double portion of the ministry’s gifts. When a father died, the principal heir received a double portion of his father’s goods (remember the trick Jacob played on Isaac in order to be the principal heir). Elisha wanted this principle to apply to spiritual goods as well as material goods. There were a number of people who could be the spiritual heir to Elijah’s ministry.

If Elisha were to be the true heir and follow Elijah’s model of life and mission, he was going to need the God-given spiritual gifts that Elijah possessed. It was not out of pride that Elisha wanted a double share of that ministry but rather out of a sense that he could not meet the goals of the ministry alone. History shows that Elisha accomplished twice as many miracles as did Elijah and one can assume that his request was granted

Paul writes about the gifts that God has given to him, gifts similar to those that Elisha wanted and received. Paul acknowledged on many occasions that it was God’s mercy and not his own ability that directed his ministry and provided the impetus for its success. But he points out that the basis for his success is not often seen by all. In a discourse before the passage from 2nd Corinthians for today, Paul defends his preaching as the preaching of the truth and not self-promotion. He, as he writes in verse 5, is not preaching for his own sake or proclaiming his ministry but rather the ministry of Jesus Christ and the salvation that it brings.

There is that one moment in time that is unique to each one of us, one that is internal and only shared with others when we chose to do so, either by our words or our deeds. And that is the time that we like Peter, James and John, meet Jesus, not as a figure in a historical sense but rather as the Christ, our Savior. It may not come on a mountaintop as it did for the three disciples, it might not come with thunder and lightning as Elisha’s encounter did but it will come. And when it does it will change our lives. Paul speaks of the light of understanding, that moment when the Gospel is revealed to each one of us individually. It changes our lives, it changes the path that we are walking, and it changes the way we see life itself.

And despite what others may say, it is our moment in time alone. Though others will come to know Jesus in the same manner, the way in which they arrive at that moment in time is unique to their lives. There is no way that others can tell you how it will happen but you can tell others that it did happen. Jesus did not want the three to discuss what happened that day on the mountaintop because it was not the time nor the place. But when he died and rose from the grave, then it was the time.

For each of us there is that same moment in time. That time when we come to know who Christ is and what he means for us. Paul himself knew that Christ was the light that would lead him out of the darkness. It is the same for us. In a world of darkness and turmoil, where it is easier to be self-centered than it is to share, where war and violence seem to be the answer, Christ is the light that shines the brightest.

Some have come to Christ and know the peace and strength found through Him. It was the strength that Paul used when the days of his mission work seemed futile and hopeless. Others are still looking for the light, a way out of the darkness.

This is that moment in time when the light is found and shines out of the darkness. This is that moment in time when Christ speaks to you individually and says to you, “Peace I bring to you.” And for those, who have heard the message of peace, it is that moment in time, as it was for Elisha, that the ministry begins.

Our life is a journey, marked with moments in time. What moment in time does today represent for you?

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4 thoughts on “That Moment In Time

  1. Your thoughts on John Brown are so wrong, both in detail and in historical sentiment.

    First, the Harper’s Ferry raid was 1859, not 1857. As a biographer of the man, I find that the most commonly misrepresented and mistakenly portrayed figure in US history is Brown. People who put him down are usually merely repeating what they’ve been told, and like the party “telephone” game, the facts become more skewed and impressions subject to prejudice. So let me set you straight as both a biographer of the man and as an evangelical Christian scholar.

    You say that Brown’s intent was “inciting the slaves of northern Virginia to rebel against their owners.” Brown had no intention of “inciting” anything. To think that enslaved people needed to be “incited” is to think like a slave master. Do you realize that blacks were constantly and increasingly running away, rebelling, and opposing slavery on their own? Do you mean to suggest that Brown was wrong to want to help enslaved people find their freedom? What would you, a Christian, have done to help end slavery? From the sound of things, you would have been just another status quo Christian who did nothing and let the rape, stolen labor, selling of flesh on the market, all continue until the “right time.”

    Brown’s intention was to lead off enslaved people but not to attack or harm slave holders unless they tried to use force. Brown was not an insurrectionist and he denied this repeatedly although this was the blanket of condemnation laid upon him by “Christian slave masters.” His intention was to lead off enslaved people and instigate only a movement away from slavery that would snowball into a trans-state movement. It was not to start a race war, an insurrection, or a murderous expedition in the south as many people wrongly claim. Brown’s intention was minimalist violence and to affirm and strengthen black people as free and independent human beings. If that sounds strange and unbelievable, then consider it a measure of the degree to which southern and northern writers have ignorantly or maliciously skewed him in history.

    You say Brown’s actions “did not solve anything.” That’s also wrong. Firstly, even though he failed, there was a massive amount of enslaved people who were encouraged to make flight from the south in Jefferson county (the county of Harper’s Ferry) and nearby counties. Enslaved people were inspired and encouraged to make good their own liberation. So Brown’s impact was immediately positive from the standpoint of humanitarian concern. Secondly, Brown forced the north into standing up to the bullying of southern statesmen even though most northerners (including Lincoln) had no initial, primary interest in ending slavery (only limiting its expansion). Even though the South tended to wrongly impute John Brown’s views to the Northern Republicans, it forced the “moderate” Republicans to respond to the heavy-handed influence of the South in Washington DC. It was arguably the straw that broke the camel’s back and even if the Civil War was not initiated by concern for black people, the issue of slavery was so intrinsic to the crisis that it had to be resolved one way or another. So Brown’s role was fundamentally good in the long run.

    To charge Brown with bringing “more bloodshed” is very limited and narrow. It assumes that the only bloodshed that matters was the bloodshed of white soldiers locked in civil war. What about all the bloodshed of enslaved Africans over two centuries? Did Brown bring that, or was that a product of the system of slavery? Blaming Brown for increasing bloodshed is historical revision and evasion. You are dealing in stylization, not historical reality. The South was armed to the teeth and was preparing for civil war a decade prior to Lincoln’s election. They could read the handwriting on the wall and were preparing to withdraw and fight if necessary if their interests were challenged. Southerners instigated violence and bloodshed in Kansas BEFORE Brown and a small number of northern militants decided to fight back. Slavery as an institution was fundamentally violent and blaming Brown for increasing bloodshed is to engage in selective vision and revision of history.

    Yes, the first casualty of the raid was a “freed black man.” But the fact that he, a former slave of the town’s mayor, was killed is also a reminder that this nation constitutionally granted white men the right to own black men as property and to free them at their discretion. Brown’s men would not have intentionally killed Heyward Shepherd; he died because he appeared to be resisting their directions. But I think it is a monument to slavery’s arrogance that southerners thereafter rallied to “celebrate” this man, whose life was victimized by their forebears and then so “generously” freed.

    By the way, the Rosa Parks incident was not a spontaneous event. That’s also myth. Parks was an activist and her action was a strategic effort. Real political change takes action and planning. John Brown planned and failed, but at least he planned to help the oppressed. It is a shame that 150 years after the fact of his efforts, most Christians judge him with harshness and lack of understanding rather than celebrating the fact that he tried to make a difference while the rest of his generation sat back and did nothing. Brown, a godly Christian man, took an unconventional stance and his reputation has paid dearly for it in the court of white people’s opinion. But his appearance marks a “kairos moment” in our nation’s history. When God’s people fail to act, God raises up radicals to drive home the point, and Brown did so, and I salute him and commend him without apology in the face of heathens and Christians who judge him wrong. His soul is marching on!

    But the raid was a failure and though some in the anti-slavery movements of the time may have considered him a martyr, it is hard to see how. John Brown chose to use violence as a means of fighting violence. No matter if one feels that their actions are correct, when you use the same methods as those whom you oppose, you are more likely to fail. John Brown’s actions did not solve anything, if anything they hastened inevitable conflict between the North and the South and brought more bloodshed to that period in time when blood was being spilled; in fact, in one of those interesting sidelights to history, the first casualty in the John Brown’s raid was a freed black.

  2. I stand corrected on the date of the raid on Harper’s Ferry and I thank you for catching that error.

    I was aware that there was planning involved in what Mrs. Parks did, though I did say so at that time.

    However, my view of John Brown is framed by his actions, not only at Harper’s Ferry but in Kansas as well, and I still believe that violence can never be used to justify violence. If we choose to argue what was done in the past, as others have done with my stand against war, then we are making no progress whatsoever into the future but, at best, holding on to the present or regressing to the future.

    We know what went wrong, so let us move forward and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

  3. Why do people always argue about things that happened so long ago? It’s over, yes it was horrible and I think Brown was more of a martyr than a murderer, but I do see both sides.
    You have your opinion, he has his. That’s that. There’s not really a need to “set him straight” as he’s going to keep his own opinion no matter what and that’s what every person alive is entitled to anyway.
    I don’t understand why people argue about these things.
    Have a nice day.

  4. Pingback: Notes on Transfiguration Sunday | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

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