As a small band of would-be Pilgrims prepared to emigrate from Europe to a new land where they hoped to have the freedom to worship as they desired, their pastor John Robinson addressed them from the shore. Robinson – unable to make the journey with them – said, “I Charge you before God and his blessed angels that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow Christ,” he said, “If God reveal anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth from my ministry, for I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth from His holy word.” Robinson would no longer be their leader and he wondered who would be next.
As Jesus prepared to leave that mountain top – to point his face towards Jerusalem and to face his arrest, torture and crucifixion – he experiences this moment that the disciples have witnessed. A meeting with these ancestors of his faith, the light of glory shines from within, a voice from the heavens proclaiming God’s love.
As Peter, John, and James witnessed the light of God shine on and emanate from Jesus; as they saw their teacher suddenly in the company of two pillars of their faith – Moses and Elijah – Peter seems to think that leaving that place would be the worst idea imaginable. “Rabbi, how good it is for us to be here! Let’s set up three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!”
When the children of MCC learned about the transfiguration in Discovery Kingdom, Rev. Sandra told me that many of them recognized Moses from their early classes on the Ten Commandments. Most didn’t know Elijah though. Fortunately, we have a few interfaith families at MCC and one of the kids in Sandra’s group spoke out, “Hey! I know Elijah. He’s the one we leave a seat for on Passover.”
For Jesus, Moses and Elijah were keys to the story of his faith and his calling. Moses gave the Israelites the Torah – God’s law. Elijah, along with other prophets, preached God’s kingdom to the people. Moses and Elijah both stood up to corrupt and unjust leaders who mistreated their constituents, supported systems of inequality, and failed to care for those on the margins.
And as their time on Earth approached an end, the Bible tells us stories of Moses and Elijah deciding who was next as they handpicked their successors – the ones who would take up their mantle and continue their work.
Moses led the Israelites to the Promised Land but was prohibited from entering himself. As he reached the end of his life, Moses told the story of all he had learned as a leader of people and a follower of God and then he named Joshua as the one who would continue to lead.
Elijah had trained Elisha since he was a young man. When Elijah’s time had come, the two went to the Jordan river where Elijah was taken away in a whirlwind on a Chariot of Fire. Elisha picks up the mantle – the cloak – that Elijah left behind and goes on to continue the prophetic work of God.
So as Jesus is preparing to head towards Jerusalem, towards his own death and the end of his ministry, he knows that he needs others to carry on his work. He turns to his disciples, many who had followed him and learned from him for three years. They should be the ones who are next, to continue the teaching and the preaching and the healing. But I think Jesus is afraid. He’s worried about the disciples’ abilities. As they come down off the mountain, Jesus expresses his frustrations when faced with an example of their failures, the child that they were unable to help.
As Srinivas Kuchibhotla came to the United States from India about ten years ago, he was probably imagining a better life. Shortly after arriving, he received master’s degree in electrical and electronic engineering from the University of Texas at El Paso and went on to work as an electrical engineer. He moved to Kansas in 2014.
As stories of harassment of and attacks on immigrants became prevalent in the news, his wife begin to worry that it was no longer safe for them in this country. He told her not to worry.
Srinivas, 32, was killed and two others injured wounded in Austin’s Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas last Wednesday night. One of the injured was also from India.
“At least one bystander told the Kansas City Star newspaper the gunman shouted: ‘Get out of my country’ before shooting the Indian victims…. The suspect fled and was arrested five hours later at a restaurant in Missouri. He reportedly told an employee there he needed a place to hide because he had killed two Middle Eastern men.”[i]
When Gavin Grimm came out as transgender during his sophomore year of high school, he was supported by his family, school administrators and most students and teachers. At first Gavin used the bathroom in the nurse’s office, but the long trip back and forth from the classroom felt unnecessary and stigmatizing. He began to use the men’s room, initially without incident.
In an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post, Gavin writes “Even though I used the restrooms for almost two months without any disturbance, a group of parents and community members heard that ‘a girl’ was using the boys’ restroom and began complaining. Instead of supporting me and the decision of the school administrators, the school board convened two public meetings, inviting the community to discuss my genitals and restroom usage in front of reporters and television cameras.
After the public discussion, the school board passed a new policy to stop me from using the same bathrooms as other kids. The policy says students with “gender identity issues” can’t use the restrooms that match the gender they live every day. Instead, the school board said I should go back to using the nurse’s office or use a new ‘unisex’ single-stall restroom so that no one else would have their privacy invaded by using the same restroom as me. It was humiliating and painful.” [ii]
The Supreme Court will hear Gavin’s case against the school board in this coming session.
This week, our nation’s leaders made it known that they will not defend students like Gavin.
As my wife and I entered Post Office Square on Thursday evening, we were greeted by a scene that I believe reflects God’s kingdom. Under the street lights, hundreds had gathered to express solidarity with transgender students. Speakers told stories of exclusion and embarrassment, leaders vowed to stand up for the next generation, and all united in one sentiment: “No hate. No fear. Trans youth are welcome here.”
I was there as a parent and as a follower of Christ. I believe that the love shown that night comes from God. The work that has been done and will continue to be done for the transgender community is done in the light the shone on and through Christ on the mountain top. One sign even quoted Moses (kind of): “Let my people go…to the bathroom.”
Every generation needs to know who’s next to take on the mantle of justice. Moses passed on the work to Joshua and the Israelites, Elijah passed it on the Elisha and other prophets. Jesus looked to his disciples.
Who’s next? I believe that we are. Through the work of the disciples and the first Christians, through the work of our ancestors of faith, through the path laid by John Robinson and the founders of the nation we inhabit and the church we attend, through the teaching of grandparents and parents and Sunday School teachers and church moms we are the next ones to pick up the mantle of preaching and teaching and creating God’s Kingdom. A world in which all are recognized as children of God.
We won’t always get it right. We will stumble. The death of Srinivas Kuchibhotla and the targeting of immigrants and people of color shines a light on some of the ways that we have failed.
As Jesus headed down the mountain he was faced with the fear that his followers would fail; He was headed towards his crucifixion – a death that his disciples would be unable to stop. Even Jesus was afraid at what would happen next.
But through his arrest, the light reveals that even religious leaders seek scapegoats; His torture exposes that governments can be corrupt and the depths of humanity cruelty; And his crucifixion is a blinding example of how far we are willing to take our quest for vengeance.
But “the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth.” We may be like Peter, worried that there is only one place to see God’s glory and afraid to move. However, we don’t need any mountain top experience. We are surrounded by Christ’s light. The light that reveals suffering, the light that reveals hidden truths and uncovers lies, the light that shines on the oppressed and outcast, the light that shows us that we need to do better for Srinivas and Gavin and all who are targeted.
We don’t do this work alone. We do it with those who have come before us, we do it with those who sit next to us in these pews, and we do it side by side with Jesus.
Jesus is the light that shows us the way forward. Jesus is the one who told us over and over again not to be afraid. the one who said we can do the work, that we can do even more and better than he did. The one who forgives us every time we betray or deny or doubt or fail.
Jesus, the one who went through arrest and torture and the cross to show us what we are capable of; overcoming it all, defeating even death to shine the light of resurrection as a sign that we are next and we are able to continue the work.
God’s glory burns bright among us. The Holy Spirit’s rays emanate from us, allowing us to share love with all our might, giving us hope to continue moving forward on our journey together. And through it all Christ, the light of lights, will illuminate all our days.