Just as Peter, James and John were witnesses to the transformation of Jesus Christ on a mountaintop, and they witnessed the appearance of Elijah and Moses talking with Jesus, may we also be transformed by faith in the light of God’s countenance, and through this epiphany may we be changed, transformed into his likeness, never to be the same again. And, as we read the Law and the Prophets, may our eyes always be open to see Jesus anew over and repeatedly. (Mark 9:2-9)
Frederick Douglas can be described as a prophet of freedom, justice and hope. He was a prominent American abolitionist, author and orator. He was the first black citizen to hold a high government rank. He was born a slave in 1818 on a Maryland plantation. He was taught the alphabet by a slave holder’s wife in his early years. He later learned to read by reading newspapers, the Bible, religious pamphlets, magazines and anything he could get his hands on to read. He contended that education was the ticket to freedom. Douglas escaped on a train bound for the East Coast. He later bought his freedom with the help of friends in New York City.
Douglas published an influential black newspaper for 16 years, and developed an international reputation as a speaker and writer. His first book was a book of writings and essays for young readers. He also authored an autobiography that he updated 5 times during his life. In a famous speech, he compared black slavery in America to Psalm 137, where the children of Israel were forced “to sit down by the rivers of Babylon and there to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. “He broke away from just supporting abolitionism and supported women’s rights and immigrant and refugee rights, “newcomers” to America. Douglass famously said, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
Douglas supported The Union army and President Lincoln in the Civil War in 1861. He also became an adviser to President Lincoln and later served as an Ambassador to Santa Domingo and Haiti. Frederick Douglas is an example for us all as someone that fought for justice for all, slaves, minorities, and those that are oppressed. He spoke of mercy, reconciliation justice, freedom and hope. He had an epiphany of a new world where justice, mercy and hope prevailed.
In our readings, today, we read about Moses and his mountain top experiences with God. Moses was told to come up to meet God on the mountaintop. So, Moses set out with his assistant, Joshua, and went up into the mountain of God. Joshua was a devotee to Moses, and he was set on attaining the mantle of the Holy Spirit that was so evident in the life of his mentor and leader Moses. As the narrative develops, Moses and Joshua are on Mount Sinai together. Sometimes Moses is summoned to meet with God, face to face, and alone, but sometimes Joshua is permitted to accompany him. A few chapters later in Exodus, Moses would enter the “Trent of Meeting” to meet with God, and when he would leave the tent, Joshua would stay behind. “And God spoke with Moses face-to-face, as neighbors speak to one another. When he would return to the camp, his attendant, the young man Joshua, stayed—he didn’t leave the Tent”. (Exodus 33:11)
If you follow the narratives about leadership and leadership development from Scripture we see a pattern of leaders spending time with their devoted followers, disciples in training. Examples include Elijah and Elisha, Moses and Joshua, Paul and Timothy, and Jesus and his closest disciples. Three of these disciples mentioned more than others are Peter, James and John.
The Gospel story of Jesus taking Peter, James and John to the top of a mountain, and on this mountaintop, they have an epiphany, and this epiphany changes their lives. They see Jesus transfigure before their eyes, and they see Moses, who represents the Law (the Pentateuch) and Elijah, who represents the prophets. This encounter of the Divine Kind, changes their lives forever. (Mark 9:2-9)
God wants us all to have an epiphany, to join into that endless epiphany of recognizing Christ in our lives, of allowing the Holy Spirit to rest on us, the same Spirit that rested on Moses and Elijah, to allow the power and the authority of God to lead us in this journey toward Heaven. Epiphanies transform and change us and make us whole. Just as our example of Frederick Douglas, we have the anointing of Elijah to preach the gospel of freedom, the gospel of mercy, the gospel of justice, the gospel of reconciliation, the gospel of hope, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better today, hope that injustices can be turned and brought into the favor of those that are marginalized and mistreated.
One of Frederick’s young followers asked him for advice on how to continue the works of bringing the message of freedom and justice to the world. He told him to never take freedom for granted. There will always be a fight, and if there is no fight, no turmoil and no hard work, then the future will not change. He also left three words to this young prodigy: “Agitate, agitate, agitate!” Change comes with work, and without the action there will be no change.
May we all have this hope for justice, mercy and love; and to walk humbly with our God as we do our part to bring transformation to our world, just as the Holy Spirit is bringing justice and transformation and hope into our lives. Let us all be transmitters of that Beacon of Hope, Christ the Light of the World.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen