I invite you this morning to join me in a word of prayer.

Almighty, as we gather on this day, we gather grateful for the life that you have set before us and your presence with us. And once again, we ask that you might cover us, hold us, keep us and fill us for all of the places that you are preparing to send us this. We ask in your wonderful name. Amen.

I come this morning, humbled, yet grateful for this moment to be able to connect with my colleagues here and those who are joining us from your living rooms, your offices and perhaps in many of the other places that have now been transformed from ordinary to extraordinary, from common to sacred. Yet, as I come this morning, in my preparations I’ve wrestled with this subject, as all preachers do, what would I say? But preaching is not just subject. It is also tone. What would I say that would hit the right note that many of us, as we know, recognize that the church would make a certain sound? Because even in hitting the note from the resonance of that sound, there’s vibration that comes. And I’m praying on this morning that we might be mindful of all that comes from a moment like this.

But I was also reminded that preaching is never without context. Perhaps it may be attempted without regard for context, but one of the challenges and charges for any preacher is to hear, to see and to seek God within the context that are often recalled by us, experienced by us, faced by us and in many moments, weighing upon us. And even through the contexts that are not clear in the future, that are calling to us on this Valentine’s day on, in this month of black history and on the heels of a week filled with conversations, exchanges and questions, I found myself asking the primary question that I encourage all of us to ask.

I know it is a question that like me, many of you have felt called to ask in many situations. It’s a very simple question – God, where are you in the midst of this? This is a critical question for those journeying along the road of faith. It is the question we are more inclined to ask when moments are dark and difficulties of life are present. Perhaps it’s an easy question for me to ask, as I consider the unique history being shared this month, because it is a question that has been intertwined in my experience, in the African-American experience, in the faith journey of those who have come before me. It is one that has been asked over and over – God, where are you? It is also raised by those who experienced life on the margins or who have been knocked down by life circumstances, whether momentary or lasting. At some point we have all asked – God, where are you? After being awakened by the question, we often find ourselves standing in the intersection where divinity and humanity meet. And we also ask a question that in this moment, perhaps it is best expressed by a spiritual that has been echoing through generations, as I hear the voice even today of one who would cry out, “Lord, how come me here?”

I have often found myself in situations where I’ve asked God, where are you? And then I’ve asked the question, Lord, why am I in this moment? It is in this intersection, this well traversed intersection of life, where divinity is meeting humanity, that the preacher’s task is to bring forth from the past the flame that will light the path going forward and not just hold the ashes of the difficult circumstances. While I was reminded by my good friend, Reverend Dr. Paul Smith, this week that memory is one of God’s great gifts to the human spirit. Today, I reached back hoping to grab the flame and not just pick-up ashes. And I invite you to reach back with me and perhaps some of your memories that we might like the path forward and not just hold on to the ashes of difficult circumstances. I had to go seeking and asking this week, I had to ask like, many of you who are connected in this moment, “God, where are you? And Lord, how come me here?”

I have been asking in the face of hundreds of years of racial discrimination, prejudice and injustice. I have been asking, Lord, where are you, while the burdens are still present while I deal with this problem of the present past. I’ve had to go seeking and asking, amid listening, to the political posturing of recent days and the partisan divisions that will shape the future and the lives of adults and children in this land and perhaps around the world. I’ve wondered about the future and what the future will hold. I’ve had to go seeking and asking while witnessing the relational burdens of friends and colleagues reaching for one another, all the while working to show love for one another. I’ve had to go seeking and asking while trying to hold family together and fighting off the overwhelming feelings and concerns associated with the effects of all of the viral, economic and racial pandemics, all seemingly showing up at the same time.

There are moments when it feels like everything is crashing together. I’ve lived long enough to experience emotional and spiritual crashes. But I also know the literal pain of a physical crash. There are degrees of crashes, but I’ve experienced and focus in on the degree of a crash where you are left feeling trapped. I know that experience both physical and literal and in the spiritual. I know what it is to be trapped in circumstances, to feel it and to experience it. It is an overwhelming feeling to be trapped by circumstances and encounters.

It was now 40 years ago that I was trapped after a physical crash. And in order to get out, the first responders had to use a tool called the jaws of life. These big cutters can cut away doors and give access to those who are hurting and suffering and in need of care. Well, my charge and my assignment as the preacher, my history and my faith, my family and my foundation reminded me that we all have a tool that we can use today. It is a tool that is able to help us cut through what is keeping us trapped. It is a tool that can be used to cut us out of what has trapped us, hurt us and even separated us. It is a tool that when used appropriately can lift us, and as Howard Thurman would conclude is “designed to be life affirming and not life denying.”

I invite you, no matter where you are to grab your tool and join me for just a moment. You wonder what that tool is. It’s simply the Bible. That tool is the gospel that has been read before you. It is that tool that can help us in our steps moving forward. It is the written word that sheds light on the living word. It is the passage that has been placed before us today. And we all have a tool that we can use. If we are not using it on ourselves, we can use it to help someone else in a difficult moment. And so here today, I grabbed my tool, and I hope you’re joining me, whether you’re on your couch or in your kitchens, no matter where you are, that you got your tool in front of you and are prepared to use it, not just for yourself, but for those who may be hurting and who are around you in this moment of confusion and chaos, it is here in Mark’s gospel.

We’re invited to go up into the mountain with Jesus, Peter, James and John. I invite you to do some climbing with me for just a moment. And I know there are times, we all don’t feel like climbing. We don’t feel like moving because I want to just stay right where I am, because I want it to be delivered to me or brought down to me and made convenient for me. But in order to get what God is revealing, there are times where he invites us to climb above the difficult, climb above the tough, climb above all that is going on, so that we can see beyond the problematic and the painful. So I invite you to get a better view because it is true that your view expands the higher that you climb. And so no matter where you are, there’s an invitation before each of us. There’s an invitation out of the gospel. There’s an invitation that is living in the spirit to climb just a little bit higher than where we’ve been. Whether you’re with family, whether you’re with friends, no matter who you are in relationship with, there is a time that we’re called to climb, that we might be in his presence and really live in the presence of one another.

After climbing in this text, Peter, James and John reached a certain point where high up on this mountain, it is recorded that Jesus was transfigured. His appearance was transformed and changed. His clothes were altered. Here, his presence was powerful. As Peter, James and John stood in that in the moment in that space, Elijah and Moses showed up, and a divine conversation broke out. It was in that moment of being overwhelmed, that once again, in all of his enthusiasm and perhaps his character, Peter shouted out, “Jesus, rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three dwellings. One for you, one for Moses. And one for Elijah.”

Mark records that Peter did not know what to say for he was terrified. It was at that moment that a cloud shadowed them, and a voice rang out and declared, “This is my son, the beloved listen to him.”

What happened to Peter is a mistake that happens to us. This was a divine moment where Jesus was speaking, but instead of listening, he wanted to busy himself. Sometimes we’re in such a hurry to do, that we forget that it’s important to just be. Jesus was being transformed in order that they would listen and that they, and we, who are hearing today, would be transformed. It is not just about his transformation. It is about our transformation. They were still wrestling with who Jesus was. While at the same time, they may have been wrestling with who they knew themselves to be. I would often tell my former congregation to not concern yourself with what people say about you. Concern yourself with what God is saying to you, because folk are going to talk about you and no matter what you do. And there are times that when we are walking in his likeness, people will give him something to talk about.

In certain moments, we say, “Don’t just sit there, do something.” But I say this morning, it is also true that there are times that in order to find our way, in order to see our way, in order to acknowledge the way, the truth, and the life we need to say, “Don’t just do something. Sit there.” Peter wanted to do work with his hands when he had not first done the work of his heart. The acknowledgement and the celebration of human doings should never be a good substitute for the acknowledgement and celebration of human beings. And sometimes our human doings are just substitutes for what it really means to be human beings. There’s a difference between doing and being. Just because we are doing doesn’t mean that we’re truly being. We have made significant progress in celebrating our doings, but limited progress in celebrating our being.

When I think of all who are listening acknowledging the week that has gone by and recognizing the witness of faith that has been lifted during this Black History Month. When I think of those who have gone before me, the presence of love that is being talked about on Valentine’s Day, there has always been a searching for God, and a reaching for one another. There are moments where we must reach back and grab the flame and not pick up the ashes. I reached back this morning and grabbed the flame. And I hear this morning, those who kept reaching as they would seek out and create sacred space when they were denied space. I reached back and I still hear the voices of those as they would lift, it’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh, Lord. Standing in the need of prayer. Not my mother, not my father, but it’s me, oh, Lord. Standing in the need of prayer. I reached back and I still hear the voices and, in this place, echoing around, I can feel their presence as they would under the cover of night and in divine corners. And perhaps even in prayer closets, steal away to Jesus. Even though many would cry out, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,” and declare, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” Somehow, through the mysterious and miraculous and powerful perspective of faith that was available to them, they would declare, “I don’t feel no ways tired.”

Well, today my back is straightening up a little bit. In this moment, my head is lifted a little bit higher because I’m standing in his presence. You’re in his presence in your home. You’re in his presence with the family and neighbors that are around you. And today, you ought to be able to move just a little bit more and move a little bit further by saying, “I don’t feel no ways tired,” because faith should not limit what we see or who we have been created to be. Faith should help expand what we see and give us the confidence in our being. Faith should steady our steps as we seek to move out into places that some would call difficult. As we seek to walk on water, as we seek to walk in this journey called life.

I remind you and I lift today, noted African-American preacher and justice leader, Vernon Johns. He preached a sermon years ago at the Hampton University’s Minister’s Conference and titled it “Human Destiny.” As part of that sermon, he said, as he gave witness, “Now, you know, your definition of home enlarges as you travel. If a man were to ask me in Baltimore, ‘Where do you live?’ I would say 1134 McCulloh Street. If he asked me that same question in New York, ‘Where do you live?’ I would say in Baltimore. If he asked me in Canada, ‘Where do you live?’ I would look back at him and I would say in the United States of America. If he asks me while I traveled into Europe, ‘Where do you live?’ I would say in America. He went on to say, you see your definition of home enlarges as you move out. And so he says, if my little grandchild heard that I had passed on and asked what happened to granddad, I would like for my granddaughter to say, that which drew him out of the boundless deep, turned home again.”

And, you know, as I get older and I stand with him today, I’d like to say, as someone has said, I’d like to think God is my home. So I invite you to step out of where you are and God would be your home. I think of my father on this day, I think of my parents on today. I’m thankful for an aunt who is turning 97 this year, who I know it is her faith that has kept her, her faith that has held her through difficult situations. And growing up, I remember my father being alone in the kitchen while I was doing homework out in the dining room. He would often sing about the old rugged cross. But I remember today how he would get there and in his bold, great baritone voice, remembering his father, grandfather, those who had come before him, the legacy passed from generation to generation.

And I didn’t plan on this, but he would say, “Tis the old ship of Zion. Tis the old ship of Zion. Tis the old ship of Zion. Get on board. Get on board.”

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