Transfiguration/Black History Month
February has been designated as Black History Month,
and one of the reasons Black History Month was established was to be able to celebrate and learn from black individuals from our shared past.
In fact, there is no separate history for different people,
only separate points of view based upon their experience of the same events.
And to that point, what we study in school is really American history,
that is, world history from the American perspective,
and therefore will sound different from history lessons taught in another country.
Similarly, in church history, often the story that gets told is from the perspective of the majority and the experience of the minority is forgotten and lost.
Therefore, today, I'd like to share with you the story of Rosa young,
the so called, “mother of black Lutheranism in Alabama,”
as she strove to lift up and free the people of her part of the world
from illiteracy and ignorance through Christian education.
Born the 4th of 10 children
to Reverend Grant Young, an Episcopal minister, and his wife Nancy in 1890 in rosebud Alabama
she was also the granddaughter of slaves.
After completing all the levels of schooling available to her in Wilcox county, (6th grade),
they sent her to Payne University in Selma where she graduated as the valedictorian in 1909
with the theme of her speech centering on service to others.
She quickly obtained her teaching credentials and became a traveling teacher
which was common for the time
because of a law which required state funding for a local school would be withdrawn
if classes could not be held due to a lack of qualified teachers.
And since there were few qualified African American teachers
schools would often have to close
unless a teacher could teach at multiple schools.
By 1912 she was moved to return to rosebud to start a private school
where such pressures did not exist and where religious instruction could happen as well.
With funding from both white and black families
the school was started in an unused barn and 115 students enrolled the first year
and 215 the second.
However, the local economy collapsed in 1914 when the Mexican Boll Weevil decimated cotton production.
Consequently many people lost their jobs and parents were not able to pay the tuition for their students to attend Rosa’s school.
She reached out farther to tap new donors, but by 1915 the school was on the brink of closing
AT THAT TIME she reached out to Booker T Washington
who suggested she reach out to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
and other church bodies who might be able to help,
but especially the LCMS who had shown interest and commitment to working with all sorts of people groups.
Well, the LCMS was, indeed, interested.
And was in fact, the only church that wrote her back and sent her reverend Nils Baake
to help stabilize the school,
bring with him funds,
as well as management experience.
Baake focused on management and tending to the property
while Rosa focused on teaching and advising Reverend Baake.
In addition to teaching the children
the school now offered instruction for the parents and other adults in the in the community
and on Palm Sunday, 1916, 58 were baptized and 70 baptized believers were confirmed
into the new Lutheran Church they had formed, Christ Lutheran Church.
The success of the school led other communities to reach out and inquire about starting schools in their areas.
In addition to 30 such elementary schools being started,
in 1922 the LCMS also opened Concordia College in Selma as an open-admission college
Based upon her ideas for recruiting young people to complete their education
And at which Rosa taught from 1946 to 1961 when poor health forced her to retire.
As I was preparing for this sermon it struck me how Rose's work was much like Moses work,
especially as we are given the texts for transfiguration Sunday.
God took Moses up to Mount Nebo to show him the promised land into which the children of Israel were being led.
His job was complete.
For 40 years he kept them faithful to God
and taught them how to follow God by obeying the 10 commandments.
He established the form of worship God commanded
and oversaw the construction of the Tabernacle,
a movable, tentlike temple where God resided in the midst of the people.
Moses had prepared them well, but now it was time for Israel to stand on its own.
So there, on mountain Nebo, is where Moses died and was buried and was laid to rest.
“well done, good and faithful servant.”
We next see Moses in our Gospel lesson with Jesus and Elijah and Peter and James and John
and Peter is so impressed he wants to set up a shrine to them all.
The leaders of the past and his current leader Jesus.
But Moses and Elijah were not there to be honored,
but to acknowledge that their work had finally been completed
and the prophecies fulfilled in Jesus.
That they were turning over the reigns of Israel to Jesus.
And as the clouds enveloped them all we hear God's voice confirm,
“this is my son, my chosen one; Listen to him!”
The work Moses did was not just about the exodus from slavery, but life with God once they had their freedom.
If it was just about the freedom itself,
he could have walked away from that miserable, complaining, lot
when they were on the other side of the Red Sea.
But God called Moses to be their leader in faith so that Israel would not walk away from God in their newfound freedom.
Similarly, Rosa young, (whose grandparents were slaves before being freed after the civil war),
saw that the freedom which came from education
also required a firm foundation of Christian teaching
so that one would not lose faith in the process.
For, one who rises up out of poverty through education
might be tempted to think it was completely by their own means
and their own doing and effort
and, therefore, be tempted to think they didn't need God anymore.
But the child who is taught with Christ at the center of all things
learns that in everything we do and learn,
above all we must heed that voice from God which says, “this is my Son, listen to him!”
Surely, the forming of so many schools could have been quite a point of pride for Rosa young.
But throughout her career, her goal was always to be in the classrooms,
interacting with children, teaching them,
but also sharing with them the good news about Jesus.
She led with a servant's heart from the very beginning.
She listened to Jesus her whole life until 1971 when Jesus said to her,
“come home, Rosa. Well done, good and faithful servant.”
“you listen to Me and did as I commanded by following the Great Commission
and by leading hundreds if not thousands of children to the promised land of faith.”
More than just an interesting history lesson, there is a message here for you and me as well.
As horrible as slavery was for Israel,
what moved God to action was his love for them
and their cries of despair and the real prospect of their losing faith.
Moses's mission to free Israel was a mission to preserve faith in God when it was facing extinction.
And while the children of Rosa’s community certainly could have been educated in a broken public system that might eventually be fixed,
she knew the confidence and freedom which came, not only from education,
but also, the hope which comes from faith in Jesus Christ.
And when one has both confidence in this life and hope in the life to come there is nothing in this world that can bring you down.
There are many things which distract us from what's important.
Whether it's the sin of slavery and segregation, or the distractions of wealth, or problems with family,
we are tempted to fix our own lives by earthly means and forget about divine intervention.
Israel, with its 600,000 men and all of their families could have overpowered the Egyptians.
The freedom marches in the 1960s didn't have to be peaceful protests.
Rosa young could have fought the laws of the day to demand better public schools
and might have been jailed or killed
especially in the early days of her ministry in the 19teens and 1920’s.
But in each of these cases God's servants listened to God and followed his ways instead of the ways of men.
And God does things very differently than mankind tends to do.
When man says fight fire with fire, God says fight fire with water.
“Believe and be baptized and you will be saved.” (Mark 16:16)
When men say, “Hate your enemies,”
Jesus says, “love your enemies.” (Matt 5:44)
and, “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12-30-31
when the world says, “trust your instincts,”
God says, “trust the Lord your God with all your heart…and lean not on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5)
Throughout life God wants us to not only follow Jesus as his disciples, but to, “listen to him!” because he holds the keys to eternal life.
And while this is certainly vital for ensuring the eternal life of every Christian,
the church at large must also learn to, “listen to him.”
throughout history the church has chosen to not listen to him at times
and has found itself far from God,
and in need of a reformation.
Even at the congregational level we can fall prey to the dangers of not listening to Jesus
and leaning on our own thoughts and ideas about what is right, wrong, or proper,
as we go about being the church here in this place and at this time.
This week let us all pray about how we can faithfully listen to Jesus.
Whether in our personal walk of faith, or as a congregation, or even as a denomination,
let us always strive to block out the destructive advice of this world,
and instead, follow the truly wise words from our Lord and Savior
to the ends of the work to which he leads us.
In the name of Jesus I pray it. Amen.