6 February 2011/Epiphany5A - Matthew 5:13-20
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Episcopal Church, Baltimore
Let Your Light Shine
The middle of winter is usually a dark time. The days are short -often cloudy. There is rain, freezing rain and snow. Add to that the darkness of the world around us - wars, rumors of wars, struggles in the streets, natural catastrophes, not to mention the painful darkness of this city day and night, and the darkness that threatens to take over the life of the church. Darkness can be a pervasive state of being.
Last Sunday as I was preparing to celebrate the Eucharist, I read a poem that got me to think about light - a central metaphor in our Lord's continuing Sermon on the Mount. W. S Merwin in a poem titled Nocturne writes:
The stars emerge one/by one into the names
that were last found for them/far back in other
darkness no one remembers/by watchers whose own
names were forgotten/later in the dark
and as the night deepens/other lumens begin
to appear around them/as though they were shining
through the same instant/from a single depth of age
though the time between/each one of them
and its nearest neighbor/contains in its span
the whole moment of the earth/turning in a light
that is not its own/with the complete course
of life upon it/born to brief reflection
recognition and anguish/from one cell evolving
to remember daylight/laughter and distant music
I was struck by the words, "the whole moment of the earth/turning in a light/that is not its own."
The earth does not produce light for the universe, it reflects the light of the Sun and other stars. As we turn, we move from light to darkness to light and to darkness over and over again, 365 times a year. Any light that we make on earth is recycled Sun light stored as coal, oil, natural gas, tallow, beeswax, all of which can be made to produce light - but its source is still the Sun.
Jesus says we are "the light of the world." Just as Simeon says about the baby Jesus as his parents bring him to dedicate him at the Jerusalem Temple, he will be "light to enlighten the gentiles.". Echoing the prophet Isaiah, "I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations." (Is 42:6b) Which in turn echoes God's promise to make Abraham and his descendents a blessing to "all the families of the earth." (Gen 12:3b)
Isaiah says those who are "light of the world" do so to "open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness." (Is 42:7)
These words have inspired many. One we remember this week, Absalom Jones, the first African American priest in the Episcopal Church. Another would be Pauli Murray, the first African American woman made a priest in our church. These words about light inspired the likes of Martin and Bayard, Rosa and Ruby and countless others who stood amidst a world of darkness and shined the light of Christ into every corner of this darkened land to secure the freedom for all people - be they black or white, male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free.
Like the earth, they were not the light itself - the light that St. John says is life - the light that St. John says shines in the darkness, "and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:4-5) When Jesus says that "You are the light of the world," he means that as the earth reflects the light of the sun, as we recycle the stored light of the sun, we are to reflect the Light of Christ - we are to absorb and store his light within us such that whenever it is needed, we can be the "light of the world."
And Lord knows, the world is in need of a powerful lot of light! Jesus has chosen us to shine his light into the dark corners of this world - to open the eyes of those who cannot see the injustices that are wrought upon God's people in the names of power, corporate interests, national security and any number of sources of darkness and its sister, oppression. Absalom Jones, a man who secured his wife's freedom before his own, a man who would not sit in the balcony but would one day stand at the Altar of the Lord reflected this light. Sister Pauli who herself would stand at that same Altar to let the world see and hear that a black woman could represent the light of Christ to the world reflected his light.
Each of us carries at least a spark of the light of Christ. Gather our sparks together and we can light the whole world!
We sometimes forget the power of a simple song to shine light into the world. Whenever I listen to Paul Robeson sing it, This Little Light of Mine reverberates through my heart and soul to remind me why I was washed in the blood of the lamb at Baptism - to join my light with that of Absalom, Pauli, Ruby, Rosa, Martin and Bayard, and with each one of us here this day to be regenerated as ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ on this dark corner of our city in these cold and dreary days of winter.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
Everywhere I go, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
All through the night, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
In order for the light to be seen, we must go where darkness exists. If you want to look at the stars, writes Annie Dillard, you find that darkness is necessary.
The light we are called to be shines in all darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
And for that simple truth we say,