Absalom, Pauli, Ruby, Rosa, Martin and Bayard
Imagine standing in a pervasive darkness – mid-winter is such a time - wars, rumors of wars, struggles in the streets, natural catastrophes, not to mention the painful darkness of our nation’s cities day and night, and the darkness of fear and loss and uncertainty that threatens to darken from within. Darkness can be a pervasive state of being.
Imagine a single source of light casting a beam, a laser-like beam, through the darkness not casting light in all directions, but throwing one bar of light through the darkness. A narrow band of light shining through the darkness, not vanquishing the darkness, neither vanquished by the darkness. Like moths we may be drawn to the light, light that reveals what is truly all around us. Or, we may choose to continue to hide in the darkness preferring not to see beyond the narrow confines of our own little minds, beliefs and fears.
Or, think of the Earth – it turns in a light, as the poet W.S. Merwin reminds us in his poem, Nocturne, “that is not its own/with the complete course of life upon it/born to brief reflection…”
The earth does not produce light for the universe, it reflects the light of the Sun. 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.
Then there is the light of the Son, the Word, the Son of God, Jesus. Jesus who says, “You are the light of the world.” We are light. We can light the world. Like the Earth itself, we are not the source of the light. We can, however, reflect the light of the Son, the light that St. John tells us the darkness cannot apprehend, cannot comprehend, cannot control, cannot vanquish. As we reflect the light of the Son of God we become the light itself.
In every age there are those who reflect this light and become this light. People like Isaiah and St. Paul. People like William Wilberforce, Hannah Moore and the Abolitionists. In this month of Black History we recall names like 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 being light in the world inspired the likes of Martin King and Bayard Rustin, Rosa Parks and Ruby Bridges, 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 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. 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,” so that we may “let our light shine before others…” all others at all times and in all places.
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, a slave, who worked to secure 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 and every one of us to be regenerated as reflectors of this light into all the dark corners in these cold and dreary days of winter and darkness.
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 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. No person, no country is the source of this light. But there are those who turn to this light and reflect this light. When we join with them it creates more and more light, less and less darkness. There is no time to hide in the darkness. The time is now to shine in the darkness. Amen.