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A Holy Earworm -- This Little Light of Mine

"Then your light shall break forth like the dawn."
"Then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like noonday."
"Light shines forth in the darkness for the upright."
"You are the light of the world... let your light shine before others."

 Do you know what an ear worm is? It's a song that you just can't get out of your head, no matter how hard you try. I have had an ear worm in my mind all week as I have been reflecting on these lessons and preparing this sermon.

 🎶        This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine            🎶

🎶        This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine            🎶

🎶        This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine            🎶

🎶     Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.     🎶

 Over and over and over again. I cannot get it out of my head.

 This trinity, trilogy, trifecta of seasons we are in - Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany - are all about light.

 In Advent, we prepared for the light to come. In Christmas, we welcomed and we celebrated the light born in the manger. In Epiphany, we have been seeing that light go out into the world. And throughout these three seasons of light, we have been hearing a lot from Isaiah as our first reading. Not every week, but the vast majority of them: 9 out of last 11 Sundays have included a reading from Isaiah! And we read from Isaiah, because Isaiah knew a lot about darkness and light. As we talked about back in December, so we won't go over all of it again, just a little refresher, Isaiah was writing in a time of great darkness. The people had been exiled from their homes. Everything they knew, everything they understood about the world, had been uprooted, and the people now suffered greatly under a ruler that they did not want. "By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept," the psalmist wrote at this time. This period of time was a time of great, deep darkness. And Isaiah in the midst came to bring hope from God, to bring light in the midst of the darkness.

 In Advent, we expectantly, hopefully heard those words from Isaiah of a future light: "In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall stream to it... come, let us walk in the light of the Lord." In Christmas, we heard of that light now come: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." Notice: have seen, not will see. "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness -- on them light has shined... For a child has been born for us, a son given for us." On Christmas, we now understand those words to be referring for us to the birth of the baby born in a manager, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

 This light we waited for in Advent arrived in Christmas, and in Epiphany, that light shined out into the world. "A light to the nations," we heard Isaiah say on both the First and Second Sundays of this season. A light to the nations, a light to the ends of the earth, a light for every dark nook and cranny of this world.

 In our reading from Isaiah today, though, we get a slightly different take on the light. It is not the light that God is shining that Isaiah speaks of today, at least not the light that God is shining directly, but our light. "Then your light shall break forth like the dawn... then your light shall rise in the darkness." And we hear Jesus echoing Isaiah's words in our Gospel reading today: "You are the light of the world... No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light all in the house, in the same way, let your light shine before others."

 Oh, that bushel. Here comes that ear worm again!

🎶        Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine     🎶

🎶        Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine     🎶

🎶        Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine     🎶

🎶     Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.      🎶

That light that we waited for in Advent, and celebrated in Christmas, and watched go forth in Epiphany is now our responsibility to shine.

 We who are the Body of Christ - by virtue of our baptism, we became a part of that body - are now tasked with shining forth the light of Christ. Let your light shine before others, Jesus says.

 🎶        This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine            🎶

🎶        This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine            🎶

🎶        This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine            🎶

🎶       Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.              🎶

 And how do we let our light shine? Isaiah tells us today. It is quite clear. "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn... If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday."

 We let our light shine through our actions of justice, mercy, grace, truth, peace, and love. We let our light shine when we bring nourishment to places of hunger, and refreshment to places of thirst, and dignity to places of shame, and hope to places of despair. That will let our light shine.

We are trying to do that here as a community, as the people of St. Mary's, through our many ministries of feeding the hungry, and housing the homeless, and welcoming the refugee. We are letting our light shine before others.

 But it is also the task of each one of us as we go out into the world today and every day. In our schools, offices, and homes. To let our light shine in the work that we are doing, in the relationships in which we engage. It means that the doctor lets her light shine by offering dignity to her patients: a kind smile, an extra minute, a sense of compassion for the pain and struggle that the patient is encountering. It means that the teacher lets his light shine by offering respect to his students: remembering that he, too, was once in that seat. It means that the lawyer lets her light shine by caring for the downtrodden and seeking the truth. It means that the husband lets his light shine by loving his spouse and treating his spouse as an equal partner. It means that each and every one of us, in whatever place we find ourselves, begins to recognize the image of God found in those whom we encounter, and we start asking ourselves, how can I honor that image of God in that person? That will shine our light out into the world.

That's not the end of the song though, is it? It isn't just about shining our light, and keeping it out from under that bushel. There is that other verse:

 🎶        Ain't nobody gonna blow it out, I'm gonna let it shine          🎶

🎶        Ain't nobody gonna blow it out, I'm gonna let it shine          🎶

🎶        Ain't nobody gonna blow it out, I'm gonna let it shine          🎶

🎶 Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.  🎶

That is the hardest part, isn't it? In the midst of so much darkness in this world - and there is so much darkness out there - to not get discouraged and disappointed. To not let them blow out your light. When the forces of pain and evil get the upper hand for a while, when it seems like love is losing, it is easy to get discouraged and let that darkness overtake. It is hard to resist the darkness that wants to blow out our lights. And it is hard to resist the flip side: isolating ourselves to avoid the darkness, which in turn will just extinguish our light by suffocation as we hide our light under the bushel, preventing the light from getting needed oxygen.

And so, we have to keep letting this light shine. We have to muster the courage to keep going out into the darkness, and letting our light shine. We have to let our light break forth like the dawn, we have to let it rise in the darkness, and turn our darkest hours into noonday. We have to join Christ in taking this light to the darkest corners of our lives, to the darkest corners of this world. We have to let this song become not only an ear worm, which I hope it will be for you this week, but I hope it is more than that, I hope it is a daily call to engage in justice, peace, mercy, grace, truth, and love.

 That is our task. That is our work. To keep shining the light of Christ. And so, my sisters and brothers in Christ, why don't you join me? Pull out those lights ☝️and join me in singing this song. I know it is a bit silly, a bit childish, I know it is not the reserved Episcopal/Anglican thing to do, but be not afraid, be not ashamed: pull out those lights and let that light shine before others.

 🎶        This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine            🎶

🎶        This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine            🎶

🎶        This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine            🎶

🎶                    Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.                🎶

🎶        Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine     🎶

🎶 🎶 🎶

 🎶        Ain't nobody gonna blow it out, I'm gonna let it shine          🎶

🎶 🎶 🎶

 🎶        This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine            🎶

🎶 🎶 🎶

 

 

Sermon for 5 Epiphany, Year A

February 5, 2017

Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112:1-10

Matthew 5:13-20