This Little Light of Mine

November 6, 2016 — Nancy Bancroft
Readings: Genesis 1: 1-5, John 8:1, Matthew 5: 14-16


Since Daylight Saving Time ended this morning at 2:00 a.m. I thought it apt to reflect on light.  We had three readings this morning and I could have selected many others about this topic because scripture, both Old and New Testaments, has a lot to say about light.  One that I did not choose for today is one that is often used at Christmas: Isaiah 9:2. In fact there’s a story that in a particular Sunday school class the homework assignment for the week was to read Isaiah 9. The following week the teacher asked the class how many had remembered to read the chapter. Every hand went up. “Wonderful!” she thought, “We can have a great discussion! Do you remember the first verse?” she asked. The group fell into complete silence while a few of the youngsters paged furiously through their Bibles trying to find Isaiah.

“I’ll give you a little help,” said the teacher. “The people who walked in darkness . . . who can complete the verse,” she prodded. Still no answer. “I have a candy bar for the first one who answers correctly.”

Instantly she was besieged by answers! “The people who walked in darkness . . . Used less electricity!” volunteered one.

“The people who walked in darkness stub their toes a lot!” volunteered another.

“The people who walked in darkness spend most of the time sleeping!” said still another.

“The people who walked in darkness are usually burglars,” offered another.

“The people who walked in darkness could really use a flashlight!” said one more.

And about that time someone finally found Isaiah 9 and just read it: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light!”

For most of us light is beautiful, and for all of us, light is necessary. A couple of weeks ago, after Jan and I met with the parents of our kids for our first Spiritual Development session, I drove  to Waterville to stay with friends so that I could attend an early morning event the next day sponsored by the Maine Council of Churches.  I wasn’t looking forward to the nighttime drive after a long full day, but I was greatly rewarded. For most of the trip north, I seemed to be following the low-hung Hunters Moon, which was a magnificent supermoon. It showed itself, huge and bright orange directly in front of me for almost the whole trip. What a blessing. If you missed seeing it, there are two more in store this year. When the full moon appears on November 14, it will be the closest full moon to date in the 21st century; the closest since 1948 and will appear much larger and brighter than usual. The next similar full moon won’t be until November 24, 2034. So, let’s hope for clear skies.

Most of us love big bright moons and clear sunny days.  It’s about light. Many of our celebrations involve light.  We celebrate birthdays with candles on cakes.  We solemnify religious services by lighting candles. Very soon we will see candles in windows and lights strung up in city centers, on houses, on trees inside and outside of homes as people prepare to celebrate Christmas.

Light is important for us to maneuver safely and to feel secure. Perhaps you can remember as a child being afraid of the dark. There was a magazine article a while back that had an interview with Stephen King. In it King revealed that he only writes in the morning; never at night. “It is too scary to write at night, with the stuff that comes from my pen”, he said.  Even Stephen King realizes the power of darkness.

Last week Tom and I took advantage of the extra time Laity Sunday allowed me and went to Massachusetts where we took two of our grandchildren to a hotel for a night.  When it was time for bed, one of them asked where the nightlight was.  I suggested that we didn’t need one since we were all sleeping in the same room. That explanation was only reluctantly accepted.

I struggle with seasonal affective disorder and by September start feeling anxious knowing that by October I will wrestle with depression and fatigue due to shorter days; less light. For the last eighteen years I’ve used a light box or therapeutic light starting in October, and it has made a huge difference in my mood, my energy and outlook.

Today we heard the author of Genesis describe his understanding of creation.  The earth was formless, empty, and dark. And the first thing that the Spirit of God recognized as necessary was light. Light is introduced first in the drama of creation. It is needed to begin life and to continue the life that has begun.  And in its creation, God saw that it was good.

In our second reading, Jesus, on the last day of the Feast of the Tabernacles, when the Temple courts were lighted at night by two large menorahs, uses them as a backdrop to boldly claim: “I am the Light of the world.”  Notice that Jesus does not declare himself as merely the Light of Israel–but the Light of the entire world.  Light reveals truth.  Light dispels doubts. We can read the gospels and reflect on the words and actions of Jesus to light our path, to clarify our decision-making, to help us see what is good, and right, and just and loving. But if this light is going to be the Light of the world for all time, then we need to act on the third reading, the reading from Matthew when Jesus teaches the people who have come to hear him, “You are the light of the world.”  He puts it on us. If the Light of love, of justice, of goodness is to shine, we need to be the ones to do it.  Thankfully, throughout history groups and individuals have done just that.

During the civil rights era in our own nation as the marchers prepared for the hostile crowds and beatings by police, they sang “This little light of mine–I’m gonna let it shine.” It was a powerful reminder to them of what the purpose and focus of their witness was. They could not use the tactics and strategies of darkness, but they could show forth a more excellent way. They reflected the light of God’s love, respect for the dignity of all and a mandate for justice.

Years ago, at the height of her influence and witness, television reporters showed a scene from Mother Teresa’s life’s work. It was after the bombing in Beirut by the Israelis in which many civilians were killed. The bombing was in retaliation for a bombing that had killed some Jewish citizens. It showed Mother Teresa placing two girls wounded by fragments of the bombs into an ambulance. One of the reporters asked if she thought that her relief efforts made any difference. Haven’t these conflicts gone on forever and was there really any hope for change in the region? She stared at them with her piercing eyes and asked, “Don’t you think we ought to help the children?” To every question they asked and comment they made she just replied, “Don’t you think we ought to help the children?” Mother Teresa knew the purpose of her life was to be a reflection of the Light. Regardless of how dark it was, she was to shine a light. They were asking her about success in terms of long-term outcomes and she was simply concerned about being faithful.

Sometimes it’s like we are wearing head lamps. The path is so dark and the light only shines our way for the next step. But if we courageously and generously take that one, we will see more of the route ahead.  It’s important that we not underestimate the value of our light and our witness; even if it only seems to be a drop in the bucket. Today’s reading from Matthew states, “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”  We never know who will see our light and who will need it for encouragement or support.

The passage from Matthew continues, “. . .nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Our house these days needs lots of light. Whether we watch the international news and see the devastation in Syria or focus on what’s going on here at home, the darkness has led many people give way to cynicism and despair.

Scottish novelist, poet, essayist, and travel writer Robert Louis Stevenson was sickly much of his life and so spent a lot of time looking out the window from his bed. One evening Stevenson was doing exactly that. These were the days before electric lights and timers and Stevenson saw the town lamplighter coming along the street. As the lamplighter lit the street lights in succession, Stevenson became quite overwhelmed. He wrote in his journal about the lamplighter who went along “punching holes in the darkness.”  Upon reflection, it seems that this was the mission of Jesus; to punch holes in the darkness. And as professed followers of Jesus, as individuals and as a church this is our mission as well. We live in a world that at times appears very dark.  The world very much needs us to radiate the Light of love, respect, tolerance, hope and joy.  We are fortunate to be able to gather here together, to temporarily distance ourselves from the darkness and find strength from ritual, from the word and from the assembly so that we can return and punch holes in the darkness. And we have two opportunities next week to punch some holes.  The first is by voting on Tuesday. Due to the unprecedented vitriol that has bombarded us for months many people have a negative view of both major candidates running for president and as a result are voicing their intention to stay away from the poles. It’s important, I believe, to demonstrate that we don’t take our right and privilege to vote for granted. Second, Seeds of Hope is hosting a continuous day of prayer this Tuesday for the healing of our communities and nation.  Stopping in for a few minutes would be a wonderful way to bear witness to the Light.

Scientists tell us that there are four grand essentials necessary for human life to be sustained and nourished. They are air, water, light, and food.  Today as a church we focus on the latter two. Jesus proclaimed not only, “I am the light of the world.”  He also stated, “I am the bread of life”. Jesus offers to nurture us, and strengthen us for the journey, even when it is dark. You are invited now to come to the table.