LSTC

Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

Let It Shine, Let It Shine, Let It Shine

The following sermon was preached by James Kenneth Echols, former President, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Wednesday, February 9, 2011.


Matthew 5:14 and 16

It seems that every President of the United States develops a certain emphasis or theme or title that is memorable and recordable. Over time, they become associated with his, and someday soon we hope to say his or her’s, administration and contribute to the legacy of history. Franklin Delano Roosevelt cannot be mentioned today apart from the invocation of the New Deal.

When we think about John Fitzgerald Kennedy, we think about the New Frontier. For five years in the mid-1960’s, Lyndon Baines Johnson sought to construct The Great Society. His successor, Richard Milhouse Nixon, was identified with an emphasis upon laws and order, and we remember Ronald Wilson Reagan, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth, as the Great Communicator. It seems that every president develops a certain emphasis or theme or title that is memorable and recordable.

These words of Jesus about light in Matthew’s Gospel remind me of an emphasis associated with this country’s 41st President, George Herbert Walker Bush. In his inaugural address of 1989 and in his State of the Union address in 1991 and, indeed, throughout his four years in office, he made a constant reference to “a thousand points of light.” For him, it was a recognition of the many individuals and organizations that were engaged in doing good works, volunteering time, and serving their neighbors in need. It was also a call to many others to become points of light, and ultimately points of light awards were given to acknowledge caring and concern.

It is not clear to me this morning from what source President Bush received and developed this emphasis. But he was at the time and may still be today a practicing Episcopalian and so it would not be surprising to discover that he heard in church somewhere along the way this Gospel text about light.

The setting is clear. Our Lord is on a mountainside surrounded by His disciples and crowds of people. The crowds had gathered to see and hear the One whose fame had spread near and far; the One who had moved throughout the region of Galilee proclaiming good news and healing the diseased; the One whom we know as the Babe of Bethlehem, the incarnate Son of God, the Light of the World. His Light, the epiphany of divine love, had already touched their lives and made a difference, and this is why they followed Him to that mountainside and gathered around Him. And they wondered what would He do next?

What Jesus did was to speak, to speak of the identity and mission of those who would be disciples. They were to be lights of the world in the midst of darkness, showing forth God’s love, illumining, guiding, exposing, revealing, attracting, warming, comforting, protecting, making a difference. In the words of Third Isaiah in chapter 58, the light of God’s people shall break forth as the bonds of injustice are loosed, as the oppressed are freed, as the hungry are fed, as the homeless are given shelter, as the naked are provided with clothing, as the needs of the afflicted are addressed.

Eventually, our Lord concluded His Sermon on the Mount, moved on to other places and continued His ministry. Yes, he continued His ministry until the powers of darkness that opposed Him nailed Him to a Cross and sealed Him in a tomb and presumed to have extinguished the Light of the World. Yet recall the words of the Psalmist who proclaimed that “weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” And, thanks be to God, as the dawn broke through the darkness on that third day, Light came forth from the tomb and shone more brightly than before. The Christ was risen and the call to God’s people to be lights was confirmed.

In a well-known sermon entitled “A Knock At Midnight,” Martin Luther King, Jr. stated at one point that “it is also midnight in our world, and the darkness is so deep that we can hardly see which way to turn.” We can see the reality of darkness all around us, whether in the newspaper or on the television or in the streets.

As much as anywhere, I encounter it in the U.S. mail that comes to me. A letter comes from the Greater Chicago Food Depository, a reminder of the darkness of hunger here and starvation around the world. And the question is, “How will our lights shine?” A letter arrives from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a reminder that the darkness of hatred is still alive and well. And the question is, “How will our lights shine?” The monthly bill from Peoples Gas comes requesting payment with a little check-off box that allows for an additional contribution of $ 1, a reminder of the darkness of heatlessness and homelessness.  

And the question is, “How will our lights shine?” Or a communication arrives from UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, a reminder of the darkness of child illness, malnourishment, neglect and underdevelopment. And the question is, “How will our lights shine?” In the midst of the world’s darkness, our Lord calls us in and through this text to be lights to the world individually and corporately, in the thousands and in the millions, through what we give, through what we do, through what we say.

One day, somewhere along the way, when I was actually paying attention in certain school, I learned that the moon's light that we see in the sky and that shines forth so brightly on a clear night is not its own. In point of fact, the moon’s light emanates from the Sun and is reflected light from the Sun. Well, sisters and brothers, as it is for the moon, so also it is for us.

The Good News of the Gospel this day is that the light that the Christ calls us to be is the Light given to us as a gracious gift through faith by the One who is the Light of the World We do not need to produce it, purchase it or earn it. It is pure gift given that we might reflect and share the Light of God’s love in a world full of darkness so that hope is restored, so that justice reigns, so that the hungry are fed, so that the naked are covered, so that the breach is repaired.

In the words that constitute the title of one of Parker Palmer’s books, Let Your Life Speak, indeed, let our lives speak as lights of God’s love.

So come to the table this day to receive in bread and wine the body and blood of the Risen One of God, the Light of the World who loves and forgives and sends us forth, both in this community here and in the world out there, individually and corporately, to be light to the glory of God. So come, receive and depart in peace singing:                            

This little light of mine, I’m goin-a let it shine;

This little light of mine, I’m goin-a let it shine;

This little light of mine, I’m goin-a let it shine;

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

 

Ev’ry where I go, I’m goin-a let it shine;

Ev’ry where I go, I’m goin-s let it shine;

Ev’ry where I go, I’m goin-a let it shine;

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

 

Jesus gave it to me, I’m goin-a let it shine;

Jesus gave it to me, I’m goin-a let it shine;

Jesus gave it to me, I’m goin-a let it shine;

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

AMEN

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Page last modified Mar 15, 2011