Sunday, July 28, 2013

fireflies--a sermon for 28 July 2013

Rev. Teri Peterson
John 1, Isaiah 58.6-9, Matthew 5.13-16
28 July 2013, Singing Faith 8

Shine Jesus Shine
Christ Be Our Light
(illumination: Open My Eyes)
Here I Am Lord

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,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
 your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. 
 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’

In Thailand there are stretches of riverbank that light up at night, like a Christmas light display synchronized with music. The lights are so bright that they can assist boatmen in navigating their way through the pitch black night. On and off tens of thousands of tiny lights flash, all in perfect unison as they play their silent rhythm. It’s a wonder of the world, one that scientists have been studying for two generations now. How is it possible that all the lights flash in unison?

The flashes come from fireflies, which usually flash individually, each in their own unique pattern. Even the synchronous fireflies in the Smoky Mountains aren’t as perfect as these—it’s as perfect as a Christmas display in the movies. There’s no one firefly keeping time or sending out signals that tell the other thousands of fireflies what to do—they just do it, and the result is enough intermittent light to navigate a winding river. It’s amazing to us, but it’s just how the fireflies are made—to light up the night together.*

And Jesus said: you are the light of the world.

That’s it. No written music, no conductor telling us when and where to shine, just: you are the light of the world.

It’s almost as if he’s saying: this is who you’re made to be and what you’re made to do, so…just do it.

For some reason this is much easier said than done.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s hard because we’ve gotten it in our heads that it’s this little light of MINE, and I have to let it shine. It’s a lot of pressure to create light out of nothing, or out of our interior life, and shine it into the immense darkness of the world. It feels almost pointless. Especially once we start pondering just what it means to let our light shine anyway. A couple of weeks ago when I asked this question, there was a lot of uncomfortable silence—none of us are really sure what it means to let my light shine in everyday life. How do I generate my light and shine it at work, at school, on the morning commute, at the dinner table?

Isaiah gives us some pointers—when we do justice, when we feed the hungry and free the captive and house the homeless, even at cost to ourselves, our light will break forth like the dawn. Not just when we pray for the hungry, but when we share our own food with them. Not just when we donate to a group that helps the homeless, but when we bring them into our house. Not just when we group people together and call them “the hungry” and “the homeless” and “the sick”—as if people can be defined by a circumstance—but when we recognize them as us, our kin, our family, fellow children of God worthy of love and hope and dignity and food and shelter and healthcare and meaningful work. When we erase the boundaries and all people are loved, not just with feelings but with actions, then, Isaiah says, our light will be as bright as the noon sun, and we will find that God is right by our side.

And Jesus says: let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God. Not to give glory to us, who do all this hard work generating light for the world, but to God.

Which is our clue, our reminder: this isn’t about me letting my little light shine at all. This is about the true light of the world, that is the life of all people, the word of light that broke the first darkness, shining through me into the world. It’s not my light, it’s not your light—Christ is the light of the world, and we are the image, the reflection of God’s glory. We’re the lens that enables the light to be seen far and wide. When we sing our prayer for Christ to be our light, we’re not prompting him as though he forgot to flip the switch—we’re asking for help in being a mirror rather than a bushel basket covering the light.

So take a deep breath and relax a little bit—you don’t have to create the light! It’s not your light to shine. It’s a matter of letting Christ shine in you, rather than being a covering that keeps the light from doing its thing. That does make it seem a bit easier to contemplate all those big things Isaiah says, and all those big things we sing about—becoming shelter and bread and hope, being sent to a world in need of healing and a good word. We don’t have to make ourselves—we are already fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, ready to reflect God’s glory to others. Or, as Marianne Williamson puts it, “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.”

Everyone. born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. We’re created to shine, not to cover up the light.

and Jesus said: you are the light of the world.

Not you singular, but you plural.

And Paul wrote: Now you are the body of Christ.

Not you singular, but you plural.

We’re created to shine—together. Not just as individuals, but as the body of Christ. One firefly is fun and pretty…and unpredictable, and grows dim if he continues to be the only one. Ten thousand fireflies all shining their lights in unison can illuminate the darkness like nothing we’ve ever seen.

In the words of the hymn: shine, Lord, in your church gathered today. What would happen if the body of Christ could get so in sync that we could shine God’s light into the world in unison? If we were all pursuing the same goal at the same time—say, doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God. Breaking down barriers and building up the kingdom of God with every meal shared with a neighbor, every conversation with someone on the opposite side of an issue. Loving people and speaking peace through the storms of life as well as we celebrate the joys. Being a kingdom force for grace and positive change in our world. Of course, that would require that we as a body spend time discerning just who we are in this place and time, and what God calls us to do here on this corner of Palatine. It takes work to get to the point of all working toward the same goal. But imagine: if we were all sharing the same good news that God is love, that grace abounds…maybe our lights could shine together, rather than one at a time, and we might just find that the light could illuminate the darkness like nothing we’ve ever seen. It would be amazing to behold, but we would just be like the fireflies, doing what we were made to do.

Marianne Williamson continues, “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” This is exactly what scientists think happens with the fireflies—one wakes up, then others around it join in, and more and more join in until everyone’s rhythm is so perfectly synchronized that you can’t tell where it began. It’s not that there’s a leader as much as that there was one firefly willing to get the ball rolling, and pretty soon everyone had permission to let the light shine.

The light’s not just in some of us, it’s in all of us, planted there by the One who created light and called us to live as children of light. We were born to let it shine. So when God calls, asking for someone to throw off the bushel basket and let the light of God’s kingdom shine through acts of justice and mercy and love, who will answer? Will we step up and say “Here I am?” Or maybe even better: here we are?

You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven.

May it be so. Amen.

*heard on the RadioLab episode “Emergence” and confirmed by

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