Shining Like the Sun
In a few minutes we will sing everybody’s favorite chorus, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” It gives voice and sound to the fundamental element of the Christian life, even of human life: that we live in a world with too much darkness, we live in a world in need of light. To be a Christian is to shine like the sun in a world full of darkness. To be a Christian is to be the light in somebody’s darkness. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. Do not put your candle under a bushel.”
The Bible describes creation with these words: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the face of the deep.” Darkness covered the face of the deep. That must be the way Ukrainians feel about their country and their civilization. Darkness covers the face of their deep. Four million people have fled the country, Entire cities are bombed into ruins. Thousands are dead. It is a darkness of danger, despair, and death. It is the darkness of war.
Darkness is a metaphor for the many kinds of evil in the world. Depression, loneliness, and anger are three forms of darkness that overwhelm the individual. Often, there is no one to blame. Often, they are not the result of behavior or attitude. They are part of that original darkness that creeps back into the world.
In that first moment, God said, “Let there be light” and there was light: the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night. But sometimes the darkness swells up again and overwhelms the light; it sweeps over the soul and pushes the spirit into despair.
Do you know somebody who suffers from depression? It is hard to find any light that can penetrate that darkness, isn’t it? Neither laughter nor sunshine can push away that darkness. Some people try one medicine after another in their attempt to find a little sunshine.
Poverty, hunger, isolation, and incarceration hide the sun and bring the dark. This is why Jesus told us to give to the poor, feed the hungry, befriend the lonely, and visit the prisoner. Be the light in somebody’s darkness. Be a star in somebody’s night. Light a candle in somebody’s tunnel.
Years ago, I was living in Jerusalem. My mentor Dale Moody was there also. He was on sabbatical. I was too young to know what a sabbatical is!
We were carted to the Gihon Spring, in the Kidron Valley just on the edge of modern-day Jerusalem. It is a spring of fresh water that, naturally, flows into the valley, through the Wilderness, and into the Dead Sea. But during the times of the prophets and kings that water was diverted through a tunnel to the other side, the west side, of the Jerusalem ridge. It was redirected to a pool of water that came to be known as the Pool of Siloam.
That Pool figures into a story in the gospel accounts of Jesus. “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam,” Jesus told the man.
That water tunnel is named Hezekiah’s Tunnel. It is about 1800 feet long. It is, in most places, two feet wide. In some places, it is more than 15 feet high; but in other places it is less than six feet high. With water up to the waist, there is not much room. And it is dark. “Bring a flashlight with you,” the guidebooks say. Many people cannot handle it. Too claustrophobic!
Dr. Dale Moody and I both had flashlights. But a few yards into the tunnel, his flashlight went dark. When you are in a dark place, you need somebody with a light: a candle, a flashlight, a cell phone. When you are in a dark place, you need somebody with a light: moonlight, star light, sun light. When you are in a dark place, you need somebody who shines like the sun, like a star in a dark sky.
“Live as children of God, shining like a bright light in a world full of crooked and perverse people.”
Paul the apostle was in prison, perhaps in Rome, perhaps in Caesarea, when he wrote this letter. For most people that would be a dark place. Have you ever been in prison? I spent several hours in jail after being arrested. That doesn’t count. I told that story last week at our Sunday dinner. See what you miss? But a few hours does not count. Many people are in jail for life. Our jails and prisons are bad enough; but many jails and prisons around the world are much more dangerous, much more deadly, much darker.
Yet Paul the apostle was a bright light in the prison. Earlier, he had been in prison in Philippi. That is the time an earthquake struck the city, according to the account in Acts. The foundations of the jail were compromised; the jailer was afraid the prisoners would escape and he would lose his job (or his head). The account includes this detail: the earthquake struck while Paul and Silas were singing!
There is no indication their music caused the earthquake! But their singing was the occasion of that shaking. They were singing, and the earth was shaking! Their singing was, itself, the sunshine beaming into the darkness of a prison.
Bryan Stevenson is a Harvard-trained lawyer. Instead of taking employment with the federal government or a corporate law firm, Bryan went to work on behalf of people wrongly incarcerated. The jails of the United States are overcrowded, and some of these inmates were wrongly accused, wrongly judged, and wrongly jailed. Brian has spent his life with what he calls the Equal Justice Initiative. He wrote about it his book Just Mercy. It is inspired by the writing of the Hebrew prophet Micah who challenges us to do justice and love mercy. Watch the movie version of his story, also entitled “Just Mercy.”
Bryan Stevenson is a bright light of the gospel shining like the sun.
Jeff Bezos is the founder of Amazon. He is worth an estimated 177 billion dollars. I received in the mail this week two things from Amazon. Their total value is less than $40. That is the difference between him and me! I buy cheap stuff and he makes billions.
Three years ago, Bezos and his wife divorced. Her name is MacKenzie Scott. She is the third wealthiest woman in the world, with a fortune of $62 billion. She has pledged to give away half her fortune. Last year, she gave billions, much of it directed toward HBCUs: Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Earlier this year she gave $436 million to Habitat for Humanity.
MacKenzie Scott is a bright light of the gospel shining like the sun.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy is the president of Ukraine. He wasn’t always a public leader. For years, he was a comic, an actor, a performer. But now he is the president of a nation under attack. He is today the leader of the free world. He is the defender of democracy. He is a hero to his people and to people everywhere.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a bright light of the gospel shining like the sun.
I do not know if each or any of these three people are professing Christians. But I know this: they are living and leading and serving like Jesus himself: courageous, confident, compassionate, caring for the least of these and showing kindness that can only come from the source of all light and life, the one and only living God.
You and I are not rich, or famous, or influential like these three. You and I are simple people, common people, ordinary people. But we are Christian people. We call Jesus Lord and Savior. We are followers of The Way. We have been baptized into Christ. Paul, in writing to the Romans, said baptism is like being buried with Christ and rising to new life. I remember all the details of my baptism more than 60 years ago. I feel the water. I hear the sounds. I see the people. I remember what the pastor said to me. I was baptized into Christ. I want to live like Christ.
All of us want to be courageous and compassionate and caring people. We want to shine like the stars, shine like the sun, shine like Jesus our Lord.
You are shining, Providence. You are shining!
For all the underfed, malnourished people in our community, you are shining like the sun. Every Sunday for more than a decade, week in and week out, people come to our space here and eat a healthy meal. They are welcomed. They are served. They are fed. Regardless of color or creed, regardless of gender or marital status, regardless of personal history or living situation, they come to Providence; they come to bask in the sun, so to speak.
You, Providence, are shining like the sun on all these people.
You are shining like the sun, Providence, upon all the Christian women in our community. They need to hear the gospel word: you are worthy, your are capable, you are called, you are equipped, you can take the lead and read the word and preach the gospel; you can take charge and pastor and preach and exercise the servant leader authority in the Christian community.
For 21 years, it has been so among us. Our founding pastor and her two successors are women. We give thanks for this. We are blinded by the gospel light it is so close to us! But many of our brothers and sisters in the faith are living in the shadows! They still practice the subordination, even the subjugation of women in the church and in the country.
But we have seen the light! And we are shining!
You are shining like the sun, Providence, upon all our queer brothers and sisters in the county. We receive you as readily and warmly as we receive anyone. We detect no difference between you and me. We all have the same desire to live and love, to work and rest, to sing and dance, to believe and serve.
More than 320 laws targeting LGBTQ people have been introduced in state legislatures. This is wickedness, often done in the name of Jesus. We are all human beings, people, struggling with sin and selfishness, reaching out to grace and mercy.
We are just people, made in the image of God, in need of a little kindness. As John Prine sings in his last song, released two years ago a few weeks after his death on April 7: “Sometimes a little tenderness was the best that I could do.”
In a world full of hate and meanness and rudeness, a little tenderness goes a long way. In a culture quick to judge and ignore and marginalize, a little kindness feels so good. In a church, the Christian church, so full of bad theology and rude vocabulary, a little sweetness is the sunshine we all need.
You are shining like the sun, Providence, and I am thrilled to be living and serving in the sunshine of your love.
Live as children of God, this gospel word says to us today, in the words of the famous apostle. “Live as children of God, shining like stars” in the darkness of the world and the church.
Every time, you are gentle to a rude person, you shine like the sun.
Every time, you forgive a mean and messy remark, you shine like the sun.
Every time you open your home and your heart to some displaced or despised person, you are shining like the sun.
Every time you speak peace into the whirlwind of provocation and partisanship, you are shining like the sun.
Every time your practice self-control in the midst of our indulgent culture you are shining like the sun.
Every time you give generously to a worthy cause or a desperate person you are shining like the sun.
Every time you pause to pray for somebody with cancer or somebody without friends, you are shining like the sun.
You are the light of the world, Jesus said. Light your candle. Hold it high. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.