The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
6 January 2019
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
Wendesay night driving home from Community Dinner,
I was listening to NPR’s Code Switch,
a podcast focused on navigating
the different coded languages of different cultures
in the United States.
This week was a second part of a series,
a series on anthems in the United States.
Wednesay night I heard stories
about songs I’ve never heard before:
“Fight the Power” by both the Isley Brothers
andby Public Enemy
and “Wititer Boulveard” by Three Midnighters.
That I’d never heard those songs
gives you a snapshot of how this show
bridges cultures that have had barriers between them.
The third song in this episode
was one I grew up with
in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.
This third anthem is one
that makes me think about Epiphany.
“This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.”
Last week we heard about Jesus
as the light that shines in the darkness
that the darkness could not, did overcome.
Today we hear a story
about a light shining in the darkness
and bringing people from far, far away
to worship Jesus the Christ.
The star over the Christ Child,
the universe let it shine.
Today is a Principal Feast of the Church,
a day that takes priority over any other celebration
including over the regularly scheduled Sunday.
It’s the day when the church celebrates
salvation being freely offered to all people,
not just Jewish folk among whom Jesus was born.
It’s also the day that kicks off a season
historically dedicated to evangelism.
We hear in Matthew about the Magi,
clergy from Zoroastrianism in Persia
coming to find Jeus
so that they could pay him homage.
They bring three gifts,
gold, frankincense, and myrrh…
in treasure chests, not cute, minimalist boxes from Ikea.
They honor Jesus
and go home by another route.
They learn in a dream
that Herod is not actually planning
to come to Bethlehem to worship Jesus.
That’s a later part of the story.
This is a prcinipal feast, a fixed feast,
hearing again the story of the
wise ones who followed a star.
If the Epiphany celebrates their arrival
and salvation coming to all people,
why do we hear it again?
What does the church ask us to do with this story?
It asks us to do what I sang about in Sunday school,
and in Vacation Bible School.
What civil rights leaders sang about decades ago,
what counter protesters sang about in Charlottesville,
and what marchers with the Poor People’s Campaign do too.
Let our lights shine.
We did an alright job
with packing pews a few times last year.
Christmas Eve attendance was up 50% over last year.
You let your lights shine about this church,
about this place where we come weekly
looking for Jesus so that we can pay him homage
and then going to let his light shine through us.
While listening to Code Switch’s history
of “This Little Light of Mine,”
I learned just how much of an anthem it has been
for so many people through the years.
I didn’t know that people sang,
“I’ve got the light of freedom”
or “Go and tell Bull Connor”
and named other oppressors they faced.
The lights that they had were going to shine,
and they were going to keep letting those lights shine.
They organized around music,
music that made community,
for accomplishing some of their goals --
or getting foundations built for the goals.
We have to ask ourselves,
What is our light? Do we let it shine?
Or do we hide it under a bushel?
Not only do we wonder about our light,
we must wonder about the darkness,
the darkness around us that needs
the light to overcome it.
This summer I identified some ways
that I think our light shines,
ways beyond Community Dinner
and the pantry.
I printed up fliers for them,
and we have people signed up
to be a marketing working group.
Like so many of my sermons,
these fliers and hand cards ask a question
and say that whatever may seem incredulous
The Annual Meeting is next week,
but what if between now and Ash Wednesday
we thought of every Sunday as a pack a pew Sunday?
What if during the season after the Epiphany,
as we celebrate that salvation through Jesus is available to all people
we let all people know that our church is here?
What if we boldly said
that women proclaim the gospel,
that we take the Bible seriously,
that different races share meals,
that it’s possible to be queer and Christian,
that we preach Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected?
How might we be changed
by such proclamations out side these walls?
How might the world be changed
knowing how the light shines from this place?
I’d invite you to take some materials
and share them with someone you know
or someone you don’t know.
If we’ve got the light of freedom in Jesus,
how are we going to let it shine?