I spent the first part of my week at continuing education in Minneapolis Minnesota. I went to a conference to workshop a new book. The book is called she five keys for women in power and leadership. It was an empowering time. It was wonderful and affirmative to be surrounded by other women in ministry. One of the things that was talked about quite a bit is how our gender affects our call. In this current context, I have not encountered my gender being too much of an issue. My gifts, skills, or even ability to give care to you has not been questioned. However, that has not always been the situation for my colleagues. One of the best examples of what we female clergy face almost on a daily basis is our title. Often, my male colleagues will be referred to as Pastor so-and-so. However, I will not be given the same courtesy. I will be called Jealaine. Not Pastor Jealaine, just Jealaine. And it is situations like this where I have to try extra hard not to have my light diminished. This week, I want to invite you into the struggle of what it means to have your own light diminished as well as think carefully about the ways we diminish the light of those around us.
Scripture talks today about no one lighting a candle just to put it under a basket. Of course most of us remember the Sunday school song “This Little Light of Mine.” And one of the verses talks exactly about this. “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m going to let it shine.” On occasion, that verse for me has inspired me to continue to be the evangelist that God has called me to be. It causes me to laugh in the face of what it means to be a stereotypical Lutheran. We are known to be kind of quiet, we don’t want to bother anyone, and maybe, We can tend to be a little passive aggressive. So the language of hiding my light under a bushel, gives me pause and reason to remember my baptism.
Maybe upon hearing this scripture today, you remembered your baptism, or maybe recalled baptisms we have done in this setting. One of the things that we tell the newly baptized as we hand them a candle is “let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” I also think about the gospel of John. The very beginning of John when we hear that in the beginning there was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was with God and then it goes on to continue with that there is a light in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. This is also a good reminder for me that the light of Christ that is in me and in all of you can never be extinguished. It is important to remember that especially with today’s reading. You will see that even though the light is under a bushel, there is no mention of the light being extinguished. The light is hidden, or maybe even dimmer to the naked eye, but it is never extinguished.
In what ways have people tried to diminish your light? In what ways have you tried to diminish your own light? When you stop to think about these questions, the answers can be very painful. We may have to wrestle with demons we have a long kept buried. It’s not comfortable to face when we have been in positions where our power has been taken from us. When the forces of this world have attempted to diminish your light, it can be very painful. When the forces of this world have attempted to shame you into hiding your light, it can be very painful. When the forces may drive you to not want to claim your light, it can be very painful. When we allow others to diminish our light, or when we attempt to diminish our own light, we are trying to hide the incarnate God that lives in all of us.
If we take seriously the idea that God became flesh, and we should take that idea very seriously, then God lives in each one of us. That is the light that shines through us. So when our light is diminished by the world, others around us, or even ourselves, we are devaluing the God that lives in us. I have no doubt that most of us have unfortunately been victims of an attempted diminishing. Can you finish this sentence: you cannot do that, you are only (or just a)…. can you finish this sentence: since you are…. you probably can’t or don’t want to….
And when you think about filling in those blanks, I am not talking about filling it in with excuses. I am talking about filling in those blanks with the incarnate God that lives in us that makes up our humanity. This is different from saying I can’t do this I don’t have enough time. This is someone saying to us you can’t do this, you are a woman. Or you should not do this, you are over 65. When people and forces try and diminish our light, they are often trying to diminish the things about us we cannot nor would not change. And we would not change them because it is essential to whom God created us to be.
And whether we care to admit it or not, we tend to self diminish more than anything. And while I cannot speak for you, my experience has been attempting to diminish my light out of nothing but fear. I said last week that doubt feeds off of fear and fear feeds off of doubt.
At the same time, it is important to recognize when we have attempted to extinguish the light of others around us. Perhaps, it means engaging in a time of confession and forgiveness and ultimately, reconciliation. It is important to remember that the majority of us come from a place of privilege. In this country, being from a place of privilege, means that you are most likely white, middle-class, and heterosexual (and, more times than not, male). When you come from a place of privilege, it is easy, almost too easy, to diminish the light of others. It’s completely fine and acceptable to not understand someone or some thing because of a lack of education, but it’s not okay to diminish someone or some thing because you don’t agree with it.
Allow me to explain. You may say “I don’t know why those women marched” or “I don’t understand why the black lives matter movement protested by blocking traffic.” IF you express these opinions from the standpoint that you don’t understand because you haven’t taken the time to learn more, that’s fine; claim that. But, if you have learned about these movements or the people involved and yet still say “those people marching are just stupid” then you are attempting to diminish someone else’s light. You don’t have to agree with people or movements or even support them. But that doesn’t give us the right to diminish one another. Another example may be the desire to rush injustice aside. People have said to me (on occasion) “Pastor! We love you and wouldn’t treat you differently because you’re female. This stuff certainly doesn’t happen to you!” And while I appreciate that, just because you love me doesn’t mean I am universally accepted.
Recognizing that others have the light of Christ in them can be difficult, I get that. It can be difficult because once we recognize that light, we have recognized that God indeed dwells in them too. As much as we may hate to admit it, we just may not want the light of Christ to be in others; we may not want God to dwell in other people. Once we realize and see the light of Christ in others, we then must start treating them like they are loved by Christ and have God dwelling within them. This means we can no longer hate them or dislike them. See, if we hate or dislike others around us that have the light of Christ in them, that have God dwelling within them, then what does that say about us who also have the same thing? What does that say about our relationship to the divine?
Brothers and sisters, you have the light of Christ within you. We are in a dark time. There are people who are hurting and hungry. God lives in you. Now is not the time to be shy. Now is not the time to hide your light. And if now isn’t the time for you to shine your light, don’t you dare attempt to dim the light of others. Darkness never has the last word. “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”