Get Your Glow On
On Monday we celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Many of you displayed your favorite MLK quote on your social media pages, marched with a local group or attended a banquet or other event honoring his legacy. Some of you may have incorporated even more intentional ways to contemplate his life and life’s work and evaluate the work that remains. Maybe you read some of his speeches, or the works of others who have continued to bear the light that is still needed to drive out the darkness that sometimes blankets our world.
I was privileged to march alongside my middle and high school friends who participate in Connecting Caring Communities’ Young Leaders of Abilene program. We gathered with them last week to make signs that reflected their thoughts about his work; many chose one-word posts such as “Hope” or “Respect” and others like you pored over his quotes to find their favorite. The quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that,” was as popular among our group as it was on your social media pages.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked in a post-Epiphany sermon, “Now that the sparkle of the Christmas season is over, what do we do now?” Fran Pratt asks that question in her Litany for a Real Christmas. She goes on to speak of the “sweaty work” that is Christmas. Howard Thurman, who provided spiritual guidance to Martin Luther King, Jr., had this to say about what follows the Christmas sparkle, in his poem, The Work of Christmas:
“to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.”
If we are going to be about the sweaty work of Christmas, we are going to have to carry with us the light of Christmas, having beheld its glory, as we turn and head back into the darkness. We are going to have to be light.
My sermon went on to discuss the fascinating study of light, the discovery of its properties and the science of the emission of light. There are many kinds of lights and different ways to emit light, but they all involve the same mechanism. Let me take you back to 7th-grade science with Coach Jerry Brown. There are atoms, right? And they have a nucleus, right? And then there are these crazy electrons zipping around the nucleus in their orbit. So, the shared mechanism for producing photons, these particles or packets of light, is this: Atoms are energized, and when that occurs these zippy electrons move to a higher orbit, and as they release that energy and drop back down to their usual orbit, they release photons – they emit light.
The work of Christmas, having seen the light and being tasked to now also be that light is sweaty work, as Fran Pratt said.
It requires the excitement and energizing of your usual orbit.
It means you go above and beyond the norm.
You have to leave your comfortable orbit and move to a higher level.
Growing up, when we sang the song, This Little Light of Mine, we always held up one finger. I was thinking about that vision of letting my light shine; something small I could turn on and off at the end of my finger. Accompanying that small vision were small deeds that emitted light. Come to church – a lot. Give your tithes faithfully. Read the Bible every day. Don’t do those bad things the world was calling you to do, and try to be nice to people around you. I am not saying these things aren’t useful, and even good, but they blinded me to the vision of what it would mean for more than a single finger to glow.
Just as we pondered what our next steps after Christmas should be, I think these words are appropriate as we leave behind the excitement of MLK Day with its signs and tweets and marches and banquets, and get down to the sweaty work of MLK. Which in fact is the same as the sweaty work of Christmas: To be the light that drives out darkness. To be the kind of love that actually can drive out hate.
Isaiah the prophet gives us his answer to the question, “What do we do now?” in Chapter 58:
“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.”
Lives that glow in the darkness.
Not just when it’s in season.