Let Your Light Shine Before Others
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
February 17, 2019 Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Gospel Sunday,
Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday Part II
Isaiah 49; Jeremiah 17:5-10; Matthew 5:1-15
A famous quote has been mistakenly attributed to Nelson Mandela, but interestingly, the person who said it is now running for President of the United States, Marianne Williamson. I am not endorsing her (and not not endorsing her, just to be clear), but I do endorse some of what she said. Here it is from her 1992 book Return to Love, and I invite you to listen to it not as being about individuals, but about us as a whole congregation. I have added some words to make that perspective clear.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I [I being the church] to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You [you being this congregation, the body of Christ] are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. 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. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Now, twenty-seven years later, Williamson is not the only Presidential candidate who says that America needs to change its consciousness and culture so that we follow the ethic of love of neighbor and earth.
What does it mean about our society when it is surprising to hear candidates advocating what all spiritual traditions have insisted for thousands of years is the only way we can survive?
As Williamson says, and as Mark Kutolowski reminded us here in his sermon last month, we were created to live as children of God, we all have the force of love and life and light we call God within us, and as we are liberated from the selfishness and fear that distort our pure essence, we shine the light that is the most powerful, transformative, creative force in the universe. This is as true of churches and nations as of individuals.
Forgive my cynicism, but when even Presidential candidates are saying a change of consciousness in the direction of love is what we need in America, we as a church know it is past time for us to be making it happen. The church and spiritual communities of all faiths were born to do just this—to help create the realm of God’s love on earth. The time has come for spiritual communities to lead, to speak out boldly, to fulfill the calling of Martin Luther King Jr. and be not just a thermostat that records the ideas and values of our society but a thermostat that transforms them.
This past week in our Heartfulness Contemplative Circle we talked about
how hard it is to find time for meditation. Some of us feel we have not a minute to spare, but one woman talked about a time when she had to stay horizontal for a week because of a broken ankle and it still took her several days to have the willpower to meditate. She carried a cultural bias inside her that resisted giving time to her spiritual life. She was allowed to be productive or take in information or indulge in mindless entertainment, but not to pray.
The Heartfulness Circle talked then about how countercultural it is to take time to meditate, and we realized it is exactly what our society needs. Part of being the transformed nonconformists that King calls us to be is to take time defiantly away from our busyness and dedicate it to the spiritual life. The speed and un-centeredness of the world is a big part of what is killing it.
Last month Mark Kutolowski preached on the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He talked about how the Greek word translated as poor means literally destitute, empty, nothing left. That is what we practice doing in meditation or Centering Prayer, letting go of all our thoughts and feelings as they arise, sinking down into the empty place deep within us where the Holy Spirit dwells.
A society that never enters that space cannot be Spirit led. That is a huge problem because the Holy Spirit is a name we give the force of love and life and light that created the universe and all of us. Other traditions call it the Tao or sacred way or Great Spirit. It is easy to see the trouble a society gets into when it lacks that Spirit because it is what guides us to live in harmony with one another and the earth, it is what teaches us how to adapt to a changing earth, it is what shows us our true place and role on earth. The Spirit guides and empowers us to love our neighbor as our self and serve the good of all life as we would be served. It is the light within us, the glory of God that we were born to manifest, it is the most powerful force for personal and social transformation that exists, and it is within us each, right here, right now.
The church can help us enter that place inside and be humble and quiet enough to sense whatever form of love the Spirit is moving us to enact. The church can help us move out beyond ourselves as the Spirit directs us to serve our neighbor and the world with our gifts of light as a force, not merely a presence, effecting social change.
It is chilling to hear how much truer King’s words sound today than when he spoke them, and they were plenty true then. He wrote, “This hour of history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. Our planet teeters on the brink of annihilation. We as Christians have a mandate to be nonconformists. I do not minimize the complexity of the problems that need to be faced…. But I am convinced that we shall not have the will, the courage and the insight to deal with such matters unless… we are prepared to undergo a mental and spiritual reevaluation, a change of focus. Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit.”
Our calling is to struggle for a new world, a world based on the Golden Rule and ethic of love. And it surely will be a struggle. Last week a leading Senator scoffed at a proposal to address climate change saying it would return us to the dark ages. Imagine what people will say when we propose that we reshape society according to wisdom that goes twice or three times farther back in history. But human history is a record of the failure and foolishness of straying time and again from the sacred way. The truth is, we will enter a far darker age if we continue going as we are.
A society built on selfishness and fear is cursed, as Jeremiah said. It is doomed to dwell in the parched places of the wilderness. We can see today how literally true that is. But Jeremiah says, blessed are those who turn to the Spirit and trust in its guidance and power. “They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”
The blessings of the Beatitudes with all their resilience come when we align ourselves with the Spirit that created the universe. To act against that Spirit is to do violence to the earth and ourselves, and we reap what we sow.
Jesus kept pointing to this most profound truth of our existence. The Spirit of the universe within us is our salt—if we go against that, we are no good for anything. The Spirit of the universe is the light of the heavens that shines in our innermost being, it is God’s light of love, pure and simple, and our calling is to let it shine.
We have this light in us now, we have a brilliant light to shine together as a church. We have the light shining through the fingers of Annemieke and voices of our wonderful choir. We have the light of Charlotte Reimanis leading us in her Stereotype Project. We have the light of the circle that will be sitting in the Parish Hall in a little while putting our hearts and minds together to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading this church.
The world needs us to do this most joyous of things, to give ourselves the time, space and whatever conditions we need to open a window to the light within us that is both uniquely ours and also the same light that is in all. That is how we will create a new world—find the light and let it shine. Let it shine in our homes, let it shine through this church, let it shine in our community, let it shine and change the world. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
Let us pray in silence, seeking the deep place within us where the Spirit is calling us now. Let us look to see what light we have to shine…