Afraid of the Light


Psalm 34:1-14 NRSV

When I was growing up in Currituck, North Carolina, I was taught a wonderful little song in Sunday School.

“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine; This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

“Hide it under a bushel? NO! I’m going to let it shine. Hide it under a bushel? NO! I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

Now, we had to say, “no,” like we really meant it.  “Hide it under a bushel? NO!!!”

Even as a little kid, I was never to hide my little light. I knew I was not to cover the light of Christ. I was to let it shine for all the world to see!

“Don’t let Satan blow it out. I’m gonna let it shine. Don’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

As a little boy, I knew that there were evil forces in the world that wanted to blow out my light of Christ. There were people who wanted to extinguish my light, to dim my life. As a child, I may not have understood that it was people among those I loved, many who even go to church, who wanted to blow it out, but I understood that there were those in the world who did not want my little light to shine.

“Shine all over Currituck, I’m gonna let it shine.

Shine all over Currituck, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

I knew my faith was to shine, not just at church, all over where we lived, where we played, and where we went to school.

The next verse to the song was:

“Let it shine ‘til Jesus comes, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shines ‘til Jesus comes, I’m gonna let it shine…”

And as child, I knew what that meant. I knew that I was to let the light of Christ shine throughout my whole lifetime: at seven years old, seventeen, twenty-seven, or thirty-seven or seventy-seven, eighty-seven and ninety-seven.

And the mood of the song was not, “I have to let it shine,” or “I ought to let it shine,” or even “I should let it shine.” It was not stern commandment: “THOU SHALT LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE!”

No. Instead, there was a positive, unashamed and unbridled enthusiasm for being the light of Christ, for letting the light of Christ that is in me to shine. “I am going to let it shine!”

Last week, I opened the sermon by telling you about Gabe, the 5 year-old with Down’s Syndrome who completed his first 5k last week. How he ran up towards me as I was handing out medals for the 5k, and instead of taking his medal, he took the microphone. With both hands grasping the microphone, he very proudly, and unashamedly expressed his feelings of joy. He held absolutely nothing back and let out his unabashed exuberance for all to see and hear.

As I reflect on Gabe’s enthusiastic response, I can not help to but to contrast it with the other runners of that event. Not only did none grab the microphone when they came to get their medal, they hardly made a sound, other than a polite “thank-you.”

Now, I realize that that there some virtue in being modest, in humility, in exercising an appropriate amount of decorum. And I acknowledge how off-putting it would have been if everyone who received a medal grabbed the microphone like Gabe and shared their enthusiasm.

However, I have come to believe that there may have been something else at play here. Maybe some of the reticence and restraint that we often exercise comes from another place.

Think of those times in your life when you have been overwhelmed with great joy? You’ve just received some very big, good news, some glorious, life-changing news, and losing all inhibitions and self-control, you just let it all out! You hollered, you jumped up and down, you danced! You freely expressed your excitement holding nothing back!

Now, what’s the first response you get! Do people grab your hands and start jumping up and down with you, doing an exuberant dance of joy? No, the first response you probably get is: “I am happy for you, but you need to calm down.” “You are going to give yourself a heart attack!”  “You need to take it down a notch.”

My daughter Sara and I went through the drive thru at the McDonalds on the Kelly Highway and 540. The drive through cashier asked: “How are you doing this morning?”

I said, “We’re fine.”

He responded, “Well, THAT-IS-GREAT-NEWS!”

You know the first thing I thought? “Why, he sure does love his job!  He really cares about his customers!”

No, I thought, “He needs to tone it down.”

Now, why do you think that is?

Why are we so quick to squelch enthusiasm, squash passion, shade light?

Could it be that John was onto something when he wrote about the good news of Jesus:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:16-18).

And then look at the very next verse.

“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light.”

Do you believe John was possibly telling the truth when he wrote that we love darkness more than we love light? We say we are afraid of the dark. However, could it be that we more afraid of the light?

How else can we explain how we have taken the good news of the gospel and have turned it completely upside down?

Instead of starting with love and light, with our words and our deeds, we we seem to like start with judgment and darkness.

Instead of “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish…”, the church seems to prefer to say backwards: “Everyone is going to perish unless they believe in God’s only Son [and by that we mean “just like we believe”] and then we add a soft: “because he loves us.”

It’s completely upside down.

Could it be that it is not the darkness, but the light that we are afraid of?  Are afraid of the good news “For God so loved the world,” the whole world? Are we afraid that God loves all people, and all means all? Are we afraid of the truth that all people have the light of God in them that is ready to shine forth?

How else do you explain that every time I have ever preached on God’s expansive and inclusive love, God’s boundless and generous grace, someone always lets me know right way that I need to tone it down a bit. I need to take it down a few notches.

” Preacher, we can love all people. We can welcome, accept, and include all people, and we can even believe that all means all, but let’s not advertise it, let’s not broadcast it, let’s not mention it so often!”

In other words, pastor, let’s light our candle, but let’s keep it under a bushel. We can let our lights shine, but let’s not shine like a city set on a hill.

So, could it be that it is not the darkness, but it is the light we fear? Could it be that we are afraid that the light we shine might actually be good news to the poor and liberation to the oppressed? Could it be that we fear that the light we shine might expose some evil that we profit by or benefit from? Could it be that the light we shine might not only change the world, it might change ourworld?

The light we shine might change how we live and for what and whom we live.

But this is who Jesus says we are. We are the light of the world. The Psalmist sings, “Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.”

Marianne Williamson ponders why so many refuse to let their light shine:

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 to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.


Your playing small

Does not serve the world.

There’s 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’re liberated from our own fear,

Our presence automatically liberates others.

Each person in this room was born to shine. As a child of God, created in the Image of God, each person here has a light that can make this world look something like the Kingdom of God.

This is the main thing that I am hoping we will discern when we have our church-wide retreat that we are going to have on September 29.  How can we heed the Apostle Paul’s advise to the church at Ephesus in our by “making the most of the time” that God has given us here by shining our lights, “because the days are evil?”

How brightly can our church shine in this city, in this region, in this world? How far can we radiate our light? And what would happen if every member of this church, every child of God in this room who was born to shine, would lose all restraint and inhibition, would hold nothing back and let it shine!

These are important questions, because these days are evil and, sadly, every day, most Chrisitans hold back.We dim our light to avoid making others uncomfortable. We hide our light to avoid confrontation. We cover our light to avoid shame.

But today, I am imploring you to renew your commitment to God, perhaps one that you made forty, fifty, sixty or seventy years ago!

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna to let it shine;

“Hide it under a bushel? NO! I’m gonna to let it shine.”

“I am not going to let Satan blow it out. I’m gonna let it shine.”

“Shine all over Fort Smith, I’m gonna let it shine!”

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”