This Little Light of Mine

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Preached December 14, 2008 at Garden of Grace United Church of Christ, Columbia, SC

John 1:6-28
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

This morning's song comes from Grammy-award winning blues singer and guitarist Keb' Mo'. Born Kevin Moore he was born and raised in Compton, California. This song, "Let Your Light Shine," is from his 2004 CD called, "Keep it Simple."

You say, you want to get over
What are you gonna do? Watch the world go by
In a corner of the room? I know, none of my business.
But there's something I need to say,
If you could see you, the way I see you
You'd start flying on your own.
Step aside and . . .
Let your light shine. Let your love show
It's a short ride, down the long road.
When the rains come and the winds blow
Let your light shine wherever you go.

It's only three little words, but they are guaranteed to make me cringe - and to immediately be suspicious of the person who uttered them. Just three little words - with so much power over me.

  Hear this sermon at the Garden of Grace UCC Web site.

What are those three words? "I'm a Christian."

Whenever someone has to TELL me that they are a Christian, I am immediately skeptical. Until I see them act like one - until I see their witness in action - I don't really believe their words. You know the type - the super moral, I'm so close to Jesus we file joint taxes kind of Christian who knows exactly how you ought to be living and acting in the world - despite how they may be living and acting in the world.

There's a wonderful writer who parodies these kind of self-righteous, just so you know, I'm a Christian, type of Christians. She goes by the name of Betty Bowers. She has founded such organizations as the ex-gay ministry BASH - Baptists are Saving Homosexuals and TRASH - Traditional-families Raging against Sluts and Homos. Then there's Bringing Integrity to Christian Homemakers. I'll let you figure that one out yourself.

Here is a part of her latest letter to her supporters about the War on Christmas:

Dear Soldiers for the Baby Jesus:

Once again, pagan combatants, wielding verbal grenades made of non-specific cheer, are on a militant rampage to retake the Winter Solstice, a holiday invaded and occupied by Christians over 1,700 years ago.

Friends, we stole December fair and square ó and are going to stay the coarse ones in turning a season devoted to love and joy into an vitriolic turf war all about us!

The first shopping skirmish of the season occurred when my Personal Shopper spotted secular insurgents marauding behind the Estee Lauder counter. I personally overheard several of these "Happy Holidays" extremists, uniformed in the Lauder infantryís blue, paramilitary smocks, boldly declare a jihad on the Baby Jesus' birthday.

She signs her missive:

So Close To Jesus, I Still Haven't Forgiven Him For Stretching Out Last Christmas's Lovely Elie Tahari Paulo Sweater By Allowing The Entire Trinity To Try It On All At Once, Mrs. Betty Bowers, America's Best Christian

You've met some of America's Best Christians - people who want to impose their idea of morality on everyone else. These are people who believe they, and only they, have the right beliefs or ideas about God. They believe they are the ones who possess the light of God and it's their duty to shine it in our faces like cops in an interrogation room, while shouting at us to REPENT!

Here's the problem. These people rightly understand that we are to be the light of God in the world - but they believe that they are the light themselves. But, while we are to be lights in the world, we do not possess the light of God. The light comes from our relationship to God through Christ - and we reflect that light into the world.

This world is ready and waiting, for you to break on through.
It's time to recognize, to realize, You're the only one like you.
Step on up, step into your greatness. Don't be afraid.
There's a place that you will rise up to;
No one else could do what you do.
Get out of the way and
Let your light shine. Let your love show
It's a short ride, down the long road.
When the rains come and the winds blow
Let your light shine wherever you go.

John the Baptist understood this distinction. John knew he was not the light - but his role in the world was to be a witness to the light. He was asked by those around him if he was a prophet - or even the Messiah himself. Some of America's Best Christians believe they are prophets or even the Messiah, sent to personally save those they feel are lost. They talk about our immorality all the time - and they talk incessantly about their own morality. But John knows - he's not worthy to hold the coat of the real Messiah. Nothing he can say will do the real Messiah justice. So he baptizes. By his actions, he helps to cleanse and make the heart ready to reflect the light of God.

John knew that the secret to effectively bringing God's light into the world was to adhere to the old adage often recited about children - that they should be seen and not heard. This is the key to being God's light in the world - be seen. Never trust anyone's words - demand action. When you see someone in action, bringing God's light into the world, you know they are truly followers of Christ. They don't even have to be Christians to bring this light into the world. God doesn't reflect holy light only through Christians. God brings light into the world through Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, even atheists.

Last year, AbualSameed, a Jordanian living in Canada, was attending a conference of high-level Muslim scholars. There, he did the unthinkable, he came out. He told them, "As a gay Muslim, I feel unsafe, unloved and unrespected in this space. Were I to become HIV-positive, the first thing I would lose is my Muslim community. I couldn't come to you guys for support."

You can imagine the reaction of many of those in the room - even Sameed was afraid he might be attacked or worse - since six Muslim nations still impose the death penalty on gays and lesbians. But, "Afterwards," he said, "veiled women, bearded men, the most religious types, came to me and apologised if they had said something offensive, if they had made me feel unloved or unsafe."

The next day brought an even bigger surprise. One of the conference leaders announced that although Islam does not accept homosexuality, Islamic leaders would try to help create an environment in which gay people could approach social workers and find help against AIDS without feeling unsafe.

Sameed said, "This is the first time ever that a high-level religious forum has talked, acknowledged and accepted gays."

Sameed was not afraid to step up into his greatness and shine God's light into a corner of the world that is very dark for gay and lesbian people.

He was in a place where he should have been very afraid to reveal the light that God has shined on him, but he did it - and so can we if we:

Get out the way and
Let your light shine. Let your love show
It's a short ride, down the long road.
When the rains come and the winds blow
Let your light shine wherever you go.

What Sameed and anyone else who opens themselves to shine God's light in the world understands that some of America's Best Christians don't understand is that we must be about bringing compassion and love into the world - not just in our words - but in our actions. We have to come out, even if we could be harmed for it. We must put our very lives on the line so that others can see the light of God shining in the world.

Advent is traditionally a time of reflection - a time to sit with and explore our own darkness as we await the coming light of Christ into the world. It's a time to reflect on those dark spots in our own heart that are not effectively reflecting the light of God into the world. Where have our hearts become tarnished? Where have we become selfish or complacent? Where have we become fearful to let the reflected light of God shine forth from us?

Breathe deeply.

This world is ready and waiting, for you to break through and

Let your light shine. Let your love show
It's a short ride, down the long road.
When the rains come and the winds blow
Let your light shine wherever you go.
This little light of mine Iím gonna let it shine
This little light of mine Iím gonna let it shine
This little light of mine Iím gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

We shouldn't be overly judgmental of America's Best Christians. I believe they understand they are to shine God's light into the world - even if they are overzealous and overbearing about it. Even if they have become misguided in their mission and have turned God's light into the harsh light of judgment and bigotry. Our call is to continue to shine our light and not be conceited in our humbleness - or think our witness is better than anyone else's. We are called to be the best witnesses we can be.

Paul reminds us to test the spirits that come to us. Weíre supposed to be suspicious when people come testifying in Jesusí name. Weíre to cling to what we know to be good about what they say, and carefully watch what they do.

We must remember that our story has no "them" in it. Instead, itís "some of us for all of us" and even America's Best Christians are not "them" - they are simply a group of "us" who have yet to fully cleanse their hearts so God's light can shine forth properly. When we continue to shine our light - some of them begin to understand.

In fact, Rev. Richard Cizik, the vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, just this past week in an interview on NPR's Fresh Air program said his opinions are shifting and he now supports civil unions for gay and lesbian people. He stopped short of endorsing full marriage rights - but the light of God reflected in God's gay and lesbian children have moved his heart. Like Sameed, he understands the price of this kind of coming out. On Friday, Cizik resigned his position, under pressure from some of America's Best Christians who didn't agree with his revelation.

A similar epiphany came several years ago to Luke Timothy Johnson. He's a New Testament professor at my alma mater, the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

I was once warned by the very theologically liberal Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong to never believe a word uttered by Johnson. He's a very conservative Bible scholar, but he has seen the light reflected in one of his daughters - and he has been transformed.

He writes in the magazine Commonweal about how he now stands for the full recognition of gays and lesbians within the church:

"For me this is no theoretical or academic position, but rather a passionate conviction. It is one many of us have come to through personal struggle, and for some, real suffering. In my case, I trusted that God was at work in the life of one of my four daughters, who struggled against bigotry to claim her sexual identity as a lesbian."

He continues: "I trusted God was at work in the life she shares with her partner-a long-lasting and fruitful marriage dedicated to the care of others, and one that has borne fruit in a wonderful little girl who is among my and my wifeís dear grandchildren. I also trusted the many stories of students and friends whose life witnessed to a deep faith in God but whose bodies moved sexually in ways different from the way my own did. And finally I began to appreciate the ways in which my own former attitudes and language had helped to create a world where family, friends, and students were treated cruelly."

Now, Instead of reading condemnation in the Bible, Johnson sees love and acceptance for LGBT people, because he literally saw the light of God in his own daughter's life.

For Johnson and Cizik, the light was a revelation - and now they shine God's light of love and acceptance in the world.

So, get out the way, and
Let your light shine. Let your love show
It's a short ride, down the long road.
When the rains come and the winds blow
Let your light shine wherever you go.
This little light of mine, Iím gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, Iím gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, Iím gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Let us dedicate ourselves, during this season of advent, to accept the baptism of the spirit - to cleanse our hearts so they may shine with God's light. This is the song not just for Advent - but the rest of your life.


Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at or by using the suggestion box.

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