You Are the Light of the World

Sara Warfield

February 5, 2017

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church


It’s my practice the week before I preach to read the texts every day and carry them around with me—on BART, through the streets of Oakland and the Tenderloin, into Trader Joe’s and CVS—wherever I go. I trust that in doing so the Spirit will give me her message, in images, in brief little phrases that pop into my head in the shower, in songs that she brings me.

What struck me about this week, though, was that the Spirit rose up most prominently in a feeling, in waves of something unnamable and powerful. I couldn’t quite name it. Was it happiness? Love? Peace?

There were elements of those in the feeling, but eventually I started to realize that the word I was looking for was light. It was the feeling of light. Do you know what I mean? Lightness, maybe. It was a feeling of being unburdened, and of seeing the people around me as unburdened. That we didn’t have to carry it all ourselves. That God was already present in me, in everyone, and was shining through each person I encountered. It felt lofty and bright and lovely.

And of course it was light. Because it’s Epiphany, and the light of the world has come, is here. Because Isaiah says, “then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.” Because Jesus tells us in Matthew, “you are the light of the world.” It’s not subtle. It’s not a secret revelation—it’s there for all of us to see in these readings.

There has been some criticism of the Women’s Marches that took place a few weeks ago that no one knew exactly what they were about. Women’s rights? All minorities’ rights? To oppose the new president and the policies he was bound to put into law—after all, it was only his first day in office. These might be important questions. They might help to clarify the purpose of such actions. Maybe. But to me, that wasn’t the point.

To me, the point was that millions of people around the country decided to put their body in a particular place at a particular moment, to let their own light shine with so many others’. Maybe each of them couldn’t articulate exactly why they were there, why they brought their children, why they were wearing pink hats. But something was calling them.

I went to both the Oakland and San Francisco marches. Estimates are that 84,000 people marched in Oakland and 100,000 in San Francisco. There were lots of signs, some that made me laugh, some that made my heart sink. But it wasn’t the signs or speeches or chants that inspired me most. It was the lifeforce, the bodies that drew together to form a much larger body, standing in solidarity. It was our collective light, each of us bringing our own unique light to shine together.

When I came back to Christ after many years away, it was when dozens of bodies gathered around an altar and passed bread and drink among us. Do this in remembrance of me. My knees collapsed, and I started to sob, as I knew with my whole body that I was loved and that I belonged. I felt my light uncovered. I can’t remember a time before that when it wasn’t partially covered, but now I felt it fully, dancing through my veins, my bones, my heart—irrepressible.

That same feeling rushed through me as I stood among tens of thousands of my neighbors at those marches—where all of us knew we were loved and that we belonged to one another, that all of our light together made a difference.

I think where I am often challenged in my own work in this world is that I tend to align myself according to what I stand against. To be honest, when I first read the readings for this week, I was immediately, impulsively drawn to one tiny bit of Isaiah: “Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.” How much do I love announcing to people their sins? You have no idea how many facebook posts I write rashly to tell people how they’re sinning, only to come to my senses and delete it. My personality tends to go towards confrontation and anger, and while there’s a place for turning over tables, I’m not sure if that serves me well most of the time.

My guess is that this is a temptation for many of us. We want to fight, to argue, to be right. We want to quote scriptures from Isaiah or post that incisive Washington Post article.

But Jesus isn’t as into arguing right and wrong as he’s into light: “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others.”

As most of you know, I have been discerning my call to the priesthood for several years now. It’s a very intentional process, and I’ve learned many things along the way, but I think all of my discernment has pointed me towards this: who is the unique person God has made me to be? What is my particular light, and how do I let it shine?

That is what I ask you today. What is your particular light, and how do you let it shine?

God isn’t interested in what you stand against or what makes you most angry. We know this if we read a little further down in Isaiah than I initially did: “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil…then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.”

God wants nothing more than for you to discover what makes you most joyful, what you are most passionate about, what makes you most you. And God wants nothing more than for you to put your body there, to embody those gifts.

I know there are people in this congregation who joyfully serve: setting up the parish hall for all of us on Sunday mornings, and organizing showers for folks who don’t have easy access to showers, and sharing breakfast with the kids at the YEAH shelter. There are those of us who are gifted listeners, providing steady presence to those who need it. There are those of us who shine through words—the poets and theologians among us. In this church are musicians and programmers and preachers and managers, all manifesting God’s light in different ways. Even you knitters, your gift shined a few weeks ago when every store sold out of pink yarn. You never know when your light, however inconsequential it might seem, will be most needed.

So I ask again, what is your particular light, and how do you let it shine? What makes the Spirit dance in your veins, your bones, your heart? No, really! Think about it. I’ll give you a moment.

That light shines wherever we invest our body—our hands, our voices, our presence. We bring our body to marches, to church, to our child’s room to read a bedtime story. We use our body to create, to write, to organize and administer, to teach, to laugh, to dance. This world needs your light, your gifts. It needs you to do, to embody, what gives you joy—however big or small it might seem. You are the light of the world.

Marianne Williamson wrote:

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.

That’s probably the best news I’ve heard lately: that God’s light can be contagious, and not only contagious but ready to eradicate whatever darkness we encounter. I saw it spread at the Women’s March. I saw it taking over our Annual Meeting a few Sundays ago, as the people here stepped into their gifts for this community.

It’s already there. Right now. That unique gift God created in you, ready to shine, ready to inspire others to shine. It’s just a matter of removing the bushel basket.