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On Faith: Let your little light shine

A favorite gospel song for many is "This Little Light of Mine." It is a song that numerous folks learned as children and remains popular within our culture. In his first broadcast after the Sept. 11 tragedies, David Letterman had the performer Odetta, and the Harlem Boys Choir, sing this song for his broadcast. I do not believe the song was chosen because it has a catchy little tune. I think the song was selected because of the truth it evokes, of how light overcomes darkness. I recognize this is the most generic of explanations. The song is not simply talking about the physics of light, it is pointing to a deeper truth.

We live in a time where we hear on a daily basis of the "deep divisions" within our society, we read of tragedies that are occurring around the world, or we may be focusing on the struggles within the lives of our loved ones or within our very selves. When faced with such difficulty we struggle to believe that a little light can make much of a difference. Sometimes it may feel like trying to let our light shine is akin to whistling in the dark.

The song is based on Jesus' words in Matthew 5, where he tells his followers to let their light shine. Just as we may struggle to understand what difference our little light can make, so it was most likely for those who first heard Jesus utter these words. Those early followers lived under an occupying army and as a nation there was great disagreement as to how they should live, never mind the uncertainty of what the future held. It was a turbulent time and into that turbulence Jesus calls those around him to let their light shine.

To let our light shine as people of faith we must not only sing the song (or hear it sung) we must also remember what Jesus is calling us to. Jesus was not telling the crowds to muster up enough courage and faith to let their light shine just as he was not telling them to overthrow the occupying forces or cast out the darkness of their day. He was calling them to action but that call originates with the understanding that their little light, and our little light, is not our own.

By that I mean the light that shines forth is not based upon what we can do by our own strength or talents. Our "little light" is a reflection of God's light and grace in our lives. When we see Jesus' call from this perspective, it hopefully begins to free us from the burden of believing it is merely up to us to confront the wrongs before us. Jesus sent his disciples into a troubled world knowing that their light was not dependent upon their own strength but rather on reflecting God's light within them and God's love for them. He never underestimated what they would face, Jesus was fully aware of the darkness of his day but he knew that whatever they faced, God was greater.

There are many voices telling us that all is lost or there is not much we can do. Into these moments, we have Jesus' words encouraging us to let our light, our little lights, shine forth and be the people of faith we are called to be. To remember that we are called to be a people who resist the siren song of fear or to regard people who disagree with us as the "enemy." We are to let our light shine and reflect God's love for us, for our neighbor, and for this world.

On Faith is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders.