June 2 – On Lighting Candles and Cursing the Darkness

We hear a lot of darkness cursing in this particular time through which we are passing. There’s a not so small industry made up of bloggers and wannabe pundits who have mastered the art of finding just the right curse for that darkest darkness which has descended on this identity group or that band of aggrieved victims.  Liberal cursers and conservative cursers, progressive cursers and evangelical cursers, single-payer cursers and “build the wall” cursers; we love to curse the darkness.

As for me, I just want to curse the cursers.

No one knows exactly who coined the phrase, “better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”  It first appeared in print a little over 100 years ago in a collection of sermons by an American Pastor, William Watkinson.  John Kennedy quoted the phrase in his 1960 acceptance speech and Adlai Stevenson borrowed it a few years later in his tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt. In some ways the quote and the sentiment seem to fit better those innocent days of Camelot than our jaundiced age of late night tweets.

Candle lighting does not come naturally for many of us.  In his sermon, William Watkinson prefaced the line about lighting candles and cursing the darkness by noting, “Denunciatory rhetoric is so much easier and cheaper than good works, and proves a popular temptation.”  Then he adds, “yet it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

It is too easy for me to give into the temptation of denunciatory rhetoric.

Christians are called to quit cursing, to shun the blogger and the wannabe pundit, for the sake of lighting a lamp and putting it on a stand.  Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine!

Langhorne Presbyterian Church is far from perfect, but if there’s one thing a visitor might begin to get after a week of two is that we take candle lighting very seriously.  Our “Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, Ends of the Earth” model for mission has us lighting candles close to home a far away.  And it is not just using a dollar bill to light the candle.  “Time, talent, treasure,” we like to say.

I never grow tired of reciting the litany:

  • Deacons’ Pantry – candle lighting in the grocery store
  • Aid for Friends – candle lighting in the kitchen
  • Bucks County Housing – candle lighting on a Thursday evening
  • Abundant Life – candle lighting in a prison cell
  • Hunting Park Christian Academy – candle lighting in North Philadelphia
  • Promised Land Ministry – candle lighting on the shore of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala
  • Kibuye Hope – candle lighting in Burundi, the poorest place on the planet
  • Igreja Presbiteriana no Jardim America – candle lighting in a favela in urban Brazil

And more.  A neighbor invited to worship or a Bible study. A child brought to VBS. Listening to a friend curse for as long as it takes until the time comes to light a candle of gospel love and hope.

Candle lighting may begin by bringing a jar of peanut butter to the Deacons’ Pantry. It may lead to fixing a sink or tutoring a child at HPCA.  It could lead us to the highlands of Guatemala or the favelas of Brazil. It means telling a friend you’ll pray for them and then really praying for them.  It means telling the story of Jesus.

One thing about candle lighting: you can’t curse while you’re lighting a candle.

There’s that wonderful plaque at the back of our Sanctuary, “You Are Now Entering the Mission Field.”  I guess we could acknowledge that Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day we leave worship to enter the cursing fields. Better to light one candle.  And, yeah, I’ll take innocent over jaundiced any day.

See  you Sunday