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Reverend William E. Flippin, Jr. Headshot

John 3: Light from Darkness from Langston Hughes poem "The Negro"

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The Gospel lesson last Sunday comes from John, Chapter 3 -- the ultimate passage from the Bible on the need to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Here Jesus tells Nicodemus, a religious leader and member of the Jewish ruling council (John 3:1), that he needs to be born again-to become a spiritual new born baby. Jesus responds to his claim "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again" (John 3:3). Jesus is telling Nicodemus that the kingdom of God is not in the miracles which I am working; it in a state of things which can only be appreciated by a radical spiritual change.

Jesus then defines the judgment, the crisis as prevalent as a metaphor in this Gospel: the light into-the-world comes, and the anthropoid are darkness-lovers rather than light-lovers (they don't even know the light, much less love it). They love darkness because they are evil deed-doers. Every wickedness practitioner is a light-hater and a light-stay provoker, so that the light might not expose their evil deeds and wicked practices.

These images of the dualisms of light being good and darkness evil was used as ways to promote by our white oppressors the institution of slavery and racial superiority. The primary images in Jesus' poetic discourse are oppositional; one image is affirmed, the other denied. Langston Hughes, in many of his poem deconstructs these images as: light that is seen in darkness, spirit is experienced in flesh. He writes in "The Negro,"

"I am a Negro: Black as the night is black,
Black like the depths of Africa and in Me and My Song,
Black as the gentle night, Black as the kind-and quiet night,
kind as the black night, Beautiful as the black night."

--Langston Hughes

This poem affirms as verse six says "that which hath been born of the flesh, is flesh. Being born of the flesh is the being born into with all the privations and depravations, evil tendencies and passions of a fallen humanity. The new birth that Hughes is referring to in his poem "Negro" doesn't come from having "black consciousness" but comes from "above." This comes from being born of water and the spirit, not simply having a facelift or making New Year resolutions to be a better person. Jesus is talking about a total makeover involving dying and being born again from above. In reflecting on the African diaspora and present day experiences "being born from above" is in all our experiences that we had eschatological hope to affirm as our ancestors that "Trouble don't last always". Hence the birth "from the Spirit" is entirely antithetic to the birth from the flesh even with black skin and fleecy locks. Hughes tells us in his poem that our affirmation of new life is not through our race, our position or our pedigree but is evident in "a spiritual mind which is a life of peace" and has taken the place of the old carnal mind. We are "spiritual" no longer "carnal" but able to discern the things that are freely given to then even being one possessing dark skin.

As in Jesus poetic conversation with Nicodemus and Langston Hughes poem "The Negro" our elevation of our spirit from above leads to rebirth, rebirth of authentic humanity. This is birth from above and what the Black Consciousness movement was about illustrated in James Brown famous proclamation, "I'm Black and I'm Proud." As I Corinthians 2:12-16; 3:1-5, says "the eye of the spirit is opened, unsealed, the spirit is revealed to them. This is birth from above. Light from darkness.