Is the Fire Going Out?          Acts 2:1-21     May 31, 2009

Are there fireflies in LA? Or do you call them lightning bugs or glowworms here? Up North, we saw their tiny lights as a mark that summer had arrived. They're a fond memory many of us, and some of us even caught a few to observe them in a jar.

Now I ask you, when was the last time you saw a firefly? Experts think that fireflies are dwindling by as much as 70 %, in recent years. In fact, there is evidence to support that claim — so much so / that more than 100 biologists (and entomologist) gathered in Thailand (last summer) for an international conference on the “Diversity and Conservation of Fireflies.”

One anecdote comes from a man in Thailand who used to take tourists by rowboat on the Mae Klong River. He did this expressly to show them the riverbanks aglow with fireflies. Now, however, the only lights he sees from the river are the fluorescent ones from hotels and restaurants. Now he has to row more than two miles from the city to see any lightning bugs.

The same thing appears to be happening on other continents. Researchers in places as diverse as Switzerland and the United States have made similar observations. One of the likely causes is urban sprawl and industrial pollution that destroy the insects’ habitat. Another probable cause is the spread of artificial light.
The glowing fireflies we do see, when we still see them, are the males of the species. They use their flashing lights to attract the females. Researchers suspect that the increase of artificial light is interfering with the flies' mating ritual. As a result, they are not reproducing.

Researchers acknowledge that the concern over fireflies may not seem as urgent as that over other dwindling species, such as polar bears and tigers. However, the drastic decrease of these tiny light-bearers may contribute to changes in the ecosystem.

Speaking of light-bearers today is Pentecost, the anniversary of the day the Holy Spirit came in a mighty way upon the disciples of Jesus, who were hunkered down in an upper room in Jerusalem. “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”
Ever since then, fire, which is a source of light, has been a symbol of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, that same symbol connects with Jesus, who said, “I am the light of the world” and light always overcomes the darkness.

In 1968, at the Ecumenical Council of Churches Meeting at Uppsala, Metropolitan Ignatios of Latakia spoke these words:

Without the Holy Spirit, God is far away, Christ stays in the past, the gospel is a dead letter, the church is simply an organization, authority, a matter of domination, mission, a matter of propaganda, the liturgy, no more than an evocation, Christian living, a slave morality.

But in the Holy Spirit: The cosmos is resurrected and groans with the birth pangs of the kingdom; the risen Christ is there; the gospel is the power of life; the Church shows forth life of the Trinity; authority is a liberating service; mission is a Pentecost; the liturgy is both memorial and anticipation; human action is deified.

The fact that these tongues of fire rested on each of Jesus’ followers on Pentecost is a way of showing that when the Spirit fills us, we, too, radiate the light of God. Accordingly, Spirit-filled Christians are light-bearers.
Over the centuries, Christians have “glowed” with that light as they have spread the gospel, doing good with sacrificial acts of love for neighbor and enemy alike.

Some saints of old glowed with holy light. Terms like 'ablaze with the Holy Spirit,' 'on fire with the Spirit, and 'their faces shone' often describe the Spirit's presence. Several years ago, after the English writer Malcolm Muggeridge spent time observing Mother Teresa working in Calcutta, India, taking care of dying people she plucked off the streets, he wrote a book about her he titled Something Beautiful for God. In it, he said, “God’s universal love has rubbed off on Mother Teresa, giving her features a noticeable luminosity, a shining quality.

In most of us who follow Jesus, the light within us may not be quite that apparent, … but when we confront darkness in our lives, we often become conscious of how the Way of the Lord is the primary Light of our lives and is the only thing that will set us back on the right path.

There are lots of other lights in this world, some that seem more glitzy or powerful or, in some fields, even more illuminating. And just as fireflies are finding their inner lights overpowered by bright artificial lighting, so, too, we Christians sometimes find the light of God within us growing dim— especially if we don’t tend it regularly.

When John wrote about Jesus’ coming into the world, he described Jesus as “the light of all people.” Then he went on to say, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). The darkness of sin, despair, evil, troubles and so on — may not overcome the light of Christ within us. `However, sometimes other lights in the world may overcome it. Lights such as the light of education, the light of psychology and the light of culture among a few.

The light of education. Some of us who first met Jesus as children or teenagers had a little spiritual light glowing inside us when we went off to college. There, we encountered not only new information, but also new ways of thinking about it, all emanating from the lamp of scholasticism.
Quite often that’s a good lamp, one that has been helpful to our world, but its nature is such that our spiritual light can look pale by comparison. And for some of us, the scholastic light seemed, at least for a time, to overpower our inner light of the Spirit.

So the light of education is one light that can dim the light of the Holy Spirit in us. There is also the…

The light of psychology. Perhaps you have struggled with some personal baggage from the past that interfered with your ongoing life. You may have prayed about it without finding the kind of help you needed. So eventually, you sought some professional counseling, and through it, you found some relief and new perspectives that set you free from the old bondage.
Given those results, the counseling certainly qualifies as light for your darkness, and therefore a good light. But it does not necessarily follow that it is a better light than the light of the Spirit. It is a different light, a more specific light for a specific need, but it’s not a light for what’s at the root of every one of us: our need to get right with God and to open ourselves to the Savior who can make us right with God.
Neither the Light of education, nor the light of psychology can out-shine the Holy Spirit.

The light of the culture. Secular life itself has a glitter that sometimes seems to outshine the light of the Spirit within us. If you’ve ever been with a group of people who seem quite happy without the morality and values of religion, you may have wondered if you were mistaken to cling to the way of the Lord. The light of secularity can appear powerfully bright at times. It can illuminate certain pleasures and make them desirable. At times, it can even shed a benign glow. Yet it has neither the heat of inspiration nor the inner-path-lighting ability of the Spirit’s light.

Whether they are the lights of medicine, learning, behavioral studies, sociology, human motivation, technology or anything else, it’s important to understand that these lights don’t always require us to make an either-or choice.

In many cases, it is quite possible — even important — to allow more than one light to illuminate our lives. But one of those lights always needs to be emanating from the fire of the Holy Spirit. While some of what science, behavioral studies, technology and so on shows us is important for our daily existence, our lives are always more than daily existence.
-----The light of the Spirit is a light not only for day-to-day living, but also for eternity, and we make a mistake to let its light get washed out by the seemingly brighter light of human discovery or secularity.

The lights of medicine, science and education are some of today’s helpful lights. As Christians, we need to neither hide from those lights nor refuse to let them shine, and be illuminated what they reveal. At the same time, however, we need to recognize that it is not our primary illumination.

The coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost lit the fire of the church. God’s Spirit is still and must always be the main source of light for Christians. Individually and as the church, we should do what is necessary to keep ourselves good kindling for the Spirit’s flames to burn hot and the Spirit’s light to shine bright.
Don’t let the artificial lights of the world out-shine God’s Light in your soul. There are all sorts of helpful “lights” in the world. We can be illuminated by them without letting them extinguish the light of the Spirit.
We should never be so dazzled by other lights that we no longer shine for Christ. We should not allow other lights in the world to extinguish the light of the Spirit within us.

In Ephesians 5:18, Paul said, “Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.”
            O Breath of Life, come sweeping through us,
            Revive Thy church with life and d power;
            O Breath of Life, come, cleanse, renew us,
            And fit Thy church to meet this hour. Amen.
Rev. Rosemary Stelz


Casey, Michael. “Experts fear fireflies are dwindling.” ABCNews, August 30, 2008.

Firefly Watch.

Muggeridge, Malcolm. Something Beautiful for God. Harper & Row, 1971.

“The UK glow worm survey.”

Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens, A New Pentecost? (New York: Seabury Press, 1974), 19-20.)
  June 2021  
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