Sometimes All You Can Be Is a Glow-worm

February 9, 2012

For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.  (2 Cor 4:5-10)

After a couple of heartbreaking phone calls and email correspondences in the last few days, this post is for those conservative PCUSA pastors and presbyters who feel isolated in darkness.

In the Waitomo Caves of New Zealand, a gnat called Arachnocampa luminosa lives out its life cycle. The eggs develop into larvae, clinging to the ceilings and walls of these limestone caves dripping with water filtering through the porous stone, in complete darkness. In this stage, they are called glow worms, because by a chemical reaction they appear phosphorescent. We took a breathtaking tour of one of the caves, and as we floated along the river and looked up, it was if we were gazing at a starry night. Thousands of glow worms dotted the inside of this cave. And of course, for this preacher-teacher, a question arose. What on earth are glow worms good for? [A very functional, utilitarian question, I know. But what can I say? I am an American.] Glow worms live at this larval stage for up to a year, depending on the abundance of food to sustain them. But when it is time finally to take flight as an adult, they live only two or three days during which time they search frantically for a mate in order to lay a new batch of eggs before they die. Wow. It seems so futile, and who would ever know whether they existed or not?

Believing as I do that these minute creatures are an expression of the creativity and good humor of almighty God, it strikes me that before human beings discovered the caves, only God knew these glow worms were there. God alone took delight in them. And that was enough to justify their existence.

Some of my friends and correspondents are part of a presbytery or congregation that is overwhelmingly liberal. (I also know that in a few overwhelmingly conservative presbyteries, lonesome liberals feel the same kind of isolation.) My own context is not that discouraging; San Francisco Presbytery is what I would call “contested,” and the evangelical caucus therein is large enough to offer genuine (and sometimes effective) support for like-minded colleagues.

But too many of my colleagues in ministry around the country feel themselves to be completely alone with their orthodox/evangelical convictions. There is no one for miles or hours of travel who share their theological starting point, no friend on this side of the aisle to reassure them they are not crazy, no moral support in floor debate. They wonder, “What am I doing here?” And in fact, they may not be able to do anything but just be. To them I say, “Just be a faithful light-bearer. Hold that light high. Jesus sees you. He is pleased with your steadfast love and is glorified.”


2 Responses to “Sometimes All You Can Be Is a Glow-worm”

  1. Linda Lee Says:

    Welcome home, Mary. Thank you for your insights and encouragement.
    Recently this verse has helped me to stay focused on God’s ability and timing to act
    in the Church according to His will:
    2 Peter 3:8-9 “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient (longsuffering) with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
    God is willing to take all the time He needs to bring many to repentance – that is what is happening in the church. Though it seems slow, confusing, and inhibitting; God is at work and will act mightly to bring many to Himself. It is His love that acts to wait
    for people to move toward Him….so it gives me new faith to be waiting, keeping my spiritual eyes open to what He will do in His time.

  2. Eleanor Duffield Says:

    Your counsel in the last line says it all for us lay folks too. “Just be a faithful light-bearer….” I am encouraged. I’m also an avid reader of your thoughtful on-target messages. Please keep ’em comin’.

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