7th November 2021
If I had more, you’d definitely get a better one.
As I have less, you’ll have to put up with this one.
I’m talking about energy, the energy needed to produce a sermon – though you need energy for everything you do, even for relaxation and sleep. It’s the vital pulse of creation.
So, dear members of the Worshipful Company of Fuellers, what I want to know as you visit us today, is, why aren’t you energy-specialists at the very top of the league of Livery Companies? What on earth’s so special about the Mercers? They must have got off to a very early start with their cloth!
But energy – what a rich subject to explore today! When you’re young you have so much you have to go out into the garden to run it off, but when you’re old, even staying up on your pins is a challenge.
Out of the four Gospels, Mark’s is the most energetic. It begins with a series of episodes, vividly told, with one tumbling over the next.
In the short passage we heard from the first Chapter, two episodes came in rapid succession: the first of Jesus announcing God’s coming kingdom and the need for his hearers to turn to embrace it; and the second, a swift example of the first. Simon and his brother Andrew, turning to Jesus and his just-announced message, as they respond to his call into God’s kingdom.
The energy is at full spate right from the start. The opposite of waffle – or ‘blah, blah, blah’ as Greta Thunberg recently put it – is language that packs a punch, that brings the reality it announces. ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near’. It is here with Jesus and in Jesus, as he proclaims, teaches, heals and casts out the power of evil.
But this power is not only confined to Jesus; it’s also offered to others. Jesus’ general announcement of a coming kingdom is followed immediately by a specific invitation to two fishermen to join it. Repenting and believing in the good news means for them a change in occupation and more profoundly a change in identity: they are to become fishers of people.
So Simon and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee immediately after them, leave behind their old lives to follow Jesus. Repenting and believing means a radical
change in lifestyle, as they turn to face the coming kingdom.
I’ve just come back from a few days away reviewing the work of Guildford Cathedral. Like us, their life was heavily disrupted by the virus and they’re facing big challenges with a small staff team and limited funds. What impressed me, though, was the commitment of the Dean and Chapter to face forward and embrace what is coming. The Dean has banned the idea of ‘going back to normal’; they’re only taking up things from the past – even important things like the Sunday Eucharist – that belong to the future.
Repenting and believing means leaving behind old patterns and activities to face the inbreaking gust of God’s kingdom.
But let’s think big here, outside the box of Church. Jesus wasn’t in the synagogue when he announced the arrival of God’s kingdom and called the first disciples; he was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The backcloth was not Church but creation. What has Jesus’ message to say into our present concerns about creation?
There’s a lot of energy around climate change, generated and directed far beyond the bounds of church. Many are changing their lifestyle profoundly, eating less meat, buying electric cars, avoiding single-use plastic, taking to protest, and adopting many other practices to bring about positive change. And you may wonder what our faith has to say to this.
I’ll make three short points:
Firstly, all this energy is not without God. God’s Holy Spirit is a wind and a fire which can’t be contained by institutional channels. The Spirit is at work when the young see visions and the old dream dreams of a better future, and wherever the Spirit is active we should celebrate his work and not seek to monopolise it.
However – and this is my second point – there is wisdom that followers of Jesus can bring to the party, particularly the wisdom of not trusting in our own righteousness. There is nothing that we can do, no cause so great and right, that cannot be tainted by self-interest. The disciples who followed Jesus so decisively when he called them ended up abandoning him to save themselves, no doubt thinking that by doing so they would live to fight for truth and honour another day.
But self-interest, whether enlightened or not, whether individual or national, cannot save us from a problem that will affect the coming generations much more than our own. We need to find in our thinking and planning,
our ideas and actions a genuine empathy for others, the strength to love our neighbours as ourselves, the strength to focus on the future more than on our present needs. The kingdom into which we are summoned can never be under our control, nor is it ours even fully to imagine or anticipate.
My third point is even more basic. It is the matter of energy. When we’re facing a problem that has been brewing for the last 200 years, since the start of the Industrial Revolution, dealing with a problem that cannot be sorted in even a generation, where can we find the particular energy needed to persevere, which will preserve us from panic, negativity and despair?
Granted that the Spirit is at work in the world, but it is those who follow Jesus who, in following him, draw near to him. Christ is not an impersonal and overwhelming source of power, like a nuclear reactor; he is, in the words of our first reading, the one who appears in the presence of God on our behalf. That means that he is the one who brings God’s power to us personally, knowing our weakness and our need because, even as now exalted, he remains wedded to our humanity.
Even from the heights of heaven he wishes to share his wisdom, his authority, his capacity to suffer for love’s sake, so that we, being plugged into Christ as the source of all our energy, become like Him, a fisher of people, able to summon others into a new future, and to embody that new future in the community of hope, faith and love which we call church.
Maybe you would prefer an energy that was somehow more overriding and obviously splendid that that, but naked power was what Jesus rejected at the start of his ministry, when tested by Satan. Naked power is for us too hard to handle and too corrupting. We need power transformed to a human scale and power to transform the human heart. All of which is given as we draw near to Jesus.
At the heart of this climate discussion there are perhaps two fears: the obvious one is for our planet and its resources, the hidden one is for ourselves and our own strength of purpose. Sir David Attenborough says that saving the planet is within reach, if we stop the damaging stuff and roll out green tech; but do we really have the energy and wisdom to do this, and to continue doing it for the generations to come?
Brothers and sisters, this energy is indeed within reach. Right here. Come now and taste the life that Jesus offers. Come follow him into the life of his kingdom.