Revd. John Sutcliffe was our guest preacher at the weekend by Zoom with the theme:
CRISIS IS A TIME OF OPPORTUNITY
(I am told that in China the word for crisis is the same as the word for opportunity. Perhaps Albert Einstein drew on that when he coined his saying, ‘in the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity.’)
Read: Mark 1.21-28
A crisis is a time of opportunity. We don’t just have a crisis of illness and hospital admissions, but a crisis of change. Marcus Rashford, a young Manchester United footballer, has drawn the nation’s attention to the plight of the poorest of our children who are usually effectively hidden. UNICEF which looks to the British public for financial support and gets it, has also responded to need in this country, a response which has stung the leader of the House of Commons. We have discovered there is no ‘little England’; the virus, but not it alone, has shown us we are international citizens whether we want to be or not. Our Government which, as a matter of principle, is opposed to interfering in private lives has felt morally compelled to interfere by prescribing lockdowns and in giving financial support to people thereby made unable to work. And in spite of it being against the idea of us living beyond our means has run up a debt so enormous that it will still be being paid off at the end of the century.
The good thing is that values are back on the public agenda. For instance, we are being urged by the Government, not only the churches, to think about our lonely, house bound or hungry neighbours, and to wear masks for the sake of others, not just for our own good.
(International Aid has been reduced, but there conversation about ensuring the poorer nations have the supplies of vaccine they need.)
Christianity is familiar with crises; it was born at a time of crisis in Israel. Many people were sickened by the privileged collusion of the Jewish hierarchy with the Roman Governor and government. Religious rule-keeping had begun to feel oppressive. High taxes, which brought no benefits to the people, had been imposed on the Galilee region. There were nationalist factions agitating for the overthrow of the Roman army (and later in the first century led to a full scale rebellion which led to the destruction of Jerusalem, its Temple and people). Jesus had to work hard to show he was not a nationalist agitator though one of his disciples was a Zealot. The national crisis gave him his moment to minister: to show what peace and goodwill, love, acceptance and respect for people meant, what an inclusive and a caring community involved; and to show that the kingdoms of the world could become the kingdom of God.
Today’s reading from Mark 1.21-28 was written at a time of crisis. Mark lived and wrote his Gospel in AD 64. But 64 was a time of upheaval in Rome. Peter who had probably been the leader of the church there was martyred in that year. The unstable Caesar Nero, or King Nero, set fire to part of the city while at the same time giving money to the wealthy citizens whose homes he had destroyed. Then he accused the small Christian community of starting the fire and used that as an excuse to persecute them because they wouldn’t worship him.
Perhaps fearing for the future of the faith, as people were rounded up and killed, Mark set to work writing his Gospel as fast as he could (we can tell that from the state of his Greek). Or perhaps he wrote it as he escaped to Alexandria in Egypt. If all the Christians in Rome were killed at least his book would be a witness to his faith and if anyone asked, ‘who is this man Jesus who inspires such loyalty that people trust him even when their trust leads to their deaths in the arena’, here would be the answer.
In each of the early paragraphs Mark sets out to show us that in Jesus, God is making all thing new. In today’s reading he tells us of the authority of Jesus’ teaching, his healing and calming presence, and his impact on a wide cross section of his hearers. Throughout chapter 1, and throughout the Gospel, Mark seems to want to share with his readers how he understood Jesus’ purpose. For him Jesus came to transform the lives of individuals, to reveal the nature of God, and to create a new society.
Jesus, Mark and ourselves have crisis in common. And opportunity, too. What sort of a society do we want after Covid? There will be many people out of work, many small and middle sized businesses will have disappeared and high streets in towns will have permanently changed. Many families will be tired or broken, the education of children and young people will be out of joint and many people, perhaps especially young families, will be experiencing poverty. Workers in the Health Service will be exhausted but the demand for their services will be high, and the Government, which has spent freely, will be unlikely to feel able to be generous having so much debt hanging over it.
We remember that Jesus came to transform the lives of individuals, reveal the nature of God and to create a new society – the kingdom or rule of God. In short, Jesus’ purpose was to lead us into God’s future, if we will allow him. There is a new opportunity for us to contribute as Christ’s people, individually and as a church: what values do we want to argue for and build on? How can we have a fair society? What does success mean? Does there always have to be winners and losers in a caring society? What counts for the common good and how can the common good best be served after we emerge from the pandemic? (All this while being alert to our responsibility for our environment.) Let’s try to make the most of our chance to have something to say to the world (and risk the political backlash).
We could use Lent to think through what we want to say about some of the issues. Remember Jesus came for the world, not just the religiously inclined.