You may be familiar with the hymn ‘Abide with me’ and in particular, that line which goes ‘Change and decay in all around I see’ which suggests that change is undesirable – God doesn’t change so should we too aspire to be changeless, for things not to change? God doesn’t change because he is perfect and he is all mighty – omnipotent, omnipresent, all in all. He could only change by becoming more or less than he was before and if he is already everything, that is not possible.
The last verse of one of my favourite hymns, ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’ includes the lines ‘Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place’. Now, that’s more like it. Although God doesn’t change, we human beings clearly need to. We need to be formed into the likeness of Christ. For the whole of creation, change is necessary, essential. Without change there is no growth. Applies physically (plants, animals, people) but also spiritually to each one of us as individuals but also as communities. Not advocating change for change’s sake but to be alive is to change; we all change as we grow older – physically, emotionally, spiritually. Perhaps you know someone who seems to be stuck, unable to move on. They may feel trapped by their circumstances, by their experience of life, by some sort of addiction or emotion they can’t free themselves from. And if you know someone like that, you know how much better they would feel if they could change and grow; if they could be released from whatever is weighing or tying them down.
Change is necessary for our growth. It is sometimes forced upon us; often unexpected, unwelcome, painful. Not all change appears to be good or immediately fruitful – loss of physical or mental health, loss of status or employment, relationship breakdown, the loss through death or distance of contact with loved ones. Yet the message of the gospel, of the cross is that God does bring hope and salvation and healing from death and decay and evil. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit. It cannot change, it cannot grow.
The gospel reading for today set by the Church of England (John 2.1-11) is different from the one set by the Revised Common Lectionary (Mark 1.14-20), on which this sermon is based. And yet, they share a common theme of change. Water is changed into wine; the new wine of the good news of Jesus Christ. For the first disciples Jesus calls there is a huge change of lifestyle. It’s not forced upon them, though. They have a choice. It was surely not something they were expecting! For those disciples who responded to Jesus’ call (and who knows how many others he called who didn’t respond) the day would have seemed very ordinary until Jesus arrived. They can’t possibly have been thinking ‘You know what, let’s go and found a new religion’ or ‘I think I fancy a career change’. No, their whole life was centred around fishing – for fish. It was the family business ; it was a tough life, hardworking, with its fair share of danger and disappointment but they would not have contemplated anything different, any form of change. And just let’s consider for a moment what an enormous change they said ‘yes’ to – just like that. It’s almost unthinkable. What about the impact on the rest of the family? Four able men to go off following a travelling preacher just like that! How could they do that to their fathers? Later in this first chapter of Mark’s gospel we read about Simon Peter’s mother-in-law – so Simon must have had a wife and quite possibly children as well. How could he, the main bread-winner, leave his nets and follow Jesus to ‘fish for people’??(whatever that might mean!)
Sometimes, that call of Jesus for us to change – as individuals and as a church – is that radical, that revolutionary, flying in the face of all convention and common sense. Sometimes we are called to leave behind what is comfortable and familiar and sensible.
This time last year, during this season of Epiphany, I preached a series of sermons around the theme of our calling as we considered where God might be calling us, as church communities, on this peninsula. In the coming weeks, our PCCs will be reviewing the plan which the Steering Group have prepared (Ramsholt have already done it). There will be changes – structural and organisational changes. These may look like cutbacks; it may seem that we are being asked to make do with less. But change is necessary if we are to grow. Sometimes we are called to leave behind that which is comfortable and familiar, to leave our nets and our traditional church lifestyle – dedicated and hardworking though it may be – and follow where God is calling us. The changes that the steering group have discerned are not just change for change sake or to manage decline but to release our time and our energies to go out and preach the gospel. Our 2020 vision is not to have fewer clergy or fewer services or fewer meetings; it is to put aside those things which keep us looking inward into our church buildings rather than outward into our communities; it is to give ustime and energy to devote to the needs of those communities; to tell people of God’s love and the fullness of life he offers; it is to cast off the nets that entangle and inhibit us and follow Jesus to fish for people. Simon, Andrew, James and John didn’t leave their nets and follow Jesus because it was the easy option, not because they weren’t busy enough, not because someone else recommended it as a strategy for the future. They went with Jesus because he called them. Where is he calling YOU?