I went to the cinema to see the Croods, an animation film for children. It’s a story about a family of cavemen who live in their dark cave and come out only to find food. Their motto is to fear everything, because fear protects them. But the world is changing whether they like it or not. Tectonic plates are shifting and suddenly their world is very dangerous, with earthquakes and landslips. Their cave is smashed and they have to run to safety.
The rebellious teenage daughter, Eep, is beginning to question the family values and wants to explore the wider world. She meets a boy who knows how to use fire and he is able, reluctantly, to steer Eep and her family through the dangers to a place where they will be able to make a new life. As they make that journey, they have to learn to take risks, they have to face their fears, and so find that a dangerous monster turns out to be a pussy cat. They have to embrace the light instead of hiding in the darkness. Then at the moment of greatest danger, the father is ready to take the biggest risk of his life and sacrifice himself to ensure all the others can get to safety. This is a cartoon, so even he is saved in the end, bringing with him all sorts of animal characters they have met along the way.
The old world is coming to an end, and the cave family have to put aside their fears and learn new skills so that they can survive and thrive in the new world.
There is a new world too in the story from Revelation, the new holy city is coming out of heaven upon the earth, a city of light, a city of goodness and truth, where living water flows from the Temple, and the trees which line the river produce food and medicine for the healing of the nations. It is a glorious image, and a story that is built into the fabric of this church in the William Blake window in the Chapel of All Saints. But that city isn’t going to come upon us without pain or difficulty. Bringing it into life means earthquakes and landslips and volcanoes you cannot imagine and dangers you can only dream of.
And yesterday’s episode of Dr Who also picked up on the theme of the new Jerusalem, though in this story, evil Diana Rigg was going to establish a society of perfect people in a perfect town called Sweetville, which she referred to as the new Jerusalem, after destroying all the unperfect people, including her own daughter.
Some people think of the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, as the place where we go when we die, and that’s not right either – the new Jerusalem is about the here and now, about how we build God’s kingdom in this world today.
And we have to learn not to be afraid, not to hide in the darkness but turn to the light, to take risks and be willing to change.
In the first reading, Lydia was willing to change. She went to worship with the other Jews by the river at their regular meeting place. And Paul came along and told them about the Lord Jesus and how he had conquered death and risen from the dead, and how this meant that her sins were forgiven and she could live life anew. Lydia’s heart was moved and she said Yes! And she and all her family were baptized. The world had changed in a moment and she embraced it eagerly.
It’s like the man with disabilities that Jesus heals in the Gospel story. Already the man is hoping for a miracle as he lies beside the Sheep Pool. Every now and then the waters would be stirred up and the first one in to the water got healed. But because of his impairments, he could never get there fast enough, and there was no one to help him. So Jesus heals him, and he is cured. Now the world has changed for him. He can walk. He can act independently. But it was going to take courage to face that new world, to grasp the opportunities.
As a church, we live in troubled times. We all know it. Every Sunday we come together to worship and offer to God the very best we can do. But the church is steadily shrinking, its members are becoming older and more infirm, we do not draw people in to the worship of the living God, we do not tell others about the good news of Jesus, we do not live out God’s love as effectively as we might, we do not pray together very much. We do our best, for sure, but it doesn’t seem to have much impact. And yes, this is a difficult area and we do live in a secular age.
The world is changing. If you listen to the rumblings, you can tell the earth is shaking. These are dangerous times. The holy city is being brought to birth. We have work to do. We have to take risks. We have to stop hiding in the dark and face the light. We have to let God in. We have to pray. Things will not stay the same. We may be in for turbulent times. I don’t know what the future looks like, but I know that it will be different from the way we have understood church for the last 110 years. Be faithful. Be prayerful. Be open to the future. Let God be God. And all shall be well.