Sermon – Season of Creation, Energy – Sunday 22nd September 2013.
At a vast cosmic level, there are black holes.
Their extreme energy destroys the remnants of burnt out stars and galaxies.
But in doing that they also create massive energies.
And these spew out the elements which will make new stars, new galaxies.
At the other end of the scale, there are minute structures in each of our body’s cells.
These are called mitochondria, and they are the power houses which convert oxygen to energy and keep us alive.
All three of the readings we have heard this morning utilise energy.
They do it in different ways.
In the Old Testament reading the story reveals God’s glory in fire.
In Jesus’ parable about the 10 bridesmaids, the story issues a warning.
The bridesmaids are divided into 2 groups.
One group is wise - they ensure they have sufficient lamp oil to see them though.
The other group is unwise - that have brought insufficient oil. The warning is: be prepared.
Does this parable and its warning have something to say to us today as we think about energy?
The parable of the 10 bridesmaids is written in the last section of Matthew’s gospel.
Part of the key to understanding its point is found in the first chapters of Matthew
In particular, Jesus’ teaching on Christian attitudes and behaviour in the Sermon on the Mount.
The parable through it warning challenges our attitudes: the Sermon on the Mount allows us to reflect on our response.
So what challenges are there when we switch on the light, the car engine, the cooker or heating?
Perhaps we need to ask ourselves some hard questions.
Firstly, do we have an absolute RIGHT to energy?
We certainly need it for the essentials of life – warmth, cooking lighting.
However our right to energy makes claims on others. Some legitimate, some questionable.
For example, our right requires others to extract, process, and supply us with gas, petrol and electricity. In doing so provides employment which for those employed is their right.
But it also makes claims on land – usually belonging to someone else.
Swathes of land for open cast mining and sighting of oil pumps. Fields for wind and solar farms.
This takes away the land-owners right to their land – and is a negative right - unless it is balanced by just compensation.
It is all a matter of justice. A just means of accessing others land and restoring it to use afterwards, as in the case of some oil companies restoring farm land after laying pipes, Justice in the form of financial compensation (as in the case of farmers being paid rent for use of land used for wind turbines and solar panels).
In the gospel, the unwise bridesmaids make a claim on those with sufficient oil – but in a negative way – the unwise girls expect the wise ones to provide for them when the ir oil has run out.
The seemingly harsh refusal by the wise girls to share their oil may come as a surprise, but this emphasises the contrast in the attitudes of the two groups of girls to their energy supplies.
The second hard question challenges our attitude to energy. Do we value energy by ensuring we have enough for essential life, plus a modicum to spare for unexpected events and the future? Or, because it is there on tap, exploit it to the full and expect someone else to help when we run out?
We all have choices. I can choose what car I buy. Do I choose a fuel efficient one, comfortable enough for family use, and for going about town, or a snazzy fast accelerating one or a Chelsea tractor with all mod cons and higher fuel consumption. Which one will conserve energy for me and for the future? Which will place unreasonable demands on my pocket, fuel supplies, emit more co2 and hasten the demise of energy supplies. Would walking or cycling be more ethical for some journeys? At personal level we can all switch off lights in unoccupied rooms, put on a jumper rather than turn the heating up, recycle water and household goods and refuse. However, some things are a communal responsibility and require us to engage with government policies and technological advances. So, as Christian community, taking note of Jesus warnings and teaching – how does the gospel sit with us at St Johns?
Rather than debating the relative efficiencies of various forms of producing energy, should we not first ask some basic ethical questions – we have looked at the question of our right to energy and some ethical pitfalls. We should also question the method of production and who will benefit. Firstly, what method produces the greatest amount of energy for the least harm? This is called the utilitarian approach to ethics and balances benefit against cost. Secondly, if some harm is inevitable, we should also ask how many will benefit . This is called the greater good ethic, and accepts the method is for the greater good despite it having known and sometimes unforeseen harm.
The answers are important for us now in 2013, and will be a legacy for future generations.
It is not all negative. There is much to celebrate in recent developments of cleaner, efficient car engines, the introduction of hybrid and electric cars, and even experimental electric racing cars. We see the increasing use of wind-turbines and solar energy, and the introduction of Biofuels to help conserve petrol.
A recent BBC “Countryfile” programme interviewed people on their responses to wind and solar farms. Some welcomed them as contributing to energy conservation. But others were ready to dismiss them as a blot on the landscape, or for only producing 6% of our energy requirements, forgetting that these technologies are young and need developing.
It would be easy to see the blot rather than the potential. As Christians, we should see these advances as gifts from God, to be encouraged.
Like all parables, the gospel parable challenges our attitudes, makes us reflect, and hopefully provokes a change in attitude. Children are prone to asking hard questions. Rather than asking us where the light comes from when they turn on the switch: in dismissing present strategies for providing for the future, future generations could be asking us why we did so, and why the lights have gone out.