Homily for Christian Aid Week - 10th - 16th May - by Paul Hardman
1 John 5:1-6
5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.
5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
5:3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,
5:4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.
5:5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
5:6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
15:9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.
15:11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
15:12 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
15:13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.
15:14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
15:15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
15:16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.
15:17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
One of the questions which the Northumbria Community asks of its members is; ‘How then shall we live?’ What should the Christian life be like? In chapter 10 of John’s gospel, Jesus tells us that he has come so that we could have life in abundance, life to the full.
Have you ever wondered what he meant? What is this life in abundance? Did he mean wealth perhaps? That we may have an abundance of money or possessions? Fast cars and lots of holidays? That we may be successful in business and never ill, at least not until a grand old age. There are even today churches, particularly in the USA, that preach this sort of message , sometimes known as a Prosperity Gospel.
Against this we have Jesus’ teaching about service. Our gospel and epistle readings today remind us of the centrality of love to our faith. And of course we know that we are not talking about an airy-fairy chocolates and champagne type of love (Not that there is anything wrong with that type of love in the right situation). Love in the New Testament is a much more earthy, grounded sort of love .The sort of love which gets involved with a person, the sort of love which gets it’s hands dirty.
The sort of love that cleans up the mess. The sort of love which comes alongside a person in need, which fights for them. It is the sort of love which is sometimes tiring, sometimes draining, always costly. It is love which is hard work, painful. Love which sometimes takes all you can give and leaves you exhausted, disillusioned, confused.
So we have two very different pictures of Christian Life. Which is correct? Are we called to the abundant life or to a life of serving? Which did Jesus mean? Or perhaps we have had to do the hard work of loving and serving before we get the life of abundance? A bit like the parent who says ‘You can’t have your pudding until you’ve eaten your greens ‘
Or as Pink Floyd puts it:
If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding.
How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?
In truth though, I think this is all missing the point. I think the point is that the life of love and service IS the abundant life. They are not different things. The abundant life is not about an abundance of things, money, power, success and so forth.
It is about being fully alive. Fully engaged with the world around us and its people. Fully committed to seek justice for the poor , the marginalised , the disadvantaged and discriminated against. It is about being the best versions of ourselves that we can possibly be.
So perhaps we could measure the abundance of our lives in terms not of our wealth and power but in terms of how many people we have loved. How many people we have comforted. How much we have spoken up for the poor. How much we have given of our wealth and indeed of ourselves to help those in need across the world. How many people have been helped because of what we have done or said or given or prayed.
This brings me to Christian Aid Week, which is this week.
The pandemic has inevitably made us somewhat introverted. Our focus has been on the pain and grief around us, in our nation, in our communities and even in our own families.
But the problems of the developing world have not gone away and indeed the pandemic has made them all the more severe. We are painfully aware of the situation in India at present, of the suffering and grief caused by Covid there. We are thankful for our vaccines, but well aware that there is huge inequality in access to Covid vaccines across the world.
And of course the problems of poverty, climate change and injustice across the world continue.
Christian Aid is 75 years old this year and for 75 years has been working with local partners and Communities in some of the poorest countries around the world. At present it is working with over 500 partner organisations in 27countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, The Middle East and the Caribbean.
In each of these countries there are individuals, families and communities who need our help. Thousand upon thousands of individuals, made in the image of God but struggling and suffering because of poverty, discrimination and oppression.
People like 60 year old Rose in Kenya. For Rose the effects of climate change are having a huge impact. Sometimes there are floods and sometimes drought. There is a local reservoir with an earth dam but it is small and so does not hold much of the rain which does fall in the wet season and quickly runs dry when the wet season is over. For Rose, life during the dry season is dominated by her long daily walk to collect water.
Try to imagine what life would be like if you had to spend 6 hours every day walking to get water.
Think how hard it would be to get anything else done, to find the time and energy to grow food or to earn some money for your family
The Christian Aid week film (see above) tells the story of Florence, also from Kenya, who has greatly benefitted from a local dam, built with assistance from Christian Aid. Unlike Rose, she no longer has to spend hours every day walking to collect water. She and her local community have been able to start a community garden and she has started a bee keeping business .
Stories of need can of course be multiplied millions of times across the world, and that is why Christian Aid is involved not just in providing direct assistance to those in need but also working and campaigning to change the unjust structures and policies which keep so many people poor and powerless whilst others grow rich. A particular focus at the moment is climate change. Climate change disproportionately harms poorer people like Florence and Rose in Kenya.
This is why Christian Aid is actively involved in campaigning to reduce carbon emissions. So how can we help?
May I make three suggestions?
1Find out more.
Find out about the issues of the developing world. The Christian Aid website is a great place to start. Get informed. It is when we understand the issues of a situation that we are more likely to take action to improve things.
You can find the Christian Aid website here: https://www.christianaid.org.uk/
Pray about the work of Christian Aid, pray for the people and situations you have heard or read about.
Ask God whether you should get more involved;
There are various ways to help Christian Aid as a volunteer. This might involve joining the local Christian Aid Committee. It might mean thinking up ideas or putting on events to raise money, or it might mean taking part in campaigning on issues such as climate change, writing to you MP or signing a petition.
Consider making a donation to Christian Aid, either as a one off donation or as a regular donation. We all know that money is needed to enable charities like Christian Aid to function and that the needs always are greater than the resources available. Fund raising for Christian Aid has been particularly difficult in the last year because, as you know, the pandemic has restricted the fundraising that can be done. Here in Retford we usually have Christian Aid lunches throughout Lent. These were stopped at the start of the first lockdown last year and have not happened at all this year and so money which would normally have been raised hasn’t been.
If you can give something to Christian Aid, that would be great.
If you could give on a regular basis, that would be wonderful.
If you could remember Christian Aid when you make your will that would be marvellous.
You can contribute to the Christian Aid total for Retford by using our JustGiving site, or you can contribute directly on the Christian Aid Website.
Alternatively you can put your donation either in an official Christian Aid envelope or in an ordinary envelope marked ‘For Christian Aid’ and leave it in the collection at either church.
Pat Bloodworth from St Michael’s is the treasurer for the Retford Christian Aid Group so she would be able to help if you have any difficulty making a donation.
The link to the Just Giving site is in the weekly email and there is also a link to a Christian Aid film presented by Jeremy Gowers-Cromie who is the Christian Aid Church Engagement officer for the East Midlands. This film includes the film about Florence which I mentioned above.
Finally, the paradox blessing:
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, superficial relationships, so that you will live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you will work for justice, equity, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and change their pain to joy.
And may God bless you with the foolishness to think that you can make a difference in the world, so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done.