Church of England Diocese of Leicester Skeffington

Sermon 12th May 2019

12 May 2019, 11 a.m.

<span style="font-size: 1rem;">Readings: Acts 9:36-43, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30.</span>

Today Christian Aid Week begins – it is a time to look outwards to our sisters and brothers across the world, this year with a spotlight on Sierra Leone.

This reflection today is compiled from this year’s Christian Aid Week resources. It is an opportunity to consider how we respond to the call to make God’s Kingdom come and God’s will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.

When Tabitha/Dorcas became ill and died, her body was washed in the customary way. This practice is also part of death rituals in Sierra Leone.

During the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2016, it was very difficult for communities to stop ritual washing in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

It was thanks to ministers such as the Rev Christiana Sutton-Koroma, who partnered with Christian Aid during the Ebola crisis, that the message to prevent the spread of disease by stopping ritual washing was heard.

She was instrumental in leading safe and dignified burials for people who were killed by Ebola without the need for the ritual washing.

We too draw inspiration from Acts as we respond to her invitation to participate in the mission of God this Christian Aid Week in both in our communities and in places such as Sierra Leone.

There is much grief in this story from the book of Acts, grief for the loss of the generous and skillful Dorcas.

The grief of a life cut short is all too resonant with the stories being shared from Sierra Leone this Christian Aid Week, particularly about the death of mothers in childbirth and babies in infancy. There are a couple of stories here if you would like to read them, I shall leave these at the back of church.

Sierra Leone is the most dangerous place in the world to become a mum due to the lack of healthcare facilities:10 women die every day in childbirth.

Dorcas had clearly touched the lives of those gathered around her at the time of her death. The stories of her good works, her generosity and her skills gushed from those who mourned her.

Hers was a life that had already left a legacy in the lives of those around her, we can only imagine how generously and abundantly she lived after being raised from death!

When we encounter our own vulnerability, maybe through sickness, life-altering or even near-death experiences, we often resolve to live in a more intentional or generous way.

This Christian Aid Week, we are all invited to participate in the legacy of Dorcas as we get to give generously to the work of partners who are working to improve the healthcare in Sierra Leone.

They are building health centres so mothers no longer have to walk long distances to give birth, and are training healthcare professionals.

John writes of his vision in the book of Revelation. It is a revelation that brings not only hope for the future, but also a vision of how God wants the world to be.

The book is written at a time when the Roman Empire is advancing. The Empire seeks more and more political and economic power. And to get it the Romans demand that their own emperors and traditional gods are worshipped.

But John is offering another way, the way of worshipping God. The scenes he describes provide encouragement to the early churches to directly challenge the powers that would suppress the kingdom of God.

His vision of God’s kingdom, the new heaven and new earth,

is one of hope. ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be

no more, for the first things have passed away.’

This vision of heaven allows us to look at life on earth afresh. Revelation show us how God wants things to be.

This is what we are asking for every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer – when we say – ‘your will be done, your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven’.

John shares this vision of heaven, not only so that we can hope for the future, but so that we can be inspired by a vision of how God wants the world to be.

Through supporting Christian Aid and its partners working in Sierra Leone to provide improved health services for mums and babies,

we join in with what John was seeking to do in his revelation:

We too can challenge the political and economic systems that are oppressing and marginalising the community there.

While the government of Sierra Leone is still paying back the loans it was given to help cope with the Ebola crisis, it struggles to fund adequate health clinics, proper health training, or enough ambulances.

Debt repayments are taking money away from the healthcare that is desperately needed to tackle death in childbirth.

There are so many ways we can reach out into the world, be there for others and make a difference.

This could be donating money this Christian Aid Week, supporting the campaign action to drop Sierra Leone’s Ebola debt, joining us in prayer for transformation in Sierra Leone, other ways of supporting the fundraising for medical centres and staff and equipment...

But thanks to the work of Christian Aid, pregnant mums like Jebbeh can now hope to deliver safely, with the gift of a better health clinic.

Hopefully she will not suffer the same tragic fate of her sister who died giving birth on the way to a health centre that was a three-hour walk away.

So this week I pray, may we all be inspired to consider what legacy we might give in our time, talent and resources, to help people in need... that God’s kingdom come, his will be done on earth as in heaven.

Amen.

(Photo credit: Christian Aid/Tom Pilston)