Christian Aid Sermon based on Psalm 31: 1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 3: 13-22; John 14: 15-21
For 60 years Christian Aid has given people the chance to be part of a story of transformation. They have been working with refuges for decades, speaking a language of love and welcome, and we at Christ Church have had the honour and pleasure of being part of that journey.
Today we want to celebrate our commitment to Christian Aid as a church; to understand why we make that commitment and to understand how God enables us to make that commitment.
How wonderful was Theodor’s story in the video earlier! As a refugee after the second world war he feels that he owes his life to Christian Aid and has pledged to Christian Aid that he will do his best for the cause, as long as he lives, and is still knocking on doors and collecting envelopes at the age of 91. Wow! A living example of the importance of the work of Christian Aid on why we do it, lives are saved, and how we do it, through humbly knocking on doors and asking our neighbours to help the stranger and the needy.
You may recall that during Lent we had a service about receiving Christ in the stranger and the needy. Jesus had explained to us that when we help the poor and needy it is as if we are helping Jesus but when we ignore the poor and the needy, it is as if we are ignoring Christ himself.
So why do we make a commitment as a Church to Christian aid, is it out of the thought on how Christ will judge us on how we treat the poor and the needy?
I think it goes much deeper than that and it is an action based on love and not fear. Christian Aid is a story of transformation, transforming lives with a belief of life before death and as Christians we are transformed people.
So how? How are we transformed? Well, the John reading we just heard contains the deepest theological knowledge of all: that Jesus and the Father are ‘in’ each other, and that we are ‘in’ him and he ‘in’ us. It explains how we are joined to Jesus and the Father by an unbreakable bond of love.
We are transformed people because we are ‘in’ him and he ‘in’ us. Our actions are based on God’s love because we are ‘in’ him and he ‘in’ us. Whether we like it or not, God is graciously and lovingly changing us into becoming more like him, more Christ like.
Have you seen that change in yourself? Think back now. Have you noticed that perhaps your values are changing? Do you have more empathy for people? Do you unconsciously try to understand where they are coming from, whether you agree with them or not? Do you find it harder to turn away from someone in need?
God is love and whether we like it or not that love is flowing through us and is now part of our DNA as a Christian. We love because we first were loved and so we respond in love.
We also just heard Jesus saying that ‘if you love me you will keep my commandments’. In John 15:12 he expanded on this: ‘My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you’. We must reach out with the love of Jesus and love one another, friends and strangers.
So, why do we make a commitment as a church to Christian Aid? Because it is a charity that we believe is aligned to our values of love for all and helps the stranger and the needy. A charity run by fellow Christians, who respond to Jesus’ commandment to ‘Love each other as I have loved you’ and who are transformed and enabled by the Holy Spirit.
Reflection on these passages help us understand why we make a commitment to Christian Aid but how does God enable us to make that commitment? How are we able to do the work we do for Christian Aid?
We play our part for Christian Aid in a variety of ways. As a church we continue to commit to door-to-door collections, we have monthly collections, coffee collections (including the Easter breakfast collection when some wonderful bacon butties and even poached eggs were lovingly cooked), and through prayer.
All of these actions require commitment and today’s bible passages again explains how God enables us to make that commitment. It is through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus offered comfort to the disciples, telling them they will not be alone once he has gone to the Father. We read ‘I will not leave you orphaned’. ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.’ This is the promise of the Holy Spirit. The comfort provided by the Holy Spirit to the first disciples is also offered to us as followers of Jesus. When we choose to reach out to those in need the Holy Spirit both equips us and reveals Jesus to us.
I, like many here, have been collecting for Christian Aid for a very long time. I would love to say that door-to-door collections are like the videos that Christian Aid often show of a leafy lane street, collecting in pairs and the sun is shining in the background. It invariably isn’t like that and the only comfort of standing in the inevitable rain is the hope of some extra ‘sympathy’ money in the envelope as they feel sorry for you.
‘Doing what is right despite difficult circumstances’ is clearly the theme of the passage from Peter’s letter that we have just heard. Peter says ‘Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.’ Basically it is saying, that it is unlikely that someone would stop you, since you are doing good, but if they try to, do not fear what they fear and do not be intimidated. You will be blessed for doing what is right.
Being a supporter of Christian Aid can be an example of doing what is right despite difficult circumstances, whether that be from standing in the rain; the need to swallow our pride as we step out with humility and effectively beg on behalf of a stranger; or if we are ridiculed or criticised for our commitment to the cause.
‘To do good anyway’ is a thought that many Christians often consider in a world where fear dominates but we must ‘not fear what they fear’. We must do what is right despite difficult circumstances. Those who speak out for what is right often get criticised for their actions, but as Christians we are called to follow Jesus who is so often found with those who are suffering and marginalised.
And finally we reflect on the Old Testament reading of David’s praise to God for deliverance from his enemies. ‘The Lord is our refuge, our rock and our fortress’ – which is further affirmation of God’s help. But it is verse 15 that stands out, ‘my times are in your hands’. This is quite a challenging image when set against the current refugee crisis. ‘My times are in your hands’.
Time after time, refugees speak of the agony of living in limbo, stuck and stopped at a border, unable to move, unable to work or have access to education for their children, not knowing when, if ever, they will know what their future holds or where it lies. After losing everything, and often everyone, they move to more uncertainty and anxiety – their time is in the hands of others.
Their time is in our hands . Our hands are God’s hands. They are the only hands that God has to work with here on earth. We are showing the world a glimpse of God through our ‘hands-on’ involvement in Christian Aid week. We show them a glimpse of Jesus’ humility as we swallow our pride and humbly ask them for a donation and they see a glimpse of the Holy Spirit as he works in and through us.
Today we want to celebrate our commitment to Christian Aid as a church; we make that commitment as we demonstrate God’s love and God enables us to make that commitment through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We will soon be commissioning the door-to-door collectors for this Christian Aid week. We will be praying that they see the task as the rich act of love that it is and that the money collected brings fullness of life to those in need.
And so I ask for your prayers. If you do not feel called to do a door-to-door collection then please keep the collectors in your prayers this week. I used to collect on Sandholme Crescent and I always called in on Kath Foster first. Why? Because I knew when I left she would be praying for me whilst I went round the estate. I would feel uplifted in prayer. What a blessing Kath was to our church.
I also remember Rev.d Ruth Gee returning from her trip to Zimbabwe and I vividly remember asking her what I could do to help. I thought she would say that we need to raise finance to help them and perhaps I could act as treasurer to look after the finances but instead she simply looked me square in the eyes and said, pray.
So this Christian Aid week we celebrate Christ Church’s continued support of the cause. 60 years of working with refugees, speaking a language of love and welcome in this challenging world. By the end of 1960 the refugee camps in Europe were finally closed. For refugees like Theodor, this meant they could at last rebuild their lives in peace and safety. Theodor has never forgotten the acts of Christian kindness that he feels he owes his life to.
But we must pray that we will not be celebrating the 70th anniversary of Christian Aid. Why? Because we must pray for an end to extreme poverty, an end to the need for Christian Aid. But in the meantime, we join our fellow Christian brothers and sisters this Christian Aid week and share God’s love to everyone we meet in one of the greatest acts of Christian witness. Amen.