Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
10 May 2015, Christian Aid Sunday
Scripture Readings: 1 John 5:1-6
A sermon from Christian Aid by Rev Dr Craig Gardiner, a member of Christian Aid’s worship collective. Born in the North of Ireland, he is Tutor in Christian Doctrine at South Wales Baptist College, a member of the Iona Community
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today’s gospel reading follows on from Christ’s image of the vine and the branches- and here Jesus tells the disciples to remain in him, to abide in his love. It’s all part of John’s long account of Jesus at the Last Supper- these words are, in effect, a part of his farewell speech to those who have followed him for years and to whom he will entrust his unfolding purposes on earth. Final words often have an urgency to them and so, too, here. Jesus reminds the disciples that he has chosen them to carry on and bear fruit that will last. Central to those purposes will be the costly ways in which they learn to abide in Christ: ‘greater love has no one than they lay down their lives for each other’- the disciples must learn to live in faith, inspire hope and show such sacrificial love.
The idea of abiding has associations of homemaking: our abode is often the safe space in which our body, mind and spirit are strengthened, a sanctuary against the ravages of a broken world and our own wounded soul. Such a home might become a place where our hearts turn in upon themselves, seeking comfort and self-interest, but not with Jesus. Abiding in Christ means our home is open and turned outwards to love and embrace others. Our motivations are transformed from revenge, greed and safety. Instead, we choose to abide in compassion and solidarity with the poorest and weakest neighbours of the world. But as we seek to do so, we discover a stubborn and global injustice- wherever any people are excluded and exploited, it is the women of that society who will suffer most.
Worldwide, women are estimated to spend 40 billion hours collecting water every year. Compared to men, they can spend more than 10 times the amount of time doing unpaid care work. In these respects, it’s certainly true that poverty has a woman’s face. In many communities, the cost of being a woman is paid from birth- girls are denied a proper education and are soon put to menial work.
Deprived of an education, they must then rely on men for their survival, men who often deliver the horrifying reality where one-third of the world’s women have been beaten or sexually abused. There is simply no way to remain in the love of Jesus and ignore such facts.
There is no way to remain in the love of Jesus and fail to respond to people like Adi Abduba.
Adi was one of the poorest of the poor. A widow with no education, no livestock and eight hungry children, she was without status in her community. But for all that, she believed that her life ought to be better. Through a Christian Aid Partner organisation- HUNDEE- Adi was given a cow that opened up a world of possibilities. With that cow, Adi got milk, churned butter, made a little money and saved enough to build a small shop by her home. As 1 John 5:5 affirms, everyone born of God will overcome the world, and Adi, through her hard work, has indeed prevailed over the prejudice and injustice that flourished all around her.
With a little love from Christian Aid supporters, she has not only found a new hope for herself, but inspires such hope in others, too. She says: ‘When I think about my situation and some of my friends, how the livestock are giving birth and our lives are improving, I feel so happy I could cry.’ The words of Psalm 98 might well be the song of Adi’s heart as she milks and churns, as she saves and dreams of a better tomorrow, ‘sing to the Lord a new song for he has done marvellous things…the Lord has made Heaven’s salvation known upon the earth’.
So, too, might Loko Jarso join in that song of praise: she, too, might ‘shout for joy and make music to the Lord’. She might do one day… but not today… for this song is not yet the rhythm of her heart. But it could be: if this Christian Aid Week, churches in Britain and Ireland live faith, inspire hope and abide in love, then her songs might yet be transformed from deep lament to hymns of praise.
For now, four times a week, in a remote corner of Ethiopia, Loko still makes a dangerous, back-breaking eight-hour trip to gather firewood, which she sells to keep her family alive. Loko walks alone, her thin plastic shoes punctured by thorns, afraid she could be attacked by hyenas at any moment. It’s a task she dreads, but she steels herself to do it because if she doesn’t her children will starve. Yet with each burdened step, she keeps faith and prays to God: ‘Change my life and lead us out of this.’
For now, collecting wood is the only means Loko has of earning money. On the days when she is not out collecting, she’s at the market looking for buyers. It’s the only way she can afford to give her children even one small meal of boiled maize each day. There’s no safety net for Loko. No one else will step in if she falls ill or injures herself. As a woman living alone and without livestock, she is shunned, isolated and ignored. ‘What makes being alone difficult is not having the respect of your community,’ she says.
With so little, Loko’s faith in God refuses to give up hope. She dreams of owning a cow. The milk would keep her children strong; the money saved could help her establish a business. Just £5 would allow her to start selling tea and coffee. With £150, she could buy a cow like Adi’s. Such simple actions can and ought to transform her life from songs of lament into hymns of praise.
Adi and Loko are examples of the way in which, with Christian Aid’s support, churches in Britain and Ireland might abide in love, live our faith and inspire hope. Christian Aid is also teaching women like Adi and Loko about literacy and maths, and how to adapt to climate change by growing more resilient crops. It’s also encouraging men to rise above gender prejudice and include women in the decisions that affect them both. Surely this is nothing but the coming of the Holy Spirit, as in Acts 10? As with the Gentiles back then, and as with many women today, those who have previously been excluded from society and denied the blessings of God are now to be gathered into a new community, a gospel people, a family in which we are brothers and sisters to Loko and Adi.
Whether we abide in this family through our giving, our actions or our prayers, whether we collect from house to house, do a sponsored event or get involved in our worship, the challenge is to exceed the £12m raised last year during Christian Aid Week. That challenge is one for us to meet today with our donations as we support our church collection.
Imagine how, with such resources deployed, other lives might be transformed, imagine how the rivers might echo the Psalmist and clap their hands, imagine the mountains singing for joy as creation bears witness to the Lord’s salvation, moving through women like Adi and Loko.
Imagine the joy in Heaven when justice is done upon the earth. Imagine the joy in Jesus’ face, imagine that joy in your heart and mine: for living our faith, inspiring hope and abiding in the love of Christ is not simply what will make Adi and Loko sing for joy; Jesus assures us that it is what will make our own joy complete.
In truth, we do not need to imagine much of this at all.
We have already heard the stories. We know that such Kingdom transformations are already happening. God is already at work, so come and share in the joy.
Come and join in the work of the Kingdom. This Christian Aid Week,
let us live the faith, inspire with hope and show God’s love for the world.
Ascription of Praise
Now to God
who is able through the power
which is at work among us
to do immeasurably more
than all we can ask or conceive,
to God be the glory
in the church and in Christ Jesus
from generation to generation for evermore, Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 (REB)
© 2015 Christian Aid