CHRISTIAN AID WEEK 2012 runs from Sunday 13th to Saturday 19th May and was launched here in Langford with a joint Anglican/Methodist service, commissioning the team of envelope distributors and collectors, and calling the congregation to live out the challenge of the incarnation by standing together with the poor.
The sermon, which includes material provided by Christian Aid, was presented by the Revd Sue Groom, Priest-in-Charge of St Andrew's, Langford, and St Mary's, Henlow.
Sermon: The Power of Standing Together
John's gospel is the gospel of incarnation. In the beginning, Jesus was with God. Jesus is God. The Word becomes flesh and lives among us in order to bring life to the world, life in all its fullness.
Today's gospel reading is part of Jesus' extended farewell discourse, spoken in anticipation of his own death. It looks back to the washing of his disciples' feet and forwards to the sending out of his disciples, and to Jesus' prayer for unity.
The meaning of discipleship is a theme throughout John's gospel, and loving service is at its very core. Jesus speaks of the unity and the love between himself and the Father in the Spirit. Jesus calls his disciples to abundant life in this unity and in this love. He tells us that in such living, his disciples' joy will be complete.
The fourteenth century mystic Meister Eckhart wrote:God lies in wait for us with nothing so much as love. Now love is like a fishhook. A fisher cannot catch a fish unless the fish first picks the hook. If the fish swallows the hook, no matter how it may squirm and turn, the fisher is certain of the fish. Love is the same way. Whoever is captured by love takes up his hook in such a fashion that foot and hand, mouth and eyes, heart and all that is in that person must always belong to God. Therefore, look only for this fishhook, and you will be happily caught. The more you are caught, the more you will be liberated.
Download the Gbap Story:
The Power of Standing Together (pdf, 291kb)
Christian Aid Week this year tells a story of liberation in Sierra Leone: Sierra Leone has vast natural resources of fertile land and mineral wealth, but in spite of this abundance, its turbulent past has left it with great challenges. Many people's lives are defined by hunger, and their prospects limited by the urgency of finding enough to eat. In a society where women and young people are marginalized, decision-making can be weighted against those who are naturally more vulnerable in society, and the cycle of hunger and poverty continues.
Christian Aid supporters Mike, Peter and Llinos travelled to Gbap in rural Sierra Leone last summer. There they saw the work of the Methodist Church of Sierra Leone, who encouraged the people of Gbap to set up a village development committee, and gave local farmers some simple tools that vastly increased the amount they could grow. Now that the community is free to think beyond their immediate hunger, their lives have changed beyond measure.
The feisty Mary Samuels is someone whose voice would traditionally have been ignored. She told the supporters,before… we women weren't listened to in the community. It was a huge disappointment to us because we feel we have an important role to play. Now I am a part of the village development committee, I am not afraid of making a contribution. The men and elders recognize and respect our voice.
The village development committee successfully lobbied the government for an agricultural work centre, enabling farmers to process the food they grow on their land, and for a new school building. Mary says, ‘with the school, we are seeing something which comes from us. I feel empowered as a result.’
Although the community members have grown up in a rural setting, the displacement and loss of life resulting from civil war meant that many of their agricultural skills have been lost. Samking is an agricultural adviser in Gbap. He says, ‘Living with people within a community goes a long way to help you understand their problems. You… see their way of life and you know what challenges are facing them.’ He has worked with the community to develop techniques for farming the floodplain, where they had previously only cultivated a tiny fraction of the land.
The town of Gbap will not be transformed overnight, but huge changes are starting to take place.
Peter says:When we go out in Christian Aid Week, we tend to see our efforts as being so small as to be hardly worthwhile. I hope that meeting people like Mary helps us to realize that our small actions come together to add up to huge changes which we can make.
We see in Gbap what can happen when individuals think beyond themselves and work for the good of the community. The whole is far more than the sum of its parts. Community does not always come naturally to us in the West. Christian Aid Week is an opportunity to work together; to celebrate the love we have been offered by God, and commanded to take into the world by Jesus.
The unity between the Father and the Son is one of perfect love. As Jesus relates to his disciples as friends, so are we to relate to one another. This has profound implications for how we live out our faith. It speaks of a relationship where we come alongside another person rather than trying to overpower them. The Word became flesh and lived among us. Jesus walked this earth as one of us. So, we are called to live alongside one another as Samking did in Gbap.
Christian Aid believes that poverty is, at its heart, an issue of power. And in their approach to development, they seek to empower poor communities rather than imposing their own solutions. This year the people of Gbap have been empowered to speak out for change and look towards a better future.
In pointing forwards to the prayer for unity for Jesus' followers, today's gospel passage considers how Christian community might look. The people of Gbap have come together and worked for change, and in doing so, their community has been transformed beyond anything they could have dreamed.
Tenneh Keimbay, one of the food production group, speaks of how she is inspired by working together:What inspires me in life is unity. To me, unity means coming together to decide on one thing and take that forward.
Jesus commands us to love one another. And the reading from Acts is a hint as to what this love looks like. God's salvation through his Spirit is for the whole world not just for our own corner of it. If we truly believe that God values the whole world the same, and that God's salvation and abundant life is for the whole world, how does this imply that we behave?
A great American storyteller wrote about two young people who were very much in love: Christmas Eve was coming and they wanted to give presents to each other. But they were very poor and had no money for presents. So each one, without telling the other, decided to sell his or her most precious possession. The girl's pride and joy was her long golden hair. She went to a hairdresser and had it cut off. She sold it to buy a lovely gold chain for her lover's watch. He, meanwhile, had gone to a jeweller and sold his watch to buy two beautiful combs for his beloved's hair. They gave their gifts. There were tears at first, then laughter. There was no hair for the combs and no watch for the chain. But there was something far more precious and that was their self-sacrificing love.
Jesus calls us to love one another. ‘Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.’
Love one another. Love involves reaching out to people we may not know and may never meet. Love involves working for the good of the whole world. In doing so, we are told, our joy will be complete.Love has a hem to its garment
that touches the very dust;
It can reach the stains of the streets and lanes,
and because it can, it must.