here's the text of the sermon I preached today, as we begin Christian Aid Week.
Easter 6 yr C Christian Aid sermon
I wonder how you're feeling in the wake of the past few days.
You may be disappointed that so little seems to have been settled, appalled at the muddles that prevented some voters from getting to cast their votes at all, exhausted by the emotional highs and lows as seats were declared through the long hours of Thursday night and Friday morning...
It's been quite a week in UK politics – but will there be lasting change?
So many promises, so much hope...but our country and our world needs something far greater, a genuine transformation that is beyond the remit of any party, whatever size their majority.
Our gospel this morning is another part of the great outpouring of the hopes, dreams and prayers that Jesus left with his disciples – the passage known as the “Farewell discourse” that we have been following over recent weeks. Last week we considered Jesus's manifesto for ministry as he rose to speak in the synagogue in Nazareth– today we're looking at the legacy that he longs to see lived out in the lives of those he leaves behind him.
“Those who love me will keep my word...”
This passage comes at a pivot point in John's gospel. Ahead lies the shadow of the cross, but Jesus looks beyond that separation to the fulness of resurrection life to come, and the promise of the Holy Spirit.
That Spirit, says Jesus, will be an Advocate...One who speaks on behalf of those who are voiceless...
Let's just think for a moment about those who ARE voiceless in our world.
Not us...We may have issues with the current electoral system, - we may feel that as individuals we can't really change anything that happens on the larger stage – but in truth, we do have the freedom and the resources to make a difference. We can risk going out on a limb for religious or political beliefs knowing that it's unlikely to cost us more than a bit of embarassment, a few uncomfortable conversations with friends and colleagues.
We are protected in so many ways, ways that perhaps we barely notice.
If we are silent, that is our choice.
We can speak without fear of reprisal on so many issues...and indeed as Christians we have a duty to do so.
More of that in a moment...
But who then are the voiceless?
In a society where communication is celebrated as never before, where we can engage at any moment of the day or night with friends across the globe, there are still too many who have no place in the conversation.
Those without access to education
Those living where democracy seems beyond their wildest dreams
Those struggling to survive amid poverty that we can barely imagine.
Today Christian Aid week begins.There's much I could share with you of specific projects, of groups and individuals whose lives will be changed by people like us, who bother to turn out in the rain to deliver envelopes, who transform church halls into shops for a week, who run fair trade coffee mornings and fish and chips quiz nights. If you ever doubt the value of the yearly push to fill envelopes and encourage reluctant neighbours to contribute, there are hundreds of stories to inspire you...But today I want to explore why this kind of giving, this kind of campaigning is built into our faith – not an optional extra but part of our essential Christian DNA.
“Those who love me will keep my word....”
There is no room for confusion. We are commanded to follow Christ’s word – to love as Christ loves. We see in Christ’s life, ministry and passion his absolute love. And throughout his life on earth he demonstrated compassion for the poor and marginalised people. This gospel passage comes soon after the washing of the feet, and the implication is clear – this is how we are to love; this is how we are to follow.
It isn't always comfortable...but then, real love doesn’t shy away from the unclean, unpleasant, unsanitised things of the world. It drives us to respond to them, by practical love that works for change.
Does that sound too difficult? Too challenging? Too scary?
If you don't think you can manage – you're in good company.
I don't think anyone here realistically believes that they CAN love as Jesus did.
We tend, as fallible human beings, to prefer not to follow the way of the cross.
We prefer to curl up in a safe place, rather than stand against the powers and principalities of this world.
We think that perhaps we can abdicate......but no, that isn't an option.
We are called to love.
But don't panic....though loving as Christ does is not humanly possible in our own strength, we have been given the Holy Spirit.
As the Spirit comes to us, we are offered transforming gifts, love, joy, peace, kindness and patience, coming not from our own limited resources but directly from God's overflowing treasure chest. Christian Aid Week always falls in the liturgical season of Easter – our celebration of the sure and certain hope that Christ has won for us. The God that could raise Christ from the dead has power beyond our imagining to transform the world and invites us to co-operate in that transformation.
Christ’s resurrection tells us that there is not only an alternative vision for the world, but also another end to the story, and that if we can enter into the story of sacrifice, there is abundant life to be found.
In the passage from Revelation we glimpse the completion of the perfect kingdom enabled by Christ’s work of redemption
Always we struggle because that kingdom that is both now and yet to come..secured for us by Christ's saving action on the cross, but apparently out of reach as we look around...It is both a clear and wonderful goal and a sad, stark contrast to the brokenness of so much of our world today.
So we strive towards the golden hope represented, but wonder if it's truly attainable...
We dream of the heavenly city, a perfect society – vast and open to all, without pain, death or suffering. God and people dwell together because there is nothing to marr their relationship; all exist in perfect communion, perfect community.
This is a place of abundant health, where the tree of life grows -whose leaves are for the healing of nations.
This is a place of transforming light – light streaming from God's own self.
A vision to sustain us and inspire us – the hope which beckons us on...
Just a few verses before the passage we've heard, in Revelation 21 God's promise that those who overcome will be given "the water of life as a gift".
Our passage today shows us ‘the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal’, and the miraculous tree it waters which brings healing and wholeness for all nations....but are we actually thirsty?
We're quite comfortable here and now...
so do we honestly yearn for change, thirst for a new creation, a world transformed and made new in love?
The gospels are clear that there is abundant life to be found through the way of sacrifice. And if we thirst to follow the way of Jesus, God promises to give us his strength –through the Holy Spirit.
The only limit is the limit of our thirst.
Is that vision our vision?
By the grace of God it can be so.
Of course vision without action is only fantasy. We are all called to play our part in bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth. The vision of a pain and suffering free world given to us in Revelation is not just a beautiful hope for the future. It is something to aim for now.
In a little while we will sing a hymn that will probably be new to you/(at St M's this morning) we sang a hymn that might not be familiar to you...I chose it because it sums up for me the call to love in action
Let me read you the final verse
“Heaven shall not wait for triumphant alleluias
When earth is past and we reach another shore
Jesus is Lord in our present imperfections
His power and love are for now and then for ever more”
The Christian Aid slogan “We believe in life BEFORE death” reflects this.
We are not in the business of offering “pie in the sky when you die” for our resurrection faith leads us to believe that what might seem impossible can and must happen, and invites us to roll up our sleeves and co-operate with God in transforming the world through the power of Love.