Jesus encourages his disciples to “bear much fruit”. The challenge is how we can and should do this! That’s particularly the case during Christian Aid week, when we can be challenged again to work for God’s kingdom to come.
Before the sermon started, we played the film produced by Christian Aid called Loko’s burden, which explores how life can be transformed for women in the poorest parts of Ethiopia, through the support of Christian Aid’s partner, HUNDEE. Parts of this sermon were shamelessly lifted from the service resources that Christian Aid provides, including the sermon by Rev Dr Craig Gardiner!
Last year, 20,000 churches in Britain and Ireland worked and prayed during Christian Aid week and raised £12 million to give to make the sort changes happen that we’ve just heard about. This year Christian Aid are challenging us to raise at least £13million. The needs are getting greater, not less.
Christian Aid has worked in Ethiopia for more than 30 years, initially responding to emergencies, but gradually building a long-term development programme. They say: “our work has focused on ensuring people have enough to eat, a means of earning a living, healthcare, economic justice and energy, and are better able to cope with the effects of climate change.”
Christian Aid works with local partners, so that the money and support is channelled into things that will make a difference, rather than things that outsiders might think may make a difference. As we heard, one of Christian Aid’s partners in Ethiopia is HUNDEE. They support women by giving them cows and goats, by setting up self-help groups where women can support one another, where they can learn maths and to read and write. It is about giving them the resources and opportunities to transform their lives, the lives of the families, and the lives of their communities.
Above all, this is about love and respect. The psalms tells us about how life should be as often as they tell us about how life is. This is the case with Psalm 98. God has done marvellous things, and will do marvellous things again. The world sings for joy and praise of God, and waits for us to do the same. There will be a judgement. Which is very good news for people like Loko. Because this will be a judgement of righteousness and equity, a judgement calling to account those who have mis-used their God-given power and gifts to abuse, oppress and destroy.
“Sing to the Lord a new song for he has done marvellous things”. The Psalmist was looking back to the Exodus, a time when God showed his rejection of oppression and injustice. And so it gives hope to those people who still experience injustice and oppression, like Loko. Loko is excluded by her community, oppressed by her violent husband. And so she sings Psalm 98 and prays each time: ‘I ask [God] to change my life and lead us out of this.’
And, the Psalmist was also pointing forward, however unknowingly, to the new thing that God would do in the person of his Son, Jesus. The reading we heard from John’s Gospel is part of Jesus’ final talk and prayers with his disciples before he is betrayed and killed. Jesus tells them of the struggles that they will face, particularly once they have actually seen him rising to new life and realised the good news of his death and resurrection. He prays for their protection and encourages them to stay in his love, and in one another’s love.
In all this, he tells his disciples to bear much fruit, to show the world God’s love. And, later, he encourages them that through the person of the Holy Spirit he will be with them, and us, helping, encouraging, transforming.
Prayer is at the heart of what we do. That’s why we’ve made it a significant part of our Mission Action Plan, with encouragements to pray on the notice sheet, a prayer group after the service, a Prayer morning, and so on. Prayer is the motor which drives us. It’s at the heart of who we are as part of the vine. Talking is part of who we are as humans, it’s what keeps our relationships with one another going. And at its most basic prayer is talking to God, helping to keep that relationship alive and flourishing.
And we need to pray for one another. We too need to gather together to show God’s love for each other, to remind ourselves that God loves us, and calls us to bear much fruit for him. And, through prayer, to be empowered to be part of the answer to our prayers, and the prayers of people like Adi and Loko. With Christian Aid’s gift of a cow and goats, Adi saw her prayers answered, her family safe and her belief in change becomes a living reality. Today, others like Loko are strong, but they need our help. Through what we give to Christian Aid, through how we pray and act, we have the chance to be the answer to Loko’s prayer.
She prays that the powers of prejudice and poverty may crumble before God’s justice and provision. We can be part of the answer to that prayer, and many more like it. That’s why, as a PCC we have voted to join the local Credit Union, as another sign of our calling and our answer to it. That’s also why we as a church support the local foodbank. That’s also why yesterday I, as an individual, wrote to our local MP, Heather Wheeler, to congratulate her and the Conservatives on their victory in the General Election, and to encourage her to work to ending the need for our country to have foodbanks in the first place.
That’s also why we support Christian Aid week, through collecting in the parish, through the car wash last week, and through asking for donations from us this morning. Do please use the gift aid envelopes if you pay tax.
So, this Christian Aid week, let us be encouraged to be shaped by Jesus’ words and actions, to be transformed by his, ours and others prayers, and to act for the Father’s glory, and for all that we do to sing a new song to God. Amen.