Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Easter 7: Christian Aid week - a sermon by Kevin Bright

For several years now as the Chives in my garden offer up their attractive purple flowers it makes me think that Christian Aid Week must almost be here. Several of the houses along Seal Road where I usually collect also have Chives in their borders and, probably to me alone, their flowers remind me that it’s time to do something to help those who need a hand to get going or keep going in order to provide the real basics of life.
You may have seen this year’s TV advert for Christian Aid along the lines of ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’ There is another version which finishes ‘teach his wife to fish and the man can sit with his feet up whilst she catches as well as cooks his dinner’!
There is, of course, a serious message here that the work of Christian Aid is all about helping communities to help themselves, not just about giving one off hand outs.

The TV advert doesn’t feature actors and it isn’t a film set. It’s a real community and a real story of hope, self-sufficiency and the power of possibility. It’s about being innovative in the ways we try to give people opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty, in this case by a solar powered freezer project that allowed the fish to be frozen for delayed consumption or for commercial sale in Sierra Leone where there is lots of sunshine but not much electricity.

My son’s RE homework this week was to explain what is meant by each part of the Apostle’s Creed. We discussed how to explain in a few lines what the ‘holy catholic church’ is which we say we believe in. Most here will know that in this sense catholic means universal rather than Roman Catholic.

It’s this that Jesus is talking about when he offers the prayer we heard in today’s gospel reading. This passage is the conclusion of Jesus’ final prayer before departing for the Garden of Gethsemane and the events of the Passion. The words aren’t immediately easy for us to understand, certainly not as catchy as the Lord’s Prayer. He says’ Holy Father, I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.’ The prayer is for the disciples and any with him but it is also for all followers of every generation. It’s a moving and humbling thought that Jesus offered a prayer for each one of us here today and for those who will come after us.

He wants us to live in unity in the same way that he speaks of the unity between the father and the son. Jesus prays for a unity based upon our common humanity which overcomes national and racial barriers and which becomes a reality in the way we relate to and value each other.

It matters whether we care about people in our own community as well as people we may never meet, more than ever our lives are intertwined and interdependent. If we check the labels on our clothes there’s a good chance that we can find something that says ‘made in Bangladesh’. Hands that have made these very clothes may have touched the garments that we then hold and wear, possibly hands that belong to the 1000 plus people who died as a result of working in an unsafe building.

People united in faith can’t necessarily solve the entire world’s problems and injustices but neither is it acceptable to do nothing when there are so many well targeted projects we can support.

When we see others suffering whether in our own communities or further afield most of us instinctively want to help and projects such as those run by Christian Aid and local food banks give us easy ways in which to do so.

After what seemed a never ending winter and late spring in our own country my chives are only just forming the flower heads with none yet in full bloom. There is a sense that plants have been catching up over the last few weeks as the weather has improved but it’s been a challenging start for nurseries, farmers and gardeners alike. Many of us will now be checking the daily weather forecast ready to protect our plants from a late frost.

Christian Aid is involved in a project in Kenya which uses mobile ‘phones to help farmers with the weather and also helps the locals hair to go grey.
Kenyan farmers Justin and Truphena Ireri used to struggle to feed their family. ‘When there is erratic rain, we didn’t get enough for our family to eat, let alone to sell,’ says Truphena.
Kenya used to experience drought once every 10 years, but suffered drought in 8 of the 10 years from 2002 to 2011.
But thanks to the use of new technology and their mobile phones, things are beginning to change for farmers in the in Kenya’s Eastern Province. ‘Traditional ways of forecasting are failing us due to climate change. When we turn to scientific ways, farmers will be able to plan very well,’ Truphena explains.
Farming methods in the district have been revolutionised by the introduction of simple, targeted weather forecasts sent to farmers by text message. Previously, farmers were unsure how to plan for increasingly erratic weather patterns, and the daily reality for many families was failed crops, disappointment and hunger.
The only weather forecasts that did exist were targeted at the large towns and cities, where the climate is often different. And anyway, as most farmers in rural areas don’t have televisions, they couldn’t even see these forecasts.

Working with the Kenya Meteorological Society, Christian Aid partners take specific, scientific forecasts for the rural areas and translate them into simple language that the farmers can understand.
It then sends this information out by text message, with monthly and seasonal updates and advice on using different crop varieties and agricultural techniques to adapt to changing weather patterns.
Such innovative use of technology means that they are able to work with thousands of farmers, who would have been difficult and expensive to reach by road. More than 80 per cent of farmers in the area have a basic mobile handset, and are able to respond to the text messages by asking further questions about their own situation and getting advice over the telephone.

All this has followed from initial farming workshops held in church congregations, where trust was built with the local community by showing that it understood what it was like to try to farm in a difficult environment.
The average life expectancy is only 57 in Kenya so to be grey haired you really are one of the lucky ones, they don’t sell much hair dye or ‘just for men’ in the region!
‘When we see a plan coming into fulfilment, it brings us joy, we can watch our children grow and also see ourselves go grey – grey is wise!’ says Truphena.

A real example of helping communities where they are to make the most of the resources they have.
In our reading from Acts we heard how Paul and Silas end up in prison. The way the events are told help us to understand what God’s glory actually looks like. This earthquake could be understood as the visible manifestation of God shaking this world’s powers to their foundations. Following the earthquake Paul has the opportunity to go free proclaiming that this is what God will do to those who oppose him. However he chooses to wait quietly and demonstrate to his jailer that he doesn’t need to destroy him because the God he worships shows his glory and demonstrates his power through love and Paul’s actions make this real for him. We see that the reaction to this is that the jailer is moved to belief not through fear but by acceptance of the love shown to him.

In our reading from Revelation Jesus tells us that he will come again reminding us with his ‘Alpha and Omega’ saying that he was there at the beginning and that he will be there at the end. Jesus describes himself amongst other things as the bright Morning Star (the brightest star in the sky at dawn). He can be found by anyone who is looking for him!

We will each have our own opportunities to demonstrate Gods power through our actions this Christian Aid week. If we do what we can it could mean that someone we may never meet also gets to see Gods power demonstrated through love for each other and as they understand the motivation for this they become part of our catholic (that is all inclusive) church.

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