A sermon preached
Readings: John 13:31-35, Rev 21:1-6
Rev 21:4 He will wipe
every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away
Services today across the country
on the work of Christian Aid.
In a number of these services
there will be placed in the middle of the Church
a somewhat unusual liturgical symbol – a dustbin.
And ceremoniously things will been thrown into that dustbin –
first a handkerchief,
then a bottle of medicine,
then a pair of glasses
and then a prayer book.
We haven’t actually got a dustbin in Church today –
but it is worth reflecting on the imagery –
imagery inspired by our reading from Revelation 21.
It is making a statement about our faith and our ultimate trust in God.
It is saying that the world may be in a mess, but finally –
at the end of time – God’s Kingdom will come.
· And then there will be no more tears – throw away your handkerchief
· There will be no more pain – throw away your medicines
There will be
no more looking in a mirror dimly,
we will see face to face and know the whole truth of God –
so throw away your glasses
And there will
be no more need for a specific set of religious activities
to point us to God –
the whole of existence will be a prayer in harmony with God –
so you can throw away your Worship Books too.
This is our sure and certain hope as Christians.
Our belief in life after death
is not a belief in some small occasional reversal of death,
but in a total comprehensive victory and new beginning –
Behold I make all things new!
The whole of creation will know life after death in all its fullness.
As the choir sang for us, “The green blade
Spring is coming and already -
we are anticipating not just an occasional plant,
but field upon field of harvest.
That is our hope for the future.
But what of the present?
I have two images jostling in my
mind this week –
The first from
the film the Passion of the Christ –
the brutal and sadistic flogging and mocking of Christ
from every newspaper front page –
the brutal and sadistic mockery and torture of Iraqi prisoners.
Whilst we hang on to our vision and faith in God’s
our present remains a rough and sinful place,
where Christ is not enthroned in glory
but crucified afresh in every act of hate,
every abuse of power.
A world in which we are at the very least complicit in the horrors.
And as we look at our papers it is frankly little comfort
to say that most of us in the Churches opposed the war in Iraq –
so we did,
but we know that we are still tangled in the web of violence and sin and hate –
it is still our taxes and our pension funds that fund the violence,
And at the start of Christian Week
we reflect on the wider complicity of every rich Northern nation
in a brutally unfair system of trade
which condemns millions to grinding poverty,
the scourge of AIDS and an uncertain and frightening future.
You do not have to go to an Iraqi military prison
to find examples of the rich and the powerful
brutalizing and abusing the weak and the powerless.
And all too often it is still people like us
who stand quietly by whilst the horrors are repeated
on a thousand Calvaries.
We live between the times –
God’s coming Kingdom
brings the Victory of love over evil and life over death,
but every newspaper reminds us
that that victory has yet to be fully realized.
So there is a tension between what is and our dreams of what is to be.
And we all know that the real power of dreams
is in making us dissatisfied with the present.
Once you’ve seen the vision, you can’t be satisfied with less.
I hope and pray that this Christian Aid Week
the vision of God’s future reign
of love and truth and justice and peace
will make us determined to settle for nothing less –
Make us pray “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”
It is not yet time to throw
away our handkerchiefs and our medicines,
our glasses or our prayer books.
We are still
in this world of tears.
Until the Kingdom comes
we need to share the sorrows
and wipe away those tears.
We are in a
world of sickness unto death –
Until the Kingdom comes
we need to buy and share medicines and health care –
we need to fill up the red envelopes.
We are in a
world of blindness
where governments ignore the plight of the poor –
Until the Kingdom comes
we need to fight for knowledge and understanding and justice –
we need to sign cards and send them to Tony Blair,
we need to struggle to open the eyes of the world
We are in
world which often ignores God and the power of his love –
until the Kingdom comes we need our Churches and prayer books –
we need to pray like we have never prayed before
for the needy of the world.
And maybe here I could add a word
about our Annual Church Meeting this afternoon.
We will be looking at building plans –
Christian Aid Week is a good week to do that –
to make sure we are not being extravagant and profligate
in what we seek to do.
But until the Kingdom comes I believe we do need Churches,
we need powerhouses of prayer and action and community –
not as an end in themselves but as a means to do God’s work.
So I hope you will stay for our meeting
and look at how we can effectively be a focus
for God’s work and witness in this place in the years to come.
Much of this year’s Christian Aid campaign
has been inspired by material from the Dominican Republic.
These are the words of Jaqui
Abreu (pronounced: Chacky
who works in Los Peres (pronounced: Loss Perrez),
in the north of the Dominican Republic,
as a community worker and head teacher of one of the three Onè Respé
(pronounced: Onnay Respay),schools.
‘We used to get our water from
which is about 500 metres away.
People fetched it in buckets,
but the river ran through a field with pigs in it
so the water was always polluted.
Children were ill all the time.
When it dried up people had to go even further
to buy their water from the main road.
‘We spent seven years writing letters before anything got done.
Onè Respé showed us how to approach the water company
to give us a supply.
They promised to do it, but nothing got done.
They are legally obliged to supply water,
so we put pressure on them.
We went to the TV and radio stations
to tell everyone that they hadn’t kept their word.
‘The company thought we were
and were worried about their image.
The director said that his company was completely overstretched,
but that if we dug the trench they would put the pipes in them.
He thought that would make us shut up!
So I went from house to house with my friends from Onè Respé
to tell everyone that it was important to be in the right place
with the right tools on the day the engineer came.
‘When he came all the men were ready.
They were standing to attention like soldiers with their tools.
The engineer said: “You’ll do it all wrong. Give up!”
So I told the men to start digging right where they were
and force the engineer to tell us exactly what to do.
Onè Respé formed committees
for cooking, digging and clearing away rubble.
It was a beautiful experience.
I went from house to house with a wheelbarrow
collecting a banana here, an onion there, and a bit of rice.
We ended up with more food than we needed,
like Jesus feeding the five thousand!
‘When the engineer saw this he
had to admit that we were serious.
He showed us what was needed.
We dug for 21 consecutive days without a break.
And then the water company laid the pipes.
By that time they had no choice but to keep their word.
When the villagers saw running water for the first time
they were overwhelmed.
Children were grabbing glasses of it
and running through the streets shouting to each other,
“Water, water! There’s water in the pipes!”
They were unbelievably happy!
The villagers achieved this!
Onè Respé supported them.
Christian Aid supported Onè Respé.
And you supported Christian Aid.
So thank you!’
And do you remember how in the Book of Revelation
St John has that wonderful vision of the River of Life
flowing down the centre of the City of God?
But small streams can begin to flow here and now
if we will but dig the channels.
Yes we have a sure and certain hope
of Life after Death in all its fullness.
But why wait?
There can be life before death too.
[NB The story from the Dominican Republic and the
are both taken from the Christian Aid Week 2004 worship resources page
on the the Christian Aid website]