Sermons from St Faith's     


Christian Aid
Fr Neil Kelley, May 13th, 2012 

Recently, I had a funeral visit to do. The next of kin spoke of the deceased and said “he never went to church, but he had his own private views on religion. His faith was very personal but he kept it to himself”. Clergy and Readers officiating at funerals get used to hearing such comments and they are always very interesting, although a funeral visit is not the time to psychoanalyse or challenge what may or may not be someone’s expression of faith.

When we speak of ‘sharing our faith with others’ many are turned off. Faith is private or at best personal. It’s not the done thing – it’s not the British middle class way of doing things to talk about God.

Sometimes we enjoy keeping others at a distance. It gives us some sense of security. It provides us with personal space: a cotton wool shell that may help protecting our identity but which may also serve as a weapon.

But our faith is not about keeping a distance.

From the moment we are created, God constantly offers himself to be with us. In baptism we become, whether we like it or not, part of each other. We are called to serve each other and to bring to the Lord those who do not yet know him. In the mythological accounts of the Book of Genesis God makes us dwell together with him in the garden of Paradise, not to keep us at bay but to be close to us. But it was we who tried to hide our faces from him, not responding when he was calling. Then – as we read at the end of the story of the fall – ‘God placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life’.

It was necessary for us that God should become one of us so that we may regain access to that tree of life. It is only when the Son of Man came on earth that we realised that it was not God who forbade our access to the tree of life, but our own stubbornness and disobedience.

It was necessary for us that the Word of God should start anew his conversation with us, to breach the distance, to restore God’s presence to us. The desire of God to share his life with us is expressed again in Christ who says: ‘I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you’.

John’s is the gospel of incarnation. In the beginning, John’s Jesus is majestic, cosmic; he was with God and he is God. The Word becomes flesh and lives among us in order to bring life to the world and transform the conditions that make for death.
Today’s gospel reading is part of Jesus’ extended farewell, as he anticipates his own death. It is a passage that looks forwards and back: backwards to the washing of the feet, as Jesus implores his disciples to know the heart of the new way of life that he offers, and forwards to the sending out of his disciples (John 17:18), and his prayer of unity (John 17:20-26).

The meaning of discipleship has been a theme throughout John’s gospel, and the loving service that Jesus entreats his disciples to follow is the climax of this. Jesus’ farewell speaks of the unity and love between himself and the Father in the Spirit, and this unity is extended to the disciples. Jesus calls his disciples to abundant life in this love – and tells us that in doing so, their joy will be complete. Jesus is not advocating the way of love as something we should do, but as something that we will be enriched by.

In Britain and Ireland, community does not always come naturally to us. Christian Aid Week is an opportunity to work together and celebrate the love we have been offered, and bidden to take into the world.

The unity between the Father and the Son is one of perfect relationship. As Jesus relates to his disciples as friends, so are we to relate to one another. And this has deep implications for the way we live out our faith. No man is an island. We are not baptised into a personal relationship with the Lord but into communion and community. Christian Aid clearly demonstrates that sense of getting “stuck in” – which is what the Incarnation is truly about; sharing life with others in all its joys and sorrows, seeing their needs and, where possible, meeting them.

Jesus bids us 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 all the world – not just for our own corner of it. The first Christians who received the Spirit found it unthinkable that the Gentiles should do so too (Acts 10:45). 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? Jesus calls us to love one another. This is his final wish. Love involves reaching out to people we don’t know and will never meet, and working for the good of the whole world. In so doing, we are told, our joy will be complete.

So whether its eating delicious cakes at the Christian Aid tea party, listening to G&S at a Christian Aid concert or delivering envelopes and returning to collect them, hopefully full of money, we are all given a chance in Christian Aid week to remember and act upon the fact that our faith requires action.
St. Francis of Assisi said “preach the Gospel – use words if you must”. Jesus bids us love one another and this Christian Aid week is one opportunity when we can respond to that call.

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