It is a great pleasure to be here and to be able to join you for Evensong tonight and to share in this beautiful music and prayer. I am particularly pleased to be joining you in this service to mark the 70th Anniversary of Christian Aid. As someone who is paid for the privilege of working for Christian Aid, I acknowledge with gratitude everything that you do as volunteers for our common cause.
Seventy years is special to mark, but we aren’t celebrating this anniversary– there is no party or anything! The fact that we are still so needed is not really something that we are proud of. However, we are celebrating the immense public witness and outpouring of compassion that Christian Aid represents. We are proud that in Christian Aid Week this year, 21,000 churches across Britain and Ireland and tens of thousands of supporters got out there and helped raise over £11m for our vital work to tackle poverty in forty countries around the world. That’s what we celebrate. Thanks to all of you in Ripon and in the local area for your immense contribution to this.
Seventy years ago, at the end of the second world war, the church leaders asked our parents and grandparents in the midst of their end-of-war celebrations to remember those in need. They asked that donations be made to help rebuild mainland Europe and help former allies and enemies alike get back on their own feet. More than £3m in today’s money was raised – in a time of great austerity and rationing. That organisation, then called Christian Reconstruction in Europe bought bicycles and boats so pastors could minister; provided food and medical supplies so that refugees could rebuild their lives; found teachers and equipped schools to that lives could begin to return to normal. Later, called Christian Aid, that agency soon saw that the problems of poverty, hunger, disease and other crises around the world were being ignored and set out to respond. Today, we work in a range of ways to respond to the complex world we live in.
We seek to respond to the immediate needs of hunger, thirst, suffering and homelessness that today’s Gospel calls us to. That reading is, perhaps, so familiar that it is easy to forget just how radical it is. Matthew 25 lists those requirements – we call them works of mercy today – that was a hallmark of the Old Testament Law. Yet for the religious (and political) elite of the time, the Law they had transformed it into making their good works obvious. Yet, Jesus, as we’ve heard in the readings over the last few weeks, was much less concerned about a show of giving, but about what is in your heart – and the hidden responses and the depth of giving as illustrated by the widow with her pennies. That reading illustrates quite small, everyday acts of kindness – giving someone something to eat, to drink, hospitality and inclusion not exclusion, visiting, looking after people. These are not grand gestures. In so doing, Jesus tells us what the kingdom is reallyl about – of seeing and responding to the basic human needs of people, and doing so with humanity and humility. It can be quite difficult to do, sometimes, when we are surrounded by fear, media horror stories or being threatened by “swarms” of people. But because of your generosity, Christian Aid has been able to respond, and more, throughout its 70 year history. Some examples of how you have helped us do this:
• Emergencies – this summer we saw the earthquake in Nepal – your generosity has enabled us to provide water purification and rehydration sachets to thousands of people; water filtration units; tarpaulins and emergency accommodation.
• Long term development – many of you saw the story of Loko in CAW – whilst on first instance it looked like it was just a story about a cow, it was also about ways in which our partners work to help develop livelihoods, hope and a voice in many countries around the world.
• In Iraq and Lebanon, supporting our partners working with some of the 4m Syrian refugees who have been displaced, we help them provide basic provisions and equipment. Likewise, we are supporting our ACT Alliance partners across Europe – in Greece, Serbia and elsewhere in supporting and meeting basic needs of refugees as they travel across Europe. We’re also working with partners across Europe lobbying political leaders for a fair and humane response to the crisis.
• We seek to change policies – in Sierra Leone, for instance, whilst devastated by Ebola, we are also working to help ensure more women are involved in parliament and ensure voices in the political process that are calling for the sort of education and health care support that will benefit families and children. Of course, just and fair global tax practices will enable countries like Sierra Leone, Ghana, Zambia and others to potentially have more revenue that could be spent on this sort of vital infrastructure, hence our tax campaign.
• Globally we joined voices with those from around the world in influencing the Sustainable Development Goals so that this new set of global targets really respond to the needs of poor people. Whilst in many respects they are a long way from the reality of life for those in poverty, these goals have the potential to be really transformational and we are committed to working to ensure that happens.
• Next week, world leaders will gather in Paris for the climate conference. Whilst Paris is reeling from the terrible effects of the events last week, people around the world are also praying for an ambitious and legally binding agreement to reverse our greenhouse gas emissions and limit the effects of climate change.
Hang on, I hear you say – Changing policy? Lobbying? Global goals and negotiations? How does that relate to feeding the hungry and those other works of mercy that Matthew 25 calls us to do? Well, aside from Jesus’ whole ministry, which was about turning on its head the political and religious power of the time, we find that answer in the Daniel reading: the Son of Man will rule over all people. The dominion given to the Son of Man (Jesus) is a kingdom that will not fade. Daniel’s vision sustained the faith and hope of the Jews who were being persecuted. Here was the hope of a kingdom, of a different order. Here also is a political revolt – the Son of Man will rule. Today, on the feast of Christ the King, we proclaim that – Jesus is our King. As his subjects, we follow his rule, and he explains in our Gospel reading how we will be judged.
The reading also gives us an insight into what it would mean if the Son of Man really were to rule; where laws required us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Such a society, where basic human needs are respected, doesn’t happen by accident. Society has to have a level of organisation in order to ensure that basic needs are met, that peace exists. That’s politics. You can’t legislate for love, of course, but you can have a society that works towards fairness, justice, towards the more equal sharing of resources.
Let’s remember too, that the Matthew 25 reading is the last judgement of the nations, not just individuals. Mercy, kindness, in the true OT tradition, is not just an individual or private matter. It is about how rulers behave, what the rich and powerful do. The outrage of the prophets was aimed at those leaders and wealthy people who lounged in palaces while the people starved, or who swindled the poor and abused the vulnerable.
So, today, we continue to find ways of building a society built on justice and fairness, where individual acts of kindness happen, but people who are poor and vulnerable are not dependent on them. For instance, in the climate negotiations – all countries will take action, but calling for the richer and more polluting countries take more action; or through our work calling for responsible tax practices and global tax justice, Christian Aid is seeking to help bring about a world where the basics are met, but not by accident, but by being embedded in society. A society where the voices and concerns of the poor are heard and responded to.
Jesus reminds us that we as individuals and as a society will be judged not on our prayers, but on our actions: the strength of our faith in practice. So I want to thank you for your support for Christian Aid that has enabled us together to fulfil that demand to love our neighbour over the last seventy years.
It’s not over, of course, need remains. This Christmas our appeal has, as its theme, our work in Nigeria – addressing healthcare and preventing deaths by malaria. This might start with a mosquito net, but it goes further to community health workers, midwives and supporting partners advocating for access to drugs. Money given in our Christmas appeal will be matched by the UK government’s aid budget. So please do donate – today or on-line at home – or both!!
So these two readings are so apt for today. Christ is our King, and so, we are his subjects, part of his kingdom. It is a kingdom in the making, and that is our task. Not through the power of violence or conquest, but of service and of love in action. Through your words, prayers and deeds you are part of building that kingdom one step at a time.
Thank you for standing with and helping Christian Aid to be able to play our part of the kingdom. We find strength and support in being able to work together.
May you always be strengthened by God’s love and mercy.