Work, for I am with you
This sermon was preached on Sunday November 6th, 2022, the week after our church had hosted Convention for the Convocation of the Episcopal Church in Europe.
take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you
We did it. We hosted Convention in a way that was uniquely Christ Church, that highlighted our talents, for organisation, for hospitality, for creativity. We welcomed friends from across Europe, and we learned about welcoming strangers from Europe and beyond. We were educated, we were informed, we were challenged.
And now the hard work begins.
When I sat down to consider this sermon, I thought that I would be summing up the things we had talked about at Convention, considering how we as a church should welcome and walk with refugees. And then I looked at the readings ascribed for today. Oh, come on, I complained to God. Really? You couldn’t have come up with something more helpful than this?! Sadducees asking about marriage in heaven, a letter to the early church about the end times, and a prophecy about the restoration of the Temple. Thanks very much.
Look again. I was told. Look at the words. And the words that spoke to me from Haggai were take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you,
We have been challenged through the keynote speakers and workshop leaders. We have been challenged to find what our work is, both as individuals and as a church, in this walk with refugees, and migrants, those at the edges of society. This is quite a daunting task, and something which we can’t go into without careful thought and consideration, without time, and prayer, and openness. Those of us who heard Lorenzo Lebrija speak about “How to Try” will have been energised by what he said, those of us who heard Caireen Warren talk about the prevalence of modern slavery in our society might have felt deflated about the sheer enormity of the problems and the difficulty of finding ways to help.
But this is our work. To start to look at where we are now, in the situation in Clermont Ferrand: what is already happening here to support refugees? What is not happening? Where do we fit into this? What can we do? The task is daunting. And yet: Take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you.
In the reading from Thessalonians, we have Paul writing to a group of Christians who felt under threat from outside forces directly opposed to the grace and love of God. And so Paul warns them not to be shaken or overly worried by their problems and difficulties; rather, they are urged to remember the promises of God to vindicate his faithful people on the Last Day. Such promises are made in light of God’s purposes for us and for the world.
God has a purpose for Christ Church, and its work following on from Convention. We have already proved that we are small yet mighty. With God’s help we will be able to find our place in the work being done to help those fleeing from war, danger, and death. We can stand strong and committed because we know we are doing God’s work.
But what about this strange question thrown at Jesus by the Sadducees about marriage, and resurrection, and wives in heaven? How on earth can we take something from this to apply to our future work with refugees? Well, I’m not sure how successful I’ve been, but here goes:
The Sadducees who questioned Jesus about the after life didn’t actually believe in the afterlife. They were trying to trick Jesus, by giving him such a ridiculous situation – the woman who married several brothers in succession – and then asked a question about the situation: whose wife will she be in heaven?
Jesus’ response was not clear, but he basically said: what happens in the afterlife is not your concern. That is God’s concern. What we do know is that God is a God, not of the dead, but of the living. We don’t need to know everything. In the reading from 1 Corinthians that Rich read so expressively at the last service of convention we have the words “Now we see in a mirror, dimly” Our Christian life acknowledges that we do not know, we are not in control, we are not in charge. What we do know is that we are called to love.
There will be those who do not believe in helping refugees, who will quote statistics, or say things like “we are being over-run”. There are those who refer to them as vermin, who want to ship them out of sight, into another country. There are those like the terrorist in the UK, who threw petrol bombs into a refugee processing centre in Dover, saying he wanted to kill Muslim children. We are not like them. We have been called to love, to serve, to help those who need it. Like those Christians in Thessalonica, we will face opposition to what we are doing from outside forces, from individuals, but as Paul said: So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, Stand firm and hold fast to the love that God has taught us; learn more about God through loving your neighbour, the refugee, the displaced and oppressed. We may not know how our initiatives and work will turn out, but we are called to not be afraid, to not be put off by opposition and hate, and to try. And God will be with us.
As yet, we have not really discussed what it is Christ Church is being called to do as a community in this refugee crisis, but we know we are being called. Our final response is yet to be worked on, but we know we are being called. You too, as an individual, know you are being called to find your place in the work that is to be done. What that exact work is is between you and God.
But we are told, over and over, not to worry, not to be alarmed by opposition. We will face it, but we must remember that our God is in control. And most of all, we must hold onto the words from Haggai: Take courage, all you people of the land… work, for I am with you…My Spirit abides among you; do not fear.”
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort our hearts, and strengthen us in every good work and word.