Words from our Mothering Sunday service given by our speaker Heather Skull
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
A story is told of a conference held in Britain on comparative religions. Experts from around the world were discussing whether any one belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death.
The debate went on for some time, until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. In his forthright manner, Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
Grace. Such a small word but such a huge concept. That nothing we can do can make God love us more and nothing we can do can make him love us less. Grace. Our salvation isn’t and can’t be earned. It was all paid for a long time ago through a gift of grace. Why grace? Well it’s easy isn’t it? If we had to earn God’s love we’d all be terrible show-offs or worse we’d hide away in the corner suffering from self-doubt and padlocked with terrible guilt.
But as it stands we are – as Paul says in his letter to the Colossians – we are God’s chosen people, we are holy and dearly loved. That’s dearly loved. Abundantly and extravagantly loved. That’s not a bad place to be is it?
My church had a visit last year from a Welsh pastor, a Welsh Baptist pastor. Not a firebrand but someone who uses words to paint pictures and he was talking about the Prodigal Son, the lad who ran away from home and came back when his life fell apart. I love that story but now it resonates even more after hearing Geoff Thomas say this: “Grace is the father racing down the country lane to meet his prodigal son before he’s even had the chance to compose his speech of remorse…” That’s our God, the God of second chances, the God who dearly loves us.
And while grace is free, grace brings about a response. And it’s outlined here in Colossians isn’t it? (Verse 12) Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. You know, God loves it when we’re in unity with each other. I don’t mean that we have to agree on everything but it does mean we’re bound together in love. And God loves that. If you have a chance, take a look at Psalm 133. How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity. It’s like precious oil poured on the head. That Psalm goes on to say that when people live together in unity God pours out his blessing. In fact in the New King James version of the Bible it says that God commands the blessing, there’s no might or may be about it, he commands it. Where people work together in love and unity there is blessing.
Let me tell you a story about Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe, I’m told and I have no reason to doubt it, one in three people is either working for or a paid informer for the secret police. That creates an atmosphere of distrust, of suspicion and of hatred. Divided communities filled with darkness caused by political division and persecution.
Add to that 80 – 90% unemployment and the massive prevalence of HIV/Aids and you begin to see that people in Zimbabwe could be overwhelmed by despair and doubt – and worst of all, apathy.
I went to the village of Tandi which is in the diocese of Manicaland and about a five hour drive from the capital Harare. It was a beautifully sunny day – the height of their summer. I knew this community had problems of poverty and HIV/Aids and I knew that this was a place where we fund some work. And I was interested to see what it would be like.
We were met by the entire community singing to welcome us. I admit to shedding a few tears overwhelmed by their joy at receiving us into their village. The love, the light, the joy was a tangible thing. After a while when things had calmed down a bit we talked. Or rather, the villagers talked and we listened.
They knew what their problems were. And they knew they needed to find some answers to help find income generating schemes. But they also knew that the community needed to be healed of its hurt. Baggage… Some of the church members had heard of a scheme that we’re involved with. It has all sorts of posh names, but what it is essentially is a Bible Study.
Eight of the church and community members got together, prayed, worshipped and studied the Bible together. And as they did, they grew in love for each other and the wider community. And they came up with a plan based on the gifts, resources and talents that they had. Seven of them contributed a hen, the eighth a cockerel. From there they built up a successful co-operative chicken farm. It now provides funds enough for eight of the children to go to school. It also provides a central pot of money to help those who have been affected by HIV/Aids whether it’s because they have it, or because they’ve been widowed or orphaned by it.
But more than that, this group began a programme of visitation to those they knew were in need. Not just to take gifts of soap or food but to sit and listen and talk with people who have become the 21st century equivalent of lepers. Hobnobs! We can all think of times when we’ve been low and someone’s reached out to us or someone’s given us a call when we were least expecting it.
And when I asked them what the best thing about this whole experience had been their answer wasn’t necessarily the one you might expect. It wasn’t the chicken farming or the income it generated, it wasn’t the fact children were getting schooling or that they had their own local version of the health service.
One woman stood up and said this, “The best thing about this,” she said, “Is that we have NO MORE ENEMIES…” God had commanded the blessing to pour out on the people of Tandi because they were together in love and unity.
And for them the Bible study remains central to their lives. The church has grown spiritually and numerically. The community is filled with love one for another. The work done by people making their gifts available to God meant that his love spread through all that community, transforming and making a difference.
You might be asking yourself what did Us do in this process? How was money raised for Us used here? We didn’t buy a chicken, we didn’t put money into a pot and we didn’t buy one cake of soap. We funded the training for the church members who then went on to lead the Bible study and the workshops. And the villagers of Tandi will tell you that was the best thing. When donors came to us in the past they told us, they’d either donate money or equipment. When the money ran out or the equipment broke we had to wait for them to come back. This way we looked at ourselves and what we had, what we could do to help the community and we can carry on. We don’t have to wait for anyone to come back.
And – thanks to supporters like you – we have lots of work like that going on across the world. Supporting our brothers and sisters in Christ wherever and whenever they need it. In prayer too. By the way – they pray for you just as you pray for them.
They pray as group of people, the family of God. We have one church, one faith, one Lord. If we are all united in love for God and each other God promises a blessing. Love brings unity. Love brings freedom. Love brings blessing. Whether that’s in a community in Zimbabwe or here in Suffolk, the promise is the same. Where we dwell in unity and love, God promises the blessing in fact he commands it.
That’s the one big and important lesson that the people of Tandi have learned. They told us that the Bible study remains at the heart of what they do because it has to. They recognise that without God at the heart of their community binding them together in love one for another, all they have gained wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans. And while their community isn’t perfect it is rooted in love, and thankfulness for how God has brought them this far, in the sure and certain knowledge that he will continue to lead them on as long as they don’t go and wander off.
Those final verses that we heard this morning tell us to keep the word of Christ in our hearts and talks about how we should teach and even admonish each other as necessary as we do. In Tandi, when they have problems they go back to the Bible to help them deal with each challenge as it comes up. Prayer, worship and Bible study remain at the heart of what they do. And all is done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s inspiring and also a challenge for each of us.
We sing a hymn in my church, you probably know it. It’s a hymn of consecration, recognizing the power of Christ in our lives and wanting to live his way in our lives.
May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day, by his love and power controlling, all I do and say. May the love of Jesus fill me, as the waters fill the sea, him exalting, self abasing, this is victory.
May the love, the grace, the mind and the peace of Christ our Saviour rule our lives in everything, that we would be blessed in unity one with each other. Amen.