Sermon Preached at Worksop Priory   10 April 2011

Christ the Resurrection and the Life

Jesus said, "I am the Resurrection and the life".  Martha said, "Lord, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God".

What do these extraordinary statements mean to us, today? It is one thing to say Jesus rose from the dead nearly 2,000 years ago. That is an astonishing thing to happen. It is equally astonishing that God's own Son should leave his heavenly home and come and live on earth as a real human being. Again, what does that do for us now? To begin to answer that question would take a very long time and quite a lot of the answer would be concerned with what happens after death. Ultimately that is the good news of the Gospel; that we live after death and we live in Christ, with Christ, after death. Nothing could be more wonderful than that. However, this has an impact on our life on earth. Jesus became man and showed that God was deeply concerned about man, human beings, the whole earth. Jesus lives among us today and works with us to try and make the world more like God intended it to be. So in a world which is full of disaster, wars, violence, corruption, earthquakes and human sin we find Christ, breaking out of the darkness, bringing hope and joy. Christ the Resurrection and the Life brings resurrection and life into dark places. That is what is happening in Zimbabwe today.

Let me start with the dark. Zimbabwe today is a collapsed economy. It functions on the US Dollar. There is 90% unemployment. There is no social security, unemployment benefit, National Health or any of the safety nets we take for granted here. All children must pay school fees and most can't afford it. Hundreds of thousands of adults have died of AIDS, so often you find in country schools that 70% of the children are orphans. The education is poor; it lacks resources and the children are badly fed. They look skinny and the food they do get is pretty awful. The church is divided too, for political reasons. In two dioceses there are Bishops who have been rejected, for very good reason, by the Anglican church but they have the police on their side. They will not let real Anglicans use their church buildings. They send in the police to beat them up and arrest them. When I was there in January I arrived at one church to find two policemen there who would not  let us use the church so we celebrated outside. I was told not to visit another mission as the police were waiting to arrest me. I was lucky. Scores of good Anglican people have been arrested, beaten up, driven out of church with tear gas, just because they are faithful Anglicans. The renegade Anglicans think this will drive the Anglicans back into their camp. In fact it does just the opposite. Anglicans grow stronger and stronger. They meet in all sorts of places; schools, halls, gardens and their congregations get bigger; the people are on fire with zeal. They are proud to be Anglicans, proud to be persecuted. Above all they have discovered Christ. They have found that they are Christians because of Christ, not because of a church building. Christ is the Body of the church. Christ comes to them wherever they are. Christ is the Resurrection and the life. It is tough for them. It is not easy to be on the receiving end of persecution but they are full of joy and hope and are a real inspiration to be with.

And they help people poorer than themselves. This is where we come in. There are thousands and thousands of children who live with relatives who can't afford them and some who have nowhere to live. We have two houses in Harare where teenagers live. We get them back into school, try and get them training, try and help them face up to their shattered lives. The amazing thing is that it all works. Here again we see Christ. He is with them and in them, giving them hope. Each time I go there my heart lifts and my own faith in the presence of Christ is renewed. So too with the 40 or so children whom we support in the community. They are so full of life and joy, you would not believe they have such tough lives. We call our organisation Tariro – which means 'hope'. We try to put hope back in these young people's lives and we succeed. They give us hope too. I take people from this country to Zimbabwe to help the people there and they find it is the Zimbabwean people who give them hope and joy. If you want to find a really living presence of Christ today, go to Zimbabwe. He is all over the place.

To do this we need money! Bringing up children is expensive and when there are no grants, no free places in school, it is doubly expensive. Without money we cannot transform their lives. We are fortunate to have people in Zimbabwe who have shown they can use money well, account for it and make sure it does what it is supposed to do.

We also need to start trading; to help our older boys start a business exporting to this country so that they can make money for themselves and take the burden off us.

We need prayer too; really serious prayer. Prayer for the children, that they will be able to take this chance and grow healthy again; prayer for the charity, that we will find the money we need to do the work; prayer for the Anglican Church that they will keep hopeful and brave and that their suffering will come to an end and they will be safe. Every Sunday, Anglicans are arrested and put in horrible police cells. Three of the Bishops have received real  assassination threats; one lay leader I know had three gunmen turn up at his home to shoot him, last week. Fortunately he was not at home. When you are in Zimbabwe you know the prayer of Anglicans all over the world is keeping people safe. It is putting the fire into people's bellies so that they resist evil and stand for what is good. It is helping these marvellous children of ours to recover their lives. When you are in Zimbabwe you really believe in the mystical body of Christ, for we are all in Christ; we all share his love share his life, and find ourselves strengthening and encouraging each other.

“I am the Resurrection and the Life” says Jesus, in the midst of trouble and the pain of poverty. "I have come to help you make the most of your life and to live life to the full". It’s easy to say that but it's costly to do it, as Anglicans in Zimbabwe are finding out. Many of us here have found that out too. Jesus comes to make all things new; to take what is old and broken and wounded and to make it new – the lives of rape victims, HIV orphans and the teenagers we help. "I am the Resurrection when you are weak and powerless" says Jesus." I am the Life, when you feel empty and purposeless". What should our response be? Our response to this amazing promise of Life is to tell the world that God can make all things new, that he raises the fallen and lifts up the lonely. In the end Martha says it all: "I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God". That is news worth telling.

 

Nicolas Stebbing CR