At church today Julie, our curate, and I used the material from the Christian Aid website to write this sermon dialogue.
I'm posting it on my blog as a convenient place to share it. It's a different sort of writing from what I usually put on here and it was a different sort of service, one that touched many as we prayed for those facing adversity with no place to call home and yet praised God for all he was doing through Christian Aid.
One word struck me as we looked at many stories of refugees and that word was HOPE. Not necessarily a word you would expect but then God is always the author of the unexpected story...
J: What are you doing?
S: Gathering stones, you see I was listening to the song we had at the beginning of the service and there was a line about a time to gather stones.
J: And what are you going to do with them?
S: I don’t know, to be honest I’ve never really understood that line.
J: You know those lyrics come from the book of Ecclesiastes
S: Hark at you. I knew that actually, it a book in the old testament of doom and gloom where everything is meaningless. And makes as much sense as gathering stones and throwing them away again, which was another line in the song.
J: You could gather stones to build things
S: That would be constructive!
J: Buildings are important, homes are important. Jesus talked about a house in the gospel reading today, a house with many rooms.
S: We had that reading at my Nana’s funeral, it’s comforting to think Jesus has prepared a place for us when we die.
J: Yes but Christian Aid believe everyone needs a safe place to call home BEFORE they die.
S: I was reading about that, about a family called Nejebar and Noor. Nejebar fled Afghanistan with her family after the Taliban threatened to kill anyone who worked for the government, like her husband, Noor. They have lived in a makeshift camp in Greece for six months with no end in sight and despite her meagre circumstances, she has also welcomed brothers Faraidoon (22) and Farzad (13) into her home – they don’t know where their parents are or if they’re even alive. You can read more of her story and others on the Christian Aid website.
J: They travelled a long way and I’m sure they didn’t always have a solid stone path to walk on. The road was probably rough and even scary in places. And even now they are living in a tent, not in a permanent stone building.
S: It’s amazing to think they are looking after 2 extra children as well as their own especially when then have so little themselves. They are still thinking of others. We have so much in comparison. Giving to Christian Aid is a good way to share our own resources.
J: Yes it does make you think.
S: OK talking of thinking and gathering stones, which is where we started. How many stones to you think have been gathered together to make this church do you think? Hundreds, thousands, millions?
J: No idea but talking of big numbers, because it is obviously a lot, do you have any idea how many displaced people there are in the world?
S: Good question, displaced people, you mean refugees like Nejebar and Noor? A million?
S: Ten million
J: Sixty Five Million,
S: The current population of the United Kingdom is 65,450,887 as of Monday, May 8, 2017, based on the latest United Nations estimates. I googled it when I wrote this!
J: So that means the number of displaced people in the world is pretty much the same as everyone in this church, everyone out there in Saltburn and throughout the whole country.
S: That’s a sobering thought, that many people on the move. I wonder how many Israelites refugees there were wandering in the desert with Moses? And is there a time for wandering in the book of Ecclesiates? That’s the trouble sometimes with the Bible, you start on one track and end up going off at a tangent. Well at least I do.
J: Well instead shall we look at our other reading today from Acts.
S: The stoning of Stephen – that’s a cheery one. But it fits with the gathering stones and throwing them away lyrics.
J: What we didn’t read, and you can go home and read later, is the beginning of Acts 7 where Stephen is preaching and basically outlines the whole story of the Old Testament.
S: Including Moses and the Israelites wandering in the desert! And for telling them a story he was stoned?
J: He did call those listening to him stubborn and hard hearted people. He told the story from the point of view of God’s people not listening, going their own way, fighting against the Holy Spirit and killing the prophets.
S: So then Stephen was killed too. Martyred even. Christians are still killed today because of their faith.
J: But did you know Christian Aid “work globally for profound change that eradicates the causes of poverty, striving to achieve equality, dignity and freedom for all, regardless of faith or nationality.” Being a Christian doesn’t mean we can exclude people we help. Another reading we could have had today is from 1 Peter 2, we used it in our confession where it says Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith. He never discriminated against the people he helped.
S: That’s the reading about Jesus being rejected too, it must feel like rejection if you are a refugee, especially if there are places you are not welcome.
J: Which brings us back full circle to Jesus saying he has prepared a place for us.
S: He makes us welcome and we should always follow his example, a bit like Nejebar and Noor welcoming those two boys to live with them.
J: So what are you going to do with the stones you have gathered?
S: Well, I could be negative and throw them, to wake people up who have fallen asleep, or build a wall to hide behind.
J: But you’re not going to? Are you?
S: No I don’t think I ever was but stones can easily be used as barriers and weapons and stumbling blocks. But hopefully we’ve given people a few more positives suggestions and things to think about.
J: You could lay stones to make a path
S: You could build stones to make a shelter
J: You could use stones to make bridges in your communities
S: Or as stepping stones to meet people where they are
J: As it says in Ecclesiastes there’s a time to gather stones, to build constructively
S: It still says there’s a time to scatter them but I reckon that’s to break down barriers so we can be welcoming like Jesus and let people in.