Today we would have been remembering in our public worship the people and projects which we support through Commitment for Life.
A couple of Sundays ago we marked Pentecost, the emergence of a transformed band of Jesus’ followers into public view as the Christian Church, thanks to the enlivening of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus himself (John 3, v8) compares the Holy Spirit to the wind – you can’t see it as such but you certainly know when it blows! There is evidence for this Holy Spirit at work today in so many places and situations. Rather like the dreadful coronavirus, it cannot be seen but has a significant impact. John might have gone on to write: God so loved the world that he sent the Holy Spirit to sustain and develop what Jesus the Son had started. And, as with Jesus, you know it by its effect. What Paul calls the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ shows up in personal and social ways, in the lives of Christians and in the presence of the Church within society. Of the many ways the Holy Spirit is evident, Paul lists nine: love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5 v22) Each one is worth a personal check-list and probably a prayer of confession.
All of this constitutes the ‘life in all its fulness’ which Jesus came to bring (John 10, v10) and they are the distinguishing features of our faith. Of course Christians have no monopoly of these gifts, but they should be evident if we are seeking to follow Jesus. It’s a personal commitment to life. So it is with what is called ‘development aid’. What we support through Commitment for Life is one element of being faithful to our calling. The word ‘development’ points to an improvement in the basic things of life. The UK is ‘developed’ because we have security, water, food, education, health-care, industry, employment, housing, etc., etc. Sadly these are in short supply in so many countries, especially among the poorer families or villages. Of course ‘development’ is very far from being the same as happiness but the things on that list are stepping-stones to a genuinely better life, with opportunities instead of obstacles and hope instead of frustration and despair. So even giving money to enable such practical things to happen can be a spiritual action (something stimulated by the Holy Spirit) when it a sacrament of love and involvement. You can see the wind blowing by its effect.
But – and there is a ‘but’ – a commitment to life is more than the nine gifts listed by Paul. After all, Jesus would not have been crucified for encouraging people to be kind and nice to each other! There is a challenge as well as a consolation in his call. In their different ways Caiaphas and Pilate felt somehow threatened by talk of the Kingdom of God. So it is important that the sinfulness which we should confess and which Jesus can forgive is not just the personal failings of you and me, but the collective failure by all of us to realign human society in keeping with the declared intentions of God the Creator. Again, Christians have no monopoly of response but we must play our part, not only helping victims but in tackling some of the causes and underlying issues.
As for the situation in the ‘holy land’, which is the current focus of Glenorchy’s involvement in Commitment for Life, here’s a small example. I wrote to our new MP, Simon Jupp, protesting at the proposed formal annexation of some occupied Palestinian territories and was pleased that he replied (as Hugo Swire would have done): ‘I believe that any such unilateral moves would be damaging to the renewed efforts to restart peace negotiations and contrary to international law.’ Is that ‘bringing politics into religion’? No more than making a claim for the Kingdom of God among the earthly principalities and powers. And so necessary if justice and peace are to be brought even a little bit closer.
When the opening of Genesis describes the creating Spirit moving on the face of the waters and ‘God saw everything that he had made and indeed it was very good’, the writer means the big picture as well as the specifics. A commitment for life is not subversive of the Creator’s purpose but rather aligned with it. As individuals we are meant to be children of a loving Father – who has provided as we know a way of forgiveness when we inevitably fail. And our shared public life as nations, locally and globally, is intended by the Creator to run fairly and peacefully. Why should the latter not be as ‘spiritual’ as the former. It is God’s enlivening Spirit which can transform individuals and public life too. Let’s renew our commitment for life in every way, as followers of Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord.
Please use this prayer, written by Janet Morley of Christian Aid for us at Commitment for Life at the URC:
O God, who gave us life to cherish and enjoy,
and made us capable, in its service,
of costly love and powerful commitment:
help us to choose life in all its abundance,
not only for ourselves and for our children,
but for all our struggling world,
for whom you were content to lay down your life
in Jesus Christ our Lord.