Weekly worship: Sunday 20 January

Sermon notes: the epiphany of poverty

Marcia Colombia IMAGE

Malnourished child Marcia in Colombia receives vital treatment from our partner Corambiente.

Photo: Christian Aid/Federico Rios

Focus passages

  • Isaiah 62:1-5
  • John 2: 1 – 11

We find ourselves making sense of Jesus’ actions amongst the last of the party goers and servants at a wedding left with an embarrassing overflow of wine. 

Is the epiphany in the magicking up of over 700 litres of wine? Or is it in the company who would now get to share that over-abundance of wine?

Christmas parties are well past now, in which staff – some on low pay zero-hour contracts – have had to smile and laugh off a series of unfunny drunken antics, and even deal with drunken sexual advances. 

As the party ends, Jesus acts to ensure the party can continue amongst the low paid hired workers, so that the last are first in sampling the counter vision and new wine of the kingdom.

Arise!

The UN Special Rapporteur into Poverty in the UK produced a shocking epiphany in Nov 2018; it's a call to act. 

14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%. For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.

Shine!

The report adds a reminder of how the weak have to be strong, how those in darkness shine by dint of not giving up:

In the past two weeks I have talked with people who depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless and don’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, who have sold sex for money or shelter, children who are growing up in poverty unsure of their future, young people who feel gangs are the only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities who are being told they need to go back to work or lose support, against their doctor’s orders. I have also seen tremendous resilience, strength, and generosity, with neighbours supporting one another, councils seeking creative solutions, and charities stepping in to fill holes in government services…

Lift up your eyes

It is the epiphany of poverty across the world that Christian Aid encourages us to lift up our eyes to see.  To see poverty for the outrage against the image of God in humanity that it is. To see how it robs people of their dignity and lets injustice thrive.

But in that lifting up of our gaze, we also see that together we have the power to transform lives. For over 70 years, Christian Aid have been standing with the poorest of our neighbours – people of all faiths and none – to stand up for dignity, equality and justice. 

We are encouraged to see those living in poverty as the Lord does, with his counter vision of transformation.  They may be Isaiah’s ‘forsaken’, but with the bridegroom amongst them we see they are transformed into the beloved and toasted by him in the new wine of the kingdom. 

Proclaim the praise of the Lord

The celebrations in these texts are about the cascade of love. The wedding image is not about the couple alone, but about a community gathered around mutual commitment between much loved spouses. 

This is also the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The epiphanies of poverty call unity to be shaped for the sake of committing love and justice, and as we achieve this amongst those at its heart, we proclaim the steward’s marvelling praise: Lord, ‘You save the best till last!’

Concluding prayer

Lord,

In word and world we hear you cry:

Arise!

The light of the world has come:

So let us shine

We lift up our eyes

To see your new world coming

And in doing justice

Proclaim the praise of the Lord

And so, we pray counter in and through us systems of despair and dread

With signs of love and peace.

Points for prayer

There was much political unrest in Nicaragua in 2018 which has given rise to many social and economic challenges in the country.

  • Pray for protection and wisdom for our partners as they work to support and enable communities there.
  • Give thanks for those who share their gifts and insights for the common good of all, such as our partner Adapta Nicaragua.
  • Pray for their vision – to help 1,000 low-income producers of cocoa and honey in Nicuaragua – to be realised.
  • May they enable these farmers to be less vulnerable to unpredictable weather and increase the productivity of their crops, leading to greater potential for investment.

Prayer points taken from our prayer diary 

These weekly pointers have been provided by Rev Dr Peter Cruchley, the Mission Secretary for Mission Development at the Council for World Mission.

He's also a minister of the United Reformed Church in the UK, and a member of the Christian Aid worship and theology collective.