Original MP4 File
28 August 20
EMBARGOED - This content is for Harvest Appeal 2020.
Do NOT use for other purposes until after the appeal has finished.
Bob Kikuyu, senior theology advisor at Christian Aid gives the autumn sermon.
It began early last year with the failed rains and subsequent drought that slowly began to claim first the livestock that many people depended on, and then people’s lives. A few months later the seasonal rains finally came and with the relief and rejoicing. The relief changed to anxiety as the heavy rains pounded the region relentlessly. Official data revealed that those rains in October 2019, known as the short rains in East Africa were the heaviest recorded since the 80s. And once again reports of loss of lives and livestock from flooding began to emerge. More than that, the rains which normally would have lasted for two months persisted for 8 months crossing into the long rains season. There was extreme damage to roads and other infrastructure, crops were washed away posing another threat of famine, and more lives were lost due to flooding.
This is not counting an increase in water-borne diseases. Even before the rains ceased came the locusts, attracted south from Yemen and the Arabian desert by these climate conditions. The farmers who survived the flooding and planted a crop now encountered another enemy in the locusts. The damage they caused threatened further an already fragile food insecure situation. And barely had the locust menace been attended to before COVID 19 hit the African shores - and with it mitigation measures that brought many African economies to a halt. Africa is expected to reach its peak of infections in the autumn. Many governments have been torn between tough control measures that threaten the economy or risking the health of its citizens by allowing greater freedom of business and movement. Amid the many calamities that have befallen us, I have heard people crying, “O God, where are you?”
The writer of the Psalms may have been in a situation where he experienced several problems such that the people around him asked – “Where is your God”. And there are many in the world today facing shocks economically, shocks from adverse climate change effects, shocks from societal issues such as race and gender, shocks from civil conflict -and the list could go on. Add to that now the global pandemic. These issues can raise the question – “Where is your God?” and you can be filled with despair – your heart can be downcast.
For many of the faithful in biblical times, an encounter with God was mostly when a person went to the temple. The writer here was probably in exile and therefore unable to worship God or appear before God in the manner his or her faith would dictate. The writer remembers those good old days when together with a multitude they went to meet their God in the sanctuary with songs and celebration - the good old days when everything was normal. And it may feel the same for us today. The days when we could freely head to church are for some only a memory and a longing. Churches in the UK and Ireland have been closed for long and have only been opened under strict conditions. So too the churches here in Kenya where I live. Nobody under 13 or above 58 is allowed to go to church and attendance is limited to a maximum of 100 congregants where social distancing allows it. Coupled with that is the technical challenge of attendance, whether at home on your device and if not by having to book online for a seat. Oh, we long with the writer of this Psalm for those days. And a longing for the life before Corona coupled with the straitjacket of COVID 19 mitigation measures can surely leave one’s heart downcast as the writer expresses in our reading for today.
So where is God today? I sense that God is in the brave front-line workers who sacrificially give themselves to the service of saving lives, strangers who are the only contact with a desperate and lonely human being in their isolation. I have heard that fear but also the passion in the voice and heart of my sister who lives in the UK and works for the NHS. I sense that God is in the young neighbour who volunteers to do grocery shopping for the elderly in their street whose movement has been restricted. God is in the members of our church here in Nairobi who has been giving food donations for distribution to families that have been going hungry after the breadwinners lost their jobs. God is in the many churches and individuals in the UK, Ireland and beyond who have contributed financially and in-kind through Christian Aid and other organisations for people a continent away to not sleep hungry or cold. God is in those who annually protest against the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon and the displacement of the indigenous people so that the government could undertake commercial farming – something that also damages the environment. God is in the young female lawyer who after more than 5 years won compensation for a community in Mombasa, Kenya against a battery manufacturing company that had contaminated their water with lead, leading to sickness and death.
God is in the work of Christian Aid partner, Soppexcca in Nicaragua who are helping farming communities come together into cooperatives to change from coffee to cocoa farming to survive the devastation of the climate crisis. Cocoa survives the drought much better than coffee and secures an income allowing farmers like Angela and her family to survive and thrive. Neighbours working together to overcome the crisis – an idea and experience familiar to us all this year. [Adam to insert images of Angela + Nicaragua here]
Where is our God? God is with us. God says in Isaiah 57:15 (NIV)
For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.
God is near to us through His Spirit. And all around the world, God is near through the hearts and hands of those who are reaching out to touch their neighbours. Were it not for the touch of God through your words and acts of kindness, the hearts of many would have been downcast and discouraged. But because of the actions of true neighbours – the neighbour down the street and the neighbour a continent away – many people when wondering where God is can now say to themselves –
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
My saviour and my God
God is with us. We thank you Oh God that you are with us.
Soppexcca, Christian Aid’s partner based in Jinotega, Nicaragua are helping coffee farmers diversify their crop by growing cocoa plants.
Climate change is affecting the coffee yield and cocoa plants are more suitable to the changing weather patterns.
Soppexcca are an umbrella organisation representing 18 coffee farming cooperatives.
They supply technical and practical support to the farmers involved in the project, cocoa plants, tools, fertilisers and tree saplings (useful for shade when fully grown).