Sermon preached at Evensong on the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (26 August 2018) by the Very Revd David Ison, Dean

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Sermon preached at Evensong on the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (26 August 2018) by the Very Revd David Ison, Dean

The Dean encourages us to reflect on how we can give the gift of love and hope to groups of people who struggle to have hope in the future, particularly those who suffer persecution.

I found a picture recently of a young person dressed in their academic robe, clutching their degree certificate, hugging their mother, with the caption: I did it because they believed in me.

On my bathroom wall there’s a poster of Archbishop Desmond Tutu with the quotation: Someday we will all be free – and the statement, That day has come – please vote. It’s a reminder of the many years of apartheid in South Africa when black people faced often violent discrimination and prejudice, but with the help of Archbishop Tutu and others kept believing that one day, love would triumph and apartheid would fall. As it did. And that hope was based in the power of truth, justice and above all love to triumph in the end over hate.

We need to know we’re believed in, that we’re loved, in order to flourish. We need to know we’re loved in order to have hope. And that’s been the case for thousands of years.

Over three thousand years ago, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, wanting to be free, struggling under the burden of slavery. Their groaning and their cry for help reached up to God, says the Bible. 

Moses the Israelite who’d been adopted by the Egyptians tried to help by killing one of the oppressive Egyptian slave masters, and had to run for his life; he needed to learn that he couldn’t do it on his own. In fact, he learned that lesson so well, that when God came to him to give him the job of rescuing the Israelites from slavery, and gave him a few magical signs to be getting on with, Moses didn’t want to go – he knew it was going to be hard, and he found all sorts of reasons why he couldn’t do it, and ended up by asking God to send someone else instead.

Instead of which, God told him to get his act together, and that he would send his brother to help him. 

Which is where the first reading in this afternoon’s service – towards the end of chapter 4 of the book of Exodus. It starts with Aaron finding his brother in the wilderness and kissing him with gladness. Moses, who’s been in exile, hiding in fear for forty years, who’s felt inadequate and afraid and cut off from his relatives and people, is greeted with love and affirmation.

And then Aaron takes Moses to meet the leaders of the Israelites, and Aaron speaks the words Moses has been told to deliver, and Aaron does the signs that God has taught Moses. And Moses is no longer alone. He is encouraged and supported, and ready to face the king of Egypt.

And more than that: when the Israelite leaders hear the message and see the signs, when they believe and know that God has seen their misery and has sent someone to help them, they believe and they worship – Moses is encouraged by love, and the Israelites are encouraged to hope because they realise that God cares about them.

Over the next ten chapters the story unfolds: how the king of Egypt resists demands to let the people go, and makes the slavery of their lives even more of a misery so that the Israelites despair; and how God encourages and leads Moses and Aaron, so that eventually the Israelites win their freedom. 

And even then the cycle continues: that when things get difficult, the Israelites doubt and grumble and complain, until God does something to show that he loves and cares for them, and they remember that for a while before they go wandering off again….

There are individual and corporate lessons here. For us as individuals: we need the love and encouragement of others to be able to cope with and do the difficult things. That’s one reason why God asks us to be part of the Church, to belong to a church, a group of people who care for each other as they worship together, who encourage each other to have faith and hope and love for all. Moses did what he did because his brother believed in him, and because he knew that God had faith in him. Especially when things are hard and difficult times and opposition comes: we need to know we’re loved and held through it.

That also means that we are able to give that gift of love and hope to others. Acting as a friend, a mentor, an encourager and a support, holding our neighbours in love, believing in young people or depressed people even when they don’t believe in themselves – that’s all part of following God in Jesus Christ, who comes to us in love to show us how much God cares for and believes in us. 

We’re called to love and be loved, selflessly, loving God and our neighbour, in ways that call out love and hope in others. Aaron loved Moses and enabled him to be the leader who set his people free.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu became the loving and hopeful person he is, partly because he knew a bishop called Trevor, a white man, who respected and cared for him and his family. By loving others we can transform the world through them.

And that’s true also for us corporately as well as individually. Some of the most awful stories in the world today are about groups which are rejected, enslaved, persecuted: the Rohingya in Myanmar, Muslims in Assam, Dalits in India, Christians and Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan, some tribal groups in Africa, black people in racist societies, asylum seekers and disabled people, gay and transgender people, those who are different and those who are vulnerable to others’ hatred and exploitation.

What can sustain such groups in the search for freedom and peace, for hope and a future? Like the Israelites in Egypt thousands of years ago, all these groups need to know that they’re not alone, that they’re loved and noticed, that others believe in them, that the God who made us so diverse and different loves and believes in them as much as God loves and believes in all people, including each of us.

Just as God asks us to look out for those individuals around us who need loving and believing in, so God asks us to follow him in believing in those groups who find it hard to have any hope for the future; to work with Christian and other organisations who aim to bring hope to those who are hopeless.

I did it because they believed in me. Some day we will all be free. The Lord said to Aaron go into the wilderness to meet Moses – so he went and kissed him.

So who in this coming week will we love and give hope to, and so help to transform the world in the name of our God of justice and of love?