As I write this, Christian Aid week is underway, a sign of a much wider commitment to sharing Christ’s practical compassion for the poor of the world. Christ sent out his disciples to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is arriving - that reign of God’s where all are provided for, where the sick are healed, the hungry fed and the oppressed set free.
That compassion is echoed in a little story from Acts 9.36-43. In Joppa a disciple called Tabitha became ill and died. She was known for her good works and charity, particularly amongst the widows. Women had little or no status in their own right in Roman and Greek society. Therefore, they were often among the poorest and those who were at the absolute lowest on the ladder were the widows - those who had no male relative willing to provide them with a home. Tabitha seems to have a means of living, suggesting a husband, brother or father who provided for her. As such, she should have been at home running the household, but she finds time and the means for this act of social care, perhaps enabling a cottage industry of widow seamstresses - suggested by the garments that they show in their grief, and providing a little community for these people on the edges of society. All this dies with Tabitha, leaving these widows not just bereft, but alone. The church in Joppa asked St Peter for help as he was nearby. Peter came and he healed her. The powerful name of Jesus, the Christ, bears the same life-giving power as the Creator of the universe; and this name belongs to widows and those on the edges of society.
This week, Fr Jean Vanier died, he was the founder of the L’Arche community. A French-Canadian Catholic priest, a successful lecturer in philosophy and ethics, was much bothered by the situation of adults with learning disabilities - their isolation in society and the lack of caring provision outside the family. In 1964 he left his academic role with students and invited two gentlemen with learning disabilities to form with him a little community of respect, care and mutual learning. His little community became known as the L’Arche community, and there are now 150+ such communities across the world. Jean Vanier lived out Christ's commitment to those on the edges of society, demonstrated of love, respect and care that freclects the values of the Kingdom of God.
Who are the people on the edges of our church, our community, our nation, our world? How will we know them? In church and community, they are most often people without power, without representation, they are not included or invited, their needs are not a priority for us, they are often prevented from participation in leadership and decision-making; in society, they can be the poorest.
How do we know that we are responding? We need to look at how we spend our time and money, what gets us cross or excited, what generates our commitment and campaign spirit. Who do we associate with? Who do we invite? Who gets the bulk of our provision? How much effort do we put in to enabling inclusion?
The kind of tribal behaviour that every human community exhibits, is part of our instinct, but it is a behaviour that has no place in the kingdom of God where all are welcome, especially the weakest and most vulnerable. As we are all human, we all need to look again and again at the Gospel and Jesus' challenges. Is our life as a disciple, as a church, as a community reflective of the Kingdom of God? If not, what are we going to do about it?