ST ORAN’S AND DUNBEG TRINITY SUNDAY 2005
“Charity begins with the homeless”
A meditation at the end of Christian Aid Week
‘And now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity’ 1 Corinthians 13:13
At the end of another Christian Aid Week it is appropriate for us to reflect on the meaning of charity. For many people charity begins at home. For Christian Aid charity begins with the homeless. ‘Charity’ – it’s one of those words in the English language which reaches the places that other words can’t reach – a kind of Heinekin word ! It has somehow seeped into our psyche. ‘Faith, hope and charity’ in the words of the Authorised Version. ‘Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins and are in love and charity with your neighbours and intend to live a new life, following the commandments of God………’ in the words of the Book of Common Prayer.
Charity has been around for a long time. Even the Charity Commissioners are nothing new. They were instituted in 1853. But whilst in those days they were concerned with the endowment of schools for poor children, today even the private schools are getting in on the act and seeking charitable status. Charity has become big business and professional fund-raisers abound and people like me spend hours poring over fat books like this – The Guide to the Top 3000 Charities 2004/5 !
But as everybody knows ‘Charity begins at home’. Even that somewhat crass statement is not a product of the swinging sixties but has a long pedigree going back to the seventeenth century. It was John Fletcher in his ‘Wit without Money’ who wrote: ‘Charity and beating begins at home’. He and his friend Francis Beaumont were also responsible for several other common phrases such as: ‘Having your fling’, ‘I don’t care twopence’, ‘Having more than one iron in the fire’ and ‘Till the cows come home’. Actually they wrote in ‘The Scornful Lady’ , a kind of best-seller of its day: ‘Kiss till the cow comes home’. But let’s return to charity.
For some people charity has become a sort of embarrassment now – like temptation and trespasses; something we wish wasn’t there, something we would prefer to steer clear of. ‘We don’t want your charity.’ The so-called working classes or people in the so-called Third World don’t want charity. They say: ‘We don’t want handouts or simply the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. What we do want is fairtrade.’ And yet ‘charity’ is a word that keeps being used. Giving to charity is quite respectable. The London Marathon is quite literally run on and for charity. Having charitable status is very desirable. All this is fine but it is the receiving of charity which is infra-dig, because if you receive it you must almost by definition, be a good-for-nothing layabout or a scrounger! And how can we be sure that it gets to the right people? But who are the right people?
Yet, we cannot get away from the fact that three things abide – faith, hope and charity and the greatest of these is charity. Of course we can blame the Authorised Version for that. The actual Greek word for ‘love’ in 1 Corinthians 13:13 is ‘agape’, that great Christian word which is used to express the love of God as seen in the Cross of Calvary. But somehow it has ended up in the Authorised Version as ‘charity’. The Authorised Version probably derives it from Wycliffe, who in turn took it from the ‘caritas’ of the Vulgate which was the name given to Jerome’s translation into Latin of the Bible. He completed the New Testament translation in 388AD and the Greek word ‘agape’ in 1 Corinthians 13:13 appeared as ‘caritas’. Jerome used ‘caritas’ because he didn’t want to use ‘amor’. My Latin dictionary says ‘amor’ is ‘love from inclination’, whereas ‘caritas’ is ‘love from esteem’. ‘Amor’ tends to mean ‘self-love’ whilst ‘caritas’ means love for others. Interestingly enough ‘caritas’ means ‘dear’ just in exactly the same way as we use ‘dear’ to mean something which costs a lot, and also to mean someone who is held in esteem, someone who is precious, someone whom we love. Indeed we begin all our letters with the word ‘caritas’ do we not? ‘Dear Susan….’ or ‘My dear Prime Minister…….’. You see it’s a word which reaches the places that other words don’t reach!
In the first century BC, Cicero wrote: ‘annus in summa caritate est’, ‘it is a very dear year’ and I suppose there have been a lot of dear years since then. Perhaps 2005 will be one of them with Council Taxes rising, with a 35% increase in repossessions of houses in Britain last year. Who knows? It is certainly a dear year for those who were victims of the Tsunami disaster, a caritas year indeed. Or for those who live in Darfur or in Baghdad or in Ramalla. Refugees, asylum seekers, roaming the earth, weeping, with people dying and with people homeless. ‘Dear, dear’ we say, ‘Dear, Oh dear’ or ‘Dearie me!’, how can we possibly believe with Christian Aid in life before death when so many people are homeless, with half the world living in poverty? Caritas, caritas, where is caritas ? Can it possibly begin with the homeless?’
Surely we each have that deep atavistic yearning for a home, for identity, for a place in the world, our own place, our native place? ‘When your sailing up the Clyde..back to Bonnie Scotland where yer ain folk bide.’ ‘My hearts in the Highlands…my heart is not here!’ ‘Wherever you may wander, wherever you may roam, be it ever so humble there’s no place like home.’ (J.H. Payne1823) In the Bible itself one of the great visions of the prophets was for a society in which everyone would sit under their own vine and their own fig-tree and no-one would make them afraid. It’s been my privilege to have worked with a lot of people who have been homeless, people who have had to move, whose roots have been cut off. A third of the seven million people living in the city of Madras or Chennai as it is again called, are squatters, living in huts and on pavements, not in pukka houses. When you don’t have a pukka house, you don’t have a door number. When you don’t have a door number, you don’t have a ration card and you don’t qualify for cheap rice or flour or sugar. In other words you don’t exist because you don’t have a recognised place of your own. You are homeless just like many on the streets of London. Have you seen the old man with the worn-out shoes? This is what ‘caritas’ is about. This is what Christian Aid is about!
When you’re homeless, as John Fletcher at the end of the seventeenth century said: ‘You live by your wits without money’. When I was a boy in Glasgow we had the midden-rakers. I used to see them searching in the bins, the middens. After my ordination in the Church of South India I served in three churches in Madras – Vyasarpady, Venkatesapuram and Korukapet . Two of them were tiny mud huts and they were built on the midden, where people lived, on the rubbish tips around the outskirts of the city. And as I was celebrating Communion each week, as I was breaking the bread and pouring out the wine, I could look out of the door of that small hut and see the midden-rakers, homeless people raking through the rubbish, for food or some trinkets, bits of metal, old tyres, old paper or plastic bags. Caritas, caritas, charity, love from esteem which really cares, which gives dignity, which begins with the homeless, begins with those midden-rakers and I can assure you that to break bread on a rubbish tip, Sunday by Sunday, is a crucifying experience, one which brings you very close to Golgotha, the place of a skull, outside the camp, on the rubbish tip of Jerusalem, outside the city wall ‘ where the dear Lord, the ‘caritas’ Lord, was crucified, who died to save us all.’
Jesus said: ‘Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head’. (Luke 9:58) But he did have somewhere. In the beginning he had a manger outside the inn. They laid him in a manger. At the end he had a cross of wood on a rubbish-tip outside the city. And in John 19:30 we read: ‘When Jesus had received the vinegar he said: ‘It is finished’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.’ And that word bowed, in Greek, means ‘to lay down’. It is the word ‘klino’ the same word as is used in Luke 9:58 because now he did have somewhere to lay his head and he did it deliberately. Strangely enough it is the word from which, in its Latin version, we derive our words ‘recline’ and ‘incline’. So perhaps Jerome could have used ‘amor’ after all? There may be times when we are moved to love people out of inclination and not simply out of a sense of duty. Surely ‘amor’ is perhaps closer to the heart of Jesus, who was moved with compassion when he saw the multitudes, or the leprosy sufferer, or the beggars and who teaches us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves? Jesus’ life and his laying down of it, was both an act of ‘amor’ and an act of ‘caritas’, of love and of charity, an act which even today gives dignity to the lives of all those homeless people living on the rubbish-tips of the so-called civilised world. Jesus, whose life began and ended as one of the homeless, and who, like Pope John Paul II, left no worldly goods, paid no inheritance tax, but paid in ‘caritas’ and thus taught us about Christian Aid – ‘to give and give and give again what God has given you.’ Jesus, who taught us, long before Schumacher, about ‘economics as if people mattered’ , the economics of the Son of man, who took the bread and broke it, so that it could reach the places that other bread couldn’t reach!
Jesus, whom we remember on this Trinity Sunday, revealed to us the love of God, the ‘agape’ of the Father for the Son and the Holy Spirit, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, who loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son to show us the true meaning of ‘amor’ and of ‘caritas’ which is Christian Aid, when he said: ‘In as much as you did it to one of the least of these you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40) How clearly St Paul understood all of this when he wrote that great chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, with its tremendous climax : ‘And now abideth faith, hope and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.’
And to God’s Name be the praise and the glory. Amen.
PRAYERS FOR CHRISTIAN AID SUNDAY 2005
The Christian Council of Mozambique has been a partner with Christian Aid since 1970. After the brutal civil war people have surrendered guns in exchange for tools. Sculptors have refashioned many of the guns into works of art. The extra-ordinary ‘Tree of Life’, a huge sculpture made from decommissioned weapons, is on display in the British Museum in London.They have beaten their swords into ploughshares. PAUSE Ubi caritas………
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Christian Aid funds 30 organisations, working to rehabilitate people displaced by the fighting, to maintain a secure food supply, and to counteract the impact of HIV/AIDS. PAUSE Ubi caritas………..
In Zambezia Province of Mozambique Pastor Iaias, the Methodist Minister, tells us that the Holy Spirit is guiding us to help people identify specialised gifts, such as supporting people in the community, in music and in praying. He says: ‘In this way we can all, rich or poor, serve the community together.’ PAUSE Ubi caritas…..
In the General Assembly in Edinburgh the Commissioners are considering the new Charity Regulations in Scotland, exploring new ways of being Church, arguing against the replacement of Trident, overcrowding in Scotland’s prisons, the protection of the people of Darfur, affordable housing in Scotland, action against antiSemitism, providing care for people who are homeless and those with learning disabilities, working with sister churches in Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, China, Malawi, Zambia, Israel and Palestine and closer relations between the Kirk and the United Free Church. PAUSE Ubi caritas………..
Here in Connel we remember who are sick or sad, and those who have lost the love they had, those in hospital, the dying and the bereaved. In the silence we bring them to God. SLIGHTLY LONGER PAUSE Ubi caritas ……………
Living God we hear these words and we confess so much in our own lives which could be different. May we become people of blessing and not of woe as we drink at the fresh highland spring of the waters of our baptism, the soothing, thirst-quenching waters of your forgiveness and of your grace which is more than sufficient for us. And so we pray for the coming of your kingdom, in the words of Jesus: Our Father . . . . .