We would love to include your parables about justice and healthy church here, and your sermon ideas.
We would love to include your parables about justice and healthy church here, and your sermon ideas. To get us going, because it's the best way I've found to explain community organising in churches, is a parable about starfish. It's by Andy Griffiths. And then a translation of a sermon by Anastasiia Oliinyk, a Ukrainian guest here under the Diocese's "Communities for Ukrainians" scheme, a partnership with Citizens UK.
Anastasiia preached it on Ukrainian Independence Day, 24 August 2022, at St John's Church, Moulsham.
The alternative parable of the starfish
Two friends are walking to a beachside chapel to pray, when they see thousands of starfish washed up on the beach.
‘If they’re still there by nightfall, they’ll die’, he says, picking one starfish up and throwing it into the sea.
‘I’m sorry’, she says, ‘that isn’t going to make a difference.’
‘Well, it made a difference to that one,’ he yells. ‘Get off your mobile phone and throw a couple back yourself!’
But she’s a part of a broad-based alliance, and by ignoring his individualistic activism and working her phone, before long she’s called the Girl Guides, the Bangladeshi Women’s Association, the Parish Church and the residents’ association of a local housing estate. Each of the people she’s called are going to mobilise their members, and moreover one of them has done some online research and discovered that the problem is a local quarry who have changed their working practices; the modified currents washing the starfish ashore are an unintended consequence.
By lunchtime, there are forty-nine people on the beach, throwing starfish into the water. Social media is fascinated.
The Pastoral Assistant from the local church has called the Council, who have promised to hold an emergency meeting; it sounds like the quarry are in breach of their responsibilities. ‘Great’, says the pastoral assistant, ‘you’ll have the biggest crowd ever at that emergency meeting. The Guides are already learning a song in Bengali to sing there.’
As they work together shoulder-to-shoulder, throwing starfish into the sea, the members of the alliance talk to each other. They tell stories about why they are part of their particular creative minority, and why they care about the natural world enough to bother with the starfish. They discover all sorts of other ways they can cooperate; soon there’s a date for a church fellowship group to learn Bangla cooking, and several young residents of the local estate, who had previously thought that the Guides were stuck up and unapproachable, sign up to have a go at Guiding. Even the boys.
By the evening, the sand is empty, the quarry has backed down after constant @ing on twitter, and the two friends finally reach their destination, the little chapel by the beach, to pray. They didn’t pressure anyone to join them, but for the first time in 100 years the chapel is full of people with questions about Jesus that they didn’t know they had till today. Everyone enjoys the evening, and as dusk falls the friends choose to finish it by reading out loud Luke 1:68-79. Far out to sea, shimmering in the moonlight, the starfish seem to be reciting their own, doubtless very different, Benedictus.
A mobile God; a sermon
My life fit into one backpack. Each of us has a unique horror story, and this is mine.
A few months before the war started, the TV was already talking about the conflict and the approach of Russian equipment to the borders of Ukraine. A couple of days before the 24th, my mother said, do you need to go somewhere to be safe? I said - mother, what are you saying? What kind of war is there in the 21st century? No one could believe it. My mom told me to pack an emergency suitcase. I didn't even do that because I didn't believe it.
On the 24th February, I woke up at 5 in the morning. The war had started. I collected documents and laptops. I put on two jackets and two pairs of trousers. And that's all. Nothing more. You must have heard about the city of Bucha from the news and the plane Mriya that burned down - my family lives in Bucha, 4 km from where it was blown up. For the first three days, I lived with some friends in the corridor between the apartments between the walls. Then we moved to the basement shelter at the school. We lived there for 11 days. After a few days, the electricity failed so there was no light. And then there was no water either.
I saw Russian soldiers with my own eyes. I saw dead bodies on the road. Shot cars with bodies in them. Burnt houses. Every day we woke up thinking it was a terrible dream. And that tomorrow it will all end. Today, the war has lasted half a year.
So where is God in Bucha, in Ukraine, in disaster? Please don’t think God must be a long way off, looking down from the sky a bit sadly that everything has gone wrong, an old man with a beard just wagging his finger crossly at Vladimir Putin but always staying at a distance. The Christian God isn’t like that. God is mobile, and when God sees suffering God moves towards it, not away from it. When Jesus saw the pain and the evil and the fighting and the hell, he said “let me go there. Let me be close to them. Let me be one of them”. And he came and was born and was a refugee – Jesus, the refugee, escaping across the border into Egypt, living a precarious life, dependent. That’s why when Andy [Griffiths] prays, he usually ends the prayer “Come, Holy Spirit, come Refugee Jesus”.
And on the cross, Jesus took all that pain and evil and suffering and division on himself, and died, and descended to the dead, and then rose to new life. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we don’t suffer now, that’s not at all what we’re saying. But it means that when we suffer, we can know Jesus with us, even in Bucha. And we can know that one day, as spring follows winter, resurrection follows cross, victory will follow struggle and God will put the world to rights.
Back to my story: My friends and I sat until we were evacuated. The Red Cross did everything possible to organize the evacuation. On that day, 1,800 people were evacuated. Ukrainians volunteer in the Red Cross. They do not receive a salary for their activities, are practically not at home, and do not see their relatives. They risk their lives despite shelling to deliver humanitarian aid to temporarily occupied cities to transport people with reduced mobility to safer places. Like Jesus, they moved TOWARDS the pain, not away from it. So here I am, through their work and sacrifice, in Roxwell in place of Bucha.
A person gets used to everything. I would not like us to get accustomed to living with war. I would not want everyone to forget that we are leaving our home behind. I want to thank God. I want to thank God that we are here whole and undamaged. I am grateful that Jesus was there when I was afraid, and is here with us, the refugee God, mobile with us, moving towards us when we suffer. I want to thank all of you for being here and helping Ukrainians. I thank you, and all of Ukraine thanks you.