Humility Is Happiness

Sunday 9th May 2010
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Christian Aid Week Service

"I'm bored." "How come? You have so many different things you can do?" "No I don't." No, Not the whining of a child on a wet Wednesday near the end of the Summer holidays but an adult on a Bank Holiday Monday who can't choose a DVD because there are too many; can't be bothered to go to the garden centre; and can't even be bothered to choose a pub for an early evening drink. It's not that some of us have so little that we are naturally discontented but that we have so much that we are beyond content.

Then, at either end of the spectrum, there are Kenyan farmers who almost lost their livelihoods when the volcanic ash closed the skies while all we seemed to worry about were our foreign holidays; people washed away in Bangladesh when all we can think about are the fishermen of the Gulf of Mexico, livelihoods threatened by our insatiable appetite for oil, but underpinned by insurance and the US Federal Government; the people of Port au Prince who literally watched their city collapsed before our eyes while we calculate whether we can afford a new kitchen, just because we are tired of the one we've got.

I know, in many ways this is a series of cheap shots but their danger is that they become clichés; we take note of them, shrug and then move on.

What can we do to shake ourselves out of this routine set of video clips, to see inside ourselves and the poor of the developing world as we begin Christian Aid Week?

Well, bringing out all the old statistics about the widening gap between the rich and the poor isn't enough; warning about climate change affecting the worst off most hardly features as so many of us are in denial, not really believing in climate change; and then, of course, there are our own woes, the impending cuts in our standard of living and an increase in the length of our working lives made necessary, to a great extent, by the lengthening of our lives.

If we only carry two thoughts out of here into the world, into the calculations about our giving, they are these: as Christians we don't have a choice; and we need to exercise that choice free from power and contract. Let me explain.

For a Christian, loving our neighbour isn't a discretionary option; and our neighbour isn't just the person who takes your parcels in when you are away. The global media has made a reality of everybody being our neighbour. We have a responsibility not only because we know about the world but because we are knowing: we cannot hide from the simple truth that although there are some transactions where the more you give the more you get - love being the paradigm - in most cases the falling price of our food means a falling price for farmers; cheap clothes mean sweat shops; and showers in tourist beach hotels mean water rationing and power cuts inland. But we also know that to reverse all these economic drivers without due care would be catastrophic: falling consumption by the well off always hits the poorest workers first; tourism, even when some of the revenue has been grasped by corrupt officials and politicians, often pays for schools and hospitals; and global labour markets which are rigged in favour of the rich can equally damage the poor if they are unrigged too rapidly. The two messages I take from this are that whatever we do the poor usually lose, so we need to take care; but the problem won't be blown away by a packet of Fair Trade coffee.

My second point was about the exercise of power. The last two attempts to secure a world trade deal have collapsed because the powerful nations have used their muscle: farm subsidies, limitations on the import of manufactured goods, grotesque laws on international property rights, have all been used by the rich to keep the poor in their place. And as Christians we just can't divorce ourselves from responsibility blaming this on faceless officials and heard-hearted politicians. You might have noticed in the General Election that all three major parties, for the first time, promised to take foreign aid up to the United Nations figure of 0.7% and Christians have cause for very modest pride that this has happened, and that conditions for Third World debt have been eased; but nobody discussed aid and whether we should go to 1% or higher; or, indeed, whether we should allow poor countries to trade out of poverty. There is still much to do.

As for contract theory, we apply this to poor people here as well as in the Third World: we don't like to give poor people money in case they sped it on tobacco and alcohol, or worse; but: when the 'prodigal' son returned, having squandered half of his father's wealth, in the hope of bargaining to become a farm-hand, the father would hear nothing of it; when the Samaritan helped the traveller, he didn't ask for his medical insurance papers and, incidentally, the inn keeper didn't swipe his credit card in case he didn't come back; and Jesus didn't change the water into wine on condition that nobody got drunk.

So although we may think it's bad enough having to give up our income and wealth for the sake of the poor, the thought of giving away our power and moral superiority are even more frightening.

But it is what we must do.

Everything we have is pure gift from God of which we are merely the stewards. We are creatures of the creator. To accept that is to be truly humble. But to be humble is another way of saying that we are happy, that we understand and accept our position which makes us comfortable within ourselves.

To the proud and the indifferent, to the greedy and unfeeling, what I am saying is complete foolishness. But we here are not in that category. We know what Jesus tells us and we know that we are God's creatures, God's children; and we know that we were created out of love to love God and each other.

All this we know; and so I am not adding much to our generally agreed stock of Christian values. I merely wish to point out that the more we give and the fewer strings we attach, the happier we will be.

For all the good we might do for others through our giving, that is the main point of Christian Aid Week.