Holy Tuesday - Abiding in Relationships

A sermon preached by Martin Carr at St George's Campden Hill, 26 March 2013

Isaiah 49.1-7; Psalm 71.1-14; 1 Corinthians 1.18-31; John 12.20-36

I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Several years ago, at the invitation of a friend, I went to live as part of a small Christian community in Richmond. Three of us shared a small flat, owned by the church, where we ate together, prayed together, helped in ministry and offered hospitality. There were always people coming and going, dishes to wash up, food to prepare, the next big event to organise. At such close quarters with so many others, life can feel fraught, tense, and there were, perhaps inevitably, arguments and challenges. Yet in that creative if chaotic community space we shared, we learned and we grew – there was laughter and fun – perhaps even a glimpse of what Jesus might have called the kingdom.

Our society as a whole has lost that sense of togetherness. Many live alone or with one or two others at most. Self-sufficiency and self-determination are the highest values. We take control of our own destiny, we organise our living space to suit ourselves. Woe to anyone who might mess up our neat and tidy lives, or upset our carefully planned diaries. We nod with approval at the idea of being part of a community, a big society even, yet we remain carefully aloof from getting too involved.

The Bible teaches us that relationships are risky. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, the authorities were threatened by his new ideas which would have overturned the existing social order. The Jewish authorities guarded their boundaries. They knew who was in, and who was out. The temple had to be preserved as a place of purity and holiness. A place for everything, and everything in its place. Yet this Jesus didn’t seem to understand that. He welcomed the impure, sinners, women, gentiles, among his followers. Yet long before Jesus this had already been spoken of through the prophet Isaiah – Israel did not exist as a boundaried community for its own sake, but to be a light to all people. And in being lifted up, Jesus draws not some, but all people to himself.

Relationships are difficult because people are imperfect. Yet it is often others who can teach us who we truly are. I learned that when I lived and shared with others in community. In the many people I meet here in the United Benefice, I realise the value of building shared space and a place of welcome in a city which can be lonely and impersonal. At its worst the Church can be the inheritor of a system which carefully regulates those who are in, and those who are out. But by looking to Jesus we have the chance to let just a little of the chaos of community into our lives, to commit to building new and abiding relationships which help us become a people who have the power to change the world.

Christianity is not a religion of the individual but of a community, the Church. We are a part of that. In our care for each other and openness to the stranger we model the self-giving love of Jesus, who dared suffering and the cross not for his own sake but for ours.

Jesus said: I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

If we stay defended behind the barriers of self-sufficiency and orderliness, we remain that single grain. But in the risk, the vulnerability of relationship, we begin to glimpse a deeper truth about our humanity, so that we are more at ease with ourselves and others, and able to bear fruit, lives of service, compassion and care. This Holy Week I pray that we all might bear that fruit as we follow our Lord through death to new life. Amen.
Holland Park Benefice