Epiphany 2 - Abiding in Jesus

A sermon preached in the United Benefice by Fr Robert Thompson, 19 January 2014

I meet Joseph (not his real name) most days at about 5pm. It’s at
that time that he comes in to the office that I share to empty the
bins, and to dust and hoover. Joseph is a hard working, and
conscientious person. He is proud of being in work, of having a job
and earning a living. He does a job that is essential, not just to
myself and my colleagues in our office, but is also basic to the
smooth running of the whole of the hospital. It’s not just the offices
that need cleaned, but also the wards and operating theatres.

Places in which a lack of diligent and through cleaning is not simply
a nuisance but also potentially life threatening, killing, as nasty
bacteria are left to multiply, infections helped to breed. It’s not just
the surgeons who open us up to perform a bypass, or replace a
valve, or transplant a lung that save our lives. Our lives are
indebted to people like Joseph, and his colleagues, who make sure
that there is a tidy, clean and sanitised environment in which the
rest of us can get on with the work that we are employed to do, and
in which patients can be safe.

Joseph’s work is as essential and invaluable as my own, a nurse’s
or a surgeon’s, yet, of course it is financially remunerated and
valued at a very different level. One of the consequences of that
level of remuneration means that Joseph travels every day to work
on the Fulham Road from Hayes by bus. Hayes, because it’s an
area in which he was able to find affordable social housing; and by
bus because the family economics means that travelling by tube
would be just too expensive. Some days Joseph’s total travel time
to and from work can be in excess of three to four hours. The roads
are not the fastest way to travel in London, unless like me you travel
short distances by bike.

Joseph is a person who deeply impresses me. He does a job that,
in the end, is more important in a hospital setting than is my own;
for a wage that just about makes ends meet for him and his family;
and spends the equivalent of about half of his normal working hours
on top of his full working day, simply in travelling to work. I wonder
at his resilience and admire his pride to be in work and to contribute
to society for very little reward at what seems to me to be significant
human expense.

Like John’s disciples in today’s gospel, who seem interested in
where Jesus is staying, I also wonder about the place in which
Joseph lives. Is his house in a good, decent state of repair? Do he
and his family have enough space, or are they overcrowded? How
is Joseph and his wife managing to pay their rent which has
increased 20% in the last 5 years whilst, his pay has been virtually
frozen? Is Joseph’s neighbourhood safe and secure, well
maintained and well policed?

We all know that having a decent home is fundamental for human
flourishing. The conditions in which we live affect our physical and
psychological health. Our dwelling place contributes to our
attainment in education and therefore to our ability to secure
employment. Where we live shapes who are are and what we will
become. I wonder if the place in which Joseph lives is more than
just a roof over his head. Is it a home? Is it a place which provides
security, privacy, decent living conditions, accessible community
amenities? Is it a place that meets his family's needs? Does it have
adequate space? Is it affordable?

All of our major political parties and our press are very much agreed
that England is suffering an acute housing crisis, although there are
different attitudes to the solutions. The crisis, in short, consists in
the fact that there is lack of decent, affordable homes for us all to
live in. On the website of Shelter, the housing charity and campaign
group, the housing crisis is summarised from the most recent

• More than two million people find their rent or mortgage a
constant struggle or are falling behind with payments.
• Repossession of homes is at critical levels.
• Second home ownership is pricing local people out of many rural
areas escalating prices in urban ones.
• Over 1.7 million households are currently waiting for social
• Some homeless households - many with dependent children -
wait for years in temporary accommodation.
• Families renting privately on low incomes have to put up with
poor living conditions and little security.
• The number of new households is increasing faster than the
number of house builds.
• And at the sharpest end, many hundreds of people sleep rough
on the streets every night, cold and fearing for their safety.
The Shelter website then goes on to flesh this out in stark
• 1.4 million children in England live in bad housing
• 654,000 households in England were overcrowded
• 7.4 million homes in England fail to meet the Government's
Decent Homes Standard
• The UK is now more polarised by housing wealth than at any
time since the Victorian era.
• 62,000 households were found to be homeless by local
• 49,000 households living in temporary accommodation arranged
by local authorities. Just over 38,000 of these households had
dependent children

These statistics put the headlines about London house price in
inflation in a wider and more disturbing context. When we then
ratchet that up to the international and global level the picture
becomes truly disturbing. I can vividly remember the shock of my
first visit to Mumbai, a city in which in some areas property prices
reach almost London levels, whilst in a nearby streets whole
families find their home in precariously constructed shacks. But
when I think of Joseph I realise the inevitable deleterious social
consequences of London house price inflation. One of these is that
hard working, but low income earners in our city, who are as
essential to our economy as any of us, are progressively forced
further and further out of the centre and sentenced to longer
travelling times for very little reward.

It’s a trend that's now affecting many mid income earners too. 85%
of the population earn less than £45,000 but even with another
similar income that is very little to secure a mortgage for a family
home in London. One wonders where our future nurses, teachers,
social workers, yet alone cleaners are going to find a place to live?
What sort of society are we building in which if we let the average
house price exceed 6 times the average income, a cost which puts
families in real strain of securing a property and paying their
mortgage? When my parents bought their first home it was only 2.5
times average incomes. What sort of communities are we building if
we see much of our property in this city primarily marketed
overseas as an investment opportunity, and then left empty and
unused? How fair is it for councils and housing trusts to aim to
charge large percentages of the full market rental value? What sort
of local responsibility are we actually inculcating by allowing people
the right to buy their social housing, when those properties often
end up in the hands of private landlords?

Many of those of us who are richest in our society, after our own
homes, have a vision of housing as an investment opportunity.
Owning and renting out a second third, fourth or a string of
properties is a lucrative business in a city like ours if we are able to
afford it. But what may well benefit us individually or as families
brings little social benefit with it. To reduce property to an
investment opportunity which brings in the cash for some, must not
be done at the expense of the primary vision that each house
should be a home for the people who actually live in it. We need to
have a clearer social vision that our city should not become the
piggy bank of absentee overseas owners; that it should not be a
place of exploitation in which those of us who are private landlords
fail to discharge our responsibilities and duties to our tenants with
due diligence and care. Contra-wise we should have a vision that
our city should be a global village in which a diverse set of people
are given the opportunity to live in a place that provides them with
security and stability and contributes to our common economic
sustainability. This should be a place which in which we build
homes and not simply houses, yet alone property as investment

Today’s gospel asks us to address these question of what homemaking
is for us as individuals and as a society and what it is for
Christians. The disciples of John come to Jesus and they ask him
“Where are you staying?” It is a strange question in the midst of the
gospel. Are they trying to judge him by his digs? Or is it that he may
be the guest at someone else's home and they wish to assess him
by the company that he keeps? The gospel then continues by telling
us that Jesus did indeed show them where he stayed, that the
disciples stayed with him that day and that then they went and
brought others to him too.

The Greek word that is here translated as ‘staying’ is meno. It is a
verb which can be variously translated as to remain, stay, abide;
live, dwell; last, endure, continue; await or wait for. It’s a word of
which the gospel writer of John is very fond as it is used in 33
verses, with 40 occurrences in the text. It's a verb that can literally
mean the place where we live. But it can also have the connotation
of that in which we dwell or abide which gives us permanence and
real staying power. Or to put it another way the location of our true
identity, the very centre of our being, who it is that we really are.
The disciples of John in asking where it is that Jesus is staying may
then be asking a double question. Beyond the physical place in
which Jesus may be residing, they are asking who he really is. Who
Jesus really is, is at the heart of the Gospel of John, and an integral
part of our little portion of it this morning. Here Jesus is variously
described as the Lamb of God; the Son of God; Rabbi; the Messiah.
The use of the verb meno in the passage underscores the titles. It's
a verb that is used in the first paragraph of today's reading as well
as the second. John tells us that at his baptism the spirit remained
with Jesus. The spirit abided, the spirit menoed, as we might say,
the spirit made her home with Jesus.

The language of the verb meno, the language of abiding, the
language of making a home, is one that we associate primarily with
John 15 where it is given this direct translation. Jesus says to his

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit
by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you
abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide
in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can
do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a
branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the
fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask
for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I
have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.

What John's gospel makes clear is that Jesus finds his centre not in
any particular earthly place. Rather Jesus finds his centre in the
relationship of self giving and generous love that flows between
him, the Father and the Spirit. In today's gospel the disciples of
John abide with, they find their home with and in Jesus. They then
are described as bringing others to find their home in him too. It's a
description of how the centre of Jesus' life, his relationship of love
within the life of the Trinity, flows over into those who make their
home with him. We, who find our home in Jesus, like the disciples in
today's gospel, are called to be diligent home makers for others.

It's a vocation of discipleship that calls us, like the disciples of John,
to ask where it is that Jesus is staying in our lives, families and
communities. But further it also calls us to ask where is it that
people like Joseph find their home in our society. For it is in asking
that question, and in properly responding to it, that is indicative of
whether we find our own home, our own centre, our own truest
identity in Christ.

I want to bring all my thoughts together in the wonderful image of a

Scott Cairns
— Katounakia, 2007

The cave itself is pleasantly austere,
with little clutter—nothing save
a narrow slab, a threadbare woolen wrap,
and in the chipped-out recess here
three sooty icons lit by oil lamp.
Just beyond the dim cave's aperture,
a blackened kettle rests among the coals,
whereby, each afternoon, a grip
of wild greens is boiled to a tender mess.
The eremite lies prostrate near
two books—a gospel and the Syrian's
collected prose—whose pages turn
assisted by a breeze. Besides the thread
of wood smoke rising from the coals,
no other motion takes the eye. The old
man's face is pressed into the earth,
his body stretched as if to reach ahead.
The pot boils dry. He feeds on what
we do not see, and may be satisfied.

May those of us who are the most privileged in our own society
daily, like this hermit, realise that it is on feeding on what we do not
see, and cannot possess, which is our being at home in Christ, that
brings true satisfaction. May we also learn that being at home in
Christ means being a homemaker for people like Joseph.
Holland Park Benefice