First Reading: Isaiah 43.16-21

Thus saith the Lord, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters; Which bringeth forth the chariot and horse, the army and the power; they shall lie down together, they shall not rise: they are extinct, they are quenched as tow. Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen. This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise.

Second Reading: Philippians 3.4b-14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: John 12.1-8

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

Church vision statement:

We commit ourselves to becoming a community of open doors, open hearts and open minds.

Church mission statement

Inspired by God’s unconditional love for everyone we:

·           Offer a space where surprising encounters can happen with each other and with God.

·           Ensure that people of all ages and backgrounds can feel welcome and safe in our church.

·           Hold ourselves and others to account, challenging injustice and inequality wherever we find them.

·           Nurture the human spirit through acts of friendship, supportive prayer and beautiful worship.

Sermon for Passion Sunday 7.04.19

It must have been a strange dinner party in Bethany. How often do you have a meal with someone who has come back from the dead? It’s tempting to imagine Lazarus still wrapped in his bandages, sitting silently at the feast like Banquo’s ghost in Macbeth. But we are meant of course to picture him full of life, back in the bosom of his family, not a ghost but a host, gladly welcoming his friend, teacher and Saviour to his table. He has a whole new life ahead of him now.

Lazarus wasn’t left to moulder in the tomb. God had other plans for him. In this week of ongoing political stalemate, we may wonder what new thing will be unveiled to resolve the Brexit crisis. It may seem that the same ideas are being brought back from the dead, over and over again, and they have no new life in them. In our helplessness to do anything about this situation, our feelings may be in turmoil.

After the eucharist last Sunday, a couple of dozen of us under Mark’s guidance spoke to each other in pairs to acknowledge how we are feeling. No matter what our stance is or has been on Brexit, feelings of rage, grief, impatience, anxiety, hopelessness and even despair seemed to be uppermost for many of us. It helped, at least, to voice these feelings and to be heard with compassion. It helped to know that, as one person remarked, that our church family does not judge us for our opinions.

It is so easy to be overcome by the power of the grave, by the sense of hopelessness when everything looks grim. It’s not just national politics, of course. Many of us picked up the Camden New Journal on Thursday and saw the front page state in large letters “We Know What Will Happen Next”, following the murder of yet another young man in our community. Calvin was just 22 years old, and Jason had been working with him since he was in primary school. The sense of loss and waste is colossal. Someone who lives near the scene of the crime heard the scream of his mother and said the sound will stay with her forever.

In one sense, of course, we need that bitter front page, reminding us that the grief, the shrine of flowers, the photos, the blame game, and the debate about solutions will follow inevitably, and then the news cycle will move on, until the next young life is lost. We are right to be shocked into seeing what an endless and pointless pattern this has become.

But the journalist allows us one glimpse of hope – we can now tell you what we will inevitably be writing in the future, unless the cycle is broken. Unless the cycle is broken.

If some new thing breaks into this situation, everything could change. But that requires us to be open to the possibility that we have been getting things wrong. It is always hard to acknowledge that. We all want to defend our choices, our good intentions, our past patterns of behaviour. We want to blame others for the disasters that happen rather than see what part we have played in the brokenness of this world. It may not have been something that we did, but something that we failed to do, that tipped a difficult situation into a needless tragedy. And facing that is incredibly hard.

I’m not going to dwell on the state of the souls of politicians. I am sure that most of them are public servants who genuinely want to serve the common good of this country. But those who refuse to be open to a new idea, to consider a compromise with their opponents, or, God and the whips forbid, to admit that they might have actually changed their mind about the best way forward – these are the people whose failure to act can have disastrous consequences. It’s not what they do but what they don’t do that causes so much harm.

And the same is true with the usual commentators on knife crime. The blame is flung at so many others – the police, the government, the parents, the schools, the wicked young people themselves. But what are we actually doing to try to prevent the next tragedy? I am enormously thankful, of course, that on our behalf Jason and his team have been doing incredible work over many years of mentoring, encouraging, and above all loving the young people who are cast aside as worthless by society. They do that a great cost to themselves.

Think again about that dinner party in the gospel reading. Mary takes a pound of costly nard and anoints Jesus’ feet. A version of this story appears, unusually, in all four gospels, so it is something that we can be sure took place and impressed the onlookers. Different places and different characters are involved, but it is manifestly the same incident that is reported. In Mark’s gospel, the woman who did the anointing broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. Something had to be broken open in order for a new thing to be done. A costly flask had to be sacrificed so that the precious perfume could be used to anoint Jesus.

Our youthworkers break the flask of their free time, their safety, sometimes their own relationships and health, to anoint with love and friendship the young people that are so often carelessly described as a lost generation. They hold before them, and they model for them, the hope that the future can be different from the past.

Our church should be a community where such costly love is the norm, where we are not afraid of change and growth and newness. We must not be bound by the graveclothes of what has gone before, whether it is pride in our past or despair about the hopelessness of change. We are, or at least under God we try to be, a community that is open to the power of the resurrection, as Paul writes.

Over the past year, as many of you know, the PCC has been working hard to reframe our sense of what St Mary’s is called to be and to do, as we prepare to celebrate our 150th anniversary in 2022. We want to remember, celebrate and learn from the past. But we also want to discern God’s purposes for us in this generation. Several workshops ably led by Natasha Delliston have helped us to find a form of words to describe our vision, and you will find the statement in the annual report.

We commit ourselves to becoming a community of open doors, open hearts and open minds.

We make no claims to having achieved this openness yet. We hope that we are like St Paul, straining forward to what lies ahead, pressing on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. We are committing ourselves to breaking whatever holds us back from opening our doors, hearts and minds.

And we have gone on further to say that we make this pledge because of God’s unconditional love for us and for everyone. So inspired by that love, our specific mission, as we see it, is to offer a space for surprising encounters, to make sure that people feel welcome and safe in our church, to challenge injustice and inequality, and to nurture each other with friendship, prayer and worship.

All of these actions will be costly in various ways. We will hear more about the plans that we hope will support our goals when we re-gather for the annual meeting after the service. To be faithful to this mission statement we will have to be prepared to sacrifice time and resources. We will also have to break the flask of complacency, the flask of contentment with things as they are, the flask of the fear of newness and difference.

Lazarus astonished his guests by returning from the dead to offer them hospitality. May we, as a community of faith, cast off whatever binds us to inaction and despair, and learn to open our doors, hearts and minds to whatever new thing God is calling us to.