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Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The Black & White World of the Law vs the Colourful World of Love

Here is my sermon from today's Ash Wednesday Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook:

John 8. 1 - 11 is a story in which the accusers of the woman caught in adultery are shown as living in the black and white world of the Law. In the black and white world of the Law, everything is clear and everything is simple. “This woman,” they say, “was caught in the very act of committing adultery. In our Law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death.” If you do wrong then you are punished. No consideration of circumstances or motivations, no compassion for a fellow human being, no opportunity for restoration or rehabilitation, and no equality, because in this story it is the woman, not the man, who has been brought from the very act of adultery to be tried.

In the black and white world of the Law, there we find no consideration, no compassion, no restoration, no equality. The black and white world of the Law has no colour because it has no nuances, no distinctions, no difference, no variation. People often like to live in the black and white world of the Law because everything is easy to understand and easy to put into practice - no wrestling with difficulty and no struggling with conscience - but it is also a harsh world without understanding, without compassion, without forgiveness.

The hands of the accusers point away from themselves towards the woman. This is our common response as human beings to our own fallibility and failure. Instead of acknowledging our own shortcoming we attempt to distract attention away from our selves by identifying a scapegoat and angrily pointing out that person’s many failings. We are often very successful in covering up our own shortcomings when we adopt this tactic but the reality is that we are being hypocritical.

By bending down and writing in the sand with his finger, Jesus creates a pause that is pregnant with the possibility of other points of view, other perspectives, other understanding. When the simplistic rush to condemnation is halted, other questions immediately arise to muddy the waters which had initially seemed crystal clear; what would be the compassionate response, the restorative response, the forgiving response?

The words which follow this act of writing in the sand, “Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her,” are words which undermine the black and white world of the Law by revealing the hypocrisy at its heart. The reality is that each one of us has broken the Law and each one of us are sinners. If that is so, on what basis can one sinner presume to judge or condemn another? To do so is a gross act of hypocrisy which multiplies one sin upon another.

Jesus and the woman by contrast live in a world of love. They live in a world without condemnation – “Is there no one left to condemn you?” Jesus asks the woman. “No one, sir,” she answers. “Well, then,” Jesus says, “I do not condemn you either.” They live in a world where second chances and fresh starts are available – “Go,” says Jesus, “but do not sin again.” This world of Love is a world where nuances exist, difference is recognized, and variation is understood. Therefore choices and chances exist which simply did not occur in the black and white world of the Law; in the world of Love a multitude of sins are covered over (1 Peter 4. 8).

What does all this have to do with Ash Wednesday? As the sign of the cross is marked in ash on your forehead, these words are said: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” In this service, therefore, we acknowledge both our sinfulness and our mortality recognising the link between the two – the wages of sin are death.

The ash mark on our forehead is a public acknowledgement of our sinfulness but, because it is formed as a cross, it is also a sign of the forgiveness we have received. We are saying that we no longer live in the black and white world of the Law where sin automatically leads to death. Instead, like the woman caught in adultery, we have been accepted and welcomed into the world of Love by Jesus himself.

He says to us what he said to that woman, “I do not condemn you … Go, but do not sin again.” Those words are spoken to us all whether we were the accused or whether we were those who accused others. Whichever we may be, we are called to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

This Lent we have the opportunity to explore this in practice as we are showing crucifixion drawings by the artist Francis Bacon. Bacon was an atheist, whose lifestyle was promiscuous in many ways. It would be easy to criticise him and his crucifixion images and yet through his reflections, over many years, on the crucifixion there is much for us to see and appreciate, disturbing as his images may be. Our Lenten exhibition will therefore challenge us to look outside of the black and white world of the Law and embrace the world of Love. May we rise to that challenge.

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Valerie June - Trials, Troubles, Tribulations.

Start:Stop - Go your way, and do not sin again


Bible reading

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John 8. 1 – 11)

Meditation

In today’s reading, Jesus is faced with a dilemma involving a scapegoat. A woman has been caught in adultery, the Law of Moses says that she should be stoned, and the teachers of the law bring her to Jesus and ask him what they should do. The woman is a scapegoat because she has been singled out. It is she, not her partner in adultery, which has been brought before Jesus. And it is she that has been singled out, not any other of the men or women in that place who might have committed adultery.

How does Jesus respond? He says that anyone there who has never sinned should be the one to cast the first stone and begin the stoning. One by one, everyone in the crowd leaves because no one has never sinned. Each of us is a sinner and, therefore, none of us are in a place where we can honestly judge another person. That other person is guilty of sinning but so are we, how then can we judge them?

The one person in that situation who had a right to cast the first stone because he was without sin was Jesus. And he says, “I do not condemn you.” In verse 15 of chapter 8, Jesus says, “You make judgments in a purely human way; I pass judgment on no one.” This is a crystal clear statement from Jesus about our tendency to scapegoat others. Because of our sin, we cannot in all conscience condemn another person and God himself does not condemn or judge either. Jesus makes it plain and clear that scapegoating others is wrong in every circumstance.

Lent prepares us for Easter and at Easter we remember that God himself became a scapegoat when he was nailed to the cross for the sins of the whole world. Jesus became the ultimate scapegoat in order that there should be no more scapegoating because his death shows us clear and plain that God accepts and forgives all people.

Often, we prepare ourselves during Lent for Easter by giving something up. This is a form of fasting but it is not meant to be focused on ourselves, like a diet is as we try to lose weight. Instead fasting or self-denial should be focused outside of ourselves. In Isaiah we read that the kind of fasting God wants is for us to “remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free.” As those who follow God, we should actively work for the relief of those who are scapegoated in our world. The two things can go together as, by denying ourselves luxuries during Lent, we can release money to go to those who have been scapegoated here and in other parts of the world.

But the kind of fasting that God calls for, the ending of scapegoating, isn’t just about giving financially. It is also about the ending of scapegoating in our own lives and communities. It means addressing the issues of bullying, in and out of school, among young people. It means resisting the calls of those, like the far-right, who want us to scapegoat asylum seekers and refugees instead of providing the welcome for which the Bible calls. It means living out hospitality and welcome to those of other faiths in our local community. This Lent let us give willingly and joyfully to relieve oppression throughout our world but let us not use that as a reason to avoid the challenges to counter scapegoating that arise in our own community as well.

Intercessions

My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to sin no more by amending my life and avoiding the near occasions of sin. Our Saviour Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his name, my God, have mercy. We thank you that you do not condemn. Teach us how to go on our way without sinning again.

I pray thee, grant unto me the Grace of thy Holy Spirit, that thus strengthened, I may shun all evil deeds and works, and words and thoughts, and may avoid all snares of the Evil One. Shine in my heart with the true Sun of thy Righteousness; enlighten my mind and guard all my senses, that walking uprightly in the way of thy statutes, I may attain unto life eternal. We thank you that you do not condemn. Teach us how to go on our way without sinning again.

Rebuke me not, O Lord, in thy displeasure, neither punish me in thy wrath, but show unto me thy great mercy and compassion, O Physician and Healer of my soul. O Merciful Saviour, blot out all my transgressions, for I am heartily sorry for having offended thee. Grant me thy Grace that I may avoid my previous evil ways. Strengthen me, O Mighty One, to withstand those temptations before which I am weak, that I may avoid all future sin. Keep me under thy protection and in the shadow of thy wings, that I may serve thee, praise thee, and glorify thee all the days of my life. We thank you that you do not condemn. Teach us how to go on our way without sinning again.

Blessing

Christ the good shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep, draw you and all who hear his voice, to be one flock within one fold; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

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Jessi Colter - Psalm 136.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Georg Mayer-Marton: work in churches has considerable religious significance

George Mayer-Marton (1897-1960) was born in Gyor, Hungary and served in the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War. From 1919 to 1924 he studied art in Vienna and Munich. He immigrated to England in 1938 to escape the threat of Nazi Germany.

Mayer-Marton studied the art of Byzantine (face) mosaic at Ravenna between the wars. Following his appointment at Liverpool College of Art in 1952, he received commissions from the Roman Catholic Church to carry out mosaic works at a number of churches in the area, as well as a commission for a font at the Anglican Church of St Michael and All Angels in Tettenhall, West Midlands. 

His abiding interest in music was reflected in his painting and mosaics, not only in subject matter but also in the chromatic use of colour, and the feeling for structure and form which characterize his landscapes. In 1957 all the different strands came together with the Pentecost Mosaic, amongst his finest work, now displayed at the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

The Pentecost mosaic was originally installed at the Church of the Holy Ghost in Ford, Liverpool and when the church was faced with demolition, a campaign was undertaken by the artist’s niece, Johanna Braithwaite, Robin Riley, Gordon Millar, Brian Drury and Sister Anthony Wilson of the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral to save it. The process, supervised by Robin Riley, was technically challenging. The mosaic was transferred to the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral in 1989.

The mosaic at the Church of the Holy Rosary is currently under threat following the decision of the Diocese of Salford to close the church. Catherine Pepinster, writing in The Observer, says, 'The arts heritage body, the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, has warned the bishop, the Right Rev John Arnold, that the mosaic’s destruction would be “a very regrettable loss, if not an act of iconoclasm”.

According to the association’s chairman, John Lewis, the émigré artists of postwar Britain, of whom Mayer-Marton was a leading figure, are only now being appreciated by art historians. In a letter to Arnold, Lewis cited the Oldham mosaic as “an unusual commission … which must be preserved. Mayer-Marton’s work in churches during this period has considerable historic and religious significance.”

The eight-metre-high mosaic was installed in the church in the 1950s and is made of natural stone and glass tesserae, giving it a striking sheen, typical of Byzantine work. The original piece had frescoes depicting St John to Jesus’s left and his mother Mary to his right, but these were covered over with white emulsion in 1980.'

His great-nephew, Nick Braithwaite, who is campaigning to save the Oldham mosaic, said: “The mosaic is inspiring and beautiful and it dominates the church. It would be disastrous if it were lost, and would signal a dreadful failure to understand its unique value. We are urging the diocese to think again.

“My great-uncle, who was of Hungarian-Jewish descent, worked on this mosaic just 10 years after the war and losing his parents and brother in the Holocaust. It must have been very poignant for him to work on an image of the suffering Jesus.”'

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Woven Hand - The Speaking Hands.

Discover & explore - George Griffin Stonestreet



Yesterday's Discover & explore service at St Stephen Walbrook, explored poetry through the writings of George Griffin Stonestreet. The service featured the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields singing Salvator mundi by Tallis, Remember not, Lord by Purcell, the woman with the alabaster box by Pärt and The Lord bless you and keep you by Rutter. 

The next Discover & explore service is on Monday 6 March at 1.10pm when, together with the Choral Scholars, I will explore the theme of sport through the life of Robert Stuart de Courcy Laffan.

In today's reflection I said:

One of the interesting tasks it is possible to give to children when they visit St Stephen Walbrook is to ask them to find the fire engine in the church. I wonder if you would be able to find it yourself. I’ll give you a clue, as it can be found on the memorial to George Griffin Stonestreet who died in1802.

Stonestreet was the Managing Director or Secretary of the Phoenix and Pelican Companies, whose London Headquarters were at 70b Lombard Street, and whose memorial was erected here by proprietors of those two offices. This white marble monument is centred on a worn, high relief figure of a young, fair woman leaning on a pot, holding a scroll in her free hand. The Pelican feeding her young is carved on the plinth above, a tiny fire engine is bottom right, ship and parcels to the left, and
above all is a pot with winged cherub head handles, wreath of flowers, and at its top, a phoenix, thus covering both institutions. The monument is signed by the highly accomplished sculptor John Bacon Junior, and dated 1803.

The company Stonestreet directed was established as the Phoenix Fire Office in 1782 by London sugar refiners discontented with the rates of premium charged by the established fire insurance offices. By 1783 it had 58 agencies, and the early success of the company meant that by 1790 it was able to establish minimum rates for insuring London riverside wharves and warehouses against fire. From 1782 the company started to insure overseas properties belonging to English merchants. Agents were appointed in France, Germany and Portugal in 1786-1787, and in New York and Montreal in 1804.

The Phoenix’s survival and growth depended upon the energy and intelligence of its senior management. Notable in this respect were George Griffin Stonestreet, secretary from 1786 to 1802, and his successor Jenkin Jones, secretary from 1802 to 1837. Under their guidance the Phoenix weathered the depression in the insurance industry in the late 18th century and early decades of the 19th century. By 1815 the Phoenix had overtaken the Sun in premium income.

This period also saw the Phoenix establish the Pelican Life Assurance in 1797, acquire several large provincial operations, set up agencies across Britain, and, perhaps most importantly, penetrate the European market from the Baltic Sea to the Iberian Peninsula. Simultaneously the Phoenix established itself in Canada—in Montreal in 1804—although the War of 1812 and the burning of Washington, D.C., by British troops put an end to its first operation in the United States. These early foreign ventures are indicative of the Phoenix’s foremost place in the overseas expansion of British insurance companies.

In 1797 trustees of Phoenix Assurance established the Pelican Life Office. The firm became the Pelican Life Assurance Company, before merging with British Empire Mutual Life Assurance in 1903 to become the Pelican and British Empire Life Office. Pelican dealt in life assurance, annuities and (from 1847) group schemes, in the U.K., North America (from 1807) and overseas, operating through the country agencies of Phoenix Assurance. Over time Pelican acquired the business of Life Star (1818-1822) and Manchester Fire and Life (1824-1847). By the 1820s it had agents in France, Sweden, Germany and North America, and by the 1840s it had invested in the railways and offered short-term loans to docks and canals. The company also began to invest in foreign railways during the 1850s. Pelican amalgamated with Phoenix Assurance in 1907. Today these companies are part of the Sun Alliance Group.

George Griffin Stonestreet’s business is part of humanity's search for ways to guard against the potentially catastrophic consequences of loss. Paul Mills notes that a 'theme running throughout the book of Proverbs is that prudence and foresight characterise the wise. A mark of such wisdom is abstinence and saving: In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has. (Proverbs 21:20)'

'The ability to subjugate current desires in favour of future needs is one that the ungodly often lack – ‘let us eat and drink … for tomorrow we die’ (Isaiah 22:13). Consequently, the adjunct to the Christian suspicion of debt is the prudent saving up for necessary purchases. The most dramatic example of God’s advocacy of prudential provision was in the prompting of Joseph to store the surplus from seven Egyptian harvests (Genesis 41), for these not only enabled Egypt to survive the ensuing famine, but preserved the descendants of Abraham. Truly, saving saved the people of God.'

'Scripture is adamant that the fulfilment of extended family responsibilities is the Christian’s paramount practical religious duty. This is primarily effected through the earning of daily income.
However, there are some circumstances, such as one’s death, where it is hard to envisage how one’s dependents could be provided for without the prior accumulation of wealth or insurance against such risks. Although trust in God’s provision on a hand-to-mouth basis is possible, even admirable, as a single person, the task becomes much more difficult when one has dependants. Indeed, not saving when required by such circumstances could be construed as presuming upon God. Freedom from such concerns is one of the reasons for Paul’s commendation of Christian celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:32-3).'

'While mutual dependence in times of trial among Christians is to be welcomed, it is irresponsible for the spendthrift deliberately to place him- or herself in a position of vulnerability. It runs contrary to the teaching in Paul’s letters that the Christian should work diligently in order to avoid dependence on others and be in a position to assist the needy.'

'In numerous areas of Christian experience (e.g. evangelism, healing) God has chosen to act mainly through, and in response to, the prayerful actions and efforts of his people. Hence, exercising foresight and acting in response does not necessarily betray a lack of trust in Providential oversight.'

'Conversely, however, protecting oneself from every contingency through high levels of savings and insurance, under the guise of ‘prudence’ and ‘self-reliance’, is indistinguishable in practice from resorting to wealth as the ultimate source of one’s security. We must examine our hearts before God. For the Christian is required not only to hold to doctrines in theory, but to embody them in the way he or she lives (e.g. James 2:17).'

Intercessions:

Heavenly Father, your word promises that you know all the material things that we need to live but we find it hard to trust. We pray now for all those who struggle with the burden of personal debt: for those too frightened to face the problem, for couples who cannot talk about it, for children who cannot understand but live with the worry. We pray also for those who are consumed by money worries, anxious about jobs or homes or the future; those who feel they have lost control of money and cannot cope. We pray especially for those we know or love who are struggling. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Heavenly Father, on TV, in magazines, in shops and on billboards we are surrounded with adverts telling us how we should look, what we should wear or own, drive or desire. We pray that you will make us aware of these pressures so that we are free to think and feel and act in a godly way around money. Make us wise in our decisions to spend and to save, to borrow and to give, that you may be Lord in all parts of our lives. We pray especially for our children and young people who experience pressures to own and to spend which most of us never knew. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Heavenly Father, you want us to be a generous people offering our time, our skills and abilities and our money to your service. In our personal finances, Lord, give us wisdom to manage money well and to practice heartfelt generosity. Guard us, Lord, from holding tight when we should be letting go and honouring you as Lord of all we have. Help us to remember that you are the Giver of all we have and to relinquish pride of ownership and be truly free. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Blessing

May Christ who for our sake became poor make us rich in everything – in faith, speech, knowledge, giving and love. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

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The Dixie Hummingbirds (feat. Vickie Winans) - Lead Me, Guide Me.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Windows on the world (333)


Margate, 2016

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Sacred Geometries and Circling the Square


St Stephen Walbrook features in two exhibitions during March. Sacred Geometries at Anise Gallery features the first time screening of Paul Raftery and Dan Lowe's latest film of St Stephen Walbrook, while, for Circling the Square, we have loaned our architectural model of St Stephen Walbrook to a RIBA exhibition exploring Mies van der Rohe's unrealised Mansion House Square project, alongside its built successor James Stirling Michael Wilford & Associates' No. 1 Poultry.

Inspired by trends in contemporary photography and the diverse writings of Plato, author Robert Lawlor and architectural historian Peg Rawes, Anise Gallery is marking its fifth birthday with an exhibition of photography based on themes found in the sacred geometries.

Geometry in aesthetics are unavoidable when traversing through the city, whether this is in grand scale such as skyscraper architecture, to the tiny backs of ladybirds. Intricate design can be located in both complex, constructed design patterns and in the minute details in nature. Aesthetics and mathematics come together in geometry, and have done since ancient Egypt, where geometrics were viewed as a visual manifestation of law and order. Later in ancient Greece, they had sacred and scientific properties in helping to solve earthly mysteries.

Through the curation of an exhibition of film from Paul Raftery and Dan Lowe, and photography by Dennis Gilbert, Doublespace, Fernando Guerra, Hélène Binet, Hufton and Crow and Jim Stephenson, Anise Gallery hope to inspire and instigate a conversation surrounding Sacred Geometries (9 March - 15 April). In collaboration with Miniclick an evening of short talks and discussion will take place on 6 April 2017.

Mies Van Der Rohe and James Stirling: Circling the Square is at The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) from March 8 – June 25 2017. The exhibition is open Monday - Sunday 10am to 5pm and Tuesdays 10am to 8pm.

The exhibition sees the projects presented together for the first time, offering a unique opportunity to trace the continuity in purpose and approach that unites two seemingly dissimilar architectural creations.

Commissioned by architectural patron and developer Lord Peter Palumbo, Mies van der Rohe designed his proposal for Mansion House Square at the very end of his career, between 1962 and his death in 1969. After a protracted planning process, the scheme was finally rejected in 1985. Lord Palumbo then approached James Stirling, to conceive an alternative vision for the site. James Stirling, Michael Wilford & Associates' No. 1 Poultry was completed in 1997, two years after Stirling’s untimely death. It is often cited as a masterpiece of the post-international style and has recently been awarded Grade II* listed status; while it still divides opinion, the building was designed with an acute understanding of both its historic surroundings and Mies's earlier design.

The exhibition features newly restored models and materials about the Mies' scheme on loan to the RIBA by Lord Palumbo, along with significant items from the No. 1 Poultry archive.

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Pierce Pettis - Gravity & Grace.

At the heart. On the edge.


 











‘At the heart. On the edge.’ was a day exploring mission by sharing ideas, uncovering solutions and finding support held on 8 February 2017 at St Stephen Walbrook, London. This conference which launched HeartEdge was hosted by Revd Dr Sam Wells.

Following the event, Sam said, ‘I was so delighted to see so many energised and engaged faces at the HeartEdge launch as we spoke about structures, configurations, approaches, insights – but most of all of renewal of vocation, vision and common exploration. That left me full of hope for the emergence of HeartEdge – a movement as yet of many different words but one purposeful spirit. I hope you will sign up and encourage others to do so.’

Find out more or apply to join by downloading the HeartEdge Membership Pack.

For more information contact Revd Jonathan Evens, Associate Vicar for Partnerships on 02077661127 or jonathan.evens@smitf.org.
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Corinne Bailey Rae - The Skies Will Break.