Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Windows on the world (345)


Stratford, 2016

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Echo & the Bunnymen - Bring On The Dancing Horses.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

'Jamaican Spiritual' exhibition


St Stephen Walbrook will host a prestigious exhibition of Jamaican painting and sculpture from 3 July until 14 July 2017, weekdays only 10.00am - 4.00pm (Wednesdays, 11.00am - 3.00pm).

The exhibition has been organised and curated by Jamaican Art Collector and Promoter Theresa Roberts.
In keeping with the setting all the work will revolve around spiritual themes drawn from the variety of world religions which exist on Jamaica itself
There are works by old Jamaican masters but the majority of pieces are new and created specifically for the show by young Jamaican artists. Mediums represented include painting,sculpture and photography.
The show represents the vibrancy and cultural diversity of Jamaica in a uniquely spiritual way.

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Bob Marley - Redemption Song.

Faithful improvisation in a five act play

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

Mike Leigh is the well-known director of films such Secrets and Lies, Mr Turner, Topsy Turvey and Life Is Sweet. Improvisation is a significant part of his directorial methods. He begins a film with an initiating idea, which conjures up a number of possible actors he can cast. Since he doesn’t work with formal scripts, the auditions take the form of an exercise where the actor delivers a caricature of a person they know. Once the cast is established, a list of potential characters is devised, out of which a base character who lies at the core of the drama is established. After this, the actor researches the character and does solo improvisations with the director. This process of solo improvisation and research goes on for weeks and even months before the actor is introduced to another actor who has been cast, and they begin duo impros. Leigh shoots two thirds of his film without revealing the ending. Then the crew pauses for a week or so while he does improvs of the final scenes. After that, the end scenes are shot.

Improvisation is also what Jesus is talking about in this farewell discourse to his disciples (John 14 - 16, today's Gospel - John 16. 5 - 15). He is going to leave them (as happened at the Ascension) and then he will send the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, the comforter and advocate, to them (as happened on the Day of Pentecost). The Spirit will speak to the disciples whatever he hears from Jesus; both the many things he wanted to say to them but which they could not bear at that time and also the things that are to come. Earlier in his discourse, he also said that the Spirit will teach them everything and remind them of all that Jesus had said to them. The result will be that they will do greater things than him.

Jesus said many amazing things that people still repeat regardless of whether they follow him or not. But his farewell discourse to his disciples must be among the most amazing because in it Jesus says that those who follow him will do greater things than him and will be led into all truth. When you think how amazing Jesus’ own actions were, it is hard to imagine how people like us could do greater things than that, and, when you think how profound his teaching was, how could we be led into deeper or greater truth than that?

But Jesus was articulating something that all good teachers think and feel; the sense that all the time he had spent with them and invested in them was not so they would be clones of him, simply repeating the things he did and said, but instead that he had equipped, empowered and enabled his followers to follow him by using their own gifts and abilities and initiative which would inevitably mean that they would do and say different things from him but still with his Spirit and based on all they had learnt from him. He was saying that each one of us is a unique combination of personality, abilities and potential and, therefore, each of us can make a unique mark on the world. His followers can do greater things than Jesus because they will do different things from him in his name and Spirit – things that only they can do for him because they are that unique package of personality, ability and potential.

Sam Wells, the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields has described this in terms of improvisation. He says that we constantly “face new circumstances in each generation that the Bible doesn’t give us a script for.” Instead, the Christian story is like “a five-act play -- creation, Israel, Jesus, church and eschaton. We find ourselves in Act 4, and the most important events have already happened. Our role is to be faithful in Act 4, because God will do the rest in Act 5.” “The most dynamic gift to the church is the Holy Spirit working amongst people who learn to trust one another and see the abundant things that God can do with limited materials. That’s analogous to what happens in theatrical improvisation.”

“Improvisation isn’t about being original, clever, witty or spontaneous. Improvisation is about allowing yourself to be obvious.” People who train in improvisation train in a tradition. The Spirit comes to remind Christians of the Christian tradition by reminding us of all that Jesus did and said, so we embody it in our lives. Faithful improvisation in the present time requires patient and careful puzzling over what has gone before. It’s about being so soaked in a tradition that you learn to take the right things for granted or, as Jesus put it, the Spirit will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus said so that we intuitively do those things on an improvisational basis. In this way we can do greater things than Jesus because we will do different things from him, but in his name and Spirit.

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Will Todd - I Sing Because.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Alexander de Cadenet, Awakened Artists, & Ekhart Tolle




Awakened Artists is an international community of artists whose artwork offers access to a deeper dimension of existence and contributes towards the evolution of consciousness.

This new web-site has been launched as a platform for specially invited artists whose work has a spiritual direction. The site was launched featuring both the artworks of Alexander de Cadenet and desert artist David C Greene's wonderful paintings of the desert under the light of the moon and stars. It is intended to build a community of artists who share a love of art that explores and gives access to a deeper, spiritual dimension of life. If you would like to be considered for inclusion on the site email Alexander de Cadenet at cadenet@aol.com.

In September 2016, de Cadenet was invited to meet with Eckhart Tolle, in his home town of Vancouver to explore his perspective on the relationship between art and the spiritual dimension. Together they explored how this relates to Eckhart’s own practice as the one of the world's foremost spiritual teachers and an amateur photographer. It was a joyful, life enhancing encounter, filled with profound insights into the deeper, spiritual dimension of art and the mysteries of creativity. Part 1 has been published in Watkins Mind Body Spirit Magazine in the May issue and Part 2, with an exclusive featuring of Eckhart's photos, will be published in a later issue. Copies of the magazine can be purchased here - http://www.watkinsmagazine.com/product/50-summer-2017-watkins-mind-body-spirit.

Here is a short extract from Part 1 of the interview:

"Beauty arises when something more essential or deeper, something that underlies the world of sense perception shines through. It is what I call the ‘underlying Intelligence’ that is the organizing principle behind the world of form, a hidden harmony, as it were. To use more traditional language, it belongs to the realm of the transcendent, the realm of the divine, if you want to call it that". Eckhart Tolle

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Jeff Buckley & Elizabeth Fraser - All Flowers In Time Bend Towards The Sun.

Les Colombes: The White Doves



Les Colombes: The White Doves
an Art for Peace Project by Michael Pendry at St Martin-in-the-Fields

Wednesday 31 May – Monday 3 July


Les Colombes is a multimedia installation by German artist Michael Pendry. Following successful installations with over 300,000 visitors in Jerusalem and Munich, Les Colombes will descend on St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square from 31 May – 3 July 2017.

Coming straight from Jerusalem, the 2,000 white paper doves, a symbol of the spirit, but also of peace, float through the nave of the church forming an almost 15 metre long sculpture. Light moves around the space and over the sculpture simulating the doves in flight. Quietly and playfully they integrate their movement into the atmosphere, exuding a magical sense of tranquillity and strength.

A sound cloud especially composed and produced for the installation by digital music producers Digital Haze infuses the space with the sound of cooing and fluttering wings. While a gentle rustling of the wind and mystical chords hover in space, alternating between a strong intensity and an ebbing away.

Les Colombes is free to visit during regular opening hours with special late night openings on Thursdays and Fridays from 9.30-11.00pm.

Artist Michael Pendry on Les Colombes

“Folded by different people, the doves in their unity stand for such a fundamental human right. The time has come to admonish and to stand up for this – for the right to peace and freedom! So that that the flock of doves might grow, from place to place, from country to country, across all borders.”

Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Sam Wells on Les Colombes

“Like the best liturgy The Doves is about words and signs and sounds and space – and its glory is its elegant simplicity. When at his baptism the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove Jesus wasn’t blown away – he was touched more deeply that words can say or eyes can perceive. That’s what this exhibition is about – and what’s more, it affirms that the Holy Spirit works through the humble hands of you and me. ”

About artist Michael Pendry

Michael Pendry was born in Stuttgart, grew up in Munich and partly in England, where his father comes from; his mother is from Bayreuth/Germany. He works as a designer and artist in both countries. Michael Pendry studied interior design, stage and set design at the FH Rosenheim and, for several projects, at the art academy in Munich. Pendry is driven by his desire to reach out to those people who do not normally visit cultural venues. Among countless other installations over the years “Das apokalyptische Weib” for the Long-Night-of-Museums in 2006 and the light and video installations “Sacre Coeur” and “Störung” (Disturbance) have been some of the highlights in the career of this multimedia artist to date and showed his great innovative talent in finding new means of multimedia expression and catching the interest of thousands of people. Lighting the rotor blades of a nearly 100 metre high wind wheel just outside Munich in 2010 with ”Star of the South” was definitely one of his most ambitious projects. With this project he also attained a new level in his public profile in the national press and media, and even in France and Spain. Two of his latest installations, Les Colombes and Urban Paradise in 2014, also became popular successes and were reviewed throughout the media. Pendry, a multi-talented artist, worked at a well-known theatre in Munich, the Kammerspiele, for two years as a stage designer with Dieter Dorn as director. The so-called “Werkraum”, an experimental space for young people from the theatre, was one of the platforms where he could demonstrate his passion for the world of drama and acting.

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Digital Haze - Besser Werden.

The life of Jesus reproduced in our lives

Here is my sermon for today's Choral Eucharist at St Martin-in-the-Fields:

Stephen Verney begins his commentary on this passage (John 15. 1 - 8) with a great evocation of the way in which vines are grown: “On a stony hillside above his house, where the thyme grows and the prickly pear, and a wild fig tree fights for its existence in a pocket of shallow soil, a farmer decides to plant a vine. In the autumn he clears a terrace, and brings top soil. He sets a post for the vine to climb, and fixes horizontal supports for its branches. Then in the spring he plants it and fences it against the goats; as it grows he trains it, and in the following autumn he prunes it back.

The vine depends for its life on the farmer, but equally the farmer depends on the vine. For the vine can do what the farmer cannot; it can take the rain that falls on the hillside and convert it into grapes, which the farmer can harvest and tread out in his wine-press, and pour the juice into his vat to ferment and bubble. The farmer and the vine are dependent on each other, and the purpose for which they work together is that water should be turned into wine.” Jesus is the vine, his Father is the farmer. They are dependent one on the other although their roles are different. Their shared purpose is that water is turned into wine; that the vine is fruitful and that its fruit becomes wine shared with others as the sign and symbol of Jesus’ blood. The process for achieving this can itself be painful; involving pruning and crushing.

We are part of this picture because there is one vine but many branches. Each one of us as we become Christians is grafted into the vine to become part of the vine itself. Verney writes: “I AM the vine, and you are the branches. Dwell in me, and I in you. Here is teaching both simple and profound, to move the human heart. If the branch dwells in the vine, then the life of the vine dwells in the branch. If the branch grows out of the stem, and out of the roots which are drawing up the goodness of the soil and the rain, then the sap of the vine flows into the branch, and the pattern of the vine’s life unfolds itself through each branch to produce bunches of grapes. So it will be, says Jesus, between you and me. If you do not dwell in me you cannot bear fruit …”

How do we dwell in Jesus? To keep our life dwelling in Christ’s, we must continually renew our decision that “what has been done once for all on the cross by Jesus shall the basis, the starting point, the context of all my thinking and deciding and doing,” writes Lesslie Newbigin. We feed this decision by protecting time for prayer, bible study and worship in our busy lives and schedules. As we do so, the sap of the vine, the life of Christ, flows into us and we produce fruit. The fruit of the vine is, as Newbigin again writes, “the life of Jesus reproduced in the midst of the life of the world, the pure love and obedience by which people will recognise the disciples of Jesus, the branches of the real vine.”

This fruit, the life of Jesus reproduced in our lives, is the real test of whether or not we are actually dwelling in the vine, in Jesus. In recent years, we have come to know much more about the spiritual life of Mother Teresa, someone whose face shone with the all-encompassing joy of one for whom “to live is Christ.” Everyone who knew her assumed that she was supported in her ministry through a deep and abiding sense of Christ’s presence with her.

Yet the opposite was true. Mother Teresa lived feeling as if she did not believe: “I have no faith” – “They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because of the loss of God … in my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss – of God not being God – of God not really existing.” Her sense of feeling that there was no God has been revealed in letters that she wrote to her spiritual confidantes. Yet, as Sister Wendy Beckett has written, “this woman who felt that there was no God and lived in emotional anguish was also profoundly aware, intellectually, that God was her total life and that she lived only to love him.” This was what was apparent in her life and ministry and this fruit showed that whatever she felt about the absence of God in her life, she was still a live branch in the vine.

Ultimately, the fruit of our lives - the life of Jesus reproduced in our lives – is the sign of whether we are healthy branches dwelling in the vine. Prayer, bible study and worship are channels for the life of Christ to flow into our lives rather than the sign than his life is flowing into our own. As we are grafted into the vine, into Jesus, we receive his life flowing through us and take on his characteristics – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. These characteristics result in acts of love because love must act, as we saw in the life of Mother Teresa. While hate could be indifference or inaction, love is always active and must respond practically to the needs we see around us.

This Christian Aid week we can use our spheres of influence to give, act and pray, and in this way support the loving, sacrificial selflessness of Christian Aid partners who support and empower those they serve. We can choose active love over inactive indifference and, together with Christian Aid and others like them, create a powerful force for change which derives from the life of Christ flowing into us as we dwell in him and where our active love is the fruit of the vine - the life of Jesus reproduced in our lives.

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Gregory Porter & Beverley Knight - Mary Did You Know.

Start:Stop - Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly


Bible reading:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3. 12 - 17)

Reflection:

Our Monday lunchtime Discover & explore services are currently exploring themes taken from the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Recently we reflected on the Reformers beliefs regarding scripture including: to love and treasure the Word of God; seeing the Scriptures are the sole source for doctrine and practice; rejoicing because the Scriptures deliver Christ to us; the Word is to be read, taught and proclaimed; the Word informs us of God’s love and instructs us in His will; and God’s written Word is given for all people. (http://lutheranreformation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/ref500-Kit-Bulletin-Insert-2.pdf)

Colossians 3 says we are to let the word or message of Christ dwell in us richly as we worship together. The missiologist Lesslie Newbigin has helpfully unpacked some of what is involved in doing so. He wrote that: “The Bible is the body of literature which renders accessible to us the character, action and purpose of God. Taken as a whole, the Bible fitly renders God but this can only be understood as we are in engaged in the same struggle that we see in scripture. This is the struggle to understand and deal with the events of our time in the faith that God creates purpose, sustains all that is and will bring all to its proper end. The Bible comes to us in its “canonical shape”, as the result of many centuries of interpretation and re-interpretation, editing and re-editing, with a unity that depends on two primary centres - the rescue of Israel from Egypt and the events concerning Jesus - events, happening in the contingent world of history, which are interpreted as disclosures, in a unique sense, of the presence and action of God. However, the interpretation has to be re-interpreted over and over again in terms of another generation and another culture. The original interpretative language becomes a text which in turn needs interpretation. Yet the text cannot be eliminated. The events are not mere symbols of an underlying reality which could be grasped apart from them. What is presented in the bible is testimony.”

“The Bible is the book of community, and neither the book nor the community are properly understood except in their reciprocal relationship with each other. It is this relationship that is the clue to the meaning of both the book and the community. The Bible functions as authority only within a community that is committed to faith and obedience and which is embodying that commitment in an active discipleship embracing the whole of life, public and private.”

A further helpful way of understanding how the Bible can function with authority in our lives was set out by former Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright. He describes the story of the Bible as a five act play (containing the first four acts in full i.e. 1. Creation, 2. Fall, 3. Israel, 4. Jesus) within which we can understand ourselves to be actors improvising our part on basis of what has gone before and the hints we have of how the play will end:

"The writing of the New Testament ... would then form the first scene in the fifth act, and would simultaneously give hints (Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, parts of the Apocalypse) of how the play is supposed to end ... The church would then live under the 'authority' of the extant story, being required to offer an improvisatory performance of the final act as it leads up to and anticipates the intended conclusion ... the task of Act 5 ... is to reflect on, draw out, and implement the significance of the first four Acts, more specifically, of Act 4 in the light of Acts 1-3 ... Faithful improvisation in the present time requires patient and careful puzzling over what has gone before, including the attempt to understand what the nature of the claims made in, and for, the fourth Act really amount to."

Wright concludes that he is proposing "a notion of "authority" which is ... vested ... in the creator god himself, and this god's story with the world, seen as focused on the story of Israel and thence on the story of Jesus, as told and retold in the Old and New Testaments, and as still requiring completion." As Lesslie Newbigin has written, this story is understood "as we are in engaged in the same struggle that we see in scripture"; that "is the struggle to understand and deal with the events of our time in the faith that God creates purpose, sustains all that is and will bring all to its proper end." This is what I think it means to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly and to make the Bible authoritative in our lives.

Intercessions:

Open our eyes, that we may behold wondrous things out of your law. Open our spiritual eyes to show us the glimpses of glory we cannot see by ourselves. Give us the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Jesus, having the eyes of our hearts enlightened. May we see that the works of God stand as marvellous mountain ranges in the Bible, but also see that the highest peak, and the most majestic vista, is the person and work of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. May your word shape and inform and direct our practical living.

Remind us of the sufficiency of your grace to produce genuine change in our lives. Allow seeds from Scripture to bear real, noticeable fruit in tangible acts of sacrificial love for others that we might be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves. May your word shape and inform and direct our practical living making us more manifestly loving, not less, because of the time invested alone in reading and studying your word. May your word shape and inform and direct our practical living.

May we experience the great goal of Bible reading and study as this: knowing and enjoying Jesus. This is a taste now of heaven’s coming delights. This is eternal life, that we know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. In this way give direction, focus, and purpose to our study that we may press on to know you, the LORD. May this form great yearning and passion in our souls, so that we count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as our Lord. May we keep both eyes peeled for Jesus until we see how the passage at hand relates to Jesus’s person and work. May your word shape and inform and direct our practical living.

(http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/four-prayers-for-bible-reading)

The Blessing

Go now in peace, knowing that you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God; 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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Mark Heard - Well Worn Pages.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

'Transformation' Private View











Tonight's Private View for the 'Transformation' exhibition by Terrence Ffyffe at St Stephen Walbrook featured music from Michael Homer, 'Painting the Light' a film of the artist by Alex Vernon, and reflections on the work from Tessa and Terry Ffyffe, Edward Lucie-Smith and myself.

In my remarks I said the following:

Welcome to St Stephen Walbrook for this Private View and exhibition. St Stephen Walbrook hosts a regular programme of contemporary art exhibitions. We partner either with established art societies (such as the National Society of Painters, Sculptors & Printmakers or the Society of Catholic Artists) or significant art critics such Edward Lucie-Smith. In 2017 our programme has already included displays of art created from refugee camps, the Diocesan icon of hospitality, crucifixion drawings by Francis Bacon, a digital residency by Daniel Bourke, and an Easter Eve Vigil with the digital artwork of Mark Dean. Our programme will continue with an exhibition of spiritual art from Jamaica, an exhibition and conference with the sculptor Alexander de Cadenet and a group show by commission4mission.We have also led on the creation by the City of London of The Art of Faith, a City Walk exploring modern and contemporary art commissions in the city churches. I hope you will take away a copy of The Art of Faith leaflet and the leaflet publicising our exhibition programme.

This exhibition explores two transformations; a person artistic transformation and a universal spiritual transformation. Terry Ffyffe has described in his essay ‘Beyond Post Modernism’ how he had a transformative experience whilst painting. For much of his career he has been a well-regarded figurative painter in the classic tradition, drawing inspiration from the Old Masters such as Van Eyck, Bosch, Goya and Rembrandt, and increasingly tending towards religious imagery.

“Whilst painting the Resurrection event, using free, broad, colourful strokes to represent the transcendental light emanating from the Risen Lord.,” he says, “I had an "Epiphany" that took me back to the beginning and I realised once more that the Modern Movement was beget by the influence of the Holy Spirit, the Zeitgeist, and that the purpose of Art is to glorify God, to be transcendent, to inspire people, to bring joy and peace, and to connect the viewer with their deeper mind (self) and lead to contemplation of the great questions like "What is Reality?" Where do we come from? Where are we going? And that art should reveal Beauty, and (with the Modern ideal) a beauty that has not been seen before. In a moment I saw it all.”

As a result, he returned to the style of work that he had painted at the beginning of his career but empowered with all the study he had done and the considerable life experience he had gained. No longer emulating other artists or working in a derivative style, his new work is original and authentic. The inspiration for it comes from personal experience in meditation and the images we see coming via the Hubble Telescope, The Liga project and the electron microscope; the patterns of nature.

This exhibition brings together the last works that Terry was working on before this profound change with his new work depicting the beauty of the hidden world of nature and the inner world of the mind.” This leads us to the second transformation explored in this exhibition. Terry says, “The early paintings are about the Historical Jesus and the New Paintings are about the Holy Spirit.” The exhibition is deliberately organised to coincides with the Feast of Pentecost, celebrating the ‘Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles’, an event that transformed them from cowering in fear to boldly proclaiming the “Good News.”

This transformation occurs when the incarnate Christ ascends to his Father allowing his Spirit to then come and fill his followers. Terry’s visionary depictions of this transformation would seem to have synergy with Franciscan mysticism and the writing of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Richard Rohr. Rohr says that, “Franciscan mysticism is about an intuition of Jesus as both the Incarnate Human One and the Eternal Cosmic Christ at the same time”:

“The first and cosmic incarnation of the Eternal Christ, the perfect co-inherence of matter and Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-11), happened at the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the human incarnation of that same Mystery a mere 2,000 years ago, when we were perhaps ready for this revelation … Jesus presents himself as the “Anointed” or Christened One who was human and divine united in one human body—as our model and exemplar. .. Christ is our shortcut word for “The Body of God” or “God materialized.” This Christ is much bigger and older than either Jesus of Nazareth or the Christian religion, because the Christ is whenever the material and the divine co-exist—which is always and everywhere.

Ilia Delio writes, “The conventional visualization of the physical world was changed by Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which showed that matter itself was a form of energy. . . . For all practical purposes, energy is the ‘real world.’” There it is: science revealing that everything is both matter and energy/spirit co-inhering as one; this is a Christocentric world. This realization changes everything. Matter has become a holy thing and the material world is the place where we can comfortably worship God just by walking on matter, by loving it, by respecting it. The Christ is God’s active power inside of the physical world.

Delio continues: “Through his penetrating view of the universe Teilhard found Christ present in the entire cosmos, from the least particle of matter to the convergent human community. ‘The Incarnation,’ he declared, ‘is a making new . . . of all the universe’s forces and powers.’ Personal divine love is invested organically with all of creation, in the heart of matter, unifying the world.”

The coming of the Cosmic Christ is … the unification of all things.”

Teilhard calls this Christogenesis, believing that as the universe evolves toward its full realization at Omega, this is the point which coincides with the fully realized Christ. It is also at this point that God will be ‘all in all’ (1Cor. 15:28c).

A body of work that imaginatively depicts the Cosmic Christ and Christogenesis is genuinely original and holds great potential not only to depict transformation but to be transformative as these works are contemplated and prayed over in this place. So, as we welcome you to St Stephen Walbrook and to this Private View and exhibition, we also invite you not just see but also to experience transformation.

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Bruce Cockburn - Lord Of The Starfields.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Discover & explore: Through Christ alone





Discover & explore services at St Stephen Walbrook feature music and liturgy with the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields. These services explore their themes through a thoughtful mix of music, prayers, readings and reflections:
  • “A perfect service of peace in our busy lives.”
  • “Spiritual food in the middle of the day.”
  • “Beautifully and intelligently done.”
The current series of these services of musical discovery is exploring Reformation 500 themes and continued last Monday with the theme of 'Through Christ alone'. The service featured the Choral Scholars singing: Morning star & The Deer's Cry by Arvo Pärt; God so loved the world by Bob Chilcott; and O Lord, give thy Holy Spirit by Thomas Tallis.

All Discover & explore services begin at 1.10pm:
  • Mon 22 May - God loves you 
  • Mon 29 May Bank Holiday – Church closed 
  • Mon 5 June - Baptism saves 
  • Mon 12 Jun - The Lord's Supper 
  • Mon 19 Jun - The Cross alone 
  • Mon 26 Jun - Forgiveness is free 
  • Mon 3 Jul - Life of repentance
In today's service I shared the following reflection:

‘When Martin Luther preached from the Gospel passages on John the Baptist, he always emphasized how John’s finger pointed to Christ, and how the church most follow in John’s footsteps and point people to the Lord without fail.” He said:

“…The devil does not intend to allow this testimony about Christ. He devotes all his energy to opposing it and will not desist until he has struck it down and suppressed it …”

“For this reason it is necessary constantly to persevere and adhere to John’s testimony concerning Christ. For it requires toil and effort to continue with word and testimony, for a person at death to be able to say, I must die, but I have a Saviour concerning whom John the Baptist testifies; on him and on no other creature, either in heaven or on earth, do I rely …”

“What I am telling you is that it is easier for us humans to believe and trust in everything else than in the name of Christ, who alone is all in all, and more difficult for us for us to rely on him in whom and through whom we possess all things.”’ (https://reformedreader.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/martin-luther-on-solus-christus/)

How could we understand this key Reformation emphasis today? For me, the key to understanding is the incarnation. In John’s Gospel we are told that: “No one has ever seen God” but “The only Son, who is the same as God and is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” In the Prologue to John’s Gospel, Jesus is described as being God’s Word to human beings; he is in himself the message that God wants to communicate to us. This Word is a real person, not simply a description of God or a statement of the truth about God. What this means is that the truth about God is found in a relationship with Jesus and not in a set of statements or beliefs about him. Truth is not a prescription that we can swallow but a relationship in which we live.

The key difference between the Old and the New Testament for Christians is that in the Old Testament God was revealing himself to and through fallible human beings – meaning that his revelation is imperfectly made and imperfectly received - while in the Gospel stories of Jesus, God is able to fully reveal himself in the humanity of Jesus. So, there is in scripture a developing revelation of God which culminates in the person, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. This means that where we see a difference between the revelation of God found in the Old Testament and that found in the Gospels we have to resolve that difference in favour of what we find in Gospels, because it is the only Son, who is the same as God and is at the Father’s side, that has made God known.

Jesus is the creativity, the definition and the wisdom of God; all wrapped up and revealed in human form and flesh. Jesus’ creativity is seen in the new way of being human that he reveals to us. In him, the divine and the human come together enabling us to see all that human beings can potentially be; all that we can potentially become. In him we see the best of humanity because in him we see God expressed as fully as can be in human form.

What we see is love because God is love and therefore, in Jesus, we see pure love expressed without reserve and without self-seeking: the way of compassion instead of the way of domination; the way of self-sacrifice instead of the way of selfishness; the way of powerlessness instead of the way of power; and the way of giving instead of the way of grasping. Therefore to follow in his way is to experience divinity in our lives; to move towards the divine. When we see him call his disciples to follow him that is what occurs; they leave their old way of life behind in order to begin to experience a new and divine way of being human. As the Prologue to John’s Gospel puts it, God himself becomes their Father.

In doing so, he is also the Word of God which describes and defines us. The Prologue to John’s Gospel explains Jesus’ ability to define us in terms of light and darkness. John gives us the image of God as light to help us grasp the idea that Jesus is the one by whom we can come to see humanity as we really are and as we were intended to be. Light is not something we can see directly but something that enables us to see ourselves and our world. This is what Jesus does for us through the incarnation; he shows what humanity was originally intended to become. In Jesus, for the very first time in the history of the world, a human being lives a fully human life.

As a result when we see ourselves and our world in the light of the life of Jesus, what we see are our failure and inability to be the people that we were created to become. In the light of the way that Jesus lived his life, we see our lack of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. As the writer of 1 John says, if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. But when we live in the light, seeing ourselves as we really are, then we become honest with ourselves and with God. By coming into that honesty we confess our sins and are purified of them.

Ultimately, the Word that God speaks to us in and through Jesus is ‘Love’. In 1 John 4. 9 – 10 we read, “God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.”

Jesus came into our world as the Word of God to live a life of self-sacrificial love as a human being. He shows us what true love looks like and he shows us that human beings are capable of true love even when most of the evidence around us seems to point towards the opposite conclusion. But he did not come solely as an example or a description of love. He is love itself, the reality of love, and, therefore, as we come into relationship with him we come into a true relationship with love. This why he came, that we might receive him; that we might receive love. He is then in us and in him. Love in us and we in love.

In the beginning Love already existed; Love was with God, and Love was God. From the very beginning Love was with God. Through him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him. Love was the source of life, and this life brought light to people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.

“God is love. And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.

Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in union with us, and his love is made perfect in us. (1 John 4. 8 – 12).

Intercessions:

For love God came to us in the person of Jesus—God With Us—and poured his Spirit into us that we might be one with him forever. In his name, let us pray to the Lord, saying: Christ is all, and is in all. Lord, thank you for the gift of your constant presence. Give us the desire to commit our hearts to you. Thank you for the grace of your unfailing love. Grant us the willingness to love others as you have loved us. Thank you for uniting us with your Son. Help us put on our new selves, setting our hearts and minds on things above. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of hope, with thanks and praise we open our hearts to you, who unite us with you through Christ. Help us to pursue you with the passion only your Spirit can provide, and to reflect you with the light only your Spirit can supply. So we say, Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Thou hast led me to place all my nature and happiness in oneness with Christ, in having heart and mind centred only on him, in being like him in communicating good to others; This is my heaven on earth, but I need the force, energy, impulses of thy Spirit to carry me on the way to my Jerusalem. Here, it is my duty to be as Christ in this world, to do what he would do, to live as he would live, to walk in love and meekness; then would he be known, then would I have peace in death. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

(https://ace.nd.edu/files/resources/Prayer%20to%20be%20Anchored%20in%20Christ%20Alone.pdf and http://www.scripturezealot.com/2014/07/20/puritan-prayer-christ-alone/)

The Blessing

With our lives hidden in Christ, let us now depart in peace, united in the faith and joined in His call to
serve through the power of His in-dwelling Spirit; 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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Arvo Pärt - Morning Star.

HeartEdge seminars



HeartEdge is a growing ecumenical network of churches and other organisations working across the UK and overseas, initiated by St Martin-in-the-Fields.

It helps churches deepen and integrate their cultural, commercial and community reach while building association and learning with those on the edge

HeartEdge will organise useful workshops and events across the UK tailored to your priorities. The next events are:

Start:Stop seminar

Wednesday 31 May, 1 – 4pm, St Stephen Walbrook. Learn about the genesis of Start:Stop (10-minute work-based reflections for people on their way to work) together with Revd Jonathan Evens, Associate Vicar Partnership, St Martin-in-the-Fields, and Priest-in-charge, St Stephen Walbrook.

An opportunity to discuss:
  • growing a new congregation;
  • engaging with working people;
  • ministering in the workplace;
  • communicating with busy people.
Great Sacred Music seminar

Thursday 8 June, 12.50 – 4pm, St Martin-in-the-Fields. Learn about the genesis of Great Sacred Music (a 35-minute lunchtime sequence of words and music speaking to heart, head and soul) together with Revd Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields and Andrew Earis, Director of Music, St Martin-in-the-Fields.

An opportunity to discuss:
  • growing a new congregation; 
  • engaging with music lovers; 
  • using music in mission; 
  • sharing faith insights with secular audiences.
Both are free to HeartEdge members, £10 for others. Register with Revd Jonathan Evens at jonathan.evens@smitf.org or 020 7766 1127.


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St Martin-in-the-Fields - Great Sacred Music.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Windows on the world (344)


Margate, 2016

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Ed Kowalczyk - Dolphins Cry.

Terrence Ffyffe: Transformation










Artist Terrence Ffyffe presents a series of spectacular new ‘Cosmic’ paintings alongside a number of large dramatic religious works depicting the Passion of Christ, at St Stephen Walbrook (by Bank Station) EC4N 8BN, from 15th May - 9th June 2017. All are welcome to view these spectacular works at the Private View for the exhibition on 15th May from 6.30pm. Pianist Michael Homer will perform during the Private View, while Terrence Ffyffe, art critic Edward Lucie Smith and myself will all reflect briefly on the artworks.

As with his highly successful first show of ‘Cosmic’ paintings ‘Painting the Light’ in 2016, this exhibition entitled ‘Transformation’ brings the worlds of Quantum physics, Mathematics and Mystical Spirituality together in a new series of stunningly beautiful oil paintings. From his daily practise of meditation, which he describes as ‘a space journey to the source’, the lights, colours and shapes he sees mirror the images of Galaxies and Nebulas from the Hubble Telescope and the hidden world of atoms, cells and amoebas as revealed through the Electron Microscope. Ffyffe says “The amazing bio morphic patterns seen at all levels in nature demonstrate the oneness of all creation”. Terrence has found a way to create the patterns as blueprints and then with his skills as a figurative painter develop them into sumptuous paintings revealing a new form of beauty and a new vision of reality.

The exhibition coincides with the Feast of Pentecost, celebrating the ‘Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles’, an event that transformed them from cowering in fear to boldly proclaiming the “Good News”.

Ffyffe formerly a figurative painter in the classic tradition had a “transformation” experience himself and is now firmly established in his new direction of depicting the beauty of the hidden world of nature and the inner world of the mind”. The exhibition brings together the last works that Ffyffe was working on before this profound change. He says, ”The early paintings are about the Historical Jesus and the New Paintings are about the Holy Spirit”.

Terrance Ffyffe is a visionary artist and as the eminent art critic Edward Lucie-Smith wrote on seeing the New Works for the first time “Wow!”: "Every now and then even a hardened old lag in the art business - yes folks, I mean me - gets a nice surprise … Terry Ffyffe-asked me to come and look at a new series of paintings … and my reaction was 'Wow!' … These were whirling, dynamic abstract designs - a total break with anything major of his that I had encountered previously”.

Terrence Ffyffe says: “Art should inspire the viewer, ideally raise the consciousness and elevate the mind to think of higher things like the beauty and mystery of the natural world, to contemplate the deep questions as to purpose and meaning, like ‘What is the origin of this life? What is Reality? Questions that have no easy answer but require a personal journey of developing awareness.”

Terrence Ffyffe was born in Melbourne, Australia. He studied at Swineburne University under Jeffrey Makin and Roger Kemp. After living the bohemian life of a painter in Carlton, extensive travels in the Australian Outback and several solo shows he came to England to study the “Old Masters” of European Painting at first hand. Unknown in the UK he painted portraits to support himself while he developed his uniquely expressive style. He eventually came to the attention of the art critics Edward Lucie-Smith and the late Daniel Farson who introduced him to the world of Francis Bacon and the “London school”. He has won a number of National Competitions including the Discerning Eye. David Lee, the fierce art critic and editor of the Jackdaw has said “Terrence Ffyffe will in time prove to be a Great Painter”.

St Stephen Walbrook hosts a regular programme of contemporary art exhibitions. We partner either with established art societies (such as the National Society of Painters, Sculptors & Printmakers or the Society of Catholic Artists) or significant art historian such Edward Lucie-Smith. In 2016 our programme featured work by the Stuckist artist Joe Machine, artist-priest Alan Everett, Brazilian artist Kim Poor, a digital installation by Michael Takeo Magruder, and group shows by the National Society and commission4mission. For 2017 we have planned an exhibition of crucifixion drawings by Francis Bacon, solo shows by Hannah Thomas, Regan O'Callaghan and Alexander de Cadenet, a digital residency by Daniel Bourke, and a Holy Saturday Night Vigil with the digital artwork of Mark Dean.

St Stephen Walbrook, while being a neo-Classical masterpiece, has, by acquiring a modern altar by Henry Moore complemented by a circular re-ordering and further commissions from Patrick Heron, Hans Coper and Andrew Varah, become a space which stands at the heart of the story of connections between the worlds of modern art and Christianity. The church also contains significant woodwork and carving by William Newman which provides a spatial frame and backdrop to the regular programme of contemporary art exhibitions that the church hosts. All of which makes St Stephen Walbrook a significant and special venue in which to view art.

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Scott Stapp - New Day Coming.

Friday, 12 May 2017

St Stephen Walbrook: Summer Newsletter


The Summer Newsletter for St Stephen Walbrook is now available through the new church website. Click here to view. This edition includes:
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Thomas Tallis - O Nata Lux.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Confusion & childbirth

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

I’m going to talk about confusion and childbirth. Neither are easy topics for a sermon as we prefer to talk about certainty rather than confusion when it comes to faith and when men talk about childbirth it is always on the basis of a lack lived experience, even when you were present at the birth of both your children.

Let’s start with confusion, which for all our focus on certainty in the Christian faith, is actually an encouraging topic to address because it shows the realism and honesty of the Gospels. The Gospels could have been written as a hagiography of Jesus’ disciples but instead is a warts and all account. The disciples were fallible human beings, just as we are, yet were mightly used by God; and that is hugely encouraging for us, as it says that we can experience the same.

The confusion that the disciples experience here is in relation to Jesus’ teaching (John 16. 16 - 22). He says, ‘You won’t see me then you will.’ ‘You will grieve and be in pain and then you will rejoice.’ ‘I am going to the Father and then the Advocate will come to you.’ These were the messages Jesus was giving to his disciples just before the events of his Passion. With hindsight we understand what he was saying but we can understand, too, that at the time it was confusing and, as is clear from our Gospel reading, they didn’t really understand.

Jesus was trying to prepare them for his crucifixion – when they would no longer see them as he would have died and been buried – and for his resurrection – when joyfully and miraculously they would see him again. But these events were so far outside their frame of reference that they struggled to understand.

With hindsight we can see that Jesus was talking to them about his death and resurrection. Although we can see that in a way that the disciples could not at that time, there is still much that we don’t understand about the work of God in the world – questions, for example, about suffering, free will and our human propensity to evil – which mean that we will often feel as confused as the disciples felt at that time.

Later, they were able to see that Jesus knew what he was talking about and what he was doing, so they learnt to trust the work of God in the world even when they didn’t always understand what was going on. We need to learn to do the same and trust that, although we often don’t understand how, God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year. In addition, Jesus wants us to understand that the pattern of his death and resurrection is also our natural and normal experience as human beings which we should expect to see worked out in our lives too. This is partly why he equates his experience of death and resurrection with childbirth.

He says to his disciples, ‘You are going to go through an experience that is very like that of childbirth. There will be a time when I am no longer with you and you will grieve and be in pain. That time will be like the pain that is experienced in labour. Then I will return to you through the resurrection and you will feel immense joy, the kind of joy that a mother feels when she first receives her new born baby in her arms; the kind of joy that overwhelms and over shadows the pain that was felt earlier.

Because he equates his unusual personal mission with an experience that is natural and normative for large numbers of the population in every generation, Jesus is suggesting to us that this pattern of death and resurrection, pain before birth, grief and joy, is one that will characterise our experience as Christians, so that whenever we are in a place of pain, grief or have the sense that death is occurring in some way in our lives, we should not despair because we can trust that resurrection, rebirth or new life is actually just around the corner and will be our experience in the future.

When we are in the midst of confusion, pain or grief, it is, of course, very hard to believe this and to trust that change will come. That is why Jesus wants to prepare us, as he tried to prepare his disciples, and wants us to understand that this will be our experience throughout our lives; that we will all move through periods of pain and grief before then experiencing new life and resurrection. His crucifixion and resurrection provide us with an understanding that the disciples did not possess before his Passion. The question is whether we will use that greater knowledge and understanding to prepare ourselves for the cycles of death and rebirth that remain to be experienced in the remainder of our time here on earth.         

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Déodat de Séverac -Tantum Ergo.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Start:Stop - Rising from the ruins of exile


Bible reading

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon … It said: Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29. 1 – 7)

Meditation

The Israelite Exile had several phases. In 721 BC the Assyrians conquered the Northern Israelite kingdom. Assyrian policy was to stamp out national identities by mixing up populations. Therefore the 10 tribes of that Kingdom disappeared. The Southern kingdom, Judah, was not conquered until 597. By this time the dominant power was Babylon, whose policy was deportation. So, when Jerusalem was captured, the leading citizens were taken to Babylon. Then, in 587, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed and all but the poorest were taken.

Walter Brueggemann writes that “Jerusalem was burned and its temple destroyed, the king was exiled, the leading citizens were deported and public life ended. For ancient Israel, it was the end of privilege, certitude, domination, viable public institutions and a sustaining social fabric. It was the end of life with God, which Israel had taken for granted. In that wrenching time, ancient Israel faced the temptation of denial—the pretence that there had been no loss—and it faced the temptation of despair—the inability to see any way out.” This was a crisis of faith, not simply defeat in war and separation from homeland, but the loss of every reference point that explained who they were as a people and the failure of their God to protect them. They had believed they were a people chosen out of all the nations to be in a special relationship with the one true God who created, sustained and controlled the cosmos. This testimony developed as God made covenants about their land, city, and kings. All were lost and this normative testimony was fundamentally threatened.

The Exile was a crisis to which the Israelites responded initially with grief and anger, but, as the Exile continued, they reacted, or were asked by God to react, in terms of reflection and reinterpretation. David Sceats has noted that “all the evidence points to the fact that the Old Testament came into existence in substantially its present form in and immediately after this period of defeat, exile and religious disintegration.” The purpose of both collating and organising older material, and of writing new material, was reflection. Those who put together the Old Testament in this way were reflecting on Israel’s past to “remind the nation of its identity, to help it understand its place in God’s purposes, and its responsibility as the covenant people, and, above all, to remember the universal claims of Yahweh, and his authority over all nations, including Babylon.” Sceats argues that the act of reflection undertaken by the Israelites was also about reinterpretation. God was, through the exile, revealing himself in a new way and therefore, in organising the religious literature of Israel, it was also necessary to reinterpret that literature “in such a way as to make religious sense of the crisis of faith it had gone through.”

As Western Christians in the twenty-first century, we have faced a crisis of exilic proportions. An increasing process of secularization has occurred within the West with Christianity being dethroned from the dominant position that it held at the end of the Medieval period. From the Reformation through the Enlightenment to Modernism, Christendom came under increasing threat and has now been gradually dismantled. Enlightenment thinking questioned the historical validity of central Christian doctrines, developed alternative ‘scientifically verifiable’ means of explaining the origins of species, positioned Government as the central means of meeting social/welfare needs, and created a consumer culture of aspiration and progress. The result is that for many in the West “God is dead”, “Man has come of age” and Christianity is dead in the water.

The theologians of the exile can help us in hearing and responding to the call of God in our day and time. Their pattern of reflection and re-interpretation based on the tradition gives a biblical means of reviving our roots and re-claiming our disputed lineage. We need to dream up what Church is and can be for future generations all over again. We should not expect to have all the answers to hand but should engage in a re-examination of our roots in order to imagine our future on a scale that is at least equal to that of the theologians of the exile. Our God is a God of new beginnings, of fresh starts. He is the resurrection God and, therefore, the one who gives hope that we can rise from the ruins.

Prayer

God of all times and all places, as we gather this day, we are mindful of the many who are in exile, living in temporary shelters as a result of war, poverty or extremes of weather. We pray for those who have been in exile for long years, those who are trying to make a life and care for their children, planting gardens and seeds of hope and survival in refugee camps with scarce resources. For all those without the comfort and safety of home, we pray rest and respite, courage and comfort. For all who are afraid and wonder if their exile will ever end, grant the peace that passes understanding. May we recount your promises, your provisions, your power and encourage hope in those longing for healing and home.

Thank you for seeing us, claiming us, healing us, making your home in us, so that no matter where we are, we are never alone. Thank you for the people on the journey with us, the ones who’ve opened their homes to us, those who have called us family, friends who have loved us, strangers who have cared for us, all who have been the hands and feet of Christ to us. Thank you for those who right this very moment are feeding the hungry, healing the sick, tending the dying, and in countless ways serving for the sake of others. May we recount your promises, your provisions, your power and encourage hope in those longing for healing and home.

(https://pres-outlook.org/2016/10/pastoral-prayer-storm-exile-hurricane-matthew/)

O God, the Creator and Preserver of all humankind: we humbly pray that it may please you to reveal your ways to all people and your saving power to all nations. In particular we pray for your church that it may be guided and governed by your Spirit in such a way that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. May we recount your promises, your provisions, your power and encourage hope in those longing for healing and home.

(http://www.churchsociety.org/publications/englishprayerbook/EPB_Prayers.asp)

The Blessing

May Christ, who makes saints of sinners, who has transformed those we remember today, raise and strengthen you that you may transform the world; 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 Brilliance - Brother.

Discover & explore: God's written word





Discover & explore services at St Stephen Walbrook feature music and liturgy with the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields. These services explore their themes through a thoughtful mix of music, prayers, readings and reflections:

“A perfect service of peace in our busy lives.”
“Spiritual food in the middle of the day.”
“Beautifully and intelligently done.”

The current series of these services of musical discovery is exploring Reformation 500 themes and continued last Monday with the theme of 'God's written word'. The service featured the Choral Scholars singing: 'God be in my head' by John Rutter, 'Psalm 119', 'But the word of the Lord endureth forever' by Samuel Sebastian Wesley & 'O for a closer walk with God' by Charles Stanford.

All Discover & explore services begin at 1.10pm:

Mon 15 May - Through Christ alone
Mon 22 May - God loves you
Mon 29 May Bank Holiday – Church closed
Mon 5 June - Baptism saves
Mon 12 Jun - The Lord's Supper
Mon 19 Jun - The Cross alone
Mon 26 Jun - Forgiveness is free
Mon 3 Jul - Life of repentance

In today's service I shared the following reflection:
In the first Discover & explore service of this series, we reflected that the Reformers’ theological convictions about the essentials of Christianity were later summarised in five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged during the Reformation known as The Five Solas. These included Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.

The key implication of the principle is that interpretations and applications of the Scriptures do not have the same authority as the Scriptures themselves. Luther said, "a simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it" and this was consistent with the intent of the Reformation which was to correct what Luther asserted to be the errors of the Catholic Church by appeal to the uniqueness of the Bible's textual authority.

Sola scriptura, however, does not ignore Christian history, tradition, or the church when seeking to understand the Bible. Rather, it sees the church as the Bible's interpreter, the ecumenical creeds as the interpretive context, and Scripture as the only final authority in matters of faith and practice. As Luther said, "The true rule is this: God's Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so."

Lutheranism, as we heard in today’s reading, loves and treasures the Word of God. The Scriptures are the sole source for doctrine and practice. The Scriptures deliver Christ to us, and for this we rejoice. As we heard in Colossians 3. 12 - 17, we are to let the word or message of Christ dwell in us richly as we worship together.

But for many people this raises as many questions as it answers because it is simply not possible for us to read scripture without interpreting what we read. All reading of scripture is interpreted reading. There is no ‘plain’ reading of scripture which does not involve interpretation. For scripture to be understood there has to be a struggle because the text has to be re-interpreted over and over again in terms of each generation and each culture. Engaging in this struggle may be what is meant by letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly.

The missiologist Lesslie Newbigin has helpfully unpacked some of what is involved in doing so. He wrote that: “The Bible is the body of literature which renders accessible to us the character, action and purpose of God. Taken as a whole, the Bible fitly renders God but this can only be understood as we are in engaged in the same struggle that we see in scripture. This is the struggle to understand and deal with the events of our time in the faith that God creates purpose, sustains all that is and will bring all to its proper end. The Bible comes to us in its “canonical shape”, as the result of many centuries of interpretation and re-interpretation, editing and re-editing, with a unity that depends on two primary centres - the rescue of Israel from Egypt and the events concerning Jesus - events, happening in the contingent world of history, which are interpreted as disclosures, in a unique sense, of the presence and action of God. However, the interpretation has to be re-interpreted over and over again in terms of another generation and another culture. The original interpretative language becomes a text which in turn needs interpretation. Yet the text cannot be eliminated. The events are not mere symbols of an underlying reality which could be grasped apart from them. What is presented in the bible is testimony.”

“The Bible is the book of community, and neither the book nor the community are properly understood except in their reciprocal relationship with each other. It is this relationship that is the clue to the meaning of both the book and the community. The Bible functions as authority only within a community that is committed to faith and obedience and which is embodying that commitment in an active discipleship embracing the whole of life, public and private.”

A final helpful way of understanding how the Bible can function with authority in our lives was set out by former Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright. He describes the story of the Bible as a five act play (containing the first four acts in full i.e. 1. Creation, 2. Fall, 3. Israel, 4. Jesus) within which we can understand ourselves to be actors improvising our part on basis of what has gone before and the hints we have of how the play will end:

"The writing of the New Testament ... would then form the first scene in the fifth act, and would simultaneously give hints (Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, parts of the Apocalypse) of how the play is supposed to end ... The church would then live under the 'authority' of the extant story, being required to offer an improvisatory performance of the final act as it leads up to and anticipates the intended conclusion ... the task of Act 5 ... is to reflect on, draw out, and implement the significance of the first four Acts, more specifically, of Act 4 in the light of Acts 1-3 ... Faithful improvisation in the present time requires patient and careful puzzling over what has gone before, including the attempt to understand what the nature of the claims made in, and for, the fourth Act really amount to."

Wright concludes that he is proposing "a notion of "authority" which is ... vested ... in the creator god himself, and this god's story with the world, seen as focused on the story of Israel and thence on the story of Jesus, as told and retold in the Old and New Testaments, and as still requiring completion." As Lesslie Newbigin has written, this story is understood "as we are in engaged in the same struggle that we see in scripture"; that "is the struggle to understand and deal with the events of our time in the faith that God creates purpose, sustains all that is and will bring all to its proper end." This is what I think it means to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly and to make the Bible authoritative in our lives.

Intercessions:

Open our eyes, that we may behold wondrous things out of your law. Open our spiritual eyes to show us the glimpses of glory we cannot see by ourselves. Give us the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Jesus, having the eyes of our hearts enlightened. May we see that the works of God stand as marvellous mountain ranges in the Bible, but also see that the highest peak, and the most majestic vista, is the person and work of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Remind us of the sufficiency of your grace to produce genuine change in our lives. Allow seeds from Scripture to bear real, noticeable fruit in tangible acts of sacrificial love for others that we might be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves. May your word shape and inform and direct our practical living making us more manifestly loving, not less, because of the time invested alone in reading and studying your word. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

May we experience the great goal of Bible reading and study as this: knowing and enjoying Jesus. This is a taste now of heaven’s coming delights. This is eternal life, that we know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. In this way give direction, focus, and purpose to our study that we may press on to know you, the LORD. May this form great yearning and passion in our souls, so that we count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as our Lord. May we keep both eyes peeled for Jesus until we see how the passage at hand relates to Jesus’s person and work. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

(http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/four-prayers-for-bible-reading)

The Blessing

Go now in peace, knowing that you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God; 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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Charles Stanford - O, For A Closer Walk With God