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Monday, 3 July 2017

Discover & explore:Life is repentance

Discover & explore services at St Stephen Walbrook feature music and liturgy with the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields. The current series of these services of musical discovery has explored Reformation 500 themes and came to an end today by exploring the theme of 'Life of Repentance.' The Choral Scholars sang: Ach, arme Welt – Brahms; The Lord's Prayer – Joshua Pacey; Anthem – Leonard Cohen; and Beati quorum via – Stanford.

Philip Dawson writes:

'The last Discover & Explore service on the theme of the Reformation - services start again on 25th September and then each Monday at 1.10pm. A huge thank you to Reverend Jonathan Evens and his colleagues for all the work that goes into preparing these services which combine fantastic music with inspirational reflections and prayers.

In today's service we said Bonhoeffer's prayers and sang one of his hymns and in the reflection Jonathan cleverly used the example of Grayson Perry's Chris Hulme case (which was purposely cracked and repaired) to illustrate the reading from 2 Corinthians. (…/grayson-perry-chris-huhne-def…)

Every part of the service from the opening responses to the beautiful closing anthem worked so well together. We said farewell to the current Choral Scholars of St Martin in the Fields who lead the music at the service - and also the the fantastic Jeremy Cole who is leaving to a new post at Wells Cathedral. Everyone I know seems to be moving to Wells these days!

A really wonderful series of services; intelligent, thought provoking and hopeful - the perfect way to start your working week!'

Our autumn Discover & explore series will be part of the ‘Londinium’ programme organised by the City of London and will explore Rome, London & Christianity through music, prayers, readings and reflections. Highlights include St Paul in Rome, Constantine and The Temple of Mithras & St Stephen Walbrook:
  • 25th September - St Paul in Rome 
  • 2 October - St Peter in Rome 
  • 9 October - The Early Church in Rome 
  • 16 October – St Alban 
  • 23 October – Constantine 
  • 30 October – Christianity in Roman London 
  • 6 November – The Temple of Mithras & St Stephen Walbrook 
  • 13 November – St Augustine 
  • 20 November – St Mellitus 
  • 27 November – St Erkenwald & St Ethelburga
In today's service I gave the following reflection:

Today’s Reformation 500 reading states that dying daily to our sinful nature doesn’t sound very exciting but our Bible reading (2 Corinthians 4. 6 - 12) suggested that it is our fallibility and failings (the effects of our sinful nature) that actually enable the light of Christ to be seen most clearly in our lives. It maybe that if we understand Luther and St Paul together we can view Luther’s insistence that we live a life of repentance, a daily awareness of our fallibility and failings, more positively.

In 2014 the artist Grayson Perry made a vase as a portrait of Chris Huhne, the Liberal politician who fell from grace when his wife, Vicky Pryce, revealed that he had asked her to take the blame for his speeding offence and the speeding points incurred. He resigned from the cabinet and was subsequently jailed for perverting the course of justice. Perry thought that Huhne was unchanged by his prison experience and, therefore, represented powerful white males with a kind of bullet-proof, Teflon, confidence and chutzpah that was unaffected by wrongdoing and failure. As a result, Perry purposefully smashed the finished vase and then had it repaired using an ancient Chinese technique which involves lacquer resin dusted or mixed with gold, saying, “I have smashed the pot and had it repaired with gold to symbolise that vulnerability might be an asset in relationships to such a person.”

St Paul told the Christians in Corinth that they had the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in their hearts, but that this treasure was in clay jars, so that it might be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and did not come from them. If the clay jar, the container of the light, were to be perfectly formed, then the light inside would not be seen from the outside. The light of Christ would effectively be hidden. Like people looking at the confidence and chutzpah of the Teflon-coated Chris Huhne, people would look at our perfect life and not Christ, because they would only see us.

Instead, St Paul says, because we are not perfect and have difficulties and flaws we are like cracked clay jars, meaning that it is then clear that where we act or speak with love and compassion, this is because of Christ in us, rather than being something which is innate to us or simply our decision alone. He used this image of light in containers seen through cracks, or thin translucent clay, to assure the Corinthian Christians that they had the light of God in their lives, despite the fallibility and frailty of those lives. Similarly, Leonard Cohen sings: ‘Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack, a crack / In everything / That's how the light gets in, / That's how the light gets in’.

Paul wrote that ‘We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.’ Paul wrote of us in the plural. We are afflicted, but not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. It is as we come together to engage with affliction, perplexity, forsakenness, and being struck down that we carry in our body the death of Jesus and show the life of Jesus. It is as we come together, linked, like the lanterns, by the light of Christ that we become the Body of Christ.

I don’t know how the image of a crack letting in light came into the mind of Leonard Cohen but it fits really well with St Paul suggesting that there are fractures and flaws running through each of our lives and that these imperfections actually enable the light within to be seen more clearly. I don’t suppose that Grayson Perry had this passage in mind when he smashed the Chris Huhne vase and had the resulting cracks gilded with gold, but, like St Paul, he suggests that our vulnerabilities are the most precious aspect of our lives; of more significance than a confident pride in ourselves that will not acknowledge weakness.

The Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer connected Luther's theology of the cross – our need to die daily to our sinful nature – ‘with the lived reality of Christian discipleship in a threatened world.’ ‘In phrases that echo his theological ancestry,’ he ‘claimed that God is revealed in the world precisely in those places that the world is most prone to ignore: in suffering, rejection, and scorn.’ ‘The God of Jesus Christ takes these anathemas, makes them God's own, and invites all disciples to participate in them.’

Bonhoeffer wrote that to ‘be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself ... on the basis of some method or other, but to be ... the [person] that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life …

following Christ results in the liberation of the self to exist for and with others .. "The Christian ... must drink the earthly cup to the dregs, and only in his doing so is the crucified and risen Lord with him, and he crucified and risen with Christ." Bonhoeffer could thus say that Christ takes hold of Christians at the centre of their lives, while at the same time recognizing that it also Christ who launches Christians into a world of suffering and difference. Hurled into the midst of this world, Christians are not to assume a sense of privilege but are to relinquish privilege for the sake of others …

To be claimed by others is … to participate in the vulnerable God's existence for us. In contrast to a "religion" that can only offer smug reassurance, bourgeois comfort, and pious quietism, the "new life" to which Jesus calls his followers is fraught with risk.

Each of us are like cracked or translucent clay jars because of our flaws and vulnerabilities. It is through these lines of stress – the suffering, rejection and scorn with which we engage - that the light of Christ is seen. It is as we join together in living for the sake of others that we become the Body of Christ and reveal him most fully in the world.


O God, early in the morning I cry to you. Help me to pray, and to concentrate my thoughts on you: I cannot do this alone. In me there is darkness, But with you there is light; I am lonely, but you do not leave me; I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help; I am restless, but with you there is peace. In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience; I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me … Restore me to liberty, And enable me so to live now that I may answer before you and before me, Lord, whatever this day may bring, Your name be praised. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

O Lord God, Great is the misery that has come upon me; My cares would overwhelm me, I know not what to do. 0 God, be gracious unto me and help me. Grant me strength to bear what thou dost send) and let not fear rule over me. 0 merciful God, forgive me all the sins I have committed against thee, and against my fellows. I trust in thy grace, and commit my life wholly into thy hands, Do with me as seemeth best to thee, and as is best for me. Whether I live or die, I am with thee) and thou art with me, my God. Lord, I wait for thy salvation, and for thy Kingdom. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Every Christian in his place should be brave and free, with the world face to face, Though death strikes, his spirit should persevere, without fear, calm and good. For death cannot destroy but from grief brings relief and opens gates to joy. Closed the door of bitter pain, bright the way where we may all heaven gain. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Blessing

Go in peace. Mend what is broken; unite what is divided; live the gospel; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.


Charles Villiers Stanford - Beati Quorum Via.

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