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Thursday, 4 June 2020

God desires love, not sacrifice

Here's my reflection given during today's lunchtime Eucharist for St Martin-in-the-Fields:

The scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ (Mark 12.28–34)

Allow me for a moment to take you on a journey through the scriptures to explore the reasons why, in the kingdom of heaven, love for God, others and ourselves is much more important than offerings and sacrifices.

We begin where the Bible begins, in Genesis, with acts of human sacrifice made to appease the gods. People, often children, killed because, when trouble or tension arose in society, the belief was that, by sacrificing one or a few as a scapegoat, order would be restored by the gods for the many. That was the culture which Abraham was called to leave when he left Ur of the Chaldees to found a people that would become God’s people. As a way to create a decisive break with that culture, God took Abraham through a dramatic experience where it seemed that he was, as Abraham would have expected, demanding the sacrifice of Abraham’s firstborn son Isaac. At the very point of sacrifice, God made it clear to Abraham that he did not desire human sacrifice and provided an animal as an alternative. This became part of the founding story for the people of Israel, a people whose ritual sacrifices were of animals and not human beings.

If we then move forward in time, we can pause again for a moment at Mount Sinai and the giving of the Law to Moses. The Law received by Moses contained detailed instructions regarding the sacrifice of animals but also contained the commands quoted by Jesus and the Scribe in our Gospel reading. In addition to the system of sacrifice it introduced, the Law did two things. First, it gave minimum standards for the maintenance of good relations within society – do not murder, do not steal, do not covet etc. Second, in the greatest commandment, it set love for God, others and oneself as the goal to which all the other laws, including those concerning sacrifices, pointed. The Law was given not that people became of obsessed with the keeping of its minutiae but that people moved from the base point of not harming others to the point or goal of the Law, to love God, others and oneself.

We know that many paid lip service to the Law while ignoring it and others did become obsessed with following the minutiae of the letter of the Law and thereby missed the point of the Law. The prophets were the ones used by God to point this out to the people and their rulers. The message of the prophets can in many respects be summed up by these words from the prophet Amos through whom God said: ‘I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.’ Amos was essentially saying, ‘Love God, others and yourself.’

When God’s people ignored God’s messengers, God eventually took matters into his own hands and, in Jesus, showed us, by entering our world and being with us for 33 years, that what he desires is love and relationship. He longs to be with us and enjoy us for who we are, as we also enjoy him. That is the message of the incarnation. It is a demonstration of love.

Yet we still did not understand and, as we have been doing for millennia, made Jesus a scapegoat to excise us of our troubles and tensions, sacrificing him to relieve our fears and anxieties. The God who does not desire sacrifice became the ultimate sacrifice to show that once God has been scapegoated and sacrificed there is really nowhere else to go. There is now no god to be appeased because God does not desire sacrifice and God himself has been sacrificed. This is the end of sacrifice. The curtain was torn in the Temple at the point of Christ’s death because there was no longer any need for sacrifice and the system of sacrifice, the system that began at Mount Sinai, was itself ended in AD70 when, as prophesied by Jesus, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.

‘The Kingdom of God is justice and peace, And joy in the Holy Spirit!’ Like the Scribe we have come close to that kingdom when we realise that God is one, and “besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ ‘God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them’ (1 John 4. 16). That is the story of scripture. That is the place to which all scripture leads. It simply remains for us to pray, ‘Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your Kingdom!’ Amen.

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GSNY Music - The Sun Will Rise.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Living God’s Future Now: Week commencing 31 May 2020

Living God’s Future Now is a series of online seminars, discussions and presentations hosted by HeartEdge. They are designed to equip, encourage and energise church leaders, laypeople and enquirers alike.

Monday 1 June

Tuesday 2 June
  • 4.30 pm, Sermon Preparation Workshop, livestream. Sam Wells and Sally Hitchiner discuss the forthcoming Sunday's lectionary readings in the light of current events and share thoughts on approaches to the passages. Livestreamed at https://www.facebook.com/theHeartEdge/.

Wednesday 3 June
  • 4.30 pm, Community of Practitioners workshop, zoom meeting - An opportunity for ministers and other leaders of HeartEdge churches to meet together to reflect on issues relating to congregational renewal through commerce, culture and compassion. Join HeartEdge at https://www.heartedge.org/main/sign-up and email jonathan.evens@smitf.org for an invitation.

Thursday 4 June
  • 2.00 - 3.00 pm, Wellbeing Group, zoom meeting. The HeartEdge Wellbeing Group is a reflective group providing opportunities to share thoughts and feelings as ongoing support in these unusual times. The group facilitator will be Kate Woodhouse. Join the group at https://bit.ly/2XyhFTe. For this group, HeartEdge offers a two-tier ticket option (£30 or £50 for the whole six session series). You choose the rate that best suits your needs.

Friday 5 June
  • 2.30 pm, Seeing Salvation, zoom meeting. Jonathan Evens shares practical approaches to using art in church settings. Session 1: Art Trails. Email jonathan.evens@smitf.org for an invitation.
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Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Poems for Stride magazine and Amethyst Review

I have three poems appearing in Stride magazine this month. All these poems concern other poets beginning today with the artist-poet David Jones, continuing tomorrow with Dylan Thomas and ending on 27 June with Jack Clemo. The third of these poems features in a Stride series entitled 'Talking to the Dead' which begins on 17 June. These poems can be read at http://stridemagazine.blogspot.com/.

Additionally, I am also very pleased to have other of my poems featuring in Amethyst Review. The two poems selected will appear on 20 June and 13 July.

Stride magazine was founded in 1982. Since then it has had various incarnations, most recently in an online edition since the late 20th century. You can visit its earlier incarnation at http://stridemagazine.co.uk.

I have read the poetry featured in Stride and, in particular, the work of its editor Rupert Loydell over many years and was very pleased that Rupert gave a poetry reading when I was at St Stephen Walbrook (an event that Sarah Law, editor of Amethyst, attended). As one or two of my early poems featured in Stride, I am particularly pleased to be published there once again.

Rupert Loydell is a poet, painter, editor and publisher, and senior lecturer in English with creative writing at Falmouth University. He is interested in the relationship of visual art and language, collaborative writing, sequences and series, as well as post-confessional narrative, experimental music and creative non-fiction.

He has edited Stride magazine for over 30 years, and was managing editor of Stride Books for 28 years. His poetry books include Wildlife and Ballads of the Alone (both published by Shearsman), and The Fantasy Kid (for children); he has also edited anthologies for Shearsman, Salt and Knives, Forks & Spoons Press.

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Jim Causley and Luke Thompson - Christ In The Claypit.

Empathy and inspiration

Here's my reflection from today's lunchtime Eucharist for St Martin-in-the-Fields:

The feast of the Visitation celebrates the lovely moment in Luke’s Gospel (1:41-56) when Mary goes to visit he cousin Elizabeth, who was also against all expectations bearing a child, the child who would be John the Baptist. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit came upon them, that the babe in Elizabeth’s womb ‘leaped for joy’ when he heard Mary’s voice, and it is even as the older woman blesses the younger, that Mary gives voice to the Magnificat, the most beautiful and revolutionary hymn in the world.’

Malcolm Guite describes their meeting like this in his Sonnet on the Feast of the Visitation:

Here is a meeting made of hidden joys
Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place
From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise
And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.
Two women on the very edge of things
Unnoticed and unknown to men of power
But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings
And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.
And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young’,
Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime’
They sing today for all the great unsung
Women who turned eternity to time
Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth
Prophets who bring the best in us to birth.

Mary needed that moment of empathy and inspiration because the experience of being the Theotokos, the God-bearer, was a difficult one. Difficult, because she was not believed - both by those closest to her and those who didn’t really know her. Mary was engaged to Joseph when the annunciation occurred. As she was found to be with child before they lived together, Joseph planned to dismiss her quietly. He had his own meeting with Gabriel which changed that decision but, if the man to whom she was betrothed, could not believe her without angelic intervention, then it would be no surprise if disbelief and misunderstanding characterised the response to Mary wherever she went.

We can imagine, then, how important it was to her to be with a relative who not only believed her but was also partway through her own miraculous pregnancy. The relief that she would have felt at being believed and understood would have been immense and then there is the shared moment of divine inspiration when the Holy Spirit comes on them, the babe in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy, and as Elizabeth blesses Mary, she is inspired to sing the Magnificat. In the face of so much disbelief and lack of support, this confirmation that they were both following God’s will, would have been overwhelming.

We can learn much from Mary’s faith, trust and persistence in the face of disbelief, misunderstanding and probable insult. We can also learn from this moment when God gives her both human empathy through Elizabeth and divine inspiration through the Holy Spirit to be a support and strengthening in the difficulties which she faced as God-bearer. Our experience in times of trouble and difficulty will be similar as, on the one hand, God asks to trust and preserve while, on the other, he will provide with moments of support and strengthening.

Mary has been given many titles down the ages but ‘the earliest ‘title’, agreed throughout the church in the first centuries of our faith, before the divisions of East and West, Catholic and Protestant, was Theotokos, which means God-Bearer. She is the prime God-Bearer, bearing for us in time the One who was begotten in eternity, and every Christian after her seeks to become in some small way a God-bearer, one whose ‘yes’ to God means that Christ is made alive and fruitful in the world through our flesh and our daily lives, is born and given to another.’ In his poem ‘Theotokos’, Malcolm Guite suggests some ways in which Mary’s experience can speak to us and inspire us in the challenges we face as we go through life:

You bore for me the One who came to bless
And bear for all and make the broken whole.
You heard His call and in your open ‘yes’
You spoke aloud for every living soul.
Oh gracious Lady, child of your own child,
Whose mother-love still calls the child in me,
Call me again, for I am lost, and wild
Waves surround me now. On this dark sea
Shine as a star and call me to the shore.
Open the door that all my sins would close
And hold me in your garden. Let me share
The prayer that folds the petals of the Rose.
Enfold me too in Love’s last mystery
And bring me to the One you bore for me.

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Malcolm Guite - Our Lady Of The Highway.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Living God's Future Now - new groups and workshops






This week HeartEdge shares several new offerings within the Living God's Future Now programme. For the full Living God's Future Now programme click here

Imaging the Invisible

Tomorrow at 4.30pm on the HeartEdge facebook page (https://facebook.com/theHeartEdge/) we premiere a short interview with the artist Sophie Hacker. In this interview with Jonathan Evens, Sophie explores her understandings of imaging the invisible.

Sophie Hacker specialises in Church Art, including stained glass windows, vestments and re-ordering liturgical space. Since 2006 she has been Arts and Exhibitions Consultant for Winchester Cathedral, with particular responsibility for curating. Recent commissions include collaborations with musicians and poets, and numerous ecclesiastical projects.

Wellbeing Group

The HeartEdge Wellbeing Group is a reflective group providing opportunities to share thoughts and feelings as ongoing support in these unusual times. Even once a new normality has been established and restrictions further lifted, Covid and all that is associated is still going to be part of our lives. The group is limited to eight participants and will initially meet for six sessions, evolving to meet the needs of those who join. Participants need to commit to all six sessions (from 4 June to 9 July, 2.00 - 3.00 pm).

The group facilitator will be Kate Woodhouse, an experienced counsellor, registered and accredited with BACP. Kate has a wealth of experience in working with a range of mental health and wellbeing challenges, with particular experience in working with dying, death, loss, grief and bereavement.

Join the group here - https://bit.ly/2XyhFTe

For this group, HeartEdge offers a two-tier ticket option (£30 or £50 for the whole six session series). You choose the rate that best suits your needs. No matter your choice, you will receive the same experience. Those who pay more will help support the content and costs of HeartEdge events. Thank you.

Seeing Salvation: Fridays, 2.30pm, zoom meeting.

Jonathan Evens shares practical approaches to using art in church settings.

Initial sessions are:
  • 5 June - Session 1: Art Trails.
  • 12 June - Session 2: Art and contemplation.
  • 19 June - Session 3: Art workshops.
  • 26 June - Session 4: Art meditations.
  • 3 July - Session 4: Exhibitions – solo shows. 
Email jonathan.evens@smitf.org for an invitation.

Inspired to Follow: Art and the Bible Story

What does it mean to follow Jesus today? How can I deepen my faith in God? This programme of hour-long gatherings covers the Biblical story from Creation to Apocalypse. It uses fine art paintings that can be found in the collection of the National Gallery as a spring board for exploring these two questions. The course provides a way of deepening one’s Christian faith and exploring what it means to follow Jesus today.

What’s the programme?
  • 7 June: Luke 1:26-38 / ‘The Annunciation’ Fra Filippo Lippi, about 1450-3, NG666
  • 14 June: Luke 1:26-38 / ‘Mystic Nativity’, Sandro Botticelli, 1500, NG1034
  • 21 June: Mark 1: 1-12 / ‘The Baptism of Christ’; predella panel, Giovanni di Paolo, 1454, NG5451
  • 28 June: Luke 10:25-42 / ‘Christ in the House of Martha and Mary’, Diego Velásquez, probably 1618, NG1375
  • 5 July: Mark 11: 4-12 & 15-19 / ‘Christ driving the Traders from the Temple’, El Greco, about.1600, NG1457
  • 12 July: Mark 11: 4-12 & 15-19 / Christ washing the Feet of the Disciples, Jacopo Tintoretto, about.1575-80, NG1130
  • 19 July: Matthew 26: 36-54 / ‘The Agony in the Garden’ by Giovanni Bellini, about.1465, NG726
  • 26 July: Matthew 26:57-68 / ‘Christ before the High Priest’, Gerrit van Honthorst, about.1617, NG3679
  • 2 August: Luke 23:26-38 / ‘Christ carrying the Cross’, Italian, Venetian, about. 1500, NG6655
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The Brilliance - Breathe.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Windows on the world (280)


Johannesburg, 2019

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Inner City - Pennies From Heaven.


HeartEdge May Mailer

This month's HeartEdge Mailer has:

Liturgy in a Dangerous Time, Sekai Makoni on faith in the arts, Barbara Brown-Taylor on finding God in other faiths, Carla Grosch-Miller on faith, grief and loss.

Anna Rowlands on living in a time out of shape, John McKnight on Asset Based Community Development, Eve Poole on Universal Basic Income.

Plus fundraising, crowdfunding and citizens assemblies... in a pandemic.

Lots on our online festival of ideas - Living God's Future Now.

And Ellen Loudon and an extract from '12 Rules for Christian Activists'.

Read it here.

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Young Disciples - Apparently Nothin'.