WINDOWS ON THE WORD
April 15, 2012
Sermon in Words and Laser
When this sanctuary was first built in 1959, the wall before you was clear paned windows which Rev. Hughes Morris, pastor at the time, had covered with a colored film, akin to contact paper (stories circulate that for a few years before that he put up children’s art work there, hoping someone would pay for stained glass!). For several years the growing congregation sat on folding chairs (no pews) on a concrete floor (no tile), only completing components of the project as they got the money to do so.
Growing faster than they could keep up with at the time, the decision to add a balcony was the solution to overcrowding. So, the balcony was installed BEFORE the art was.
The first stained glass was added in 1967, two nativity windows yet still out of view. They are stuck back in the corners left and right of the center window, and I invite you to come see them yourselves after worship. They were given in memory of William Smoltz.
The one on the west side is a shepherd out watching his sheep by night and an angel heralding the birth of Christ in the city of Bethlehem. It’s side panel has a potted plant with a fleur-de-lis, symbol of the trinity and sometimes of Mary the mother of Jesus on the top.
The window in the east side corner, which Pastor Lynn showed the children a moment ago, is of the Holy Family: Joseph, Mary and the babe Jesus in a stable, complete with ox and donkey and a whimsical potted Christmas Tree! Come up after worship and see it for yourself.
We started exploring the windows a few months ago, reading old Trustee’s and Administrative Council minutes, looking through budgets, etc. Googling “stained glass”, I spotted a similar Christmas tree in a window which led me to call a California studio which finally led this past Thursday to a thrilling call from the artist!
These alcove windows and the beautiful window before us are the creations of stained glass artist John E. (Emil) Bera, whose studio opened in Chicago in 1963. Sometime in the early eighties he moved his studio to California, sold it in 2007 to his apprentice Brian Canfield and Nicole Purvis, who continue his mission of “glass in the spirit of art”, and retired. He and his wife Madeleine, who he met in France while traveling to study stained glass with First Methodist friend Bill Utterbach, moved to San Diego and shortly thereafter their home was lost in the terrific fires of that summer, destroying everything, including his personal stained glass collection. John is thrilled to know we have uncovered the window. He himself has never seen it in a full exposure!
Our two-story window is in the form of a triptych, three panels which when viewed together, create one piece of art. Unlike the classical stained glass in familiar cathedrals, whose frames are leaded, and whose glass is carefully cut with features and scenes often painted upon it, this work is “faceted”, fragments (hunks) of colored glass embedded in a concrete-like material which is set in a wooden frame.
The center panel was dedicated to the glory of God and in memory of George Poole, Elva Drumtra, Gordon and Ruth Lyons, Frank Carl, Dr. and Mrs. J.R. Westaby, Robert Blackburn, Perry Olsen, Evangeline Crane, and Robert Schultheis , with special gifts from the Prellberg family.
The side panels were also dedicated to the glory of God and in loving memory of Frank and Clara Carl, Victor and Mary Reed, Joseph and Edna Melzer, John and Tabea Brausch, Hazel McElhose, Scott and Lenora Carncross, Maybelle Smith, and William Youngstrom, in 1980. So, it took two decades and the contributions of many families and friends to complete this work.
Full of symbols of our faith, we must remember that the first century Christians were persecuted people so they employed hidden messages in ordinary symbols to communicate with one another and to proclaim the stories of their faith. Many symbols have been uncovered in the catacombs in which the church hid to worship and continue to be used yet today.
Christian symbols were first mentioned in writing by Clement of Alexandria (153-217 AD) in Paedogogus 3, 11. He spoke of employing doves, fish, ships, anchors, musical lyres. Even when persecution was no longer a problem, bibles and books were not readily available and the ordinary person did not read, so images conveyed truths to the masses.
[laser jumps from color to color]
Perhaps the first thing one notices when you now enter the sanctuary is the burst of COLOR. Every color of the rainbow is included in this art piece: red, orange, yellow, blue, green, and purple.
[laser outlines center cross, top to bottom, side to side]
It is the cross at the center of the window which pops out amidst the color. Literally extending from floor to ceiling, this is the cross of the resurrection. It is not a crucifix, the nailed and pierced body of the holy agony is not upon it, rather it is bedecked with flowers, symbols of life.
[laser goes to bottom of window]
Along the bottom of the panels we see symbols of the “beginning”, creation itself; the waters and the dry land, the fish of the sea and the birds of the air. In Greek mythology the dolphin [point] was a mediator between this world and the immortal one: it was a guide of souls. That’s why in Christian symbolism it represented Christ.
The curves here in the water [point] were replicated in the curved chancel in our renovation project. The architecture and the art are interrelated. More on that in a moment.
Near the foot of the cross are two figures:
[point to Moses] Moses, representing the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament, complete with tables of the Law and the burning bush employed by God to call him to lead his people out of bondage.
[point at second figure] AND John the Baptist, representing the first Christian prophet, “preparing the way of the Lord”, who anointed Jesus with the baptismal waters. Note a few things with the artist’s interpretation here. The escallop shell is a symbol of baptism. The cross in the shape of a staff (not large enough to be a tool of torture), none the less was recognized by early Christians as a sign of faith, and if you know John’s story, he would be martyred, beheaded for following Jesus. What is odd to me here is the color of the hair . . . it looks grey. I understand Moses’, after all Moses lived . . . but John was only six months older than Jesus, died before Jesus and Jesus died at 33. Upon closer examination, the glass is actually a shade of blue or lavender . . . still equated with old age!
[point] Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, signifying that God is “the beginning and the end,” or eternal. The symbols were used in early Christianity and appear in the Roman catacombs.
In Rabbinic literature, the word emet (“truth”), composed of the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, is “the seal of God”, and in Judaic tradition it carries somewhat the same connotation as Alpha and Omega.
“I am the first and the last.” (Isaiah 44:6)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8, NIV)
[point] The Chi-Rho (pronounced “KEE-roe”) is a Christian symbol consisting of the intersection of the capital Greek letters Chi (X) and Rho (P), which are the first two letters of “Christ” in Greek (XPIΣTOΣ, Christos). The Chi-Rho can represent either Christ or Christianity and is also known as a Christogram. Constantine applied the Chi-Rho symbol to his military standard. The Chi-Rho was used by Christians before Constantine but it became much more widespread after he adopted it. The Chi-Rho appeared on the coins of Constantine and his Christian successors, sometimes alone and sometimes as part of a military standard. It continues to be widely used today.
[point to Greek crosses] Throughout the window, you see many Greek crosses – all arms (vertical and horizontal) are the same length, [point to circles] and circles, which represent eternity, having no beginning and no end. “From everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” (Psalms 90:2)
[point to anchor on right]
The anchor is a very early Christian symbol that has been found in the catacombs. It brings together the cross and the various nautical Christian symbols (fish, boat, dolphin), and it symbolizes Christian hope in Christ, so it is often called The Anchor of Hope.
Now, take a look at the design of this and many sanctuaries: LOOK UP! [point at arches and wooden ceiling] It denotes a boat or ship; the interior of the ark . . . we are survivors of the flood, and like the disciples, survivors in the storm. The anchor who is Christ keeps us grounded.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. (Hebrews 6:17)
[point to heart on left]
On the opposite panel you find a contemporary depiction of the bleeding heart of Jesus. Not here like the organ, more familiar perhaps to some raised in the Roman Catholic Church, but pierced non-the- less, represented by the red spot. (This morning someone also mentioned John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience of sanctification when his heart “was strangely warmed.”)
On Good Friday night we heard again, how the soldiers at the foot of the cross pierced his side (up under the ribs to the heart) to assure that Jesus was dead.
The five-pointed star is also known as the Star of Bethlehem and represents Jesus’ birth and incarnation. Also known as the Epiphany Star, it is used especially for church decoration during the Advent and Christmas seasons. How many five pointed stars can you locate in our window?
[point to them with the laser] Our window contains six five-pointed stars.
The side panels, left and right in the triptych, often provide contrasts or complete the story:
[point to left birds] ascending doves represent the dove sent out of the dark to find dry land
[point to right birds] descending doves represent the coming of the Holy Spirit, which was recorded to have lighted on Jesus at his baptism.
[point to eagle] eagle: Because it soars upward, the eagle is a symbol of the resurrection or ascension of Christ. By extension, the eagle symbolizes baptized Christians, who have symbolically died and risen with Christ.
. . . “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint”. (Isaiah 40:31)
[point] angels (two places) We have no way of knowing which accounts of biblical angels these images depict: the several Old Testament accounts of angels, the angel of the annunciation, the heralding angels of the nativity, the angels at the tomb, or the angels of the seven churches in John’s Revelation. The artist doesn’t want us to forget that God’s messengers are often disguised, hence we are not to neglect offering strangers hospitality.
[point] The chalice and host (or wafer) on the left are imposed upon wheat . . . “the bread of life”, one element of the Holy Communion.
[point] The chalice on the right is imposed upon a stream of drops of blood, mindful of the words of institution: “the cup of the new covenant, my blood poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin. Do this in remembrance of me”. And so together we have the full sacrament.
[point left 2 and right 2] Each side panel also includes an area representing a vineyard, grapevines and clusters of grapes. We think of many of the agrarian stories of Jesus: the vine and the branches, water into wine, the laborers in the vineyard . . . and, of course, grapes also denote wine, again a component of the Eucharist and a symbol of joy and celebration.
[point] The sword here transforms the symbols of military might in the scriptural admonition to put on the full armor of God . . . use spiritual weapons with which to fight evil and injustice . . . the sword, according to Ephesians 6:17 is the “Word of God”. One might also remember the prophets longing that one day swords will be turned to plowshares.
[point] Two figures, one left and one right . . . the woman and child may well be reflective of the biblical account of mothers bringing their children to see Jesus, and the disciples chastising the women. Jesus would have none of such exclusion, responding “let the little children come unto me, do NOT hinder them . . .” (representing every women – child?)
[point] Across from them we find the image of a man that has been the topic of the most discussion in our staff. I believe it represents the sower, the heads of wheat above him [point] setting the scene “a sower went out to sow . . . some seed fell on hard ground, some fell on fertile soil.” This is the parable we heard read this morning, where Jesus explains the use of parables, word pictures which are used to hide some truths . . . declaring “for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.” Others thought it was generic for “every man”. So when I was talking to the artist I asked him, “Well, he said, “I am in my eighties you know, and I’m not sure what I meant. Perhaps I was thinking of a circuit rider since it was a Methodist Church.” “Well, John, I replied, “I see the hat, but the figure is in his bare feet. A circuit rider would have had riding boots.” “Well, he replied, make it whatever you want.”
We have other John Bera windows in our chapel located on the other side of the east wall of the sanctuary. You can go through the small door at the southeast corner of the sanctuary to see colorful panels depicting:
“the Lamb of God” (Agnus Dei). In Christian symbolism, the lamb represents Jesus; standing with a banner, the lamb represents the risen Christ triumphant over death;
John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29);
The Hand of God . . . the Book of Wisdom declares ”that the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God”;
The descending dove upon a triangle, clearing the Pentecost gift of the Comforter;
The Lamp, which represents The Word of God; Escallop shell for baptism;
and the two fish depict the feeding of the multitudes.
There are many symbols of our faith NOT employed in our windows. Perhaps the most striking symbols, the ones which speak to the world around us with the loudest witness are those of you sitting in the pews. [point laser about the sanctuary BUT not in eyes] We speak without saying a word. People read us all the time. Your life is the greatest sermon any of us will ever preach, and here’s the humbling reality: it’s the sermon that most people listen to. May you speak faithfully in the days and weeks to come. May the world see what a follower of Christ has to say in what you do. It is you, my friends, who are WINDOWS on the WORD.