Friends of the Church in India Day Service – 5 Oct 2019
Theme of the day: Christian relationships with other faiths
Sermon by The Venerable Alastair Cutting, Archdeacon of Lewisham & Greenwich
Acts 17:16-34; John 14:15-21;
Beauty for Brokenness: Graham Kendrick
All of my earliest childhood memories are Indian.
My parents had been doing their missionary training at one of the Selly Oak colleges in Birmingham when I was born, and the three of us arrive together in India when I was aged about 18 months old.
We lived most of the next 12 years in a small rural town called Jammalamadugu, in the Cuddapah district of Andhra Pradesh, in the Rayalaseema Diocese of the CSI.
A few years later, my sister was born in India, in the CMC hospital in Vellore, even sharing the initial of her name CMC with the hospital she was born in.
If you wanted to understand some of our Indian heritage as a family, you might share the confusion that the Registrar of Births had when my father went to register my sister Catriona’s birth.
“So, your daughter was born in India, so her nationality is Indian!”
“Well, no, said my father, she has the same nationality as me, and I am British.”
“Ok, said the birth Registrar, so where were you born?”
My father explained that as his parents had previously also been medical missionaries in India, in Chik Ballapur, near Bangalore, so he William Cutting had in fact been born in India.
“Then she is Indian! replied the Registrar!”
Well, no, explained my father patiently, he was British because his father was British.
“So where was your father born?”
Well, said my father, his father Cecil Cutting’s parents had actually also been missionaries in India, as teachers, since 1893, so his father had also been born in Ranikhet, then later lived in Benares/Varanasi in India.
“So she IS Indian!” exclaimed the Registrar, triumphantly!
There was the a scurry to provide birth certificates and marriage certificates for my father William Cutting, my grand father Cecil Cutting, and my great-grandfather also William Cutting, before my sister could have her nationality confirmed as British. Which was complicated, as there were no Birth certificates in the 1850s when my great grandfather William was born…
A Baptism Certificate fortunately sufficed.
I have often said that Telugu was my second language.
That may be incorrect however – having had a local aya as I was growing up, and spending time with her, there is a good chance that actually Telugu was my first language!
However, a furlough in the UK, followed by 5 years boarding school in Ooty, in what was the Lushington school, now Hebron school, in Tamil Nadu
– Telugu untha mutchipoi undi! – I have forgotten everything.
So I, my father, and my grandfather – and all our siblings – all had our childhoods moulded by two cultures. What some of the anthropologists these days call Third Culture Kids – TCKs or 3CKs – racially coming from one culture – in my case white British, growing up in another, in my case rural south India, surrounded by many other faiths, and therefore living out a median, third culture, an amalgam and mixture of the two – at least two – into a third culture, which as a side effect means that one never fully feels at home in either original dominant culture.
So yes, for most of my childhood, I was the minority ethnic, the one instantly recognisable from a great distance in public.
I remember once as a teenager walking through a town in Andhra. Two boys were walking towards me, and seeing my red hair – I had hair in those days that was much redder than the hair I don’t have now – and my face was no doubt a bit burned red from the hot sun of the day too.
Yerradi – said one of the boys as he approached me – thinking I wouldn’t understand –
Yerr-rrr-rradi : ‘very red’.
Nulladi – I responded, in Telugu – to his astonishment : ‘very dark’.
The double take he made as he passed, still amuses me.
This white kid with red hair, me, understanding and speaking Telugu.
But feeling the odd one out is something most people in this room are familiar with.
Either those white missionaries who spent years working in India;
or those of South-Asian-heritage nationals here in the UK.
And we are all, here, in some way or another, 3CKs, TCKs.
Here, in Britain, we can be British most of the time,
but then have a sudden mad craving for upma, or idli, or masala dosai – or wearing a dhoti in the summer; or we can be walking down a street in India and thinking
why isn’t there a double decker bus, or a pint of milk, or a piece of shortbread, when we need one?
You see, we all do it!
(Excuse me while I just go and milk the buffalo for some fresh milk, before I can serve you some Nilgiri tea…!)
And in a way, that’s no surprise for Christians.
We are followers of a classic 3CK.
That’s what Jesus is. A 3CK.
From one heavenly culture,
born into another earthly culture,
and living out a fully human and fully divine existence throughout his ministry.
Neither fully one culture, nor the other.
Is Jesus’s resurrection body human?
Yes it is.
But it’s got elements of the divine now; it’s a body that can appear through locked doors.
It’s more than that – we are not just following Jesus, who is a 3CK.
As Christians we are living out a 3CK existence ourselves too.
We are heaven’s children, still living on earth.
As the African American Spiritual said:
# This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through. #
This mixed-up background we all have.
It’s really difficult – we never fit.
This mixed-up background we all have.
It’s really fabulous – we’ve experienced such diverse richness.
A key them in Bishop Lesslie Newbigin’s book Foolishness to the Greeks is:
seeing our own culture through Christians from other cultures;
(Lesslie Newbigin’s wife Helen was at university with my grandmother.
As a child I remember staying with them in Madras when Lesslie was bishop there.)
But this: seeing our own culture through Christians from other cultures;
We get that so easily.
That is what Paul saw in market place of the areopagus in Athens;
Such rich diversity, so many people of faith – different faiths, known faiths – even unknown faiths, in case they missed any out.
Let me tell you the touchstone, St Paul says, let me give you the key.
Let me tell you of the one who fully understands your culture;
better than even your crazy siblings who share your mixed-up heritage with you, do!
Let me introduce you to Jesus.
It is Jesus who binds us together,
it is Jesus who makes us all family,
it is Jesus we each find to be our saviour,
making us to be fully children of our Heavenly father.
Sisters and Brothers in Christ – that is what we are.
We are not orphaned, abandoned, Jesus reminds us in our Gospel reading.
I am coming to you.
you will see me;
because I live, you also will live.
On that day you will know that I am in my Father,
and you in me, and I in you.
Not all my childhood in India was idyllic, I admit.
There were times, particularly at boarding school, that left me troubled.
Not feeling orphaned exactly, but lonely, certainly.
Some of my school friends were rather broken by the boarding school, and their 3CK experience.
It has undoubtedly left some rather crushed.
It didn’t have that effect on me, but, in my 20s and 30s, it suddenly dawned on me why I found packing a suitcase so hard.
It created a visceral, physical reaction in me at times.
Presumably a memory of those times when packing a suitcase and going to school meant 3 months away from my family. Even as an adult later, packing to go on a happy holiday, sometimes those reactions used to surface.
Not all of my friends from school found it easy – or even picked up the faith that had taken our parents to India. Some, like youngsters in in any church family today, turned away from faith.
But many found faith, found not their parents faith, but found their own faith.
The faith – as the Archdeacon often reads out in Church of England licensing services – “the faith proclaimed afresh in each generation.”
We found that faith for ourselves.
So here’s a small photo.
Here is Andrew, Virgil, and Pip, and me.
In a photo taken by the Lushington school photo club, and processed in the school darkroom in Ooty.
One of us 4 close buddies has since died – that’s Virgil, son of American missionaries, died in the States over 25 years ago.
Pip is the son of Scottish missionaries working in Bombay, and still now an active Christian and poet and scientist, working for a fossil fuel company finding ways to capture carbon, and make fuel sustainable.
And there’s Andrew, the New Zealander, son of Salvation Army parents, who became a Salvation Army officer himself, serving across many parts of NZ too.
And me – also working for the Church in “that mission-field now colonised by many missionaries from overseas coming here to Britain now” – working in the church in Britain where I work as an archdeacon in the Church of England here in London, in the Diocese of Southwark.
Pip, and Andrew and I are still in touch, visited and seen each other over the years.
Still connected by India.
Still carrying the faith.
Another Hebron school alumnus, Liz Hull, Liz Marsh as she then was at school, is being ordained priest in Rushen Parish Church on the Isle of Man this very afternoon.
Sharing the faith of her missionary parents, bringing her life experience to a new mission field where so many still need to find Jesus.
So, let us not be afraid to peach the Gospel as Paul did:
Let us speak to the “Men of Athens” and “Women of Athens” in our communities, in the market place.
There are truly ways that we can part of God’s bring
# Beauty for Brokenness
# Hope for despair. *
And, let us not be afraid to peach the Gospel as our forebears did
in the Ranikhet-s and Varanasi-s, the Chik Ballapur-s and the Jammalamadugu-s.
In the London-s and Birmingham-s and the Leicester-s and Cambridge-s
and the villages and suburbs we all come from.
Who are those best equipped to bring the good news,
the Gospel of Christ, to a multicultural world?
Well, 3CKs are!
* Beauty for Brokenness – Graham Kendrick © 1993 Make Way Music
Audio of the sermon, text of the readings, and hymn lyrics:
Acts 17:16-34 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the market-place[a] every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.’ (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19 So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.’ 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.
22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.
23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor[b] he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God[c] and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,
“For we too are his offspring.”
29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’
32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ 33 At that point Paul left them. 34 But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Acts 17:17 Or civic centre; Gk agora
Acts 17:26 Gk From one; other ancient authorities read From one blood
Acts 17:27 Other ancient authorities read the Lord
John 14:15-21 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
15 ‘If you love me, you will keep[a] my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,[b] to be with you for ever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in[c] you.
18 ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’
John 14:15 Other ancient authorities read me, keep
John 14:16 Or Helper
John 14:17 Or among
Beauty for brokenness,
Hope for despair,
Lord, in your suff’ring world,
This is our prayer.
Bread for the children,
Justice, joy, peace,
Sunrise to sunset
Your kingdom increase!
Shelter for fragile lives,
Cures for their ills,
Work for the craftsman,
Trade for their skills.
Land for the dispossessed,
Rights for the weak,
Voices to plead the cause
Of those who can’t speak.
God of the poor,
Friend of the weak,
Give us compassion we pray.
Melt our cold hearts,
Let tears fall like rain.
Come, change our love
From a spark to a flame.
Refuge from cruel wars,
Havens from fear;
Cities for sanctuary,
Freedoms to share.
Peace to the killing-fields,
Scorched earth to green;
Christ for the bitterness,
His cross for the pain.
Rest for the ravaged earth,
Oceans and streams,
Plundered and poisoned,
Our future, our dreams.
Lord, end our madness,
Make us content with
The things that we need.
God of the poor…
Lighten our darkness,
Breathe on this flame
Until your justice
Burns brightly again.
Until the nations
Learn of your ways,
Seek your salvation,
And bring you their praise!
God of the poor…
Graham Kendrick © 1993 Make Way Music