Sunday, March 31, 2013

Salvation for Zombies

I found this challenging and it really made me ask questions about why we belive what we do. Not questioning the fundamentals of orthodoxy as such, but more about what the Church is and why and how we go about what we do in the contemporary world. 

 It's left me with many more questions than answers but I'm ok with that.

Most of all it made me think and I'm very thankful for that.

It's long and dense and his delivery might drive you round the bend, but I think I like alot of his central thesis.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, March 30, 2013


This would have been the accompaniment...

The Easter Address that never was...

As many of you know I am a user of what some people call new media - in other words I use Twitter (@SimonGCutmore) and Facebook ( to connect with people in different ways and different places.

My favorite of the new media set has to be Twitter which is a microblog. It’s a bit like writing a journal of thoughts and happenings but really value Twitter’s challenge of saying what I want to in 140 characters or less.

I discovered a website this week that encourages you to write an autobiography in six words or less. It’s full of people both famous and ordinary trying to distill their lives down to six words about what is most important or distinguished or interesting about them.

The site has also spawned several books, which collect the best of the stories; the first was called “Not Quite What I Was Planning,” and the most recent is titled “It All Changed in an Instant.” I find it fascinating, both how popular the site is and also what a challenge it is to try to fit something about our essence into such a narrow form.

Some six-word stories are poignant: “I still make coffee for two,” writes someone recovering from a breakup. Some are clever: “Well, I thought it was funny,” is the offering of comedian Stephen Colbert.  Some are tragic: the inspiration for the project was an old tale about Ernest Hemingway, who, challenged to write a story in six words, is said to have come up with this: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

It made me think that for all the joy and fanfare of the Easter celebrations, for all the mystery of faith in God, for all the billions of words used over centuries to explain it all, Christianity itself has a 6 word autobiography: Jesus is risen from the dead.

There are thousands of words in the Bible and none of them make any sense without these 6 words.

These are the words that the breathless women carried from the empty tomb back to the other disciples. These are the words that have been passed from person to person, from community to community, every day since then -- in secret, in triumph, in darkness, in celebration.

These six words that have taken us from scattered, broken people who are lost to the largest religion in the world. It is these six words that have found countless individuals whose lives were already dead -- broken by pain and suffering, by sin and darkness -- and given them new life.

These are the words that are whispered at bedsides and shouted from rooftops and shared at dinner tables and workplaces and in neighborhoods. These are the words that have been forbidden by governments both ancient and modern, and yet somehow they have still been spoken, still been shared.  Millions of lives have been transformed by these six words beginning with Mary Magdelene at the empty tomb.

C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

This is the story of our lives, the story of the life of the world, the story of life itself. It is the story of how life is stronger than death, how God’s love for us is stronger than death. It is, in the end, the only story that there is.
And so, in Easter, we hear these six words again: Jesus is risen from the dead.

How will these words change your story? Where do you hear the call to new life -- to come out of the tomb you’ve been sealed in, the tomb of fear or the tomb of hopelessness or the tomb of dreams that have been lost or delayed?  How will you receive this news that is now handed again to you?

And how will these words change the world? What does our story still have to say to a world at war, a culture at odds, a people in pain? How will we be sure that they will hear our story of hope?

Every day we write our story again, and we say that it is no less true today than it was on the first day; it is no less miraculous today than it was on the first day -- no less shocking, no less joyful, no less important, no less life-changing and meaningful.

Jesus is risen from the dead.  Run and tell the others what you’ve heard.


Due to illness this will not be heard this year but is also my article in the parish mag

Monday, March 25, 2013

Holy Week 2013 - Mary

In the midst of the majesty of Durham cathedral, tucked away in the sanctity and silence of the Galilee chapel, next to the tomb of the historian of the English church in Durham, the Venerable Bede, stands a figure. Next to Bede, one might have thought of the need for grandeur next one of such ecclesiastical greatness, but no. Controversially stands the diminutive stature, the slight frame, the delicate features not quite grown into yet of a teenage girl. There is a gracefulness and yet awkwardness about her as she stands almost coyly next to the English saint. This is Mary - the shy, unassuming girl edging with some difficulty into womanhood whom you still see coming out of the newsagent's at 4.30pm with her school uniform untucked, who spends hours with her friends trying out the cheap make-up she bought in the bathroom mirror. That said, by Jewish standards, she will have been a woman socially, legally, and religiously.

In her story, in the last hours of Jesus’ life he is recorded as sharing dinner at Simon the Pharisee’s house.  The meal would have been in the very fashionable Greco-Roman style, the guests reclining at the table.  In the shadows of the surrounding colonnade, it was permissible for the poor to gather, waiting for the occasional morsel or the chance to ask some favour of the rich.  From the shadows she comes and silently washes his feet with tears of repentance and dries them with her hair and then anoints them with ointment.

One of the beautiful ambiguities of the gospel accounts that we have and the strength of Christian tradition and imagination is that Mary Magdelene has been also been associated with the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume,  who John here names for us here as Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus had healed Mary Magdelene - possibly of what we today might call epilepsy.  Another separate noble Christian tradition also makes Mary a tearful, repentant prostitute.  The sexuality and passion of that act of washing and anointing perhaps alludes to her profession.  She is fearless to the breech of etiquette, almost brazen, yet something has freed her.  Whoever these ‘Mary’s’ are, whether they are one and the same or not, I would like to introduce them to you.

None of these Mary’s would not have been very old by our standards - teenagers.  Donatello carved her image in wood in the fourteenth century.  She has a gaunt face, bearing a slightly distraut expression; her mouth is drawn as if something inside is tearing at her.  She looks strong and wiry, the muscles visible in her arms.  She stands with her legs apart, one knee very slightly bent.  Her arms and hands meet just below her throat, the fingers not quite touching.  It is almost, but not quite an attitude of prayer - she seems to be beseeching someone for something.  Her hair is matted and long, reaching below her knees, a kind of wild unkempt garment.  The whole impression is of one immensely and passionately alive but living on the edge of nerves, the edge of nutrition, the edge of sanity, the edge of society.

Mary is worthy of a sermon all on her own in Holy Week because, the woman we hear about later this week at the crucifixion or in the garden meeting the risen Jesus when his other followers cower, is completely different.  Something has happened, as in those places of horror and elation we encounter a woman transformed, no transfigured, healed, at peace with herself, with God, and with others.

Whoever Mary is, whichever Mary she is, Christ does not speak to her, but accepts her gift of love.  In those seconds there is an unspoken exchange of love which in an instant allows her to approach and to see with God’s eyes.  In that eternal moment she knows somehow that Jesus is not just a teacher or healer, or prophet, but all of those and more.  She knows that there is something more yet to come, something that she cannot name or identify, something that she yearns and aches for.  Whether we see her anointing in terms repentance for sin or thanksgiving for healing or raising a dead brother doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that she has seen Jesus for who he is, she has lifted the corner of the curtain and has been blinded by the glory of God.

Mary beckons this week to follow her if we dare, from the shadows of the colonnade.  She urgently wants us to experience the same yearning she feels in the presence of Christ and to allow that eternal encounter to fill us with his reconciling, healing peace.

The thing is, we will only be transfigured as she was, if we allow the story of Christ from cradle to grave and beyond to come off the page of the scriptures to breath, teach, heal and live.  All those Mary’s had an intense and passionate faith in a Jesus who raised people from the dead, who healed incurable disease, who forgave the unforgivable.

If our Jesus remains the text of God’s story then the agony of death, disease, social unacceptability, remain resignedly part of the way life is and all that these Mary’s found in Jesus stay as unobtainable ideals. 

If our Jesus is allowed to be the Word in God’s story then through the agony of the cross and the elation of the garden tomb we will find ourselves, like all those Mary’s, knowing the reconciling peace of God which if it is is his will, will prevent death, disease or the pain that life is sometimes full of, but that will always enable us to lift the corner of the curtain of life and allow us to be blinded by the glory of God.  Amen.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Being in the Crowd

The story we tell today centres around a  crowd. There is the enthusiastic crowd of people who cheer Jesus when he enters Jerusalem on the back of the donkey, and there is the mob that jeers at him on the cross. To which one would we have belonged? Possibly both.

Crowds are notoriously unstable. A group of football fans that is at one moment enjoying a match with relaxed cheerfulness can easily become a threatening mob. To be in a big group of people can feel like belonging to a community, and may be so. But you can be sucked up into a gang in which one loses one's individuality and consents to terrible deeds. Think of the Nazi rallies, sweeping people up into a hatred that one day many of them would find puzzling.

Today we begin Holy Week, and we are invited to become holy. Holy people grow into an independence of mind and heart which protect us from just becoming nameless, faceless in the crowd. In that sense this week, as we answer the call to holiness, we each are becoming a saint - someone who, by the grace of God, is becoming the person whom God created them to be.

Often we succumb to off-the-peg identities, and try to find ourselves in the role models of our society. Celebrities attract vast adulation, and thousands wish to belong to their 'community' through Twitter or Facebook. By associating with them, wearing their clothes, supporting their team, bearing their brand, we may hope to find ourselves. But we are called to be holy, to be saints and to take the risk of being ourselves, the unique friend of God that we are each called to be.

Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem announced his commitment to the daunting task ahead – and we mustn’t forget that his journey didn’t begin there on that dusty road; nor was he there by accident.

Here’s how Henri Nouwen sees it:  As he rides into Jerusalem, surrounded by people shouting ‘hosanna’, cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in his path, Jesus appears completely concentrated on something else. He doesn’t look at the excited crowd. He doesn’t wave. He sees beyond all the noise and movement to what’s ahead of him: an agonizing journey of betrayal, torture, crucifixion and death – far beyond anyone’s understanding. There is insight into the fickleness of the human heart, but also immense compassion. There is a deep awareness of the unspeakable pain to be suffered, but also a strong determination to do God’s will. Above all there is love, an endless, deep, far-reaching love born from an unbreakable intimacy with God and reaching out to all people, wherever they are, were, or will be. There is nothing that he does not fully know. There is nobody whom he does not fully love.

Jesus’ final journey up that rocky steep hill to Jerusalem didn’t begin in Jericho or Galilee, or even in Bethlehem. The journey to the cross began long, long before - “ even as the echo of the crunching of the fruit was still sounding in the Garden of Eden, Jesus was leaving for Calvary.” He is the Lamb, Revelation 13 tells us that was ‘slaughtered before the foundation of the world’ 

The crowd that cheers Jesus as he enters Jerusalem is drawn by his power. He comes as the promised King, the descendant of 'our father David.' They sing 'Hosanna', which means 'Save us'. They gather around him and escort him into the city. But the crowd that mocks him, many of whom were probably the same people, coheres against him, taunting him with his powerlessness.

The powerful attract us. We hope that by being with them, we may catch some of their glossy life and try to hide the creeping sense that we are worth nothing. The powerless can also evoke strong reactions, like a big cat attracted to a wounded animal. When celebrities fall, the media smell blood.
So as we begin Holy Week, it is worth asking how we respond to power and its loss. Do we home in on the strong people, even the bullies, shedding our convictions in the hope of a share in a bit of their strength? Do we distance ourselves from the weak and despised? Or do we dare to follow the King who 'being found in human form humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross' (Philippians 2.8)?

He gathers around himself a community on Easter Sunday, in which we find a multitude of brothers and sisters, but in which we can also dare to be ourselves, each individually caught up in God's eternal love for each of us. Amen.

Have I (shown) told you lately that I love you

Last Sundy's sermon


An elderly couple went to see their parish priest. They were in their 60s and she was feeling taken for granted.

He was a man’s man, ex-navy, not good at showing his emotions.  During one session, the priest asked him, “Do you ever tell your wife that you love her?” “Of course I do”, he said. She looked at him and said in a really sharp voice, “You never tell me you love me!” He looked away from her and looked at the priest: “Yes I do,” he said. “I told her I loved her on our wedding day in 1961.  Nothing’s changed. Once is enough. She doesn’t need telling every day!”

Personally I think it’s probably important to express our love to others a little more regularly than once every 52 years! When Mary expresses her love for Jesus - she does it in such a way that is intimate and beautiful and hints at the  extravegance of the love of God.

Jesus comes to Bethany to the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. We have met this family before. There is a warmth and depth in their relationship - Jesus weeps at the grave of Lazarus his friend before He raises him from the dead; He affirms Mary as she sits at His feet to listen and learn.

As they eat, Mary brings in some perfume and anoints Jesus’ feet with it. It’s an odd exchange, yet it is an extravagant exchange of love.  No wonder Judas gets cross - if a Denarius was a average days wage and the perfume that Mary brings was worth around 300 Denarii - that’s a years wages! Much could have been done with those resources to help and support those in need.

The perfume she brings is also utterly extrvagant - made from nard which grew in India and China which made it a luxury item. Nard was also used as a scent for incense burned in the holiest places in the Temple, but also because of it’s powerful scent, it was also used as an embalming spice.

It would have more normal to anoint Jesus’ head - and there are many references in the Bible to anointing the head of royalty with oil or perfume. Starting at the feet was what was done after death as part of the burial rites. But the extravagance continues - Mary wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair. This would have been shocking - women wore their hair tied up. Hair was let down as a wife undressed for her husband or as part of the mourning rites. Wiping the perfume away this way was a strange and sensual act but will have basically served to spread the scent around the room.

Mary doesn’t tell Jesus that she loves him - she shows him in a way that could not be misunderstood - it is gentle, passionate and deeply intimate.  By this extravagant act, Mary introduces Jesus to anyone who still doesn't know who he is. She anoints him beforehand for burial, because he will soon be the lamb slain, the crucified Messiah. She carefully and reverently cleanses his feet, because he is the Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve, who will soon perform the same service for his disciples in the Upper Room at the Last Supper.  She lovingly bathes his feet because, after the Resurrection (as Mary Magdalene discovered) the opportunity to offer physical comfort and affection to the earthly Jesus will be a thing of the past as he prepares to ascend to his Father in heaven.

By her actions, Mary says, "I would like to introduce Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the suffering, serving Son of Man, the Son of God who, for a little while, gave us the opportunity to sit at his feet. I would like to cherish him for one bright, fragrant moment, before the sewage of hatred and the violence of His trial and crucifixion washes over him and carries him away.

As we baptize Daniel and wash him with water and anoint his head with oil we are entwining his life with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As we do, we are not preparing Daniel like Christ, for his death, but for the life Jesus offers Him always and everywhere filled with extravagant intimate and eternal love.

Mary clearly demonstrates her deep and intimate love of Jesus in actions beyond words. Jesus will do the same and as we turn our faces with him toward Palm Sunday and beyond we are reminded of the unbounded limits that that love would not cross - not even death on a cross could reign it in.

As we turn with Christ to His passion, what in us demonstrates our deep and intimate love for Jesus? What in us demonstrates our love for Him beyond words? Mary’s loving actions point us forward to Jesus who’s love for us takes away the sin of the world and offers us eternal life.

May our love for Jesus not be reserved - spoken of very sparingly occasionally and ecclesiastically only in church - but may our love for Him be like Mary: demonstrated passionately and lavishly in acts of loving kindness wherever and whenever we are, living lives full of going-out-of-our-way-ness, to the economically, socially, spiritually poor as if to Jesus Himself.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Tragedy At The Tree - Luke 13:1-9

Stephen Grisales had been shopping in Edmonton for his grandmother.  The 21 years of his life were reaching their prime. He was studying architecture.  He always gave of himself, never expecting anything in return.

He was making his way to Silver street tube, when he encountered a gang of teenagers throwing conkers at people with their shells still on.  Stephen, with a keen sense of justice, went and spoke to the gang. The confrontation escalated, culminating with Stephen being stabbed in the heart and left for dead.  A senseless, random attack.  Why God? Why?

Between us we could then begin to tell a tale of tragedy which would take in disaster and disease alike. This tale is one that is told afresh daily in places where the media spotlight shine, but also in homes next to yours but unseen or unnoticed until it is too late. Why God? Why?

But senseless slaying and tragedy are nothing new - what of those Galileans that Pontius Pilate slaughtered? What of those 18 who died in Jerusalem when the tower fell? Why God? Why?

And Jesus is confronted with the finger pointing, chest-prodding, lip curling, head shaking awfulness of it...

For Jesus, there is no causal link between suffering and sin. There’s no divine reward scheme for living well, no Godly loyalty points. Conversely there’s no, ‘you get what you deserve.’ Now He is swimming against the cultural and religious stream here, but also the moral one too.  When tragedy strikes, we want an explanation. Investigations happen. Post mortem’s take place. Reports are written. Lessons are learned.

Those ‘Why God? Why?’ questions go right to the heart of our humanity. They always have and always will.  In those situations we are humbled by our finitude and crushed by our mortality - despite our achievements. We look for someone to blame - and in those moments it is so easy to solve life’s equation like this: God is love. If He is love He just could not allow such heart-wrenching awfulness. There is suffering.  Therefore there is no loving God. QED.

Jesus doesn’t comment on the awfulness of death and tragedy here. He will save ultimate comment on that in action in Jerusalem when He confronts both head on.  Here Jesus reminds us of what we already all know deep down - life is unfair. It is full of random events in which people are cut down in their prime through no fault of their own. But bearing that in mind, that we could be snuffed out at any moment, shouldn’t we take any opportunity we can to discover how to live the time we have right?

The story of the fig tree takes this further.  I am no gardener as I’ve said before, but even I understand this parable. If you’ve invested in a fruit tree, you want it to fruit. Simple! If it does not produce - it is worthless. We had an apple tree in the garden just like that - it was taking up space, it produced next to no fruit - we cut it down.

What is striking about this story is the patience of the caretaker of the vineyard. Give the tree another chance. Give it all the opportunity it needs - tend it, fertilize it, water it, care for it and wait to see. If it still doesn’t produce then yes, let’s get the axe.  If it does not fruit - it is failing to be a fruit tree.

That patient offer to be tended and cared for, to see our lives reorientated through repentance, is available to all people whether we feel we deserve it or not, says God through the prophet Isaiah - whether we are rich or poor, young or old. This is not God offering a spiritual benefit to the working single mother because somehow she’s more deserving. Come and receive the mercy, the love, the forgiveness, the grace of God which He gives freely to all. It costs us nothing, and costs Him everything and through it, rediscover what people are meant to be.

Where is the loving God in the face of tragedy?  He is patiently waiting. He will intervene in the randomness of life... but ultimately in judgement. Now this is where we can get jittery again... How can a loving God judge us?  That’s not fair!  It’s simple though - have we bourn fruit?  A fruit tree that fails to fruit isn some senses is not a fruit tree.  Similarly if we have not been loving, forgiving, giving - and not fed others with that fruit, then in some senses we are not people.  It is on those standards Jesus indicates that we will be judged.

Jesus calls His hearers to repent.  To literally see our lives turned round and oriented towards and shaped by the love of God. To allow our lives to tended and nurtured by His love. To be given another chance...  This is not a vindictive God using tragedy to prod us into faith, but a loving Father, waiting to see how we will use the time we have - whether we will love as we meant to, as ultimately we would want to. Because He loves us...

Where is the loving God in the face of the tragic randomness of life? He is not absent but at the tree - as He was in Eden and again on Golgotha and is again in the New Jerusalem. He is always waiting... Waiting to see what we will grow, what fruit we will bear and how it feeds others... Amen.