Sermon: Pentecost 12, 27 August 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Aidans’s

St Aidan- Romans 12:1-8

-The apostle Paul opens ch12 of his letter to the Roman Christians with the exhortation;

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1

-Both of our parish’s patron saints fulfilled this exhortation.

-St Alban literally and violently as he became the first English martyr,

-And St Aidan through a life of devotion, teaching and witness to our Lord Jesus Christ.

-Once again I’ve turned to the Venerable Bede and his Ecclesiastical History of the English people,

-With a little assistance from Professor Google!!!

 

-Not much is known of the early life of St Aidan,

-But he comes to prominence,

-Through the desire of the newly appointed king of Northumbria, Oswald,

-Who vowed to bring Christianity back to his people.

-Oswald called upon his connections within Iona’s monastic community to send missionaries for this task.

-The first was a bishop called Corman,

-Who Bede describes as a;

“man of more harsh disposition,312 who, after preaching for some time to the English and meeting with no success, not being gladly heard by the people, returned home, and in an assembly of the elders reported, that he had not been able to do any good by his teaching to the nation to whom he had been sent, because they were intractable men, and of a stubborn and barbarous disposition.” ChV,p146

-A council was called in the monastery to determine what was to be done.

-During those debates Aidan spoke up saying;

“Methinks, brother, that you were more severe to your unlearned hearers than you ought to have been, and did not at first, conformably to the Apostolic rule, give them the milk of more easy doctrine, till, being by degrees nourished with the Word of God, they should be capable of receiving that which is more perfect and of performing the higher precepts of God.” ChVp146

-In a classic case of ‘he who has the vision has the job’,

-Or maybe more accurately,

-‘Yeah, well if you can do better, why don’t you?’

-The council pondered Aidan’s words,

-And decided;

“He was worthy to be made a bishop, and that he was the man who ought to be sent to instruct the unbelieving and unlearned; since he was found to be endued preeminently with the grace of discretion, which is the mother of the virtues.” ChV,p146

-In 635 Aidan arrived in Northumbria and was given the island of Lindisfarne by the king.

 

-Unlike Corman,

-Aidan had a very different method of evangelism,

-Which basically involved getting out and mixing with the locals.

-Bede described it like this;

“He was wont to traverse both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity; to the end that, as he went, he might turn aside to any whomsoever he saw, whether rich or poor, and call upon them, if infidels, to receive the mystery of the faith, or, if they were believers, strengthen them in the faith, and stir them up by words and actions to giving of alms and the performance of good works.” ChV

-Aidan clearly took seriously the apostle Paul’s injunction;

“But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” Romans 10:14-15

-St Aidan had the beautiful feet bringing the good news of Jesus,

-That Isaiah looked forward to.

 

-There’s a misconception within our society that a saint is some form of spiritual superhero.

-It’s probably fuelled whenever the Roman Catholic Church sets in train the process of canonisation,

-With its requirement of the miraculous.

-But the word saint just means a holy one.

-And while even that might appear to back the superhero status,

-Holy means nothing more than set apart for a special purpose.

-So when Paul writes;

“To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 1:1

-He’s referring to the Christians’ status,

-There’s nothing spectacular about them other than their faithfulness to Jesus,

-A faithfulness that every Christian is called to.

-Listen again to how Paul says we should respond to the mercy we’ve been extended by God;

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1

-That encapsulates the idea of setting something apart for a purpose,

-The purpose of worship, literally serving God.

 

-Each Sunday since Pentecost we’ve been hearing from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

-Over those 10 weeks we’ve heard how Paul has explained how we get right with God.

-Of course he started with why it is that we’re not right with God.

-Because of our sins,

-We’re estranged and alienated from God,

-We stand condemned and under the judgement of God.

-But then came the good news;

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans5:6

-And just so we get the point he repeats at the end of ch6;

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

 

-Now that we have this life,

-How should we live?

-The starting point is by offering our whole being over to God.

-Paul has said that while we live in this world we’re going to struggle with our old nature.

-The old self will keep popping back up again.

-Do you find that to be true?

-You do what you know you shouldn’t do,

-And you don’t do what you know you should?

-But unlike the time before we called on the name of Jesus and were saved,

-When we just followed wherever the desires of our bodies and heart led us,

-Through Christ we have the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us,

-Pointing us away from sin,

-Strengthening us in the face of temptation,

-So that we can offer ourselves up to God.

 

-But Paul knows this is not some magical or mystical conversion.

-You actually have to work at it.

-Now let me stress this point,

-We’re put right with God, justified,

-Entirely by God’s freely given grace.

-There’s nothing we can do to save ourselves.

-But we’re sanctified,

-Being made holy or set apart for God,

-By our choices and actions.

-If you want to be the person God created you to be,

-You need to work at it.

-And listen to where Paul says that starts, v2;

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

-It starts with your mind.

 

-If there ever was a message for 21st century Christians this is it.

-The world we live in wants to squeeze us into its mould,

-It wants the follower of Jesus to conform to its standards.

-Whatever the contemporary issue or debate,

-Our culture demands that everyone agree wholeheartedly with the precept that individualism trumps community,

-The rights of the individual are more important than the group,

-That damage is done if someone is denied unfettered personal autonomy.

-But rather than conform to the self-centred, materialistic, consumerist mind of the world,

-Our lives are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

-Why is that renewing important?

-So that we can discern what is good, acceptable and perfect,

-What Paul calls the will of God.

 

-One of the Seasonal Variations in the preface to the Eucharist in the Prayer Book,

-For celebrating saint’s days contains this line;

“And now we give you thanks because you have called us into the fellowship of ‘N’ and all your saints, and set before us the example of their witness and the fruit of their lives.” APBA p159

-Now listen to this summation of the character of St Aidan by Bede;

“Among other lessons in holy living, Aidan left the clergy a most salutary example of abstinence and continence; it was the highest commendation of his doctrine with all men, that he taught nothing that he did not practise in his life among his brethren; for he neither sought nor loved anything of this world,” ChV p145

-He sought nor loved anything of this world.

-He didn’t conform to the world.

-He lived a life transformed by the renewing of his mind,

-A mind transformed by reading and obeying God’s word,

-And teaching others to do the very same thing.

-In an age where even some followers of Jesus deny the authority of the Scriptures if it challenges their own autonomy,

-St Aidan sets before us a challenging example of witness and fruitfulness,

-To living the faith and passing it on to others.

-Here’s another assessment of Aidan from the Venerable Bede;

“His course of life was so different from the slothfulness of our times, that all those who bore him company, whether they were tonsured or laymen, had to study either reading the Scriptures, or learning psalms. This was the daily employment of himself and all that were with him,” chV p145

 

-The monks of Iona chose Aidan for his missionary task,

-Because of his character and the spiritual gifts that they discerned he had.

-Paul reminds his readers that we’re all endowed by God with different spiritual gifts.

-Just like the human body,

-The body of Christ is made up of different parts,

-But all of those parts work together for the purposes of God.

-Just listen to some of these gifts,

-And more importantly,

-How they’re to be used;

“We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” Romans 12:6-8

-Paul is saying that the real test of a spiritual gift is them being expressed as they ought in serving.

-These gifts can be seen,

-In the their unselfish use by the person endowed with them.

-Just look at those last three gifts to get a clear picture of what that will mean,

-Do you have the gift of giving?

-Then that’ll be seen in generosity.

-Do you have a gift of leading?

-Then that’ll be seen in diligent leadership.

-Do you have the gift of compassion?

-Then that will be expressed in cheerfulness.

-Don’t claim to have compassion for humanity if you whinge and moan about them!

 

-St Alban literally presented his body as a living sacrifice.

-And his faithful witness to Christ resulted in his death.

-St Aidan also presented his body as a living sacrifice,

-As he died to self,

-A challenging concept to our materialistic, individualistic culture that worships the self.

-As followers of Jesus we’re called to that same commitment,

-To break free from conformity to our world.

-God calls us not just to a change of heart,

-But a change of mind.

-Just as we’ve been given a new heart by Jesus’ death and resurrection,

-So through the power of the Holy Spirit,

-We are given a new and renewing mind.

-And as we follow God’s Word and Spirit we will be transformed to his glory.