On 31st August we remember Aidan of Lindisfarne. Aidan’s life is a reflection of the principle in the Gospel reading (Mk 7:15) when Jesus said that that uncleanness (and cleanness) comes from within, not from without.
At that time — of both Jesus and Aidan — external features like income groups, family groups, ethnic groups, genders, slave and free, and religious groups were all seen as affecting human value. In Mk 7, Jesus’ fundamental emphasis on the value of every individual within themselves was not widespread at that time. It is an important feature of belief in Christ and following him.
God’s purposes for us are far more than cleanliness, wealth, beauty, youthfulness, or any external thing that is admired by others. It is only when we are open to and engage with God’s Holy Spirit within us, irrespective of our outward circumstances, only then that we can know God’s love and express it to those around us.
Even the most accomplished or cleanest living individual is not holy. For if any of us was holy, we would obey the Ten Commandments – but none of us do. We may point the finger at someone like Bernie Madoff as a very bad man – but three fingers point back at us. Is there any person who can stand up and say that they never in their lives desired what another person had?
If, then, we are all sinners, how can we find a feeling of cleanness and holiness, personally in our own lives or in the lives of others?
In the first place, of course, we can be grateful for the forgiveness and empowerment of God which comes to us as we receive the gift of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the daily indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
To gratefully and fully embrace God’s absolution following a heartfelt confession is a particularly high moment during the service of Eucharist. God is “near to us” (Deut 4:6-7), remembers our sins no more, and sees us as completely clean. That is a wonderful thing. In that moment we can embrace the reality and the feeling of being both clean and alive.
Beyond that, by their lives and actions, there are people we think of as holy. For, when we look around at others, all of whom are sinners, nevertheless, there are still those that we would call holy. Those we think of as holy are surely those individuals who display an extraordinary degree of love for others.
- On the Christian calendar in the week ahead we have Aidan of Lindisfarne and Cuthbert; Oakerhater; and the Martyrs of New Guinea. Aidan was renowned for spreading the Gospel in England, for many early conversions there, and for his extreme generosity, giving to others everything he had or received in the name of Christ. He died in 651 AD/CE. I know persons like that, and maybe you do too. What was inside them was God’s love, which reached others.
- In literature, there is the drunk, Charles Darnay in Charles Dickens’ book titled “A Tale of Two Cities.” At the end of that book, as he saved the life of another person, Darnay said “It is a far far better thing I do than I have ever done.” What was inside him was God’s love, which reached others.
- Here in our own time and place, we can think of the staff and volunteers of Meals on Wheels who lovingly care for those in need (James 1:27). What is inside them is God’s love, which reaches others.
Do you find it hard to see or think of yourself as a inwardly clean or holy person? If so, as you move through the week ahead, try to engage with God’s spirit within you; express God’s love to others, and take care of someone else. You will feel God’s presence in your action, and God’s holiness in your life, for as Jesus said, “More blessed is the one who gives than the one who receives”.
In the name of Christ, Amen