Walking in the footsteps of Cuthbert

Peached at All Saints’ Cuddesdon Benefice Service on 5th July by Rev’d Dr Emma Pennington.

Readings: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13

One of the programmes I enjoy watching on television is called ‘Walking through history’.  It stars Tony Robinson who follows various routes through the countryside that reflect the history of that area at a certain time.  In one of the programmes he follows the Cuthbert Way and so walks in the footsteps of St Cuthbert, the monk and hermit who was a central figure in converting the north of England to Christianity in the seventh century.  The walk begins at Melrose in the Scottish Borders, where St. Cuthbert started his religious life in 650AD, and ends at Holy Island off the Northumberland Coast, his eventual resting place and his original pilgrimage shrine.  Along the way Tony Robinson tells the story of Cuthbert’s life as chronicled by Bede and it soon becomes clear that the route marked different places in which Cuthbert and his companions converted the local people.  The figure of Cuthbert which came across was that he was first and foremost an itinerant preacher who went around Northumberland spreading the gospel message and baptizing large numbers of people.


It is such great figures as Cuthbert and Oswold, Paul and Barnabas, Augustine and Patrick who we invariable associate with our gospel reading today.  Amazing, charismatic figures that do, like the twelve, follow Jesus’ command to go out into a barbarian and pagan world to preach the good news of God’s love.  Figures from long ago when the world was different and no one had heard the name of Jesus.  We, on the other hand, live in a different age where churches to Christ are found in every village and around every street corner, where the picturesque medieval church is an emblem of everything that is English and good and is still the place to which many flock to mark the most significant feasts of the year and moments of life.  Where acts of faith and prayer are the unspoken bedrock of our communities, which makes them the special places they are.  And yet, at the same time, to be a Christian today has been described as one of the most counter cultural acts you can do.  To say I go to church, or I have a faith increasingly takes an act of courage as these are less and less the norm.


In such a world how does our gospel reading help us today?  Firstly, it is unequivocal in that discipleship is not just for the Christian heavyweights of the past, nor is it only for those being ordained this weekend but all of us who love the Lord are a messenger and conduit of that love to those around us.  The love and faith that will cast out fear and bring hope to the worst of situations, that kindness and gentleness which enables healing, that yearning for justice that will ensure good prevails.  We are all disciples, just like those original twelve and the seventy seven and Cuthbert and Augustine and all the followers of Christ who have come before and since.  Each of us is uniquely called into a special relationship with God which cannot but define and shape our lives.  The Catholic composer James Macmillian openly declares and celebrates the fact that all his music comes solely from his faith in Christ.  He cares not for what the critics may say or how he can be ridiculed for this because basically his faith is more important to him than what anyone can be said about him.


So secondly, like James Macmillian and those first disciples, we are encouraged not to be afraid of what people may say, but to be courageous and declare that our faith is important to us.  Jesus does not require us to take a course in theology to be able to speak his message of good news but that we are who we are and when the opportunity comes to tell those around us that we do go to church and it matters to us, that God matters, we seize it with both hands and take it as a special blessing which God has given us.  But we need not do this alone, Jesus makes sure that the disciples have friends and companions on their journey and so do we.  Every Sunday we come together in our separate churches to be together, to worship and renew our faith and to build up our communities of love.  But today when we all gather as three churches it is so important because now we have the opportunity to encourage one another, to celebrate the fetes and open gardens, when we all have the same worries with fabric and aging congregations and finance to remind each other of the good news that nothing is impossible with Christ.  He is faithful to the faithful.


Finally, our gospel reminds us to trust in God.  In forbidding that they take any purse or bag or sandals Jesus removes any form of self-reliance from the disciples.  They must rely on those who welcome them and listen to their words for their food and shelter.  And if they receive no welcome or are rejected then they are simply to move on, shaking the dust from their feet.  But of course they must firstly, rely on Jesus’ words that even without bag or purse or sandals, they will be given all they need to live let alone to do his work.  In this muddling age of change and seeming apathy to the Christian faith, let us, in our poverty continue to live and speak the gospel of God’s love in any and every way possible to us, trusting that Christ goes before and will be found in the places and people where we never thought of even looking.  Amen.