Along the Northeast coast of England, was the kingdom of Bernicia. It changed hands several times between Christian and pagan kings, but in 633 it was conquered by Oswald who was a devout Christian. Having the desire to spread the Good News throughout his kingdom, Oswald sent to Iona for a Bishop. The abbot of Iona agreed and sent to Oswald a bishop named Corman. He failed and returned to Iona, declaring, the “English have no manners; they behave like savages.”
So concerned was the abbot that he convened a synod of the monks. After hearing Corman’s report, one of the monks said to him, “I think, brother, that you may have been to severe for such ignorant listeners, and that you should have led them on more gently, giving them first the milk of religion before its meat.” Agreeing with him, the abbot sent that priest, Aidan, back to Bernicia where he engaged in the work of God among these savage English and was quite successful. His story was recorded for us by the Venerable Bede.
Bede wrote: “He neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately to the poor whatever was given him by kings or rich men of the world. He traversed both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity. Wherever on his way he saw any, either rich or poor, he invited them, if pagans, to embrace the mystery of the faith; or if they were believers, he sought to strengthen them in their faith and stir them up by words and actions to alms and good works.”
One story tells how the king, seeing Aidan traveling everywhere on foot, gave him a royal horse to ride; however, Aidan did not keep it long. Apparently he came across a beggar and, without hesitation, dismounted and gave the beggar the horse. Upon hearing this, the king was angry and said that had he known that Aidan was simply going to give the horse away, he would have given him a less expensive one, but Aidan, full of wisdom replied, “Do you mean to say, sire, that yonder son of a mare is dearer to you than the son of God to whom I gave the horse?” Recognizing the truth, the king repented, saying, “I will never speak of this matter again, nor find fault with you for giving as much of our wealth as you wish to such sons of God.”
Just off the coast and within eyesight of the castle was the island of Lindisfarne. The king gave the island to Aidan who established a monastery, which became a great center of learning and writing. These may be fighting words for some, but of Aidan, one English scholar said, “It was not Augustine, but Aidan, who was the true apostle to England.”
Today, in our Psalm (85), the Psalmist wrote,
I will listen to what the LORD God is saying,
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
There are many ways to convey the Gospel message so that those who do not yet know the Lord will listen and hear, not only with their ears but with their hearts. Fortunately, Aidan was able to recognize that those savage English were not going to hear it by being beaten over the head with the message, but they would hear it through mercy, truth, righteousness, and peace. I pray that we will continue to be a church that reaches out to the world around us with the message of God that contains those same elements.
We owe all those saints that have gone before us, but we are particularly indebted to Aidan, because it is partly do to his work and methods that you and I are here today, worshiping in an Episcopal / Anglican church. I just give thanks that you all are not still those savage ill-mannered English or Oklahomans!