Learning from Iona
9th June 2022
Jesus taught his disciples, saying:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”Matthew 5.13-16
Today the church remembers St. Columba. Columba was a monk and a Christian leader in Ireland in the 6th century AD. The story is told that he was forced to flee because of an argument over a book which became a fight in which people were killed. So Columba set out into exile with 12 monks and eventually came to the tiny island of Iona, of the coast of the Island of Mull. There they built a monastery – really just a group of huts – and lived a life of prayer and study.
Iona is only four miles long and one mile wide, but from the time of Columba it became a place where the light of the gospel shone out far and wide – into Ireland and Scotland, and down into England. King Oswald, the first Christian king of Northumbria, found his faith while exiled on Iona, and he then sent for another monk from Iona – Aidan – to create the monastery on Lindisfarne – Holy Island – as a spiritual centre for his kingdom.
I’m lucky enough to have been to Iona several times, and I’m going again this year. It’s often described as a thin place – a place where the presence of God and the movement of the Spirit can be especially felt. It’s also the place where in the 1930s another spiritual leader came to do something new. George Macleod had been a minister in the Govan – a very poor part of Glasgow. He realised that the church was out of touch with the people there. He wanted to make a new connection between the church and the life of ordinary people.
As part of this he took groups of ministers, workmen and builders to Iona to rebuild the ruins of the medieval abbey there – and to learn from each other. Now the Iona community is a worldwide movement calling churches and Christians to be engaged with the realities of the world, especially in the most challenging places.
As well as talking about light, Jesus talks about salt in our reading. We have a bread machine and this morning it produced a lovely loaf of bread for our breakfast. Without salt it would have tasted very different. From the tiny island of Iona, Columba and his monks made a huge difference to the people of the northern and western kingdoms by introducing them to the Christian faith, and George Macleod and those with him has brought renewal to the church more recently.
For both groups it was important to keep their faith salty. To keep it alive through their prayer – and to keep it connected to the realities of life. The Celtic tradition is always bringing together the stuff of everyday life with the life of the Spirit – in thanksgiving, blessing and prayer.
We are also called to be salt and light. Here in the university we may feel that we are fairly small in number as people of faith, but with God’s help we can make a real difference to this place – and to the other places and communities that we’re part of – through our conversations and relationships – through the way that we behave and the way we value others – through the spaces we create and the love that we show – just through the people we are.
If we are going to do this, we too need to keep our faith salty – to hold together the reality of life, and the life of the spirit. We will each find our own way to do this – maybe being inspired by the Celtic tradition, like David Adam, who was Vicar of Lindisfarne and got together groups to write new Celtic prayers connecting life and faith. Here is one which they wrote – it’s good to leave a pause between each part…
I give myself to you, Lord, I give myself to you.
I give my hopes to you, Lord, I give my hopes to you.
I give my love to you, Lord, I give my love to you.
I give my fears to you, Lord, I give my fears to you.
Let your love set me free, Lord, let your love set me free.
Give yourself to me, Lord, give yourself to me.
Let me abide in you, Lord, let me abide in you,
as you abide in me, Lord, as you abide in me.