Today we celebrate and commemorate the life of Ninian, Bishop and missionary to Scotland. Being of mild Scottish ancestry–about 5% or so–it was interesting to learn about this little-known saint whom we commemorate today. It was even more interesting to think about how the gospel passage from Matthew that is assigned to his saint’s day can be lived out in our lives.
The only things we really know about Ninian that seem to be agreed upon by early church historians is that Ninian was Scottish, born around 360 A.D.; he received his formal training for being a missionary in Rome; he was one of the first to preach the gospel to the Picts living in what is now modern day Scotland; and that he built a church and covered it with white plaster to make it the outside walls the color white.
There are many other stories about Ninian that seem to have cropped up here and there as will happen in an oral tradition, mostly having to do with him converting thousands of pagans at a time. But the gospel reading assigned to his feast day is fitting for a missionary who spent his life in the service of the church and spread the good news of the gospel to ears that had not heard it prior. The gospel passage is Matthew 28:16-20
“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I wonder how it is that we go into the world and, as Christ commands his disciples, and so commands us, “make disciples of all nations?” Episcopalians have a difficult time asking a neighbor or close work associate to come to church with us much less make them disciples. Forget doing that for whole nations….and, baptizing them is, well, rather pretty inconceivable. But still, I wonder how it is that we live into this commissioning by Jesus? What is it that we do that helps to spread the Kingdom of God here on earth? How is it that we are actively going into the world and actively teaching the good news of Jesus Christ?
To be sure not everyone receives the gift and talents to enable us to be missionaries as Ninian was in Scotland. But everyone can share their positive experiences of the programs, events, liturgy, worship, education–the list goes on and on–that happen here at St. Alban’s with someone outside our congregation. And when we do that, when we mention the experiences that we have had here at St. Alban’s to someone outside our congregation we are helping to live into that spreading of the gospel, that commission that Jesus gives to his disciples…that he gives to us today.
The best part about the gospel passage that is connected with the feast of Ninian, I think, is the very last line, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus is with us when we share the good news about this place. Jesus is with us and we are not doing this work alone.
As we celebrate the feast of Ninian, bishop and missionary to Scotland, today, let us give pause and think of the wonderful experiences that St. Alban’s Parish gives to us–through the relationships we have in this place; through the programs with which we participate; through the education we receive; through the community we build and which sustains us. Take those thoughts and share them with someone. Invite them to come and be a part of the joyful and enriching experiences that are a part of the fabric of this place, of your faith.
Thanks for the correlation of the life of this “Holy Man” to us at St Alban’s as we prepare to welcome our new Rector and honor our Interim Rector.