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Demonstrating Love
(A Lent Reflection)

Cuthbert cross

Demonstrating Love

(Originally preached on the Third Sunday of Lent 2009)

On this Sunday (closest to the Feast of St Cuthbert) we commemorated the saint's life, and - on this occasion - also marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of the St Cuthbert Co-operative Society which had been founded within the Parish of St Cuthbert's, from which it took its name. 

Read : St John 3: 14-21 

"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" 

On the stonework of the former St Cuthbert's Co-operative building in Fountainbridge is the inscription "St Cuthbert's co-operative association limited, instituted 1859". And then on a separate panel are the words "Hae God, Hae a'". Have God, have everything. It is a reminder of a great truth readily affirmed by people of faith, that to have God is indeed to have everything.  

This inscription is also an indication of the strong Christian motivation of the founders of the St Cuthbert's Co-operative Society. Perhaps that is part of the reason that they may have chosen their name in recognition of the name of this congregation in whose parish the building stands. But more significantly, this Christian motivation helped to form the values that underpinned the policies of St Cuthbert's co-operative and remain foundational to this day. Ethical values such as openness, honesty, social responsibility, transparent trading and democratic accountability and participation; values which continue to find their expression in a commitment to the pursuit of fair trade, support of local producers throughout the world, concern for environmental issues and a commitment to local communities; and further, the strong ongoing commitment to charitable work.  

It was against a background of social problems and evident poverty that a group of Edinburgh working men held a meeting in July 1859 at which they agreed to form a Co-operative Society, and the first St Cuthbert's food store was opened on the 4th November 1859 in Ponton Street, and then in 1880 the Society moved into new offices in Fountainbridge. 

If, as is supposed, the founders of St Cuthbert's Co-operative society chose their name because of the name of this congregation, then it is something of which this congregation should be justifiably proud, and the ongoing links are marked today in this service, held here in this church at the beginning of the 150th anniversary celebrations of St Cuthbert's Co-operative. 

Surely in the Christian motivation of the founders of the Co-operative Society we see a reflection of, and a response to, the love of God revealed in Christ and the example of sacrificial care and involved commitment to humanity so perfectly demonstrated in the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, God's only Son, given for our salvation. 

"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" 

Of course, both congregation and co-operative society are ultimately named after Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, one of the great saints of British Christianity. 

In the life and ministry of St Cuthbert - whom we believe to have erected a shelter on the spot on which this building now stands - we can see a response to the sending love of God, who sent his Son for us, and who sent apostles, missionaries and saints to spread the message of his love.  

The love of God was revealed in the life of Cuthbert who showed Christian hospitality as monastery guest master at Ripon, who walked the countryside of what is now the Borders, the Lothians and Northumbria, teaching, preaching, healing, praying and showing by word and example the love of God in Christ and what following him meant. It was in response to this love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, that Cuthbert displayed such total obedience, such complete commitment to mission, such amazing humility and self-denial. Oh for more Cuthberts in our day!  

True love, Christian love, divine love will always show itself in committed and sometimes sacrificial action. 

There would have been no St Cuthbert's Day to celebrate and no St Cuthbert's church had Cuthbert simply remained concerned about the many who were ignorant of God's love, or broken in body or spirit and had not heeded God's call and obediently given himself to a life of commitment and engagement in journeying, caring, preaching and - above all - praying. 

There would have been no positive or lasting effect had those Edinburgh men of 1859 concerned for poverty had simply sat around and shared together their feelings of sympathy for the poor, and done nothing more. 

True love, godly love, Christian love leads us to prayer, involvement, engagement, action, and sacrifice. Because this is how God has loved us

His love for us is not one of far-off concern, ineffective sympathy, or uninvolved affection. On the contrary, his love moved him to action, to involvement, engagement and, ultimately, sacrifice. He did not remain distantly concerned, but came amongst us, took on our struggles and sorrows, our guilt and sin, lived our lives, felt our pain and, in the end, died our death. 

"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" 

On this Mothering Sunday, we recognise the love of mothers who have cared or who still care for us. Of course, we recognise also that not everyone has positive experiences of Mothers - or of Fathers for that matter. There has been plenty of tragic and horrific evidence of this in the news in recent days, weeks and months. It is right and important that we recognise that for some folks this is a difficult day with painful resonance and bitter memories rather than affectionate gratitude. 

However, thank God, for most of us we have so much to be grateful for as we recall nurture given, care received and love expressed by our mothers. And we know too that this love we received - the love shown to us by our mothers (as also by fathers) - was an involved and hands on love… a love expressed not simply in words of affection and appreciation, but in very practical, involved and often sacrificial ways… in changed nappies, in sleepless nights, in financial sacrifice, in tended cuts and grazes, for some in long heart-breaking vigils by bedsides of sick children or days of worry and anxiety for a teenage or adult child. Motherly love is expressed in action, involvement, engagement and sacrifice as well as in affection and concern. 

This is what the love of God our Father - God our Mother - is like. 

In Isaiah 49: 15 God speaks through the prophet "Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you".  

No indeed, our heavenly Mother, our heavenly Father, cannot, does not and will not forget us. In his love he will act; he has acted. True love will always result in positive action for the other. 

"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" 

This is the love of God you us, for you, which involved committed and sacrificial action for our sakes and for our salvation. It is a love that invites our response of love and worship; it is a love that inspires our response of action and engagement out of love for others. 

We who bear (or have borne) the name of Cuthbert have his inspiring example - and surely, therefore, a responsibility - to so respond to the active and sacrificial love of God, shown in Jesus Christ, his Son, given for us. 

Rev David Denniston, March 2009


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