Saints and Sinners – Sunday 11th October

Ethelburga, Abbess of Barking (675)

Isaiah 50.4-10
(New International Version)

The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
    to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
    wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.

The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;
    I have not been rebellious,
    I have not turned away.

I offered my back to those who beat me,
    my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
    from mocking and spitting.

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
    I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
    and I know I will not be put to shame.

He who vindicates me is near.
    Who then will bring charges against me?
    Let us face each other!
Who is my accuser?
    Let him confront me!

It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.
    Who will condemn me?
They will all wear out like a garment;
    the moths will eat them up.

Who among you fears the Lord
    and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
    who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on their God.


Communication is a vital aspect of our life, our society, our world and on the whole, it is a relatively easy thing to do. Over the years the ways in which we communicate have become increasingly more varied and accessible.

Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, TikTok, Zoom, Skype… to name but a few. And that’s not even mentioning the good old text message, email, phone call or letter. Yet despite this advancement, quite often, we as individuals can get communication massively wrong.

It is always the first thing that suffers when we become stressed, busy, or overwhelmed, or when things become difficult or don’t go according to plan. We also live in a world where despite the advancement, the actual human quality of this communication is deteriorating.

This can be a challenge for us as Christians, especially given the fact that our mission as disciples, our calling, is to share and spread the good news of Jesus Christ. How are we to do this effectively in such a world. Well, verse four of our Isaiah reading states…

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.”

The tongue of a teacher is a gift from God; a gift that grows through developing intimacy with him and communicating his wonders. Intimacy with God is the secret of the servant of the Lord. It’s achieved through morning listening, a fundamental characteristic of the Lord’s disciple, who never begins a day without spending time at the feet of the Jesus.

Today as we continue our series of Saints and Sinners, we remember St Ethelburga. Coming from a wealthy family, Ethelburga joined the monastery at an early age and was taught the way of monasticism by Hildelith, a French nun, who had the unenviable task of teaching a wealthy, well-connected and influential young lady the ways of monastic life.

In the time of Ethelburga’s stay at the monastery, Barking became celebrated for the fervour of the nuns in both faith and study. Later becoming the first Abbess of Barking, Ethelburga is one of a significant number of female religious leaders who played an important role in the first century of the Anglo-Saxon Church.

She was known and honoured for her holiness and the miracles that surrounded her life. In fact the Venerable Bede noted in his writings that “none who knew her holy life can doubt that when she departed this life the gates of her heavenly home opened at her coming” (Bede: Ecclesiastical History, IV.7).

Ethelburga knew the voice of the Lord. She spent most of her life studying the scriptures, listening to his word, seeking his will. She led those in her care to a holy, fervent, and prayerful life, communicating the gospel with commitment, and through obedience. As a result, she and those around her saw the miracles and wonders that God had promised.

We can learn from Ethelburga, characterising our lives as disciples, by the desire for and the practice of communicating joy, peace, love, and comfort to those around us. By ultimately committing ourselves to be a holy people.

Indeed, God is always ready to teach those who find the time to meet him, but are we willing to put the time in? Are we willing to listen? To grow our intimacy with God? Are we willing to be taught afresh each and every day? Are we willing to grow the gifts that God has given us?

Maybe once we are, we too will see the miracles and wonders of God in our lives and in our communities.


Rachel Sheehan
Associate Hub Leader
(North West Hub)