Modern Inspiration from Saint Patrick

Before we get started, there are a few disclaimers:

  1. The sermon will not be rooted in the lectionary texts.
  2. There will be media usage, please notice the projection scene.
  3. If you have a Scot-Irish Intern, you should not let them loose on Saint Patrick’s Day.

Saint Patrick’s Day is marked with the wearing of green or orange, the kissing of the Irish, and drinking your choice of Guinness, Jameson, or Bushmills. Originally, however, it was the celebration of the life and the ministry of Saint Patrick.

But, we are Lutheran and the Saints are Roman Catholic, right? Well, not exactly.

The Medieval Church embraced the Cult of Saints, which was the practice of evoking the Saints for intercession and for merit. Although Martin Luther argued against this particular practice, he did recognize the Saints as examples of and inspiration for Christian vocation and witness. Saint Patrick might be such an example and inspiration for us.

Patrick was born in Kilpatrick, Scotland in approximately the year 385. He was the educated son of a political leader in the Roman ruled, Roman influenced colonies of Britain.

According to Patrick, he was abducted by pirates during a raid at the age of 14 or 16. These pirates transported him to Ireland, where he was sold into slavery to Milchu, a Celtic chieftain. Patrick served as a shepherd for Milchu’s herd on Slemish Mountain in Co. Antrim.

While serving as a shepherd, Patrick begin to frequently pray as a source of comfort, which cultivated his Christian faith. After six years, Patrick has a dream that inspires and encourages his escape from slavery. This escape would include walking 200 miles to the shore, hitch-hiking onto a ship, and traveling across the Irish Sea without capture.

Patrick does arrive in Britain and is reunited with his family, loved ones, and friends. However, Patrick struggles to re-integrate with the educated, civilized Greco-Roman culture of Britain. Then, Patrick has another dream in which the people of Ireland are calling upon him, asking, even begging him to return and walk among them once again.

So, Patrick travels to France. He is educated and prepared for professional ministry. Afterward, Patrick returned to Ireland serving as a missionary for 40 years. Patrick, also, becomes the first missionary to minister outside of the Greco-Roman world.

According to legend, Patrick preached to, converted, and baptized all of Ireland. Although perhaps an exaggeration, Patrick was an extremely successful missionary known for converting royalty, chieftains, and their families. In the year 450, Patrick converted and baptized Aengus, King of Munster, at the royal fort and the seat of power. It would become a cathedral, the seat of the archbishop, then a historic site known as the Rock of St. Patrick, the Rock of Cashel, or simply the Rock.

Patrick died on this date, March 17, in the year 461. He is buried at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.

If you are interested in the narrative of Saint Patrick, Ireland, and their influence on culture, I recommend Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization.

But, how might the man, the legend Saint Patrick inspire our Christian vocations and witness?

Well, the Ireland of Patrick’s lifetime was the land of the “barbaric” pagans known as the Celts and the Druids. While serving as a slave, Patrick learned the language, the practices, and the culture of these “barbarians” known for their drinking, fighting, and loving.

Perhaps, we should define “barbarian”. Our modern definitions include the savage, primitive, uncivilized person or a person that lacks culture and education. “Barbarian”, however, is rooted in the Latin term “barbari” or “foreigner”. Similarly, the adjective “barbaric” may be understood as “foreign”.

The barbaric, or foreign, is the unknown, the unfamiliar, and therefore the uncomfortable. And the “barbaric” remains in the 21st century… simply fill in the blank:

I am unfamiliar with (blank).

I am uncomfortable with (blank).

Perhaps… people with piercings or tattoos.

Perhaps… people who ride motorcycles.

Perhaps… those who embrace the Redneck culture, such as NASCAR.

Perhaps… the young professional.

Perhaps… the single parent.

Perhaps… those who do not dress “properly”.

Perhaps…those who do not behavior how we expect them to.

Perhaps… the combat veteran reintegrating into our communities.

Unfortunately, this list can continue on and on…and the list is different for each one of us.

Ironically, mental health and ministry professionals are frequently exposed to the phrase: ‘As humans, nothing human should be foreign to us’. But this is the ideal and not the standard of our reality.

Yet, Patrick encountered the “foreign”.
He returned to the “foreign”.
He emerged himself into the “foreign”.
And what happened?

The “barbarians” were converted to Christianity and mildly tamed, but the stubborn Irish will forever remain distinctively Irish with the drinking and the fighting. But more importantly, Patrick was transformed.

Patrick begun to love these “barbaric” people.
Patrick begun to recognize their hope, their faith, and their love.
In fact, Patrick begun to identify himself as an Irishman.

Although intimidating, when we (humans) step outside the limitations of our comfort zone, outside the confines of our cozy boxes… we grow, we transform.

My cousin has a motto, which she attempts to embrace: “do at least one thing each day that scares you, that is the only way to grow.”

In order to grow, as individuals and a congregation, which undoubtedly embraces the spirit of our “welcoming” statement, we must step into the unknown, approach the unfamiliar, and embrace the barbarians…wherever on their journey of life and faith, we might encounter them.

May we, as individuals and a congregation, be inspired in our vocations and witness to the “barbarians” through the example of Saint Patrick. Amen.

*Sermon preached on 17 March 2013 at The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd

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