Later this month many will celebrate the luck of the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. The truth is, it really has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with grace. The legends surrounding St. Patrick are numerous, and have grown through the years. What we do know is that Patrick had been captured and enslaved by pirates from Ireland when he was a teenager, and forced into slavery for about six years. He escaped and returned to his home in Great Britain. He later became a cleric, perhaps as a result of his enslavement, and was compelled by the love of Jesus to return to the very place that had impacted his life to share the forgiveness, grace and life in Jesus Christ. As Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”
It is always amazing how something that started out as a way to celebrate the work of God through His servants, often becomes an excuse to celebrate ourselves. Patrick was a missionary who risked his life and made great sacrifice to reach a people he had great reason to resent. Instead, his life was so transformed by God’s grace that he took to heart the words of Jesus in Matthew 5, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” So Patrick dedicated his life to proclaiming the redemption of mankind in Jesus Christ to the people of Ireland. He was engaged in the Master’s business, and devoted the rest of his life to that service. He is said to be buried in Ireland near where he first proclaimed the good news of Jesus.
If we truly want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day then perhaps it should focus more on missions. Patrick was a true missionary. As much fun as it might be to look for a pot of gold or a four leaf clover, what if we made St. Patrick’s Day a time to celebrate Patrick’s commitment to serving Jesus? What if St. Patrick’s Day was all about celebrating mission?
The story of Patrick’s life story is a great reminder of the call that God has placed upon each one of us. While we may never have had to experience the trauma that Patrick faced, God uses every circumstance of our lives to prepare us for His mission. We are called to engage in the Master’s business, and share the stories of how Jesus has impacted our lives.
We are living in a day when we have allowed the church to become too institutionalized and comfortable. We are living in the third largest mission field in the world. Yet we somehow have convinced ourselves that everyone knows Jesus and that this is basically a churched society. The truth is, we are more like the Ireland that Patrick was enslaved in, and to which he would later return. He didn’t go there because he felt that it had become a safe, Christian environment. Legend has it that he went back because he saw the hopelessness—in fact, he experienced that hopelessness personally! He looked upon Ireland as Jesus looked upon Jerusalem. Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” This was the world that Patrick faced as he went back to Ireland. It is also the world that we face each day.
Like Patrick, we are sent as missionaries into a sometimes hostile world. Understanding that our nation is now more discerning and distant when it comes to matters of faith and we no longer enjoy the privileges once afforded to the church really must shape how we approach the world in our day. We can’t assume that people understand what faith is, or who Jesus is, or what the church is all about. In fact, we have often allowed the church to be portrayed in a negative light to the world. Rather than engaging in the Master’s business to reach those outside of the Kingdom we have often focused only on the needs of the redeemed. Ministry often seems to take place within the confines of our own ministry campus rather than reaching out to the world around us. From the start Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples. Instead of being fishers of men, we have often succumbed to becoming keepers of the aquarium. Our calling is to connect people to Jesus, rather than simply allowing an exclusive country club mentality to lull us into institutionalism. Jesus calls us to reach hopeless people with the true hope that comes by faith in Him!
In 1 Peter 2:9-10, Peter reminds us, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” The very reason God set us apart, saved us through the shed blood of Jesus on the Cross, sanctifies us continually by His Spirit, is to shine His light in the world’s darkness. Like Patrick, we are chosen people. We may not always appreciate the circumstances for which we have been chosen, but God makes no mistakes. He has each of us where we need to be for the present time. He’s chosen us to reach the world around us with the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Over the next month and a half we will be making that Lenten journey once again. It certainly is a time to be reflective and to live out a life of repentance. It’s also a time to not just focus on self, but to do those things that share the light and love of Jesus with the world. Each year at Lent for me it is not so much about what I give up but rather what I take up for the sake of Jesus. The season of Lent isn’t so much about our sacrifice as it is about the sacrifice Jesus made for each of us on the cross which inspires a sacrificial attitude in His people. St. Patrick learned that as he gave his life for a people that had mistreated him at one time, but now celebrate him as their patron saint. While you and I are not destined for sainthood in any earthly sense, we are already made saints through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but not because of the luck of the Irish. Instead, celebrate it because of the grace of our God. May the self-giving love of St. Patrick, a love that flows from Jesus, be a love that not only touches us, but also a love that flows in our lives to those around us. And as you make this Lenten journey, remember the words of this traditional gaelic blessing: “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields, and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.” May He do all that and more so that we can always be engaged in the Master’s business, connecting people to Jesus!
Siochan leat (pronounced “shee/oh/con lat”, meaning in Irish: Peace be with you)