March 17, 2014
Today is St. Patrick’s Day. My guess would be that a large percentage of the population knows the holiday as nothing more than a holiday with parades, green beer, a good representation of people dressed in green, and corned beef and cabbage dinner. The purpose of said holiday is to get drunk and somehow the Irish are involved. Still others, perhaps those among us with a Catholic upbringing, remember that Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. His fame was in driving serpents from Ireland and using the shamrock to explain the Trinity.
What is less well-known is that Patrick’s given name was Patricius and he was a missionary of enormous courage and humility. He regularly referred to himself as “a sinner.” When he evangelized Ireland, he set in motion a series of events that impacted all of Europe. Patrick wrote about his life, his mission and his call to be a missionary to Ireland. Here is an excerpt:
“I had a vision in my dreams of a man who seemed to come from Ireland. His name was Victoricius, and he carried countless letters, one of which he handed over to me. I read aloud where it began: 'The Voice of the Irish.' And as I began to read these words, I seemed to hear the voice of the same men who lived beside the forest of Foclut . . . and they cried out as with one voice, 'We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.' I was deeply moved in heart and I could read no further, so I awoke.”
Patrick followed that call, humbly, but also with courage difficult to comprehend. Years earlier, Patrick had spent six years as slave among the Irish. His master was a cruel warlord who had subjected Patrick to unimaginable cruelties and hardships. Again, Patrick recounted his thoughts:
“I would pray constantly during the daylight hours. The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more. And faith grew. And the spirit roused so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night only slightly less.”
Patrick had been a nominal Christian until his captivity. Patrick was thrown into an inferno and what emerged was God’s bold saint to the Irish. Patrick joined the long line of heroes of the faith who could be added to the list in Hebrews 11.
I wonder though, what would have happened if Patrick had joined a yet longer list. What if he, like so many others, had chosen the alternate path? How many would have chalked the vision up to too much beer and pizza the night before, or some other excuse? Perhaps Jesus’ instruction about worry and anxiety had more to do with than mere food and clothing. When a proposal for a new ministry at church, or a new building program, or a new staff member is presented, don’t we often say, “Good idea!” but then begin our retreat by succumbing to that deep voice within? “This year isn’t a good year to do that.” Doesn’t Jesus rebuff that by answering, “Trust me, besides, why be anxious? Today has its problems, but tomorrow is a new set of problems. Trust Dad and myself to take care of you today, tomorrow and forever. Just follow me.”
Each stretch of our faith is also a test of that principle. The down and out individual who comes across your path is your divine appointment, not an opportunity to ask, “I wonder who’s going to take care of this?” The same is true of every opportunity to serve, give, guide or pray. We can think of a any number of reasons to step aside, alternate theories, reasons for delay, different plans or excuse. Yes that’s really the word to use here, excuse. Is our response to Kingdom calls like Patrick’s, or more like kids wanting an exemption from finals, or adults wanted to be excused from jury duty? Is part of the problem that God uses Kingdom people to make Kingdom calls? It’s easy to argue with a church board over direction (even though church eldership is an institution anointed by God), rather than God. But wouldn’t we also be prone to blame bad pizza for a Jesus vision? Paul’s Damascus road trip probably would not have the same outcome if Jesus had appeared to any number of other people.
“Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity, but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.”
--Patricius (also known as St. Patrick)