Sermon Lent 2 – St. Patrick March 12, 2017
Genesis 12:1-4a Psalm 121 Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 John 3:1-17
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
Later this week we will be celebrating the life of St. Patrick. He is a kind of latter day Abram because his life led him to a far off land fifteen hundred years ago, and he was like the writer of the Psalm too. He was born in Britain the whereabouts is the subject of conflicting legends. He was captured by pirate raiders as a youth and taken to Ireland where he was enslaved for six years until escaping back to Britain. He got himself an education and received God’s Call to go back to Ireland to convert the pagan, mainly Druid, people. History tells us of his many trials and many successes too. Net result ? Ireland was converted to Christianity. After that it was frequently raided and ruled by the Vikings in the Dark Ages. The Catholic British invaded and have ruled substantial parts of Ireland since the time of the Normans and when Protestants from Scotland and England invaded with Cromwell politically things got worse. Another big problem developed because there were now two types of Christianity there, when there should really only be one, mere Christianity. The country since then has had bitter divisions between the two factions – Protestant and Irish Catholic – and British rule. As always happens the invaders seized the lands of the Irish population and took control of the economy too bringing about hardship for the Irish people, which has resulted in hundreds of years of uprisings and brutal response. It was decided that it was best to divide the country into two to keep the separate factions apart. That didn’t work. Nor has partition worked when tried elsewhere, Canada, the United States, South Africa, Cyprus, India and Pakistan, and Israel immediately come to mind. It needs cool-headed and generous leaders to overcome religious and cultural divides like these. It also needs a population to see and to want things better and different in its future.
In Patrick’s time there were many warring kings. His Christian influence brought peace to the Emerald Isle for a while before it was upset by the invaders I spoke of before. It’s always the way and it takes generations for these struggles to be resolved. Surely it shows the need for a rebirth of attitudes – new minds at an old problem – and like most problems it has to be solved from the inside. Look at the world of medicine we are seeing diseases being cured from inside by stem cell and gene therapy. Carpet bombing Disease with drugs will slow down or halt a disease, but defeating the problem from within, tackling the cause not the symptom is the best and permanent cure.
You probably recall the Greek story of Alexander the Great being challenged to unravel the Gordian knot (a huge tangle of bark rope). Many had tried and failed to undo the tangle, until Alexander came along and with one swipe of his sword cut the knot into pieces. The knot was undone but the rope was destroyed. It’s the same with strong medicine or radiation. It’s the same with military suppression to keep the peace. What is needed are new attitudes and the rebirth of Christian ideals, not swords for ‘he who lives by the sword dies by the sword’. Solving national problems can be done with brute force or it can be resolved from within. Christians have often tried to solve the problems of the world by imposing their will on others. There is never a lasting solution from that. The Vikings, English and the Scots had the wrong idea, St. Patrick had the right one. He didn’t assemble an army, a crusade (crusades were failures too) to convert the pagans but took up his Bible and lived peacefully with the people he wanted to convert. That way still works, it takes time, but it works better than the alternative.
I can imagine the night when Patrick first heard the Call to go to Ireland. Surely he dreaded the thought of being again in the land of his captivity. Perhaps he read the Psalm for today “I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come ?” And answered his own question with “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”. Can we go into today and tomorrow with that certainty of belief ? If we could think what we could accomplish !
Ireland is still plagued with its Christian divide and of course behind it lies the Celtic Church, Patrick’s brand of Christianity. It keeps its head above water in part through the spirit of the Anglican Church in Ireland. Today more than ever we hear about national unity. If only the same enthusiasm for unity existed in the Church, Ireland would be a happy place.
So what is going to bring about this rebirth. Being born again does not mean that our history, and our personal history, is wiped-out or ignored far from it, even Nicodemus recognised that that is an impossibility. What it does mean is a total openness to the Holy Spirit and that is beautifully described in the Psalm, listen to it once again:
|1 I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come ?
2 My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.
4 Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep;
|5 The Lord himself watches over you; the Lord is your shade at your right hand,
6 So that the sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; it is he who shall keep you safe.
8 The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth for evermore.
I pray that you can open your hearts to those words, that you will look for God and not just when you are in need, that you will accept His omnipotence, His protection, His watchfulness, His care for you, His protection of you and all that you do. Patrick knew all those things, believed them totally and placed himself in God’s hands as he faced powerful adversaries. One thing you should know though was that he was never confident of his abilities, he thought they were sadly lacking, regardless he followed God’s Call and did things beyond his imagination. Penitential and modest by nature he accomplished great things for God, may we do likewise. Amen.