Monday is Saint Patrick’s Day. This entire weekend is set aside for wearing green, eating Lucky Charms, celebrating shamrocks, participating in parades, looking for leprechauns, running in marathons, and running from people who are trying to pinch you for not wearing green. As you can see, things can get a little crazy. So crazy in fact that in many parts of the country it’s also a day for some of the wilder parts of life. It’s become a national feast day for partying and drinking, followed by a bit more partying and drinking, followed by…well you get the picture.
It’s pretty clear. We love Saint Patrick’s Day. We want to wear t-shirts that read “Kiss me. I’m Irish!” even though there’s not a drop of Irish blood in our body. We like giant green hats and Kermit the Frog. And like many people, we’ll do anything for an excuse to have a good time. So this holiday is tailor made for taking a break from our troubles, faking a bad accent, and trying to forget whatever stresses that are holding us down.
And yet, for all of this holiday’s celebrations most of us don’t take the time to stop and ask some pretty basic questions: Who exactly was Patrick? Was he Irish? Did he play for the Saints? Did he have anything to do with snakes? Did he invent a popular marshmallow cereal? Did he even look good in green?
These are some big questions that deserve an answer. If we’re going to mark this day on our calendar, then we really should know what we’re celebrating, and as it turns out the truth is mind-blowing. This holiday actually celebrates not a drunken fraternity member with a bewildering obsession with good luck, but instead honors a man who had another obsession altogether. Patrick had a wilder passion than anything that later grew up around his legend. He was a man who was sold-out and driven by one great and magnificent focus: the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed to the lost and dying nations.
That’s right. Saint Patrick was all about gospel-fueled global missions – reckless, sacrificial, death-defying, risk-taking missions.
Patrick himself wasn’t actually Irish at all. He was born in Roman Britain sometime in the mid to late fifth century. He was a contemporary of Arthur (if such a British warlord ever existed at all), and as such he lived in the deepest and darkest era of what was an already deep and Dark Age. The traditions that grew up around his life all seemed to tell a very basic storyline. He was born in Britain, a son of Christian parents, and came to love the message of the gospel at an early age. His life was turned upside down, however, when as a teenager he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland. He lived in Ireland for about six years before he was able to escape, fleeing back to his native homeland in England.
Then his life was turned upside down. Everything that God had been preparing him for met one night in a dream as his love for the gospel and his passion for its reception became focused on his former tormenters. He became driven by a deep desire to see the men and women of Ireland know the grace of the Savior that had changed his life. So, wildly and recklessly he went back. He went back to Ireland and spent the rest of his life proclaiming the message of the gospel in the land of his former enslavement. And God used Patrick in a mighty way. A revival of conversion spread through Ireland. The light of the gospel turned that land upside down, not because Patrick was a superhuman saint, but because he was a missions-hearted servant who proclaimed a superhuman gospel – a gospel that changes lives then and now.
Earlier today I read about the horrific recent events in Somalia, where Islamic extremists have been engaging in public beheadings of Christians. We read those accounts and gasp. The days are still dark, and we’re left wondering like King Théoden in the beleaguered fortress at Helm’s Deep, “what can men do in the face of such reckless hate?” Aragorn’s answer, and Patrick’s answer, is that we ride out to meet it. In the midst of the darkness we do not retreat, but instead we run into it with the light – the light that cannot be extinguished.
Honoring men like Patrick is good, but we would do well to honor them in the spirit and heart for that which they gave their lives. If we are to celebrate Patrick, then we dare not do it just by wearing green or four-leaf clover pins. If we are to celebrate his legacy, we are called to share his passion, a passion that is wilder and more dangerous than a weekend binge, but a passion that is eternal, life-giving, and worth everything we are. Patrick counted the cost, and he walked back into the darkness, and the gospel changed everything.
Oh that God might give us a million more Patricks who will walk out of the comfort and sleepiness that besets us and into the raging and chaotic world, with the message of the reigning and victorious king. Patrick was passionate for the Christ. He was passionate for the cross. He was passionate for the lost. That is a legacy worth celebrating, and that is a legacy worth replicating.
May we all be Irish as Patrick was, not by birth, but by an overwhelming commitment to a global gospel that has and will triumph over all things.
– Pastor Cade