Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day - A Call to Serve Your Enemies

After the Irish songs are sung and the pinching is done, do you really know about why we celebrate this one?
Did you know that St. Patrick was a slave?  He was born in Britain but captured and sold into slavery in Ireland when he was 16.  Though not very religious at the time, his faith grew as he served as a slave shepherd in Ireland.  One day he felt God tell him through prayer to escape, so he made a run for it and ended up meeting a ship as it was about to set sail.  Somehow he got on board that ship which landed him in France, where he eventually found himself in a monastery.  At some point Patrick has a dream where an Irishman beckons him to return to Ireland to share the gospel.  With no schooling, it did not seem very feasible that the church would let him serve as a missionary.  However God told him to go, and prepared the way for him to do incredible things in Ireland.  Now the Irish are famous for their tall tales, so it is hard to separate fact from fiction. We know our God is big and can do more than we can ever dream or imagine, nothing is outside his abilities, so when hearing stories about  how he drove all the snakes out of Ireland, survived poisoning, turned an evil ruler into a fox and that his fingers turned into flashlights in the dark, the best we can do is use discernment, using reason, discernment, tradition and experience to shed light on these claims.  For example Ireland is not known to have had any snakes even before St. Patrick's time, and thus it probably referred more to the various pagan beliefs that were being espoused at that time.

What is cool is that we understand that during the time of his ministry in Ireland he used the 3 leaf clover to explain the Trinity, with each leaf representing the 3 parts of God being one.  One leaf for the Father, one for the Son and one for the Holy Spirit. Oh but what about the elusive four leaf clover? When a Shamrock is found with the fourth leaf, it is said to represent God's Grace.

So many celebrate this day, without understanding the impact and life of the one we celebrate.  St. Patrick a missionary who went when God said go, and as a result was freed from His chains of slavery, given a calling to share the Gospel with his enemies, the Irish, who initially enslaved him as a teen. It was not an easy task, as he faced opposition.  St. Patrick shared in one letter that he was on one occasion beaten, robbed of all he had, and put in chains, perhaps awaiting execution." In being obedient however, he freed many who did not even realize that they were living in the bondage of sin, enslaved in chains that only God himself could release.

I think the greatest lesson in the life of St. Patrick, is not only did he willingly return back to Ireland to serve his captors, no longer a slave to them but a bond servant of God himself,  but he invited His enemies to join with him in the celebration that comes from a new life found in Christ.

Amongst the festivities, parades, limericks and beer, may St. Patrick's day serve as a reminder to us that we are called to serve our enemies, to love them as we love ourselves and to share with them the same, love, grace and mercy that was extended to us, by our Heavenly Father.  God helping us, may we have enough forgiveness to invite our enemies into our lives, so that they too may come to know the joy of the Lord and thus join us in the celebration that awaits all God's children. 

As proud as I am of my Irish Heritage, I am more proud of being a Christian.  Today I can celebrate and wear that shamrock proudly, knowing what it represented to St. Patrick.

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