It’s a day that means so much more than alcohol, green rivers and Irish culture. In fact, St. Patrick’s Day is, at its core, a day about restoration, which is exactly what we are talking about at Floris UMC this Lent in our sermon series, “Restored.” Patrick asked questions about living a restored life in community with others, questions so central to our practice of Christian faith.
If you have never heard anything about who St. Patrick was or what he did, I encourage you to watch this short video featured in an episode of VeggieTales. It’s a fun, informative video for the whole family! In short, Patrick grew up in England, was captured as a slave and taken to Ireland, escaped home to England and received a call from God to minister back in Ireland. Patrick helped change the trajectory of an entire people, which explains his veneration in Irish cultural memory and Christian history.
The often-untold story of Patrick’s life, however, tells exactly how he reached the Irish people and taught them the ways of Jesus. Outlined in detail in George G. Hunter III’s “The Celtic Way of Evangelism,” Patrick’s method serves as an incredible example for any Christian serving in a cross-cultural context.
Patrick would, initially with a few others, travel to a village and spend his time getting to know the people. He also worked to understand how and why they did things in their context so he could become a genuinely accepted part of any community he entered. He never sought to change a place he visited so it would be more conducive to his brand of Christianity; rather, Patrick learned about a place so he could best understand how Christianity could speak to people there.
As Patrick and his posse passed through different places, they focused their time on creating meaningful community experiences. They shared meals together and spent time studying scripture, much like the first Christians did in Acts 2:42-47.
Patrick had a deep devotion to scripture, but his devotion to Christ ran even deeper. In order to welcome people into the communities he shaped, he always emphasized inclusive belonging over a checklist of “correct” beliefs. To Patrick, people always belonged at the table, and he couldn’t impose his own expectations on them until they were known and welcomed.
As history tells us, Patrick’s method worked exquisitely. But Patrick did not become the superstar pastor of a multisite, nationwide church. Patrick worked to make each community self-sustaining, so even when he had to move on to another village, the young church would continue meeting together, serving one another and caring for the community. Patrick consistently worked himself out of a job as he equipped a new generation of leaders to continue guiding their community toward Christ.
Lent is a holy season, and throughout church history, days on which we venerate saints are holy days. Perhaps St. Patrick’s Day has been nothing more for you than a bizarre cultural holiday when people pinch you if you don’t wear green. But St. Patrick’s Day can be a holy day too.
Lent forces us to be introspective about the ways our sinfulness holds us back from the best that God has for us. Maybe this St. Patrick’s Day, we can ask some of the same questions Patrick asked, like, “How do I communicate that all people are welcome in God’s church?” “Does my life reflect this gracious hospitality?” and “Is my faith about me, or is it about God?”
Before we believe or behave correctly, we belong. Christ welcomes us to God’s table. May we, like Christ and Patrick, extend that same grace to others.