Tuesday, March 17, 2015
St. Patrick: More than Corned Beef & Green Beer. He was the Greatest Missionary (2015)
St. Patrick: More than Corned Beef & Green Beer. He was the Greatest Missionary. (2015)
We all realize that St. Patrick’s Day is a very popular holiday celebrated worldwide. Many think of St. Patrick’s Day as a day of parades, parties and green beer. Not about who St. Patrick was and what he accomplished. My goal today is to let the world know about St. Patrick and the great way he carried out Jesus’ Great Commission by converting a country of pagans to Christianity.
It is widely believed that Patrick was not his birth name but a name he assumed when he became a Priest. It is thought that his birth name was Maewyn Succat. Imagine celebrating St. Maewyn’s Day?
Saint Patrick is universally recognized as “The Greatest Missionary”. Legend has it that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. However, it is unlikely Ireland ever had snakes and it is often believed that the story is symbolic and the snakes refer to the pagans.
Now let’s examine the Great Commission and how St. Patrick’s answered Jesus’ call.
First, what is the Great Commission?
After His Resurrection, Jesus charged His remaining eleven Apostles with carrying out the Great Commission. The Apostles went to a mountain top in Galilee and Jesus presented them with one final command. This command is found in the Gospel of Matthew 28:18-20. Let me share Jesus’ words with you.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I suspect that His Apostles were surprised. They most likely expected Him to transform the earth himself but He did not. He left that work for them and now us. Many Christians today have a similar expectation. Sharing the good news cannot be the job of “ordinary” Christians. That is the job of Pastors and missionaries but as we will learn this is not the case. It is the job of each and every one of us.
Before we examine how St. Patrick was able to carry out the Great Commission like no other since the Apostles, I want to take a moment and unpack what Jesus told His friends when He gave them this command. First, He said that He had all authority in heaven and on earth. In other words, He has the same authority as God the Father. Then He went on to delegate the responsibility of spreading the word. Notice He instructed them to make disciples of all nations. This made clear that He expected them to leave the comfort zones of their home towns. He wanted them to share what they have experienced and learned with the entire world.
Who was St. Patrick?
I would now like to transport you back in time to St. Patrick’s birth in approximately 387 AD and introduce you to him.
There is little known about St. Patrick but it is commonly believed that he was born in the late fourth century in Britain to Roman parents of some economic means. His dad was a Deacon and his grandfather a Priest. This was a time when Priests could marry and have families. As a teenager Patrick was rebellious and despite his family background was not at all religious.
When he was about 16 he was captured by pirates, taken to Ireland and sold into slavery. As a slave he was a shepherd and tended to his master’s sheep. During this time he began to pray and developed a vibrant and loving relationship with Jesus.
In his early twenties God spoke to him in a dream and told him to flee his master and a boat will be waiting to take him home. He followed God’s direction and incredibly traveled 200 miles on foot and avoided capture before reaching the boat. When he returned home he entered the seminary and became a Priest. God then commanded him to return to Ireland, preach the Gospel and plant churches for the pagans.
Now let’s put this in perspective. In those days the Irish were widely considered to be illiterate drunks who engaged in wild orgies and would worship anything. They were known to be violent, lawless, and where even known to run naked into battle. Now that is a visual that I did not need, but it is what the history books tell me and I wanted to accurately relay history.
In spite of the danger, Patrick did not question God’s command to return to the Irish isle where he had been enslaved. In fact, Patrick renounced his family’s wealth to live a life of charity and poverty as an itinerant preacher. He sold all of his possessions including his land to finance the journey so that he could share God’s word with those who held him in slavery.
Once he got to Ireland, he had to pay large sums to Irish tribal chiefs so that he could safely travel though their lands and preach the Gospel. Think of the fear St. Patrick must have felt and the willing sacrifices he made to comply with God’s will.
He had, what at the time was a unique strategy, to convert the masses. He would begin by converting their leaders, praying for the sick, and casting out demons. While we do not know a lot of the details concerning St. Patrick’s ministry we can assume he was a humble man of service and unconditional love.
St. Patrick was also a gifted teacher. He used visual aids to convince people to put their faith in Jesus. His most famous visual aid was a Shamrock which is a three leaf clover that grows in Ireland. He used the Shamrock to explain the trinity. The Shamrock, as you can see, is one leaf but with three parts just like the Trinity is one person with three parts --- the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This simple visual aid was able to plainly explain one of the most difficult concepts of Christianity.
As Patrick continued his ministry he built simple churches, baptized converts, trained Pastors and moved on. In his life time he planted 700 churches, ordained 1,000 priests and converted an entire country. Imagine the enormity of that task.
The foundation that Patrick built still stands today almost 1,800 years later. In 2006 over 90% of the Irish population identified themselves as Christians and in 2009 46% of Ireland attended weekly church services.
Most of us are not going to be able to make the sacrifice that St. Patrick made and we are probably not equipped to convert an entire country, plant 700 churches or train and ordain 1,000 Pastors. At least I don’t think I am. But collectively Christians together can successfully carry out the command.
Let’s examine how the church is growing today in places like, Africa and Latin American. In the year 1900 there were only 9 million Christians in Africa, in 2000 there were 380 million. It is estimated by 2025 there will be 633 million Christians. In Central and South America 93 and 89% respectively are Christians.
In his book, Multiply, Francis Chan noted that “[t]he Pastor is the equipper, and every member of the church is a minister.” God is calling upon each and every one of us to be a minister, a minister who humbly serves their neighbors.
God created each and every one of us to play a role in His plan. He provides for us. It is important for each of us to identify the gifts which God has equipped us with and then to use these gifts to carry out the Great Commission.
Carrying out the Great Commission is a lifelong process. It is not something we do once and cross it off the “to do” list. It is something we must do every day. Most of the time we will serve others in very simple ways that we do not even realize.
Each of us must remember that we have God given gifts and abilities and what we do with these abilities is our gift back to God.
Reaching out and sharing our faith is not limited to preaching the Gospels in a formal way. We can share the Gospel and our faith in the way we live our lives, how we serve and love others. Today on St. Patrick’s Day might be the perfect opportunity to take a personal inventory of our God given gifts and assess how we can better answer Jesus’ command to carry His message.
God bless you and have a very happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day.