Sunday, March 17th Message

Message—Episcopal Church of the Cross

Sunday, March 17

St. Patrick’s Day; Lent II

Texts:  I Thessalonians 2:2b-12; Matthew 28-16-20 


The congregation sang the hymn below before the message.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate


I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity,

By invocation of the same,

The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever, by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;

His baptism in the Jordan river;

His death on cross for my salvation;

His bursting from the spiced tomb;

His riding up the heavenly way;

His coming at the day of doom:

I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead,

His eye to watch, his might to stay,

His ear to hearken, to my need;

This wisdom of my God to teach,

His hand to guide, his shield to ward;

The word of God to give me speech,

His heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name, the strong Name of the Trinity,

By invocation of the same,

The Three in One and One in Three.

Of whom all nature hath creation,

Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:

Praise to the Lord of my salvation,

Salvation is of Christ the Lord.


         Good morning, friends.  Peace be with you, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

         That hymn we just sang is a prayer called St. Patrick’s Breastplate.  A breastplate was body armor an ancient soldier wore over his chest and viscera for protection for protection from the enemy.  “Put on the breastplate of righteousness,” the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians.  “Put on the breastplate of faith and love,” he writes in I Thessalonians.

         It is a long prayer.  What we just sang is only a portion of the full prayer.

It is what I would call a “History of Salvation” prayer.  By that, I mean it is a prayer in which the story of God’s presence and power through history is named and claimed.  The Trinity; the Incarnation; the saints and angels; the Created Order; the power and presence of the Holy Spirit…all are Patrick’s breastplate.  His was dangerous work.  He needed the full weight of God and the Church mobilized on his behalf.

         It is believed that this is the prayer Patrick prayed as he returned to the rough and tumble of ancient Ireland to share with the people he loved the beauty of God’s love for them.

         We are unsure of the exact dates of Patrick’s life.  Few argue that he was born before the year 375.  Few argue that he was born much later than 390.  He entered the Lord’s nearer presence on this day sometime around the year 465.  He lived a long life.

         Here are the basics of his life:

         He was born and grew up along the west coast of the Isle of Britannia.  He was born into a believing family, but as a teenager his faith was, we might say, latent.

         It was a time of violence, chaos, and lawlessness.  The Roman Empire was in retreat.  The protection Rome had given Britannia had been removed.

So when he was sixteen, pirates from beyond the western sea captured him, took him to what is now called Ireland, and made him a slave.  It is said that his owner was a Druid priest named Milchu.

His job as a slave was to care for his master’s sheep.  He was a shepherd.

He was a slave for six years.

Six years as a slave…tending sheep; living outside and close to the land; surrounded by Druids…led to a few things in Patrick’s life.

The Lord awakened Patrick to his relationship with God.  He was brought back to faith.

He was given an affection for the land.  And I mean that in two ways…he was given an affection for the beauty of the Created Order, and he was given an affection for the specific beauty of Ireland.

And he was given an affection for his captors.  He dwelt among them.  And instead of his heart being hardened, it was softened.  He came to love the Celtic people; he came to love his captors.

After about six years he escaped captivity.  Over time, he was made a priest in the Church. and then a Bishop.  The next twenty-five years of his life are fuzzy, but most believe he spent some time on the continent studying.  Some have argued he made it all the way to Rome.

Regardless, after twenty-five years, he was given a vision.  An Irish man he called Victoricus came to him in a dream, with a satchel full of letters.  One of the letters read “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”

And so, in his late-forties, which in those days made him an ancient man, he gathered those who shared his love and conviction, got in a boat, and went to Ireland, because he loved God, and loved the people of the island.

Maybe it was thirty years he ministered among the Celts.  Maybe it was forty.  But for the rest of his life, he loved the people of that land and helped them know the love of God; and love God, themselves.

And today is his Feast Day.

Now there is something about this day which is, for me, a source of both delight and sorrow.  It’s this:  There’s a good chance that St. Patrick will be celebrated today more heartily in bars than churches.

The delight part is this:  I kind of think Patrick was a bit like Jesus in that he liked hanging out in places like bars.  Neither were fuddy-duddies, and both liked hanging out where people gather, especially the not-very-religious people.  I think Jesus…and Patrick, too…would be more at home in some bars than he would in some churches; and probably welcomed more joyfully in some bars than some churches, too.

The sorrow part is that I believe more and more that Patrick is a saint for our age, and it is vitally important we pay attention to him.  The sorrow part isn’t that he’s celebrated in bars.  It’s that his witness is so ignored by the Church, or reduced to silly myths.

Patrick has something to teach us about our own walk…

…from his slavery—he teaches that suffering and deprivation and solitude are fundamental building blocks of faith.  Only rarely does the person who’s never known darkness see the Light.

…from his time of study—he teaches that it matters that we give the experience of our heart a grounding in our mind.  It’s best we know why we believe what we believe, so that when the first emotion of God’s love in our lives grows colder we have something deeper to rely upon so that it might be rekindled.

…and from his return to Ireland—his life teaches that it isn’t just the young God calls on the Great Adventure.  We celebrate his life today because of what he did in his old age.  We remember him today because of how he served in the last third of his life.  There are some things I’m too old for.  I don’t wear tank tops, I don’t like sitting in the middle seat, and I can’t dunk anymore.  But ain’t none of us too old…or too young…for God to call us forward and do something with us for the sake of the Gospel.

And he’s got something to teach us about being the Church…

Patrick’s missionary strategy was one of presence, not conquest.  He did not seek to destroy the culture of the Celts.  He did not believe they had to become something else to be the beloved of God.

It is said that his practice was to look for the “thin places;” the moments and places where the Celts already were connected to the Holy.  So when he built a sanctuary, it was near where the Celts already were connected to the spiritual.  And when he taught the Trinity, he showed them their shamrock.  And in the Celtic cross…that circle in the middle is the sun.  Among other parts of the natural world, the Celts worshiped the sun.  In response to which he did not say “No, no, no, no, no!  You’re wrong!” Instead, he put a stylized sun in the middle of the cross so that when they looked to their old ways, they would be directed to Someone even greater; when they looked to the sun, they would look to the One who made it.

Here’s a little missiology…

…for most of Christian history, the dominant missionary theology has been based on the “three B’s:” Believe; Behave; Belong.  Believe the right things, behave the way the Church wants you to behave—learn the rules and follow them–and we’ll let you belong

Patrick’s missional work turned the B’s upside down.  First he established communities…a kind of monastic community…where people could belong, and be in fellowship and relationship.  In that community, they learned the basics of a way of life…behaviors of prayer, and service, and worship, and dwelling in the scriptures; the practices by which the love of God flourishes in our own lives.  And Patrick knew that when we do those two “B’s” first…Belong and Behave…in God’s time, Belief would come.

He was on to something.  Read any serious missiologist today, and when it comes to reaching people in the West it’s now Belong, Behave, Believe.  Patrick…and the Apostle Paul…got there first.

When I was a child, St. Patrick’s Day was the day when my mother, who was ¼ Irish, would go around the house singing “My Little Irish Rose” and we’d have corned beef and cabbage for dinner; and my dad might have a little Irish whiskey at the end of the day rather than scotch.

But today, I love St. Patty’s Day because he gives us a vision for how to be the people of God here in Lake Travis, or Westlake, or Spicewood, or down in Drip, or wherever we live.

His was a Pre-Christian age.  Ours is a Post-Christian age.  But the circumstances are similar.  As it was for Patrick, there are people out there seeking God.  They are our neighbors.  Their cars may be in the driveway on Sunday morning, but they pray.  They believe in spiritual things.  They struggle with the same things we struggle with; and mostly, they keep their lawns cut, and pay their taxes, and say “please” and “thank you.”  They are good people, searching for more; hoping for God; yearning to know that the universe is friendly; and more open to Jesus than we think.

         So I love it when St. Patrick’s Day comes on a Sunday, because we love Jesus, and want to be faithful, and need and want the reminder of his witness.  Beautiful and ancient Patrick speaks, and shows us a way…

…love the people where we are; just love them.

         …find what is beautiful in another, and build it up…because if it is beautiful, it has been put there by God.

         …everyone wants to belong, including us.  Belief will come as God gives it.

         …for the sake of the Gospel, go on an adventure—because we’re never too old for an adventure; never too old for something new; never too old to take a rise for the sake of the Kingdom;

         …and by all means, put on the breastplate of God.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger…

…maybe a good prayer to pray this week.

Icon of St. Patrick