Scripture Passage: Philippians 3:17-4:1
A Presbyterian St. Patrick
Good morning! Happy St. Patrick’s Day and may the luck and the blessing of the Irish be with you! As we saw in the video, St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of the Irish, is still a big deal and being honored every year, by the Irish and all other people, all around the world. Besides being a fun holiday, when we must wear green or get pinched, eat corned beef and cabbage and talk about Leprechauns, St. Patrick’s Day has a rich historical and spiritual meaning. As the video summarized well, St. Patrick was an amazing saint of God, who is given the credit for converting the Irish to Christianity. St. Patrick’s life began in the most humble of beginnings, as a teen slave of the Irish, captured by Irish pirates from Wales. As a boy, St. Patrick faced much abuse from the Irish. St. Patrick’s story fits perfectly into today’s scripture and many of the scriptures.
In today’s scripture, we have Paul and the people of the Philippian Church, who also faced all kinds of oppression for their faith in Christ. Yet, Paul is writing to them, in a spirit of hope and trust in God, Jesus, and the Spirit, who are bigger than all the oppression! Paul repeatedly reminds the Philippians of how they are different from the others in their community, not because of their experiences, but because of their mind-set or perspective of what they’re experiencing. They may have lots of poverty and trials, but because their minds are focused on their love for Christ and for others in the church and community, they have hope and joy. This, sadly, is not the case for those in their community, who are focused on themselves, or as we would say, are self-centered. These people are focused on selfish goals, getting ahead and making sure their own bellies are full. As Calvin says, these people tend to ‘look in the mirror’ at themselves, rather than ‘look outside the window’ at the needs of others. As Luther says, these people have eyes ‘turned in’ on themselves, instead of ‘turned out’ onto those around them. So, Paul speaks out to the Philippians about these self-absorbed people, and he uses them as an example, of what-not-to-be. Paul urges them to imitate him, as a model, of someone, who is as Calvin and Luther say, is ‘looking out the window’ to see and respond to the needs of others. In asking them to imitate himself, Paul implies that they are to imitate him, not because he is a special hero in and of himself, but because Christ, through the Holy Spirit dwells within him and has transformed his “humiliation” and selfish life into a self-sacrificing, loving life. So, Paul in asking them to imitate himself, is essentially asking them to imitate Christ, our ultimate model of self-sacrificing, gracious love.
St. Patrick was a gracious saint of God, who did an outstanding job, of imitating Christ in self-sacrificing love! As we saw in the video, St. Patrick was a teen slave. We cannot even begin to imagine all the injustice and hardship he endured. St. Patrick had every reason in the world to follow his human instincts and retaliate against the Irish people. He had every reason in the world to feel sorry for himself and be self-centered. However, because St. Patrick came from a Catholic family of priests, he had the Spirit dwelling within him and had been raised with Christian teachings. So, instead of retaliating against the Irish for all the terrible things they did to him, he decided he would imitate the character of Christ, and respond to them with compassion and forgiving love. St. Patrick shared the love and Word of Christ with the Irish people, who in the 4th century, were mostly not Christian. The Irish had their own religious practices. Other Christian missionaries did not regularly evangelize in Ireland until much later. So, St. Patrick, I’m sure, with his amazing forgiveness and loving spirit, made the Irish people feel humiliation and remorse for their horrible treatment of him. St. Patrick shared the gospel with them, that they had hope of transforming their humiliation into glory, through the forgiveness and grace of Jesus Christ.
Similarly, Paul’s good news to the Philippians in all their trials, is that Christ will transform the body of all their humiliation in their self-centered lives, into a body of glory! Wow, this “body of glory” actually brings to my mind, the bleached-white, dazzling body of the transfigured Jesus. Now, Paul says that the Philippians, the Irish and each of us have the hope of being transformed into a loving, self-sacrificing and glowing person, whose countenance glows, something like the transfigured Jesus! Instead of living as people, ‘who look only in the mirror’ as narcissistic, self-centered people, through imitating Christ with the power of the Spirit, all of us have the hope of being transformed into people, ‘who look out the window’, as Calvin said, and help others in need with a self-sacrificing, loving spirit and glowing face!
So, after a while, many Irish people responded to the gospel, as shared by St. Patrick, and gradually, the Irish became transformed from their humiliation and self-centered lives, into people of grace and self-sacrificing love. Many of the Irish became Catholics. St. Patrick became transformed from a teen slave into their beloved, patron saint! Today, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by the Irish and other people in Ireland, Northern Ireland and all over the globe. Even the water in a Chicago river is dyed green in honor of St. Patrick!
In reflecting on St. Patrick this week, I thought of a Presbyterian group, which actually is like a ‘Presbyterian St. Patrick’. This is our Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Team, the PDA. The PDA members, like St. Patrick, give of themselves, selflessly and tirelessly, to assist people, who have experienced a disaster, practically and spiritually. They are at the forefront of every disaster, not just to offer initial practical help, but to come back year after year, with spiritual support for people, who have a long journey of recovery ahead of them. That is one thing about the PDA, which is different from other disaster assistance agencies. They are there for the ‘long haul’ for disaster victims. The PDA is helping all the fire victims in California through the Sacramento, Santa Barbara and Pacific Presbyteries. They have given practical and spiritual support to people in Butte County, the Malibu area, the Pacific Palisades and other areas affected by wildfires. The PDA sends out National Response Team members to these areas and all other areas in the U.S. and world affected by disaster. Like St. Patrick, the PDA is sharing the love and Word of Christ and helping people to transform their humiliation and humble situation into a situation of healing, wholeness, love and glory, again.
On this St. Patrick’s Day, let’s be inspired by the incredible self-sacrificing and forgiving love of St. Patrick and the PDA, to be people, who trust in Christ’s grace, to be transformed from our self-centered ways into beacons of Christ’s self-sacrificing love and light! Amen.