The good news came to the people of Ireland in a strange way – a godly way.
A young patrician, a teenager from a prosperous family of Roman Britons, was spending his time by the seaside, at a waterfront property of his family, convenient to the coast – and convenient for pirates. Irish rovers came across the sea and stole him away, kidnapped him, and made him a slave. They sold him on, to a farmer in Ireland.
Young Patrick, as he came to be called, found himself tending cattle on the backside of beyond, way over on the west coast of this distant and foreign island.
And that is how he spent his teenage years. They were teenage years – formative years – but not his only formation for adulthood, for he found his way to freedom, and to a spiritual re-formation.
Patrick first found his way to physical freedom. He walked out, somehow, away from his master, and escaped across Ireland and the sea. He journeyed far, into France, and there he found a spiritual freedom. He encountered a spiritual master, Martin of Tours, founder of a monastery and a movement. Martin took him in and taught him the Christian way – the way of the Cross.
Patrick learned from Martin – and gained a blessing that he was meant to share. For Patrick had a dream – not a daydream, but a vision: he was being called back, across the sea, to bring the good news of the freedom of the spirit, the gospel of God, to the very people who had enslaved his body. And he answered the call.
Rough-hewn and mystical, Patrick was the perfect apostle to bring the good news to the Celtic peoples. He returned to Ireland. And he did something there that was much more significant than any legendary miracle.
Legends like driving all the snakes from Ireland. (There were not snakes in Ireland to begin with.) The point is not what he drove out; the point is what he brought in.
He brought into Ireland and to its people the good news that in Christ was to be found their completion, their wholeness, and their salvation. He brought the gospel to a people that had been enslaved by greed, ignorance and sin, a people lost in darkness. He brought to them the light of Christ.
And they in turn became a light to the world. From the Celtic lands, from the people he taught the gospel, came in time a series of monastic missionaries, adventurers on the seas of the world, who sought holiness and brought salvation to the people they encountered, all across the continent of Europe.
The learned monks of Ireland, in the centuries following Patrick’s mission, studied and shared the great gifts of civilization – and beyond civilization they brought the saving news of Jesus Christ.
Patrick never drove the snakes out of Ireland. What he drove out, under the Master’s guidance, was the fear and the ignorance that kept the Irish people in bondage to sin.
What the Lord did in Ireland through Patrick and all the Irish saints to follow was to establish an outpost of courage, hope, generosity, and freedom; a beacon that shone across Europe with the light of Christ.
What God brings to us today is the good news of salvation: we look to the Cross – for salvation, for Jesus was lifted up so that we, and all people, may receive the gift of life.
And what calls us today is the mission of the kingdom. We carry with us into our world, our place and time, to those around us, those we know already and those we must seek out, the message of hope and the means of salvation, the abundant grace that is found in the Cross of Christ.
O God, who made the world and made it good, and who redeemed the world you made when we had fallen into sin and wandered far from your purpose for our lives, you who redeemed Patrick from bondage, sending him on a mission as your apostle of freedom, compassion, and grace, so bless your servants here with courage and hospitality, generosity and faith, that your spirit may abide in the hearts of this congregation and that this church may be to your world a beacon of hope and a light of your salvation. Amen.