Statue of St. Patrick in Timoleague, Co. Cork
St. Patrick’s Day Sermon, 17/3/12
Text: John 4:31-38
Of course we don’t know a whole lot about St. Patrick and it can be hard to know sometimes where the facts end and the legend begins, but one thing we do know is that he was passionate about serving his Master. In Patrick we have a man of God and someone who was willing to give up everything in order to follow God’s call upon his life. For Patrick God was everything; he would have wholeheartedly agreed with the Psalmist when he wrote of God:
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside you. (Psalm 73:25)
Wouldn’t it be great if we could have this same passion, this same focus and drive and commitment?
In the Gospel reading for today, we see that the Lord Jesus is tired from the long journey that He is making with His disciples, as they walk from Judea to Galilee. He is sat down by Jacob’s well, where he has just had that famous conversation with the Samaritan woman and the disciples come up to him and urge him, saying:
‘Rabbi, eat something.’ (31)
To which Jesus replies:
‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ (32) and
‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work’ (34)
It is as if Jesus is saying to his disciples that doing God’s will is even more important than eating! It is from doing God’s will and God’s work that Jesus gains spiritual strength and sustenance. Yes, we make sure that we are physically fed and nourished but what about spiritual food (in other words doing God’s will for our lives)? Perhaps one of the things that we are reminded of in Lent is that food is just for the physical nourishment of our bodies. Yes, we can enjoy food (and who doesn’t), but let it not preoccupy us so much. Let us spend more time being preoccupied with Spiritual food, doing God’s will, for that is where true nourishment is found.
We see a great and godly example in the life of St. Patrick. In his early twenties he was willing to leave his parents and homeland for the sake of following God’s call. Patrick heeded God’s call to come to Ireland, a land where the Good News of Jesus Christ had been little heard, a land of hardship and warring kings, a land of pagan worship practices and a land of spiritual darkness. But with the eyes that God gave him, what did Patrick see? He saw the same thing as Jesus saw when he said to his disciples:
‘… But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.’ (35)
Patrick saw a land of people who were starving, not for lack of food but for lack of God. In his own words he wrote:
I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.
Just as the Lord Jesus, in the land of the Samaritans, saw people who were ready and eager to receive God’s word, so Patrick saw that the Irish were hungry for truth and thirsty for salvation.
For someone without faith, it would have seemed an impossible task; to go to another country, where many of the people were hostile and speak to them of a God of love, a God who gave his Son to die in their stead upon a cross, in a place far away in time and distance from their own and yet Patrick did it anyway. Patrick took the risk, he did not play it safe. He did not try and form a committee or organise a mission conference or plan a direct mailing campaign, he just went.
As I think about that I find it exhilarating, exciting and liberating. We do not need to carry the weight on our shoulders of what we need to do and when and how we need to do it; it is not our work, but God’s. He is leader, we just need to follow.
As we look over Ireland today, in almost every conceivable way it is a very different Ireland from the one whose shores St. Patrick would have landed upon all those centuries ago. In Patrick’s time there were no tarmacadamed roads, no means of instant communication over long distances, no cars, no computers, no shopping centres or multiplex cinemas, none of the ‘stuff’ that occupies so much of the time we always complain we don’t have enough of today. Yes, the landscape might be very different, but the people are not so different really; just like our ancient forbears, we have hopes and dreams, ambitions and fears and we all like they need a Saviour.
The fields are as ripe for harvest today as they ever were. How many of the people thronging the streets of our towns and cities and celebrating this day are lost, lonely and hurting inside? For how many of them does life seem hopeless and bleak with no apparent purpose and meaning? And who are the St. Patrick’s today who will tell them and show them Jesus?