The Example of Patrick

By Ian Thomas Wilson

Text: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

The Word of God for the people of God
For this we give thanks, Amen.

St Patrick’s Background

Grace and peace in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Today is the day that many of us remember the life and ministry of St. Patrick. St. Patrick was a fifth century Bishop, who is known as the Enlightener of Ireland. He was born in Britain to aristocratic parents. His father was a deacon in the church, his grandfather was a pastor. Even so, Patrick did not follow the example set by them. In his Confession, he told his readers that he didn’t care about God at all. He and several others were kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland as slaves. While there, his heart was turned to God in repentance. As we read in his Confession

But it was here in Ireland that God first opened my heart, so that – even though it was a late start – I became aware of my failings and began to turn my whole heart to the Lord my God.

Patrick was enslaved in Ireland for years, tending sheep for an Irish warlord. In his captivity, he learned to rely on God to protect and provide for him. He prayed nearly constantly during this time, until one day, when he received an answer. He had a dream in which he was told that a ship was prepared for him. Patrick escaped his captivity, and went to the coast, where he found a ship leaving for Britain. He boarded the ship, and returned to the land of his youth. There, he was welcomed home by his friends and family, and began studying to be a minister. But God had other plans. 

Patrick had another dream, in which he received letters from the people of Ireland begging him to return. And return he did. Patrick evangelized to the people of Ireland. Ireland, through its many trials and hardships, has remained a largely Christian nation ever since. 

God’s Saving Power

Returning to our text, God called the prophet Jeremiah to deliver His messages to the people of Israel. The Lord says “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” Think about that; before he was even conceived, God sanctified Jeremiah to be a prophet, even though Jeremiah felt inadequate to the task. This is the power of the Holy Spirit. It is God who sanctifies us. He works in us “both to will and to do for His good pleasure”. The saving work is His work.

As Patrick wrote centuries ago:

This much I know for certain – before God humbled me I was like a stone stuck deep in a mud puddle. But then God came along and with His power and compassion reached down and pulled me out, raised me up, and placed me on top of a wall.

And the Lord saves whomever He wants to save. And believe me, He will do whatever it takes. For Patrick, it took slavery and humiliation among barbarians to bring him into a right relationship with the Lord. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen said “Sometimes, the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them.” God the Holy Spirit can convert even the hardest of hearts and use them in a mighty way; like Patrick, or C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton… I could go on. 

Patrick knew the depth of his sin. He knew that his captivity in Ireland was a result of his obstinacy toward God. But God did not abandon Patrick. He humbled him, softening his hard heart, so that he could receive the gift of salvation. As Martin Luther said, “God made man out of nothing, and so long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.” 

We have nothing to offer God. He gives everything to us out of His abundant grace, and saves us through His power. He endured the cross for us. Even our good deeds are worthless in the light of Christ’s pure sacrifice for us. We owe Him everything, but He requires so little from us. 

Our Responsibility

So God doesn’t need our help; but He certainly wants it. He prefers to work by means of people, and He chooses to use whomever He will, and He equips them for His work. Because he was taken at a young age – only 16 – Patrick never finished his formal Latin education. His writing was, in his own words, crude. He was “ashamed and afraid” to show just how poor his Latin was. It should be mentioned that Latin, though it was the language of Western Europe at the time, was not Patrick’s native tongue. Most people at the time spoke their own language in everyday conversation. Patrick spoke a language similar to modern Welsh, and later learned to speak Irish. Latin was foreign to him. He felt completely unqualified to preach to the people of Ireland. 

But as we read in our text:

“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,” says the Lord.

And again:

“Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.
See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms,”

God chooses the foolish things of this world to put the wise to shame. He chose Patrick, the ignorant shepherd, to preach the Gospel in Ireland. And He chooses us to preach the Gospel wherever we go. 

And we have a responsibility to preach the Gospel to everyone, regardless of who they are, and their station in life. The Irish at the time were not nice people. They were barbarians! They pillaged, and killed people. They were pagans. They sacrificed humans to appease their vengeful gods; it’s a miracle that they didn’t sacrifice Patrick! They were nasty; but God had mercy on them, and chose them. He enlightened them through Patrick, and made them aware of their sins, and brought them to repentance. So we don’t get to choose who “deserves” to hear the Gospel and who doesn’t. Our job is to preach the Gospel to everyone, everywhere.

But too often, we are intimidated. We are surrounded by people who are hostile to the Gospel; we’re afraid of what they might do or say. But our text says that the Lord will put His words in our mouths. I say this as much to myself as to any of you. You need only ask for the courage to speak.

Amen and Amen.

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