17 March 2008

St. Patrick, Missionary to Ireland

In honor of St. Patrick on this March 17, 2008, here's a little something I wrote for my congregation's newsletter:

Who was St. Patrick?

When I say, “March 17,” chances are good that you think, “St. Patrick’s Day.” And once you think of St. Patrick’s Day, you probably think of all the green clothes and hats you can wear, the green food you will eat, and the green decorations that go up just about everywhere. You might even think of delicious corned beef and cabbage (Yum!), and perhaps even green beer. (Although that still doesn’t seem right. I mean why taint perfectly good beer by turning it green? ☺)

However, St. Patrick’s Day is about much more than that. March 17 is the Church’s day to commemorate the great bishop of Ireland and his tireless work to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ among people who were quite hostile to Christianity. Through the faithful and even life-threatening work of preaching the Gospel of Christ and founding many churches, God used St. Patrick to convert Ireland from pagan religions such as Druidism to Christianity. March 17, then, commemorates the death of St. Patrick in the middle of the fifth century.

The LCMS website gives this summary of St. Patrick’s life:
Patrick is one of the best-known of the missionary saints. Born to a Christian family in Britain around the year 389, he was captured as a teenager by raiders, taken to Ireland, and forced to serve as a herdsman. After six years he escaped and found his way to a monastery community in France. Ordained a bishop in 432, he made his way back to Ireland, where he spent the rest of his long life spreading the Gospel and organizing Christian communities. He strongly defended the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in a time when it was not popular to do so. His literary legacy includes his autobiography, Confessio, and several prayers and hymns still used in the church today. Patrick died around the year 466.
On one occasion, in A.D. 433, Patrick defied the orders of King Loegaire and refused to honor a pagan festival. The king, then, tried to assassinate Patrick, but Patrick and his coworkers were able to escape unharmed. Tradition says that God’s deliverance from this peril prompted Patrick to write his best-known hymn, known today as “I Bind Unto Myself Today.” This hymn is an excellent confession of the Holy Trinity and of God’s deliverance from sin and evil through Jesus Christ. Here’s the text from our hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, 604:
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 pow’r of faith, Christ’s incarnation,
His Baptism in the Jordan River,
His cross of death for my salvation,
His bursting from the spiced tomb,
His riding up the heav’nly way,
His coming at the day of doom,
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
The pow’r of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need,
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The Word of God to give me speech,
His heav’nly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile foes that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In ev’ry place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me those holy pow’rs.

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 has creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
Salvation is of Christ the Lord!
So, this March 17, instead of merely donning the green and enjoying corned-beef for St. Patrick’s Day, we also thank God for the Bishop of Ireland and his faithful preaching of the Gospel and his confession of the Holy Trinity. No matter what opposition we face, we can also proclaim the goodness and mercy of our holy, Triune God, just as St. Patrick did.

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