Tuesday, March 2, 2010

March 2010 Parish Letter

"Almighty God, who in Your providence chose Your servant Patrick to be the apostle of the Irish people: keep alive in us the fire of the faith he kindled and strengthen us in our pilgrimage towards the light of everlasting life."

[Collect for St. Patrick’s Day]

The work of St. Patrick does not receive as much attention from us Lutherans as it does among the members of the Roman Catholic Church and the Churches of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Certainly, this disparity can be attributed to differing ethnic backgrounds: historically, the great majority of Lutherans have been from German or Scandinavian descent. As mentioned in the above collect, Patrick’s call was to be “the apostle of the Irish people.” So it is natural that those of Celtic ancestry may hold him more dear.

But the work of an apostle is not limited to any one ethnic group. The Lord Jesus makes this clear with His call to the apostolate: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.”(Jn 20:21) and “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”(Acts 1:8) Certainly, this is seen in Patrick’s work in the 5th Century A.D. The British Isles were at the end of the known world. Beyond them lay the vast emptiness of the Atlantic Ocean. In Ireland, Patrick made the great confession about Jesus’ identity and the work of salvation that He accomplished. He was Christ’s witness on the island near “the end of the earth.”

But the confession that Patrick made and that we, as Christ’s disciples, also make brings opposition. Our Lord Jesus speaks about the opposition that His followers will face: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”(Matt 5:11-12) He describes it in picturesque language: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”(Matt 10:16) The message is clear: the foes of Christ—Satan and all his minions, the world and the people who hate God’s will—want to devour His people. And yet, Christ sends His disciples out into the world, bearing His Spirit, so that the witness of His salvific work will be heard and believed.

Such a powerful witness Patrick made in Britain. Facing the opposition of Druids and other pagans, the bishop boldly made the true confession of faith:

“For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and His Son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the Spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by Him. He was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave Him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe. And we look to His imminent coming again, the Judge of the living and the dead, who will render to each according to His deeds. And He poured out His Holy Spirit on us in abundance, the gift and pledge of immortality, which makes the believers and the obedient into sons of God and co-heirs of Christ who is revealed, and we worship one God in the Trinity of holy name.” (Confession of St. Patrick, 4)

The faith that Patrick confessed is the same that we do. Reading his confession, one is struck by its similarity to the Nicene Creed, the chief statement of faith that the Church possesses. Like Patrick and others of the Early Church, we hold on to what has been handed down to us. Despite the opposition raised against us—Satan’s lies and deceptions, the powers of this world, the lusts and desires of the flesh—we keep the faith. Not because of our own abilities, but because of the power of the Holy Spirit that is given to us through Christ’s Word, we are kept steadfast in belief.

In this Season of Lent, the Church emphasizes maintenance of the faith. That is what the Gospel Readings record. We hear of how Satan sought to lure Christ away from the Father’s will. We hear the Pharisees who wanted to keep Jesus from going to Jerusalem. We hear of the Prodigal Son who abandoned the love of his father. We hear of the people of Israel who persecuted the prophets and the Son of God. In each of these, opposition is raised against the faithful—even Jesus, the Faithful One. But as the Spirit works in those who hear and believe the Word of God, they were kept true.

As St. Patrick is commemorated, the times he was tempted to forsake the faith through the opposition he faced is also remembered. Thankfully, as Patrick was empowered and kept by the Holy Spirit, he maintained the true confession. That is seen in his prayer that has been versified in our hymnal:

I bind unto myself today
The power 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 heavenly 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 men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

[Lutheran Service Book 604:3-4]

The same outcome is what we ask to receive from the Lord God. We want the same power of God, the work of the Holy Spirit to be found in us, as it was in Patrick, so that we might make the good confession in the face of great opposition. The Collect of the Day puts it well: “Keep alive in us the fire of the faith he kindled and strengthen us in our pilgrimage towards the light of everlasting life.” That fire and strength is the work of the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps all of Christ’s disciples in the one true faith. May that be so for us on St. Patrick’s Day, during our Lenten pilgrimage, and throughout the days of our earthly lives.

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