Text: James 4:13-16
Title: Busting the Myths that Make Us Miserable. Myth 4: I Always Know Best
Today, as you know, is St. Patrick’s Day. Today, all the bars and pubs in Ireland are closed, while the bars in America stay open extra late. Needless to say, getting bonkers drunk is not the most pious way in the world to celebrate the great deeds of the apostle to Ireland. I wonder how many churches in America are making a serious attempt to observe today as a religious holiday. So in honor of St. Patrick and out of deference to any Irish Lutheran pastors who may be in our midst, I’d like to say a few words about St. Paddy. And I will tie this together with the theme for this week which is to shatter the myth: “I always know best.”
Did you know that there is actually a hymn in our hymnal which is attributed to St. Patrick? It is a good baptism hymn and confesses a firm belief in the Holy Trinity.
You might be wondering: “Is it OK for Lutherans to commemorate saint days? Isn’t that Roman Catholic?” The Lutheran reformers felt that it could be beneficial to observe saint days, as long as the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church were avoided. We don’t pray to the saints or seek favors from them, but it remains perfectly reasonable to remember their lives and the wonders God accomplished through them. So we can do that freely, celebrate the accomplishments of God through the men and women who’ve served Him, sometimes heroically, down through the ages.
If you ask people who Saint Patrick was, you're likely to hear that he was an Irishman who discovered green beer or maybe he was a leprechaun. Something about a pot of gold or a four-leaf clover. It may surprise you to learn that the real Saint Patrick was not actually Irish. He was English.
Patrick was born in Roman Britain to a middle-class family in about A.D. 390. When he was a teenager, marauding Irish raiders attacked his home. Patrick was captured, taken to Ireland, and sold to an Irish warlord, who put him to work as a shepherd. In his excellent book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill describes the life Patrick lived. Cahill writes, "The work of such slave-shepherds was bitterly isolated, months at a time spent alone in the hills."
Patrick had been raised in a Christian home, but he didn't really have much faith in God. We know this because the real Patrick actually wrote a book of his spiritual autobiography. At home, he was complacent about his faith, but when he was a slave in Ireland —hungry, lonely, frightened, and bitterly cold—Patrick began seeking out a relationship with his Heavenly Father. As he wrote in his Confessions, "I would pray constantly during the daylight hours" and "the love of God … surrounded me more and more."
Six years after his capture, God spoke to Patrick in a dream, saying, "Your hungers are rewarded. You are going home. Look—your ship is ready." Taking this as a sign, Patrick fled and God protected him. He walked nearly two hundred miles to the Irish coast. There he boarded a waiting ship and traveled back to Britain and his family.
Eventually, Patrick offered his life to service in the church. He was ordained as a priest, then as a bishop. Finally, thirty years later, God called him back to the Emerald Isle as a missionary.
The Irish of the fifth century were a pagan, violent, and barbaric people. Human sacrifice was commonplace. Patrick understood the danger and wrote: "I am ready to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved—whatever may come my way." Cahill notes that Patrick's love for the Irish "shines through his writings … He [worried] constantly for his people, not just for their spiritual but for their physical welfare." Through Patrick, God converted thousands.
The lesson for us is found in that quote from the saint himself: “I am ready to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved – whatever may come my way.” How many of us could say that? He was talking about his readiness to suffer for Christ, to carry his cross. How do you get to that point where you can say that and mean it? Obviously, Patrick learned a lot about the compassion of God during his period of slavery and suffering. When you are in want, you are forced to either hope in God or fall into despair. But the willingness to suffer all things for the sake of Christ also comes from a conviction that come what may, you are secure in your salvation. Patrick clearly knew that he was in God’s good favor. This is a result of understanding that salvation and eternal life, are not the result of anything that we can do for God, but rather that it’s pure gift. Pure grace. The reason he didn’t fear death is because he understood that Jesus Christ conquered death once and for all.
This is where I’d like you to connect with the passage read tonight from James and the theme of busting the myth that I always know what’s best. James writes that it is arrogant for people to speak about their lives as if they were the ones truly in control. When a tragedy strikes, a catastrophic illness, a natural disaster, a so-called act of God, in hard times, we are forced to acknowledge that there are powers and forces at work in the universe which dwarf us. There are things going on behind the scenes that we cannot know or understand. We are not the masters of our lives. It is foolish to think so. A wise person does not say, “I will do such and so,” but rather, “If God wills it, I will do such and so.” And what God wills for us is always good, even when it is completely unexpected and maybe even unwelcome by us.
Patrick is a terrific example. When he was young, he had no way of predicting what would happen to him.
His story reminds me a little bit of Joseph in Genesis, the son of Jacob, the one with the Technicolor dream coat. Joseph was sold by his own brothers into slavery, in a foreign land. He was falsely accused and put in prison. He was forgotten. But eventually, God raised him to a position of great authority and he became second only to Pharaoh in the Egyptian empire. And God used Joseph to store up grain so that when famine came, multitudes of people were saved from starvation. Joseph was later able to forgive his brothers and told them that what they meant for evil, God meant for good. In other words, God used the negative circumstances in Joseph’s life to bring about a good result. It’s easy to look back and see how this worked. What’s hard is believing it in advance, to look forward into the unknown and trust that God is in charge and He is working everything together for your good. The same thing happened with St. Patrick. He was kidnapped, taken away from his family and experienced much suffering. But in the end, his faith in God was renewed and he became the instrument for bringing the gospel to countless other people.
Many of us never learn these lessons except through suffering. Trusting in God often means that you declare to yourself that God is good and He love you and, yes, bad things will happen and it won’t always make a lot of sense, but the One who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up as a sacrifice for our sins, will not abandon us. God will not abandon you.
Text: James 4:13-16