A Season of Hope 2
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Patricius was born into a Romanized Celtic family of Roman Catholic clergy just before the beginning of the fifth century. His father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest from an otherwise unknown town of Banna Venta Berniae in the Cumbrian region.[1] By all accounts, Patricius grew up as a Roman with values and beliefs that mirrored the Roman Church and society. He grew up a nominal Christian, having been baptized and catechized in the church, but having little interest in the family ‘business,’ more often ridiculing clergy and the church.[2]

Around the time he was sixteen, Patricius was taken captive by a band of Celtic pirates who took him off to Ireland and into slavery. He was sold to a prominent tribal chieftain and Druid named Miliuc and made a cattle herder in the Irish countryside. Over the next six years Patricius would spend his time divided between an encampment with other slaves and the fields where he took care of the cattle. During the time of his captivity, Patricius experienced three things that would change his life forever and set him on the course toward service for God.

First, he experienced what theologians term as ‘natural revelation.’ That means that Patricius sensed within the natural world—the landscape, the animals, the seasons, the climate—a sense of God’s presence, which he identified with the triune God of faith from his childhood. Second, Patricius began to understand something of those people who held him prisoner. He understood their language, their culture, their way of thinking in a way that only someone who was born into or immersed into the land could do. Third, Patricius came to love his captors, to identify with their struggles and way of life, and to hope for their reconciliation to God.

Six years into his captivity, Patricius had a dream that announced to him that his boat was ready, it was time to leave. Making his way to the coast, Patricius found that he did indeed have a way of escape and left a life of slavery behind. However, Patricius was just beginning to find himself bound by something else: a calling. He found a new life in his reconversion to the Christian faith. He lived and studied at the monastery of St. Martin of Tours in Gaul (modern France) and Rome, preparing for the priesthood. After a time of study and service in the church, Patricius had another dream, a sort of Macedonian calling where the people of Ireland called out to him, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, come and walk among us.” Driven by a mission to free the spiritual captives of the land that had once enslaved him, Patricius was made a bishop and given the missionary charge. In 432, he arrived with a team of priests, seminarians, and lay people with one goal in mind: share the gospel with the people of Ireland.

Engaging in open-air preaching and speaking, parables, stories, songs, and other artistic endeavors, Patricius and his team of missionaries brought the message of Christ to the imaginative Celtic peoples. They labored to plant churches and launched a movement reminiscent of the movement Jesus began in Galilee four centuries before. The church communities modeled themselves on the Christian way of faithfulness, generosity, and peace to the Celtic people of Ireland. Patricius, or as we know him, Patrick, was a determined man whose goal was nothing short of seeing the Irish population ‘reborn in God’ and ‘redeemed from the ends of the earth.’

—§—

The mission of Patrick and his companions is reminiscent of the mission of many church leaders throughout the history of the church, such as the one we see in our scripture reading today. Continuing with the letter Paul and companions are writing to the Thessalonians, we find Paul recounting the mission to their city. He talks about how they were ‘treated shamefully’ at Philippi and how they suffered at Thessalonica as well, a story that we looked at last week from Acts. Part of this suffering came from the fact that the new Christians in Thessalonica—and for that matter in many other cities of the empire—often denied those things which were sacred to Greco-Roman society: they did not involve themselves with the festivities surrounding the worship and festivals of the local gods, they did participate in the worship of the emperor with tributes and accolades, they did not participate in the general social life of their fellow citizens. This led the Jews of Thessalonica—who had been there for quite some time—to see them as heretical and the Gentile population to see them as irreligious, unpatriotic, and antisocial.[3]

Paul goes on to talk about ‘impure motives and trickery.’ This is an interesting thing and requires that we look a little at the ancient world to see what Paul is referring to by this. At the time, there were men and women that traveled the countryside selling various trinkets, potions, and other paraphernalia as charms and protections against demons and evil creatures. There were also philosophers and teachers who would come to towns and claim a new, divine knowledge that only they were entrusted with and for a small fee, you too could learn this truth. These people would live at the expense of those ‘converts’ or ‘new followers and devotees’ who paid for these trinkets and knowledge, usually amounting to a waste of time and money.[4]

Paul, on the other hand, makes a point of saying that he and his companions came to Thessalonica with no motive other than offering the gospel and offering it for free. Notice what Paul writes in verse 9, “You remember, brothers and sisters, our efforts and hard work. We preached God’s good news to you, while we worked night and day so we wouldn’t be a burden on any of you.” Paul is denying that he and his companions were guilty of any self-aggrandizing behavior like deceit, trickery, flattery, and greed.[5] Paul and his friends worked with their hands, made their own living so that they would not have to take anything from the Thessalonians but could focus on giving and ministry.[6] They set a shop, called an insula, where they worked downstairs as tradesmen and “used their place of business as a point of contact with people to proclaim the gospel. Paul [and his companions] preached while on the job.”[7] Paul and his friends asked for nothing but instead offered something for free.

The gist of what Paul is saying here is this: we came to you to share a message; we wanted nothing from you other than an opportunity to offer the truth that we ourselves experienced from God with no strings attached. Paul was conveying to them that this was a mission of faith, friendship, and mercy in the name of the one true God and for the sake of the gospel—nothing more and certainly nothing less. This hope, this message sent to them by the divine mission was that of Jesus’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection. The message had no strings attached, no C.O.D., no hard sell approach, and the people heard it, responding through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I think there are some takeaways here for us from both the story of Saint Patrick and the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians which can be used to help us further our own ministry. In his book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, George Hunter notes ten things that I think cross over from the mission of Jesus to Paul to that of Saint Patrick, to our own mission as a congregation here. To live into these things, I believe, will help us to reach a community in need of the gospel message as a way of life.[8]

  1. Credibility – the missionaries who led the mission and preached the message lived the message in their own lives.
  2. Clearance – the missionaries connected with local civic leaders and collaborated with them in community endeavors.
  3. Contact – the missionaries spent time with the people to understand their beliefs, values, customs, issues, and struggles.
  4. Community – Celtic Christianity was a communal version of the faith. They practiced the idea of belong—believe—behave rather than behave—believe—belong so that people started as a part of the community, some before they even began to connect with the message.
  5. Communication – the missionaries found creative ways to express the beliefs of the faith in order to reach the people.
  6. Conversation – the missionaries spent a great deal of time in one-on-one conversation with people about life rather than simply offering a sermonette or gospel presentation.
  7. Contextualization – the missionaries did not try to impose their standards of practice and behavior on the people. They adapted the truth to local customs and traditions in ways to get the message across (the importance of the number three and the shamrock).
  8. Continuity – the missionaries built off of the established beliefs and incorporated Christian doctrine rather than dismiss the native beliefs and try to substitute them completely. In other words, they recognized the old Augustinian maxim: all truth is God’s truth.
  9. Consistency – the missionaries used principles that were consistent with the Apostolic faith and how it grows and has grown over time.
  10. Conviction – the missionaries believed that those who were not already a part of the family of faith could become so, no matter their background or ‘starting point.’ They refused to give up on people simply because of where they were.

In the end, this simple poem may express it best:

Go to the people.

Live among them.

Learn from them.

Love them.

Start with what they know.

Build on what they have.[9]


References

Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. 3rd. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts. First and Second Thessalonians: Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Publishing, 2012.

Hunter III, George G. The Celtic Way of Evangelism, Tenth Anniversary Edition: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2010.

Powell, Mark Allan. Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009.

Witherington III, Ben. 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Soci-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006.

Wright, N.T. Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick

[2] Unless otherwise noted, the material in this first section is taken primarily from The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George Hunter III (Hunter III 2010, 1-13)

[3] (Powell 2009, 380)

[4] (Wright 2004, 94-95), (Witherington III 2006, 78)

[5] (Gaventa 2012, 23)

[6] (Witherington III 2006, 79)

[7] (Ehrman 2004, 304)

[8] The following list is taken from The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George Hunter III (Hunter III 2010, 104-106)

[9] (Hunter III 2010, 129)

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