Homily for the Annual Lenten Quiet Day of the Anglican Church Women, Nova Scotia Board
The Feast of St. Patrick, 17 March 2018 Homilist: Douglas A. Beck, ObJN
NOTE: Listening to this homily is recommended. The following audio recording of this homily includes music with the Celtic harp and congregation not included in the manuscript.
God is here. God is here. In the Name of One God: + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
What does it mean to be witnesses to the Gospel?
According to the Words we hear proclaimed in today’s Gospel…it comes down to two words.
Notice that in these two words, there is already a complete homily.
These words that we hear today, spoken to our hearts, come from the Sermon on the Mount. Recall that Jesus’ initial sermon, preached to a large crowd, begins with what have become known as the “be attitudes.” It is from our sense of being — from our attitude of being — being witnesses to the Gospel — that our doing flows.
And, in a few connecting verses in Matthew — just before the words we hear proclaimed today — Jesus says this. “Give more than anyone asks of you. Go the extra mile. Refuse no one who comes to you.”
I believe that Jesus’ words are for all who hear them — in every place and time. Today’s Quiet Day gives us the opportunity to hear his words, spoken from his lips to our hearts. He speaks to our listening hearts today. He answers our question directly. In his love, we are equipped to give more, go further and refuse no one. Still, we might find ourselves wondering, “How will we ever be able to do this?”
So, we ask again. “Lord, what does it mean to be witnesses to your Gospel — your good news?”
And, Jesus answers us. “Love your neighbors. Love your enemies. Show love to those who persecute you by praying for them. Be perfect,” our translation says ‘perfect.’ (N.T. Wright reminds us that a better translation of the word we hear today as ‘perfect’ is ‘wise.’) So, “Be wise. Be love.”
When we are being the love that Jesus asks us to be, we are being all that God has made us to be — witnesses. So, when we are being that love that he knows that we can be — better than we know ourselves — we are his missioners — his witnesses — and, we live his Gospel, his good news — this is who we are, living in a world desperate to know his lavish love — his healing touch — his restoration.
What does it mean to be witnesses to the Gospel?
According to the life and witness of Patrick, whose Feast we celebrate today…It comes down to two words.
Patrick was born in Cornwall in 385. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery by Irish pirates. After six years, he escaped and returned home. He followed God’s call to the ministry of ordained priest in the Church and was made a priest. In 438 he was made bishop over the Irish mission, and so he returned to the land from where he escaped slavery — he returned as a servant of Christ and the people — a witness to the Gospel.
Patrick demonstrates what a life of love and service to Christ and to all whom he meets — including those who made him a slave — looks like. What others saw as a weakness, Christ made a strength in Patrick’s life. You see, Patrick’s weakness was this. He carried within himself a lifelong sense of his unworthiness. Where Patrick was weak, however, Christ was strong. And, strengthened by Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, Patrick’s mission began to thrive.
Before Patrick’s mission to Ireland, the people glorified the Irish warriors. Because of Patrick’s Gospel witness, the Irish people turned from glorifying their own warriors and they glorified Christ instead.
Christ transformed the people of Ireland because Patrick reflected his own life’s transformation as a witness to the Gospel. In so doing, he shows us what it looks like to — be love.
Patrick, himself tells us as much in his “Confession” where he writes: “I give thanks without ceasing to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my testing, so that today I have confidence to offer him my soul as a living sacrifice to Christ my Lord, who saves me from my troubles. And for this reason, I may say: ‘Who am I Lord, or what is my calling, for you to have been present to me with such divine grace, so that today I constantly exalt and magnify your name among the heathen in whatever place I have been — and not only in happiness but also in [hardship.]’”
A bit further along in his “Confession,” Patrick writes how he is following the example of witnesses to the Gospel. Hear Patrick speaking to our hearts today. “We are witnesses [so] that the Gospel has been proclaimed even to [the point] where there is no one else [left to hear].”
Notice that Christ was strong, even beyond Patrick’s perception of himself. As I mentioned earlier, Patrick, throughout his lifetime, fought his own self-perception — that of being “less than.” By God’s grace, Patrick put aside his low sense of his own self and lived into the fullness of his life as a follower of Jesus. And, it was the presence of Jesus in his life that sustained him.
Patrick — from slave to missioner, priest and bishop to Ireland — a witness to the Gospel — his is an example to us of what it looks like to — be love.
Being witnesses to the Gospel — being love — reminds us of our abundant life enfolded in God’s love. The love of God for all — shown through Jesus and Patrick — may it shine through us. For this is what it means to be witnesses of the Gospel.
© Douglas A. Beck, 2018
 Stephen Reynolds. For All the Saints (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 2007), 475.