As many of you know my education began in a two-room school house in Chester Springs. We learned the normal things, reading, writing, and arithmetic. There were some useful things that I wonder whether they are still taught. For example: When we were learning the Months of the year, we were shown an easy way to find out how many days were in a particular month by using our knuckles. When St. Patrick’s Day came around, we were taught about the Irish and that St. Patrick removed all the snakes from Ireland.
I learned later that the snakes that St. Patrick removed from Ireland were not the reptilian kind, but the non-Christian religious kind, like the druids. Something else that I learned later is that St. Patrick was not Irish but a Roman teenager living in a Roman colony in Britain or Britannia as it was call then. He was taken to Ireland by Irish raiders who captured him and put him to work as a slave. Patrick spent four years in Ireland and learned about the culture and the people so that they became humans just like Patrick with a different way of doing things.
In some ways St. Patrick and Joseph had similar experiences. Both were enslaved against their will. Taken to a land with new customs, religion, culture, and language. St. Patrick and Joseph become examples of what being faithful and successful looks like in a culture radically different then the one we were raised in. In the context of being a follower of the one true God, YHWH, each was in training to become God’s missionary to the country of their enslavement.
St. Patrick was successful with the Irish because he was able to learn their language, customs, religious assumptions, and governmental structure. Patrick escaped after four years, became a fully committed Christian rather than a nominal Christian sitting in the stands. After his Christian training was finished, Patrick returned to Ireland and had a very successful ministry with the Irish because he taught the Christian faith to them using their own language, culture, religious assumptions, and political structure.
I think that in a very real sense, the modern Christian Church is experiencing a similar condition. We are currently living in a culture, with different morel assumptions than what we grew up with. In a very real sense, we are exiled in a foreign land. We have a choice to make. We can wall ourselves in and pretend that nothing has changed. Or, like St. Patrick and Joseph, we can make the effort to learn the culture and “language” or slang, and moral and religious assumptions and then use them to share the gospel message. After all the mandate that we have been given by Jesus is to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations and not just people like us.
Blessings! Rev. Kern