Saint Patrick’s Day

Good old Saint Patrick’s day. Ah, the irony of shamrocks to the copious consumption of pints of brew. Not that the irony is in those things, rather that I suspect that most people who celebrate with liberal libations are probably unaware or at least unconcerned about the reason for the feast.

The short story is that it is the celebration of a life. The man we know as Saint Patrick lived from 385 to 461. He became a devote Christian priest who gave his life to convert Irish pagans into Christians. Legend has it that he used the green three leaf shamrock as a picture of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit (although as all analogies if fall short). 

Saint Patrick’s Day is nothing less than the celebration of a successful and effectual Christian missionary. The chief symbol of the day, an icon of sorts of the Holy Trinity – God as Christians know Him.

The feasting and drinking so often associated with Saint Patrick’s day is a day off from lent to celebrate one of God’s servants. Call it a mulligan in the season of sacrificial devotion. 

So if you choose to lift a glass to Saint Patrick, remember the man you are drinking to and have a look at yourself in the mirror. Are you really celebrating Saint Patrick? Maybe you should.

Kilbennan St. Benin's Church Window St. Patrick Detail 2010 09 16.jpg

Good Grief!

Good Grief!  I have no idea what that is really supposed to mean as a polite expletive, yet grief is one of the most profound common human emotions – it is good.

We grieve a lot of things in life, from death of a loved one to inexplicable little things. We grieve the passage of time to the loss of dreams. A child might grieve the loss of a teddy bear. An Olympian might grieve missing a medal by a fraction of a second. It can be the loss of a job or the parting of ways. Grief wraps our tentacles through our lives in unexpected ways.

Right now I am grieving along with one of the finest groups of people you will ever meet. Among them is a mechanic, a kitchen designer, an electrician, a handful of teachers, an IT manager, a retired missionary, students, childcare workers, retired folks, parents, long time Canadians, immigrants…so many different backgrounds, occupations and roles in society. They all have one thing in common. They are part of the church I pastor and that church is closing its doors after more than thirty years of caring ministry.

To warp the Apostles Paul’s words (this is the warped mirror after all), love does not pay the bills, but when there are no more bills to pay, still love remains. Where love and loss meet, there is grief.

As a church we are grieving. To be sure it is not the acute grief of the loss of a love one, but the process we are walking through is much the same – not in depth, but certainly in breadth of emotion. We have meant a lot to each other. Though we may continue in fellowship, things are about to change. We are losing our church. It is emotional. It hurts. It should hurt.

Grief stirs up all sorts of emotions. We may find ourselves feeling sad and maybe angry. We may want to appoint blame. We may feel that we have failed. We might even feel that God has let us down or that we have let God down. On the other hand we might feel excitement about new possibilities and even relief that the struggle is over. We might feel joy. We might even feel guilt over how we feel. Such it is with the emotional roller coaster of grief.

Some wear their grief on their shirt sleeves while others grieve much more privately. Some will feel the need to talk about it and let others know how they feel. Others will grieve more privately, but it is just as real. Some may feel a sense of relief. Others are hurting deeply. We need to embody grace seeking understanding and mercy seeking comfort. We need to offer one another kindness and gentleness – compassion and encouragement. If there ever was a time when we need to truly love one another and be here for one another, now is the time.

It can be easy in a time like this to wonder what will become of us. Change can stir up anxiety and anxiety breeds fear. No doubt, this is a difficult journey. Along the road we need to hang onto Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” What beautiful words of encouragement. He will continue to do a work in us – a good work in us. We are not abandoned.

Be sure that the work will not stop because this church closes. Not at all. Our hope is in Jesus – not a particular church. In fact this may open up new doors to growing in Christ Jesus that none of us could have imagined.  Who knows what things God has in store for us? Though in the moment we grieve, it will not define us. Who we are in Christ will not change. He is not done with us yet. Not by a long shot.

Besides, none of us really knows what God has in mind – what plans he has for His church from day to day.  At some point we have to trust in the plans of a sovereign God who doesn’t always tell us what His plans are. We might be thinking that God has not answered our prayers…maybe, but maybe there is a reason far beyond anyone here. Maybe God sees a better plan. God is doing a work and He will complete it. We have to trust Him.

Yet in there lies another problem. We can feel like we let God down. Be sure that God is no man’s debtor. He will accomplish His plans. No doubt that over the last 33 years some things could have been done differently. It doesn’t hurt to reflect on those things to learn what we can from them, but I caution against playing the “what if” game. We have no way of knowing if different choices would have changed things for the better. We might think so, but we can’t know so.

Let’s leave the “what ifs” to novelists and screen play writers. “What if?” is a question we ask before making a decision. Once a decision is made we have to move on believing that God is at work. In the same way we have to trust that God has been at work in the past decisions throughout the entire life of our church.

We must also be careful not to point fingers at one another. Judgments like “If they had only…” create division and disrupt shalom. It’s a dangerous variation on the “what if” game that attacks the integrity of others – it can be deeply hurtful. Besides, how do we know that we are right? In a time like this we must be honourable and respectful of others. We must guard our thoughts and words. Love your neighbour as yourself.

So I say, friends, grieve…grieve well. There is such a thing as good grief. It is grief that overflows with grace, mercy, compassion, kindness, gentleness and faithfulness. Grieve well my friends.

This post is a shortened version of the sermon I preached on Sunday March 8, 2015.