The Rev. Dr. Andrew R. Guffey
2 Lent, March 17, 2019
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Psalm 27 Philippians 3:17-4:1 Luke 13:31-35
In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. + AMEN.
“I Patrick, a sinner, very badly educated, in Ireland, declare myself to be a bishop. I am quite certain
that I have received from God that which I am. Consequently, I live among barbarian tribes as an exile and
refugee for the love of God; God himself is the witness that this is true. It is not that I was anxious to utter
from my mouth anything in so harsh and unpleasant a manner. But I am compelled by zeal for God, and the
truth of Christ has aroused me out of affection for my neighbors and children for whom I have given up
country and kinsfolk and my own life even to death. If I am worthy, I exist to teach tribes for my God, even
though I am despised in some quarters.
These words are from one of the two writings of St. Patrick that have come down to us amidst the
many legends, the letter to the soldiers of Coroticus. Coroticus has sent soldiers to maraud in Ireland, and
they massacred a community of fellow-Christians whom Patrick has just baptized. To get a good sense of
how pained he was, let me read just a bit more from Patrick.
“I have written and set down with my own hand these words to be solemnly given, carried, and sent
to the soldiers of Coroticus. I do not say, to my fellow citizens, nor to the citizens of the Christian Romans,
but to the fellow citizens of devils, because of their wicked behavior. They live in death in an atmosphere of
enmity, associates of…outlaws. Bloodthirsty, steeped in blood, the blood of innocent Christians, whom I
have begotten in large numbers for God and have confirmed in Christ!
“The day after the newly-baptized, still bearing the chrism, still in their white dress—it was giving out
its scent on their foreheads while they were being ruthlessly massacred and slaughtered by the men who have
been mentioned—the day after, I sent a letter by a holy presbyter, asking that they would kindly spare us
something from the booty or from the prisoners whom they had taken. They laughed at them.
“That is why I do not know what I am to grieve for more bitterly, whether those whom they
captured, those who were killed, or those whom the devil has deeply ensnared. …”
This letter, as I say, was written in the wake of a massacre of a community of Christians, still in their
baptismal joy. And the words ring eerily after the events of Friday in New Zealand, where a man, ensnared by
the devil of white supremacy, encouraged by the emboldened white supremacist voices of this very country,
entered two mosques as faithful Muslims were in the midst of their prayers to God, Most Compassionate,
Most Merciful, and massacred fifty.
Patrick was writing in his grief, over the murdered and captured children of God. And if we are not
too hardened to it yet, we must come together this morning in our grief over God’s murdered children, who
were lifting their voices to God, Most-Compassionate, Most-Merciful. The hatred of the world is bewildering,
and disorienting. It is born of fear—fear of Muslims, fear of strangers, fear that the world we thought we
grew up in is changing—and it leaves us with little more than perplexed grief. What can we do with such a
frightening and hateful world?
The first thing we need to do is refuse to give way to fear. This is the Psalm for today: The Lord is
my Light and my Salvation, whom shall I fear? “Contemporary America,” says Marilynne Robinson, “is full
of fear.” And “Fear,” she adds, “is not a Christian habit of mind.”1 She’s right. We will all feel fear, because
there really are things we should be afraid of, but we need to make a choice: to live our lives as the fearful or
the faithful. In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees are driven by fear: “Jesus, you have to get out of here, Herod
wants to kill you.” Don’t we all feel that? Sometimes it seems to me like everyone wants everyone else dead,
and so we are tempted to fortify our walls and shut our doors. But if we get stuck in the valley of the shadow
of death, we may come to dwell in the fear of evil. And that is a temptation that we must resist. Because, for
all you Star Wars fans out there, Yoda was essentially right: Living in fear leads to the Dark Side. Fear leads to
anger. Anger leads to hate. And hate—as we have seen all too clearly and too often—leads to suffering.
When we choose to dwell in the valley of the shadow rather than pass through, we may forget God is with us,
God’s rod and staff comforting us, because God is Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. We are tempted to
react to each other and the course of our lives in fear rather than respond in faith. We are tempted to reach
for our own death-dealing weapons so that we feel more secure; our fight or flight adrenaline pulses. But that
is fear, and it is not a Christian habit of mind. Jesus, on the other hand, responds with faith: “Go and tell that
fox for me, that I will not be moved from my mission by fear. I will not cease from healing and casting out
the demons and fighting injustice just because it is dangerous.” Let us have the courage to follow him say,
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” who counts the cost, and trusts in God.
Once we have shed our attachment to fear, we can learn to see our neighbors—our Muslim
neighbors and our black neighbors, our under-resourced and poor neighbors—as neighbors, and not
enemies. John Donne’s famous devotion on the tolling bell had it right: “No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. … [A]ny man’s death diminishes me, because I am
involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” We are all
bound up with each other. Christians and Muslims, black men and women with white men and women, queer
with straight, transgender with cisgender. But in order to approach one another as neighbors, and not
enemies, we must learn to be vulnerable, as poor Patrick, a sinner, was vulnerable. We must learn to trust that
we need not have our defenses up always, because fences do NOT in fact make good neighbors. When we
throw up our fences, I would ask to know, as Frost did, what I was walling in and walling out. My walls are as
like to wall in my own vice, and wall out the face of Christ in my neighbor.
And so, how should we stave off fear and learn to embrace our neighbors? Beloved, we must pray.
Pray that fear might stay far from us, pray that we might draw closer to our neighbors and choose trust
instead of suspicion. We need to pray that we might be willing to be children of peace, and have the courage
to follow Jesus to the cross. Notice that Paul does not complain about enemies of Christ, but about enemies
of the cross of Christ. There are those who suppose Christianity invites us to an easy life; in fact, it calls us to a
very demanding one. One in which we love our enemies, do good to them, and pray for them. Patrick
changed the face of Ireland, not by military conquest, but by being willing to return to the land of his
captivity where he had been enslaved and love those he found there with the very love and compassion of
Last night I was at a local concert given by the group Sounding Light. It was a new piece called, Pietà.
As the title might tell you, it traces the pain Blessed Mary must bear when she witnesses her son on the cross.
Before the program began, the conductor came out and gave a few remarks. This piece is especially hard, he
said. It may break your hearts, but when our hearts are broken, our souls might be filled. We are not able to
keep our loved ones from grief and pain, but we can fill up the cracks of grief with compassion, sitting with
those who have lost loved ones, praying with them, or helping a stranger who didn’t even know to ask for
Compassion. That is our greatest weapon against the hatred of the world. Laws are good, regulations
are good, turning our face against evil and denouncing Islamophobia and white supremacy is good. But our
greatest strength, like Christ’s, is in the cross. In choosing to mourn with those who mourn, to feel the pain
of our Muslim neighbors and weep with them.
So pray, beloved, pray that we may be free of the temptation to fear and to react in fear, free from
the temptation to see others as enemies rather than neighbors, free from the walls that keep us from the
compassion of the Crucified. Pray that we might long for peace, justice, and the healing of hatred in the way
of Jesus. Let us pray to find ourselves willing to be gathered under the merciful wings of our compassionate
God, and to be able to say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
“I am Patrick, a sinner, most uncultivated and least of all the faithful and most despised in the eyes of
many.” I love St. Patrick. Most of the stories about Patrick are legends, with very scant historical information,
fun though they may be. As one of his sharpest biographers puts it, though, “Patrick is one to whom
posterity has been both generous and unfair; generous because it has heaped upon him many honors—that of
becoming the patron saint of Ireland, that of being everywhere a symbol of Ireland itself and of Irish
Christianity, the attribution to him of miraculous powers and enormous success; unfair because in the process
of glorifying Patrick posterity has totally obscured his real lineaments, his real character, his real
I love the real Patrick, whose voice comes through in just two short writings that we still have from
him. I love St. Patrick because he is a model of a simple man, open to God’s love and call, and infused with
what one spiritual writer calls a holy longing.3 Patrick grew up comfortably wealthy, and was taken to Ireland
by pirates when he was just 15 or 16. He was enslaved as a shepherd for six years, but then escaped and
returned to Britain, only to have a vision of the Irish calling him back, begging him to teach them about God.
And so, in a decision he would never have made on his own, he eventually returned to Ireland, facing many
perils, and enduring many dangers, to be the pastor and bishop in the land where he had been enslaved—all
for the love of his God.
Patrick’s writings are full of self-depreciation: actual self-deprecation, not just formal or quaint pot
shots at himself. I’ve quoted the first line of his Confession; the Letter begins much the same way: “I Patrick, a
sinner, very badly educated, in Ireland, declare myself to be a bishop. I am quite certain that I have received
from God that which I am. Consequently I live among barbarian tribes as an exile and refugee for the love of
God” (Letter, 1). Having been wrenched away from his home and made a slave when he was just a boy,
Patrick was well aware of how dangerous the world could be, how precarious our happiness if we define
happiness by comfort and simple security. Indeed, how dangerous comfort and simple security can be to our
As I have said, Patrick reminds me of a book by Ronald Rolheiser, called The Holy Longing. “It is no
easy task to walk this earth and find peace,” he writes. “There is within us a fundamental dis-ease, an
unquenchable fire that renders us incapable, in this life, of ever coming to full peace.” That is because “desire
is always stronger than satisfaction.” Patrick could not rest in Britain, could not rest when the soldiers of
Coroticus murdered some of those he had baptized only the day before, and carried others off as slaves.
Patrick, knowing himself to be not much of anything, trusted in God’s strength, trusted in God’s call, trusted
his own dis-ease and holy longing. “Spirituality,” says Rolheiser, “is about what we do with our unrest, what
we do with the fire inside of us.”
Paul knew this unrest. “My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for,” he cries, “our citizenship
is in heaven.” This is not our true home. This country, this town: none of it is where we truly belong, because
they do not truly, and certainly they do not perfectly, reflect the reign of our God, whose glory it is always to
Jesus knew this unrest. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I desired to gather your children
together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” You were too content with
the way things were going, too comfortable in your own house. Well, see it is left to you, but you have lost
me. Because you do not see, cannot comprehend, the way of the cross.
This kind of unrest could be called faith: a trust we reserve for God. There is also a false kind of
unrest, which should be called fear. Once we have opened ourselves up to the truth of our dis-ease, and of
our incapacity to placate our troubled hearts, to the fact of danger in the world and of the dangers of
following Jesus, we need to respond. And we may respond in either faith or fear. Faith is the dis-ease of
desire that pushes us forward, beyond our capacities, to meet the deep need of the world. Fear is the unrest
of self-reliance that paralyzes us, and closes us off from the world. The Pharisees that come to Jesus are full
of fear: “Jesus, get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you!” I love Jesus’s answer, “Go and tell that fox
for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow and on the third day I
finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way….’” Fear, in other words, is not
a Christian habit of mind.
Patrick must have been afraid to go back to Ireland. So much uncertainty and danger lay there for
him. But he chose to return as an exile and refugee to a wild people, in a wild part of the world, because that
was how he could respond to his unrest in freedom, in faith, in love. He knew that’s where Jesus would be.
Because Jesus is always heading to the most dangerous places, because those are the places most in need of
Patrick concludes his Confession of all the good that God has done for him, late in his life when he is
an old man. And the holy longing is still there: “Now, once again I will briefly set out the words of my
Confession: I testify in truth and exultation of heart before God and his holy angels that I have never had any
motive apart from his gospel and promises to return to that nation from which I was only just able to
I marvel at those who can trust God like that. I love them. I want to be more like them. And so I
often ask: How can I stoke this holy longing like Patrick, like Jesus? Where am I afraid to go? With whom am
I afraid to associate? In what ways am I afraid to be vulnerable, and to be gathered under God’s outstretched
wing, under God’s mercy and compassion? I search myself for the answers, because in those places, with
those people, and that vulnerability I am likely to find myself in the company of Jesus, and be able to say,
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
“But I beg those who believe in God and fear God, whoever shall condescend to peruse or to receive
this writing which Patrick, a very badly educated sinner, has written in Ireland, that nobody shall ever say that
it was I, the ignoramus, if I have achieved or shown any small success according to God’s pleasure. But you
are to think and it must be sincerely believed, that it was the gift of God. And this is my Confession before I
You probably know a number of stories about St. Patrick. Patrick is said to have used the Shamrock
to convince the Irish of the truth of the Holy Trinity; he was able to light fires that could not be extinguished;
he climbed a mountain in County Mayo, where, throughout the forty days of Lent he was tormented and
tempted by demons disguised as blackbirds; and let’s not forget, he drove all the snakes from Ireland.
1 Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux).
2 R. P. C. Hanson, The Life and Writings of the Historical Saint Patrick (New York: Seabury Press, 1983), p. 1.
3 Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing (New York: Doubleday, 1999).