Jeremiah 31: 31-34
JOHN 12: 20-33


We started this service with an image of the Irish landscape. Sheep grazing alongside a green, green hill. If you have ever had the privilege of going to Ireland and have driven through the countryside you have seen the sheep. And, just a flight over Ireland will reveal why it is called the Emerald Isle … Ireland is definitely a land where the color green flourishes … a color representing life. And, our opening message from the Saint whose day is celebrated today is all about life choices …. Saint Patrick once upon a time declared, “The Lord is greater than all … I have said enough!”

Since we are in worship today either here in person or worshipping online … are you in agreement with this Irish Saint of all things corned beef and Guinness? Should our daily life’s message be wrapped up in his consummate statement of faith … “The Lord is greater than all?”

Of course, that would mean you and I would be accepting the premise from the prophet Jeremiah that God’s contract with humanity is one that we honestly and completely accept. That we have the Lord God’s “instructions within us and engraved on our hearts. That regardless of all that the world has to offer … we have determined that God is our god and that each of us is one of God’s people. Is that how you live your life each day? A co-signer to God’s contract of love?

Have you made the personal choice to focus your life’s decisions not on the opinions from talking heads on political talk shows but directly from the words of the Gospels of Jesus Christ? And, do you find it easy to state that you know the Lord, that Jesus Christ matters to you and your life, and therefore you know that the Lord is greater than all? Even greater than Bryce Harper or Jalen Hurts or your favorite politician flavor of the day?

Perhaps that is a challenge that we struggle with because after all … if any of us had ten front row tickets along the first base line to the Phillies opening game that would put us up close and personal with Bryce we’d be calling friends to go to the game with us. But for some reason we don’t offer our friends the same invitation to come to church with us to experience the Lord God whom today’s suggestion from St. Patrick at least is that the Lord is greatest of all; you don’t even have to have tickets to the show. We hesitate to invite others to discover Jesus Christ … to sense the Holy Spirit … and to bow down to worship the Lord even though we will scream our heads off in praise with a wide variety of friends and strangers when the Phillies or our favorite team wins a game.

So, on this St. Patrick’s Day … are you with me and are you willing to declare that the Lord God is greater than all … that God’s priorities, beginning with loving God and loving ALL of our neighbors, matter more than the issues of today’s political debates? And, are you willing to risk the condemnation of friends by saying that God … Jesus Christ … your personal faith matter more than your favorite sports teams or some political leader? That you revere Jesus more than Taylor and her football hero boyfriend?

Mmm … alive in faith … a challenge even in the Lenten Season.

Have you ever watched the sun rise over a grassy hill or a mountain side. The beams suddenly transforming darkness into light? Sensing the sun warming the landscape transforming the coolness of the night into another day of opportunities. Although we don’t have hillsides or mountains … that special feeling of a dawning new day occurs on Easter sunrise at the Red Bank Battlefield Park. It’s a sensual transformation that no matter the season makes humans feel better. There’s something special about the light taking over from darkness.

The Lord is greater than all” is an interesting perspective of one man’s life from the history of the Christian church but perhaps it is a challenge for each of us to consider as we wind down the 2024 season of Lent heading towards Holy Week and then the seasonal vacation from church holidays or obligations until Pentecost stirs us up all too briefly. A Lenten challenge for each of us to determine what matters in our lives … what makes us the people we are … can you say that you are “alive in anything?” Here in church I can ask you this morning … ARE YOU ALIVE IN YOUR FAITH? Have you been using this Lenten season to get closer to God in your daily lives? More prayer? More Scripture? Less world and more faith?

If asked your perspective on life in the year 2024 would you ever … ever consider answering the question as Patrick did … “The Lord is greater than all … I have said enough.

When you woke up this morning and saw that the sun was rising on the eastern horizon did your thoughts turn to the God of creation? One of Saint Patrick’s messages is a good Lenten season reminder for us this morning. He wrote, “I arise today through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism. Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial. Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension. I arise today through the strength of heaven … the light of the moon. I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me. God’s wisdom to guide me.”

Ah, God’s wisdom as a guide. Humanity has a history of rebellion against God. We have so many choices about how we can choose to live our lives. The flow of information that we receive each day can be literally overwhelming, can’t it? Directives created by various humans that appeal to some folks and not to others. Stress-filled chasms where we don’t want to go against friends or family or perhaps we do want to. People sorting out people and all too many hoping to find their personal leprechaun at the end of a fictional rainbow to ensure that they get their self-determined well-deserved pot o’gold.

By the way, anyone here win that big MEGAMILLIONS lottery? Our neighbors here in New Jersey invested $3.63 BILLION in lottery tickets last year while constantly complaining about taxes and the cost of living even though their odds of winning the lottery in the United States are 1 in 292.2 million. Never give to the poor … heaven forbid that concept but get in line at the WAWA for the latest ticket.

Bishop N. T. Wright in his book, ‘After You Believe,’ theorizes that Paul was a morning person adding in that “he was quite capable of staying up late at night as well.” He writes, “I think that Paul was one of those people who sensed and relished the excitement of being up before sunrise and of being able to let the power and promise of a breaking dawn stimulate fresh prayer and action.” Wright quotes Paul’s message when he asks, “don’t you know what time it is? Night is nearly over and day is about to break. Rise up and the Messiah will give you light.”

Wright is using Paul’s example not as the means of asking us to change our sleeping habits but as a directive to Christians to find the awakening focus that our faith can deliver to our lives. Wright continues by suggesting that Christians and non-Christians aren’t that different except when it comes to priorities in life. Except that there should be a “goal amongst the faithful …the day has already dawning, here are the steps towards that goal, the habits of heart, mind, and body which will prepare you to be a daytime person, a complete, renewed human being. Faith, hope, and love form the fundamental character of the person of faith. Whose goal is already given in Christ.”

Faith, hope and love friends … yes, Paul writes that the greatest is love but since God is the source of love then faith should be essential too. And, we need to be alive in our faith because to neglect faith is to deny our love for God and to merely slip into the world’s pit, which offers us neither hope nor our opportunity to fulfill our part of the contract with God.

In our Gospel lesson of the day, we hear how Greeks were joining with the Jews in worshiping and seeking out Jesus. Jesus clearly reminds those interested parties that it would take more than just curiosity to connect with Him and with God. That classic verse of faithful connection is stated by Jesus, “Whoever serves me MUST follow me. Wherever I am there my servant will also be.”

We are given that clarity of God’s expectations that all too often contradicts what we want because we want to be in the world but also to say we are believers. But, friends the truth is we cannot allow our faith to lie stagnant. We are called to be alive in our faith but that means actually following Christ and that means investing the time to determine what Jesus taught us about God’s expectations … and then we need to align with God rather than choosing the human sides of the debate.

In Ireland you will notice that the sheep often have paint marks on their backs. On one of our trips to the Emerald Isle we asked about the paint because the sheep were all just wandering across the hillsides, blocking the roads, and there never seemed to be a shepherd close at hand. Our guide told us that each sheep’s paint indicated what farmer they belonged to and that at the proper time the shepherd gathers their sheep.

God’s love extends to all of humanity … God’s goal is to bring us all home to God for eternity but the choice remains with us whether we retain the mark of Christ in our lives or erase it to get in with another flock of sheep … the lost ones.

That Sixties song’s singers sang, “for I have the warmth of the sun within me at night” and people of faith have God’s love even in the darkest moments. We just need to become alive in our faith ready to declare that the Lord is greater than all. When we do that we will join with St. Patrick in knowing that “Christ is with me, Christ is before me, Christ is behind me, Christ is in me. Christ is beneath me, Christ is above me, Christ is on my right, Christ is on my left. Christ when I lie down. Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise. Christ in every eye that sees me, and Christ in every ear that hears me.”

The truth my friends … the Lord is greater than all … I have said enough. AMEN

© 2017- St. Paul's United Methodist Church, West Deptford, NJ