[For the audio version of this sermon please click on the above link]
We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit, and all those who are brothers and sisters in Jesus said … AMEN!!
You may have heard me refer to St Patricks as the “high holy day”, if you grew up where I grew up, it would be easy to come to that conclusion. I went to the St Patrick’s Day mass in Boston, once. It was conducted, by then, Cardinal Law. You wanna talk “high holy day”, that was it. The worship service, for what was during the week, was very ornate and well attended. This was at the Cardinal’s seat at Holy Cross Church in Boston. Say what you will about the Roman Catholic Church, but I left there very much feeling as if I had been in worship.
The story is told of Mayor James Michael Curley of Boston. Mayor Curley was quite the character, sort of a Robin Hood figure at the time, which was pretty much during the depression. He couldn’t make March 17 a holiday for a Christian Saint, he tried to find an historical event to commemorate. He hit upon the fact that March 17 is when the British evacuated Boston during the Revolutionary War. Well the fact that our Boston ancestors drove the mighty British out of Boston wasn’t something that not only the old Boston Yankees would happily commemorate, but also the Irish-American population would also buy into. Call it what you would, there was a holiday on March 17 and we all know what it’s really about. Evacuation Day is still a recognized holiday in Middlesex and Suffolk counties where Boston is located in. And it is duly celebrated.
Heritage is an important thing, it should be shared and celebrated. Right here we have at least four different groups in First St Johns Lutheran Church that are very serious in the living and celebrating of their heritage and there is nothing wrong with that. In a society that has become so splintered and so alienated, I submit that those people who remember their heritage, share that heritage with others of the same group, make sure that their children, grandchildren and other relatives remember that and don’t surrender to what has become an increasingly homogenized society. As much as diversity is promoted in today’s society, it really is putting away ethnic and religious heritages, to be bound together under an increasingly secular and humanist heritage. Many talk a good game about heritage, the lack of knowledge of American and ethnic history is getting to be scandalous. Too many young people can’t even think in historical terms, as if what came before them doesn’t matter and yet has very much made them what they are. This lack of anchoring in our society, to our Christian heritage and our family heritage has left us with a society that is increasingly detached and alienated.
When you were baptized, you became a new person. In Baptism you are “born again”, you are given real life, in Jesus Christ, you are that new man or woman. Because of that you are born into a new heritage. You may be of German ethnicity or Irish or Spanish, African-American, Italian, but as the song says “…in Christ alone…” We share a heritage that goes back to the beginning in Jesus. As Paul wrote to the Galatian brothers: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
Because it is the “high holy day”, I bring this up because I do try to make St Patricks a little special. I know it’s the middle of Lent and should be somber. Sundays, though, even in Lent, are still festival days on the church calendar. It’s odd how it works out and if you would like me to explain it, I will, but I see St Patricks as a way to kind of stay in touch with the culture that I was brought up in and even as a Lutheran was included in. I have to admit, being of Irish/Yankee ethnicity, makes me an oddball in the Lutheran Church. Although it’s not the only thing that does, but I see St Patricks as a way to remember not just our ethnic identity, but so much more importantly our identity in Jesus.
One reason that I have felt it was so important to recite the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds with the word “catholic” is to emphasize that the Lutheran Church is very much a universal church. We should not concede that to any other church. We are universal and the Lutheran Church has members and churches in almost every country in the world. There are countries where Christianity is seriously repressed, so we really don’t know what church is or isn’t represented. The fastest growing Lutheran population in the world is not in the United States or Europe, it’s in …. Africa, by far. “…there are over 16 million Lutherans in Africa? To put that in perspective, that’s more Lutherans than in all of North America. Unlike the Church in Europe and North America, Africa as well as Asia is seeing phenomenal growth in membership.” Put in perspective, from Dr Luther grew the churches of modern Protestantism.  Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, genuine Protestant Christian, excluding Anabaptist churches, churches are the result of what Martin Luther did 500 years ago. We are all truly brothers and sisters in Christ. Often more brothers and sisters than the people that we share physical parents with.
I may use St Patricks Day to add a little twist into worship, I try to do it better, but it never seems to come about. But we have a shared heritage that far transcends what countries our ancestors were born in, we have a heritage that matters for eternity. Jesus died for all of us equally, we are all equally saved in Jesus, whether you were baptized last week, or seventy years ago. I am no more saved because I’m of Irish descent than you are of German descent, or Spanish, African American. In the eternal resurrection our heritage is solely in He who died so that we could be saved. He who is the Lord of our life, in this life and in the life eternal. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” World, ko,smoj in Greek means “…the inhabitants of the earth, men, the human race” We are all brothers and sisters in the Holy Catholic, universal Lutheran church of Jesus Christ.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.