Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 25, 2012

2012.03.25 “Be Like Seeds” – John 12: 20 – 33

Central United Methodist Church

“Be Like Seeds”

Pastor David L. Haley

John 12: 20 – 33

The 5th Sunday in Lent

March 25th, 2012

 

        “There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?”

        Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus. Jesus answered, “Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

        “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

        “If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.

        “Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.'”

        A voice came out of the sky: “I have glorified it, and I’ll glorify it again.”

        The listening crowd said, “Thunder!”

        Others said, “An angel spoke to him!”

        Jesus said, “The voice didn’t come for me but for you. At this moment the world is in crisis. Now Satan, the ruler of this world, will be thrown out. And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me.” He put it this way to show how he was going to be put to death.” – John 12: 20 – 33, The Message

 

       On our Lenten journey to Easter, we are right where we ought to be, into the season of growing things. Last Tuesday, on the first day of spring, it felt like we skipped spring and went straight to summer.  Now we’re back to spring.

       What our run of warm weather did do was give all growing things a head start. Flowers are bursting forth, trees are past the budding stage. A downside is that they are predicting lots of insects this year, as it never really got cold enough this winter to kill them off. It was so nice last week I was tempted to begin thinking tomatoes, but I kept reminding myself that we are still a good month away from planting season. Some of us have already begun to make the move to shorts, although we know cool days are sure to come.

       The older I get the more I appreciate spring, for if there is a perennial lesson spring teaches us it is this: life follows death, as surely as death follows life. 

       Not only spring teaches us this lesson, but Jesus makes this point in today’s reading from the Gospel of John: “Listen carefully: unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over.”

       At this point in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry has reached its apogee. After the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11, great crowds follow Jesus, but at the same time it provokes an equal and opposite reaction; the religious leaders plot to kill him, as undermining their authority. Jesus began to feel like Dr. Martin Luther King felt that night 44 years ago in Memphis, when he gave his famous “Mountaintop” speech. “Now my heart is troubled,” said Jesus.  Death was in the air. 

       Even so, as with Dr. King, that did not stop those coming and going.  Some Greeks – likely Greek Jews who had come to Jerusalem for Passover – approached, saying, “We would see Jesus.” I wonder if anybody said, “Hey, that would be a great title for a hymn someday.” (It’s number 256 in the Hymnal.)

       What happened next sounds more like a political campaign, than a religious movement. The Greeks’ people talked to Jesus’ people, specifically Phillip and Andrew, who talked to Jesus, although he story is not clear whether Jesus greeted the Greeks or blew them off. But the request of the Greeks set something off in Jesus, and he knew the time for the fulfillment of his mission had come. As often happens in John, when Jesus starts talking, everybody and everything else fades into the background, and suddenly Jesus is talking to us:

             “Listen carefully: unless a grain of wheat is buried in the        ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat.    But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself  many times over.”

       In case his disciples didn’t get the analogy, Jesus put it this way, as rendered by Eugene Peterson in The Message:

                   “In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”

       Of course, we see clearly now, he was talking about himself. On our Lenten journey, we have heard Jesus repeatedly tell his disciples what was coming: that he would be arrested, and suffer, and be killed, and on the third day, rise again. But they couldn’t get even the first part, much less the second. “It’ll never happen, Master,” Peter had protested, “not as long as you have us.” All the rest had said the same. They wanted to hold on to what they had, and couldn’t understand that it was part of his mission that he would have to give himself in this way.

       What Jesus had tried to communicate to his disciples, that they also didn’t get, was that to follow Jesus means to live this way; in the way of letting go, in the way of living in reckless love, the way of dying as a grain of wheat, in order that new life may result.

       As we all know too well, this is easier said than done. Even if we understand the concept, it doesn’t mean it is any easier to accept and to do. We all want to hang on to the life we once had in the past, or the life we now have in the present, than to let go of it, that a new life might come forth.

       This letting go is not just a general concept, it is something we have to do in every area of our lives.  I came across a quote from Kentucky poet Wendell Berry which said, “Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.” I don’t want to be 60, or 90; I want to be 30 again. But I’m not. I don’t want to accept that my children are growing up, becoming responsible and independent, I want them to remain in my control and under my fatherly management. But to be good parents, we have to let them go. I don’t want to acknowledge that my body (and mind) is aging, and I can’t do all the things I used to do; I’ll have to learn to live differently.  But I have no choice, I can’t escape the aging process. I absolutely do not want to accept that I cannot go back to life the way it used to be, that I’m going to lose those I love, just as those who love me must eventually lose me. 

       Once you realize this, it seems to me we have two primary alternatives before us: we can be angry and bitter, well expressed by the lines the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ wrote regarding the death of his father:

             “Do not go gentle into that good night,

             Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

             Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

       Or you can accept it, even embrace it, and see our life as Jesus saw his life, and asked us to see ours, in the image he offered to us:

             “Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world,    it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts   and reproduces itself many times over.” 

       We can make our lives count: as a seed planted in life, in the lives of our families and our friends, in our church and in our community, in the work that we accomplish in the world through our hands and our minds and our hearts. 

       For example, as many of you are thankful for your parents, I am so thankful for my parents, and especially my father, upon his passing, I am so thankful for the seeds he planted in my life, beyond the one of my very existence. Though in many ways he lived a hard life, he was a good father, a good man, and a good Christian. He was always helping people out, family, neighbors, church members, friends, in more ways than I can name; he was always going off to do something for somebody.  He was a volunteer fireman in our little town, to which I credit becoming one myself. He helped build the house in which my mother still lives, and the Church in which we held his funeral. He was a faithful worshiper, a Bible teacher who could even interest teenagers (I was one of them), and a Lay Speaker so good that when he spoke he used to amaze even me. I would like to think that if I have any speaking gifts, I got them from him. To the end, my Dad always wanted to hear how my church – our church – was doing, and yes, usually had a few suggestions about we I ought to do next. Without my Dad (and Mom’s) commitment to Christ and to Church, I would never have become and never have remained a United Methodist pastor for 38 years; without it I would not be your pastor now. These are just some of the seeds he planted in my life, which even upon his passing, continue to bear fruit in my life and your life and the lives of others.  Says Jesus, this is what all of our lives meant to do.

       Archbishop Oscar Romero, until his assassination by right wing death squads in the Cathedral in San Salvador on March 24th, 1980, was the fourth Archbishop of El Salvador. Since that time he has been known as a modern day martyr and a candidate for sainthood.  About a year before he was assassinated, on April 1, 1979, preaching upon these words of Jesus, in words that would soon be more personal than he could know, said this: 

             “To each one of us Christ is saying: If you want your life and       mission to be fruitful like mine, do as I. Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried. Let yourself be killed. Do not be afraid. Those who       shun suffering will remain alone. No one is more alone than the selfish.  But if you give your life out of love for others, as I give mine for all, you   will reap a great harvest. You will have the deepest satisfactions. Do not    fear death or threats; the Lord goes with you.” (Oscar Romero, 1 April    1979, Rivers in the Desert by Rowland Croucher (ed.) Albatross Books,    1991, page 398.)

              “Listen carefully: unless a grain of wheat is buried in the        ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat.    But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over.”

       Go be seeds, grains of wheat in the world, bearing much fruit.  Amen.

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