The text for today’s sermon is taken from John 12:20-33.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
If there was ever any doubt, this week took it away – Puscatawny Phil was wrong! We are definitely having an early spring! Just ask Dick Gates about his bountiful crop of dandelions and ask me about the daffodils blooming under my Magnolia tree. And we will tell you that spring is here.
Those flowers are the hallmark of the new season and I love seeing them in the yard. So every fall I try to pick up a few bulbs. But, I must admit that, while I’m delighted to pick through the selection available at Home Depot and other stores, I’m not always good at planting. A few years back, I bought a bag of tulip bulbs at Shaws. I put the bag in a safe place in the garage until I was ready to plant. But, sadly, when the time came to plant, I couldn’t remember where I had put those bulbs.
Well, this fall, when I was moving things in the garage this year, I found those bulbs – or should I say, I found the bag that had contained them. The bulbs that were left were shriveled up reminders of senior moments. The rest had been devoured by the mice that inhabit my garage over the winter.
Oh, well – I had good intentions. But, like any seed, bulbs don’t grow in plastic bags. They need to be placed into the ground in order to take root and develop, mature and flower and multiply. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. Anyone who has ever planted a garden, pruned bushes or suffered from allergies knows something about how plants propagate. Seeds need a medium in which to take root. And only those seeds, which reach maturity, dry up and survive the harshness of the weather, have a chance of producing flowers the next year.
In spite of all our technological advances and new forms of farming, this process hasn’t changed. So the image, used by Jesus, of a grain of wheat falling to the earth is as familiar to us today as it was to the disciples of bygone years.
It was the Passover and Jews from most of the Roman Empire gathered in Jerusalem. A few Gentiles were also there. These were most likely people searching for something, some kind of truth about themselves, God and the world around them. So when these men heard of Jesus’ teaching and healing, they wanted to talk to him.
They turned to the apostle Philip for help because Philip – unlike the other disciples – had a Greek name. His name would have made him more approachable to these non-Jews than the other disciples in the same way a newly immigrated Swede might be find another Swede more approachable than someone with a Latin last name. They went to Philip, and said, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” And Philip got his fellow disciple, Andrew, and they go to Jesus together with the request.
The conversation that follows is strange; almost bizarre. Jesus says nothing directly about the Greek guests. In fact, he seems almost to ignore the request altogether. Instead, he uses the opportunity as a way to focus their attention of what was about to happen. “The hour has come,” Jesus says, “for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Jesus goes on to say that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain, but that if it dies, it bears much fruit. Therefore, Jesus continues, we must be ready to “hate” our lives in this world, ready to lay our lives down to serve God.
At that point, Jesus says that his soul is troubled; so troubled that if it were possible, he would want to be saved from this hour, but that he knows that it is for this very hour that he came into the world. Then Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from this earth, will draw all people to myself.” The writer of this gospel goes on to say that by this statement Jesus indicated “the kind of death he was to die.”
Jesus knows that he will be facing the cross. As his earthly ministry is coming to a close, Jesus knows that suffering and death that is just around the corner. But Jesus also knows that his death will not be in vain. As the planted and buried seed will eventually bear much fruit, so will his death and burial bring forth the blessings of life. And yet, he must choose. Jesus must choose to follow the path set before him or to back away from the cross.
As God’s good seed, Jesus chooses the cross. He chooses to suffer and to die for our salvation. As God’s good seed, buried in death, Jesus rises like the flower in the spring, bearing fruit. Jesus brings the fruits of the kingdom for all who imitate him in his life and death, believing and trusting that God will not abandon them to the grave. As God’s good seed, Christ is planted into our hearts. The sign of the cross is branded on our brows to help us to remember what God has done for us and for a world of people searching for something, some kind of truth about themselves, God and the world around them.
As tiny seeds and spring bulbs transform the landscape around our home, God’s good seed, Jesus Christ transforms the landscape of our life. For as Eugene Peterson interprets this passage in his book, The Message, “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 love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”
Through our connection to Jesus’ death and resurrection, our lives are transformed. We are made children of God, good seeds, bearing good fruit to the world. May the seed of God’s love, made known to us in Jesus Christ, grow in us, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.