3/22/2015 Fifth Sunday in Lent Text is John 12:20-33.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” This response of Jesus to Philip and Andrew, and the exciting news that there were Greeks who wanted to meet Jesus, had to be anything but wonderful news to the disciples. They were looking forward to an evangelism trip unlike any other, but this was not the time for Jesus to start something new. The hour had come for him to be glorified – that is, to head toward the cross. Time was running out. Jesus’ ministry among us was winding down and now was the time to focus on life and death decisions, for the road ahead for those who would follow Christ was a tough one and would lead even into their own death.
Following Jesus had been inspiring for those closest to him. They had witnessed him walking on water, stilling storms, healing the sick and preaching good news that changed people’s hearts and lives. All these things and so much more confirmed to them that they had latched their wagon to a star. But, they needed to be more than groupies and more than students. They needed to become servants themselves, carrying on Jesus’ work after the grain of seed which was his life returned to the earth from which it was formed. Of course, this was not going to be easy for them. It involved a change, a transformation of their lives. They needed to die to the things of this world and be reborn as servants of Christ.
This was not going easy for them, any more than it is easy for any of us who have been baptized in the name of Christ. Yet, nothing worthwhile is ever easy. That’s a lesson that the Betty Crocker Company learned years ago when it first began selling its cake mixes by offering a product that only needed water. Much to the company’s surprise, the mix bombed. It seemed that people weren’t buying this cake mix because it was too easy. They wanted to feel that they were contributing something to it. So, Betty Crocker changed the recipe and required the customers to add an egg in addition to water. Immediately, the new cake mix was a huge success.
Unfortunately, many people try to make the call of Jesus as easy as the first Betty Crocker cake mix. They follow the example of Gracie Allen, who played the scatterbrained wife in a comedy team with her husband George Burns. Once, Gracie called in a repairman to fix her electric clock. The repairman fiddled with it for a while and then said, “There’s nothing wrong with the clock; you didn’t have it plugged in.” Gracie replied, “I don’t want to waste electricity, so I only plug it in when I want to know what time it is.”
That’s an apt description of many of us. We save our religion for a rainy day. But, our faith is not something to be plugged in when it’s convenient or when it’s necessary. The Christian life is lived daily. And, there is a cost involved. For, if we are going to get anything out of our life in Christ, we have to invest ourselves in it. And that investment begins as we die to the world so that we can be reborn in the soil of God’s grace.
It’s amazing how tiny seeds can transform the landscape around our homes when planted in good, rich soil. We know quite a bit about seeds and how they germinate. We know that a seed consists of a protective seed coat, some kind of storage tissue with nutrient reserves, and a dormant plant embryo. We know that under the correct conditions the dormant embryo can be “awakened” to develop and grow into a mature plant. At some point a seed is turned “on” and it begins to sprout. In time, what was once a seed is transformed into a flower, fruit or grain which produces seed of its own – a seed of the same type.
Jesus lived in an agricultural-type community which understood this. Jesus also understood that he, himself, must die and rise to new life as a forerunner for those who would follow in faith. He, himself, was to be the first of a kind – the first to have victory over the grave, the first to be resurrected from the dead. His life, his words, his actions produced a new type of fruit in the life of his follower who, in turn, would become the seed for a new generation.
For Jesus, planting seeds is what it means to follow faithfully. And there are benefits to living a life in Christ that the world cannot give. If you find your pleasure, your identity, your security, your life ambition in what the world can give, you will reap the benefits and the consequences of that choice for a life time, but no longer. If you find your pleasure, your identity, your security, your life ambition as a servant of Christ, you may not find yourself in the lap of luxury, enjoying all that the world has to offer, but in the end, you will find yourself in good company for eternity. We cannot have it both ways. We can’t put Jesus on the back shelf and forget about planting his seed, and expect the benefits of a life in Christ. We must first put aside worldly values and grab hold of God’s grace.
Eugene Peterson says it well in his book, The Message, “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.”
So, here we stand – at a crossroads – one way is hard and the other easy. The way of the cross is challenging as we are to live as servants of Christ and put aside the worldly things that are so attractive to us. The way of the world is easy – we can see the benefits and hold them in our hands. But, one way leads to new life, rebirth and salvation – the good gifts of God’s grace; the other way leads to nothing more than a grave at the end of a winding road. We are surely tempted to go the easy way we as see the fruits and savor the taste, but we can’t have it both ways. We have to make choice, knowing that nothing worth having is ever easy.
So let us put aside momentary pleasure and look forward to what is to come. May you choose the better way and live as a servant of Christ. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.