I think I am the world’s worst gardener, well, at least the world worst at starting things from seeds. I am not sure if I do not have the patience, or I just forget. I have tried everything. I have read books, blog posts, Google, everything, and nothing seems to work. So, I only buy plants that have already grown, and I seem to do ok with those.
We are coming to the end of our Lenten journey, and I have to ask, how has it been going? For many, it feels like we have been in a state of perpetual Lent since last year. A year ago, I had just started in a new interim position, and we were preparing for our second Sunday of virtual worship. We had begun to think about Easter, but we all thought for sure we would be back in the Church by that time. Well, here we are, preparing for our second Easter of virtual worship. So, I ask again, how has your Lent been going?
Today’s Gospel takes place during Passover. People have come from all around to worship, and of course, Jesus is there with his Apostles. By this time, the word has spread about Jesus and people and intrigued by what they have been hearing.
“Some Greeks” have come, no doubt they heard about Jesus along the trade route, and they want to learn more. They come to Philip and ask if they can see Jesus. Phillip goes and checks with a couple of others who check in with Jesus. The funny thing is the passage is not clear if they saw Jesus or not. The Apostles come to Jesus, presumably ask if he will see the Greeks, but he starts talking.
In John’s Gospel, this is the first time that we hear Jesus speak of his death. Jesus is getting his friends ready for what is about to happen, but Jesus being Jesus, does not come right out and say it.
Jesus uses the image of a seed.
Way back when I was in seminary, I had a class on preaching. The professor teaching the class told his students that we needed to use imagery that was understandable by those listening or they will not understand when preaching. Jesus often used agricultural or fishing imagery because that is what those listening would have understood. But it makes us work a little harder.
Jesus says that “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” For there to be life, there has to be death. For the seed to grow, it must first die.
The kernel of wheat is a seed with a hard outer shell that protects the inside’s soft seed. This is important when the seeds are being stored so that the seeds are not damaged. But the outer shell of that seed has to give its life so that what is contained inside may flourish and grow.
Jesus is speaking of his life and what he has to do. He has to die so that there will be life. He will go into the ground, his tomb, so that there will be life eternal.
But then, Jesus turns the topic to others, to you and I, and what we have to do.
Yes, Jesus speaks of dying, and how we have to die, we have to take up our cross, and all of that. But remember, Jesus used metaphorical language, so we are not speaking of actual death here but spiritual death. This is why I ask you at the start, “How is your Lent going?” The giving up of things during Lent is to train us to transform ourselves into another being. To lose that hard outer shell so that the soft seed inside might begin to grow.
We need to die to ourselves. This does not mean we need to sacrifice ourselves or our comfort, some might be called to do that, but this is not a blanket call for us. We are to die to sin. Yes, I said sin. I know we don’t like to talk about sin, but we have to. Sin is missing the mark, not living up to our potential, not using the gifts God has given us to build up the kingdom.
But there is also another sin that we need to cause the death of. The sin of racism, we saw this sin play out in Atlanta this past week. We need to cause the death of the sin of hatred in all of its forms. We need to cause the death of the sin homophobia and all of the other phobias around us. We need to die to all of this sin because that is what keeps us from shedding that outer shell that is preventing that seed from growing.
Friends, the season of Lent is all about shedding that outer shell. It is hard work; the soil has to be just right. We have to use the right amount of water, fertilizer, and sunlight, or nothing happens. Lent is when we prepare the soil by reading Scripture, increasing our daily prayer routine, or starting one. We use this time to give up bad habits and create some new ones.
As we continue to walk with Jesus toward the cross and eventual resurrection, let us continue to work to remove that hard outer shell so that what is inside may blossom and grow.