Sunday, March 22, 2015

Seeds of Resurrection

13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The hour has come, Jesus says, for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Now imagine that you have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you didn’t know anything about the resurrection and Jesus was saying these words to you what would you think Jesus’ hour of glory might be?

If you were the singer Bruce Springsteen you might think it was a return to your high school days when you were the big man or woman on campus. In his song Glory Days, Springsteen sings about people who missed the power and promise of their high school days.

If you don’t know about the resurrection you might think that Jesus being glorified means he is going to rise to power. If you only read the Old Testament, you might assume that glory means victory over those who hold you captive since in the Exodus story of the escape of the slaves from Egypt, God gains glory from Pharaoh.

If you don’t know the story of Jesus death and resurrection, you might think that when the Son of Man is glorified, he’ll be lifted up onto the shoulders of people who love and support him like a beloved coach or ball player after a big win in March Madness.

But when Jesus says, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  He means something different. He means something troubling. In his life and his preaching, Jesus challenges us to think about glory differently. Jesus says his glorification will look like this:

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. (The Message)

Jesus is telling those who are listening that to be glorified is more complicated that winning a victory and lording over all the people. No, the Jesus way is complex and full of paradox. One tiny seed contains many fruits. To win you have to lose. To ascend you have to descend. To live you have to die. This is the way of Jesus. This is the way of resurrection. This is the way of life. It’s a pattern that we see in little ways each day of our lives and in big event that draws us to God by way of the cross.

In the story today, Jesus uses the idea of a seed to explain what will happen to him. If you think of a seed, it has life within it. Its protective shell guards the essence of life for the plant, withstanding heat and cold and different seasons. A seed is a portable, transferrable, time-traveling way of creating new life.

From the Seed Savers Exchange
I was delighted that the last time I was in the store the displays of seeds were out. After a winter of too much cold and too much snow, just the pictures of flowers lifted my spirits. There were cosmos and nasturtium and zinnias. This time of year even the lettuce and spinach are beautiful. In the cold of March, we can buy life in an envelope from the hardware store or get them shipped in the mail. Amazing.

Growth and dormancy, life and death are a cycle we go through here in Western Pennsylvania and in our lives—the flowers and the gardens die off, we cut and prune them and prepare them for winter. We descend into the dark and snow. A time when things survive, but nothing seems to grow.  And then comes spring and we perk back up. The glorious flowers and fruits and even the number of people in the sanctuary multiply. This isn’t THE resurrection of Christ. But it does give us visible reminders of resurrection.

Throughout his ministry Jesus calls us to participate in the final resurrection we should also participate in the every day resurrection. He says repent. He says let the things of this world die in order to participate in God’s world. He says whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be.

Jesus calls us to follow him in this cycle of dying and living. Not just in the big things, but in the little things, too. Dying in order to live not an easy journey. It wasn’t easy for Jesus. It’s not easy for us either.

The church historian Diana Butler Bass puts the idea of dying to live another way. She says that we need to let go, let it be and let something new come. But letting go is so hard. It’s soul troubling.

Sometimes we don’t have a choice. A loved one will die or we will experience an accident of illness that forces us to let go of life as we knew it. But, sometimes we are faced with the challenge of making a choice to let go of something we love or value.

In our time of advanced medical care letting go can feel irresponsible or unloving. We are racked with guilt about choosing to let go.

My family experienced this with the death of my grandmother. She was a smart, engaged and active woman for much of her life. She raised six sons after her husband died. She worked as a school counselor and was a professor of counseling at IUP. She was a matriarch’s matriarch. I, and many people in my family, were proud of her survival skills. I can remember one year that my sister said that she wanted to do the Race for the Cure in her honor.

Grandma responded, “Don’t you dare. I have survived so much more in life than breast cancer. That’s not who I am.”

But age caught up with her and little by little those of us who loved her had to let go of what we thought defined her.

She retired. She slowed down. Eventually, this fiercely independent woman who loomed so large in our minds could no longer take care of herself and so she was placed in assisted living, and then nursing care. And finally she was hospitalized. With oxygen. Then a feeding tube. But even though she was a dying old woman in a hospital bed, we hadn’t let go of who we thought she was. Even when things were hopeless. I think that some of us thought she would survive this, too.

But she didn’t.

Her hour had come and we had to let go of our idea of who she was and let her be. Simply let her be. We had to let go so that something new come into her life and ours.

Unless the seed is dead and buried, it cannot bear fruit.

In order to be bearers of God’s fruit and glorify God we have to let some things go. Jesus is very clear on this. He doesn’t use the euphemism of letting go. Jesus uses much stronger language. He says some things have to die, we have to lose our life, we have to hate life in this world.

It’s almost as if Jesus frightens himself with these words, after all he is the one facing death. 

After speaking these hard words of death and losing and hating, Jesus says, Now my soul is troubled. Jesus knows the path is hard. Jesus knows fear.  

Can you picture Jesus with his troubled soul pacing and muttering? Talking to himself saying, My soul is troubled, what should I say? Should I say save me from this hour? No! That’s why I’m here. My soul is troubled. But, this is the reason I have come to this hour. OK. I'll do it. Glory to God.

But despite his troubled soul, he knows why he is there. He knows the path he must take. In verse 32 he says, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. Jesus will be lifted up bodily as he was nailed to the cross and he will be lifted up or exalted for his willingness to go there out of love for you and for me.

Why was Jesus soul troubled? Jesus soul was troubled because there were a lot of things he had to let go of. Jesus soul was troubled because there were things and people in the world that he loved dearly. He knew he would have to let go of these things.

He had to let go of the love and support of friends and family who followed him in his ministry. Those of us who move or change jobs understand that it can be hard to leave people behind. But sometimes that’s what we are called to do. To serve Jesus we must follow him.

Jesus had to let go of his reputation. People had placed their hopes and dreams in Jesus the Messiah. They dreamed that he would be the one to lead them to overthrow the Romans and return Israel to power. When Jesus didn’t do this, the crowd turned on him.  We have to let go of worrying about what other people think of us when we follow Jesus call. To serve Jesus we must follow him.

Jesus had to let go of his comfort. The man went willingly to be tortured and executed. I don’t think any of us are at risk of being lashed and crucified. But, nonetheless, if we are to follow Jesus, we may be called to give up our comfort. We may be called to give up our security. To serve Jesus we must follow him.

Jesus had to let go of the love and support of his friends, he had to let go of his reputation, he had to let go of his comfort for God’s glory. These are just a few of the things Jesus had to let die in order for the resurrection to happen.

Jesus’ dying and rising pattern has cosmic and eternal implications. But it has daily impact as well. As Christians, we are a people of resurrection. But, we can’t be a people of resurrection unless we are also a people of death.  Our daily lives are filled with opportunities to choose between life and death. The good thing is that most days we decide between life and death metaphorically or symbolically more than literally. 

To serve Jesus means we must follow him. To bear fruit the seed must die. To glorify God, we must risk something.  As we close out our Lenten reflections. I encourage you to think about what is dying and rising in your daily life today. What is it that you must let go of and let be so that you can let something new into your life? What needs to die in order for you to bear God’s fruit? What of the here and now are you so focused on that you can’t see God’s eternity?

The answers are as unique as our DNA. It might be an addiction or a desire for power or notoriety. It might be fear of following God because God’s call might tarnish our reputation. It might mean giving up the comfort of easy living and trying something difficult. What do you need to let go of so that something new can come into your life?

We gather today grateful that the God of the universe was willing to let go. God was willing to be the seed that falls to the earth—life and mystery and being encased in human flesh.

We gather grateful that despite his troubled soul, Jesus was willing to die to his life so that you and I can enter into a life with God.

We gather grateful to God in Christ who lets go in order to all to draw all people to himself.

The seed must die to bear fruit. Christ crucified is Christ glorified. In his death there is life. Thanks be to God.

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