Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 6, 2003
The Gospel: John 12: 20-33
Sermon: "Unless a Grain of Wheat Falls into the Earth and Dies"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 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. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. "Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say - 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
John 12: 20-33
Unless a Grain of Wheat Falls into the Earth and Dies
Fifth Sunday in Lent - April 6, 2003
This lesson could not be more appropriate for this time of year. We see signs of new life and new growth all around us. The trees and flowers are budding. People are tending to their lawns, spreading out seed and fertilizer. The hope is that the seed will grow into a beautiful lawn. While we can spread the seed we are not responsible for its growth.
This morning we have a parable concerning seed. This parable is used by Jesus to teach them three things. First, he teaches them that he must die. Secondly, he shows them God is in control. Finally, he shows them that his death has purpose.
Using the example of a wheat seed Jesus tells the disciples that he must die. A wheat seed by itself is just one seed. However, this same seed planted in the ground dies to itself and becomes something much greater. Jesus says the time has come. His time to be glorified is approaching. He will die and through his death there will come an abundance of fruit. In the Gospel there is already evidence of the possible fruit. Who has heard this parable of the wheat seed? There are the disciples. There are some leaders of the Hebrew people. Also, among them there are some Greeks. They have come to see and speak to Jesus. People are coming to see him. Not just the Jewish people, but also the Gentiles. Jesus will die not for the few, but for the many. Jesus will die for the generation to whom he speaks and Jesus will die for the generations to come. Jesus dies for you and Jesus dies for me.
As Jesus tells them he must die, he informs them that it is for God's glory. Jesus' offering of his life is intentional. His death is purposeful and in accordance with God's intentions. God the Father is in control of all that is to take place. Jesus accomplishes God the Father's will in obedience to the Father. I want to take us back to Genesis for just a minute. Do you remember the story of Abraham and Isaac? Abraham is told to offer Isaac, his son, as a sacrifice. All during the journey Isaac is asking about the ram for the sacrifice. Now, Abraham arrives at the place of sacrifice. He gathers the wood. He binds his son. He draws the knife and prepares to offer his son. Abraham is stopped. An angel stays his hand. Isaac is spared. God is offering Jesus as the sacrifice for us all. God is in control of these events. God knows sin and death will be defeated on that day. God's purpose will be accomplished. The mighty work of God will glorify God and will save us.
Our salvation is the third part of this teaching. Jesus' offering of himself will save us. We will be offered eternal life. We are the fruit of Jesus' offering of himself. He is the seed that will bring forth much fruit. He will restore the relationship between God and humanity. Furthermore, his death will be the beginning of a new community of God's people. This community will follow Christ's example. The members of this community will be known by their willingness to follow Christ. They will be known by their offering of themselves to God. They will be known by their willingness to die to their own desires, their own needs, and live to follow God and serve others. This community is us. We are the followers of God. We are the followers of Christ. We are the ones who are to die to our own desires and needs. We are the ones called to live for God and to serve others. By following this example we too can bear fruit. We too can be planted seeds bearing fruit in God's kingdom.
Our fruit is not to save others. Jesus has already done that and that offering was once and for all. Our fruit is to help others learn about the love of God. We help others learn by the way we live our lives. The words we speak and the actions we take can help others see that we are part of a wonderful Christian community. In this community there is always room for more.
One of my favorite musicians is Michael Card. On his collection entitled, poiema, there is a beautiful song to his grandfather entitled For F. F. B. His Grandfather Brown was a preacher in the hills of North Carolina. His grandfather evidently had an important impact on Michael's life. The song is absolutely wonderful. It pays homage to a life lived in service to God and to God's people.
However, one of the most fascinating aspects of the song is how it begins and ends. The song is bracketed by the words of his grandfather preaching on the text we read this morning. In closing I would like to share with you the words of this North Carolina preacher. His sermon begins with these words:
"Verily. Verily I say unto thee, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. I hold a grain of wheat in my hand. It is small and hard and narrow and self-contained; and yet at its heart, there sleeps the mystery of life. And that is a parable."
Pastor Brown understood the mystery at the center of the seed. He knew that at the center of all life there is God. He underscores the point in his closing words.
"I have no hope, except that I believe that Christ died for my sins, according to Scriptures. I expect to swing out into eternity on that."