2021 03 21: A Grain of Wheat

Posted on 22 Mar 2021

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

With the arrival of spring, so come the little seed packets of dad jokes that children love to tell. Like, I planted some birdseed.  A bird came up.  Now I don’t know what to feed it.  Did you know humans eat more seeds than birds? It’s true! When was the last time you ate a bird?  I feel really bad for cucumber seeds…If they’re unlucky, they could get themselves in a pickle.  Personally, I never cared for gardening, but after planting a few seeds. It grew on me.  

It is surprising how often Jesus used the image of seeds in his parables. Sometimes the focus of the parable is the seed such as the mustard seed, the tiniest of seeds that can put out branches for the birds to build their nests. Sometimes the focus of Jesus’ parable is on the sower indiscriminately casting the seed upon the earth. And sometimes the focus of Jesus’ parable is on the soil, where  the seed can take root.  Always the focus is on growth.  For neither a garden nor a field will ever yield its harvest unless someone takes time to plant seeds.  So what was Jesus trying to teach his disciples with this parable of the seed falling into the earth to die as his own death was looming near?   

My friends, this morning let us meditate on the promise captured in Jesus’ parable of the grain of wheat.  God has called us all to the ordinary work of sowing seeds that will produce a bountiful harvest.  Everyone once in a while, like Jesus, we may be called to follow him on a more difficult path.  And that is where your faith will need to be tempered and strong. 

A seed is actually a very small thing compared to the plant and the harvest it produces. Of course some small things are highly valued, such as a pearl or a diamond for example.  They may carry a great price. A seed, however, is  just a very ordinary thing. People don’t pay much regard to a seed because it is not only small, but it’s also quite ordinary.  Yet just like the good seed planted in good soil that brings forth a beautiful garden, God uses ordinary men and women to share his love and purpose throughout the world.  That is the task God is calling you to do. 

Simply said, Jesus’ followers don’t always have to do extraordinary things. Doing a good thing may be enough. To speak the truth lovingly to their neighbors, or to set an example of kind and gracious behavior when views disagree may be what you are called to do.  To show gratitude with a word of thanks, or a smile is not very extraordinary. Yet these acts are the little seeds that you can sow every day, and the harvest yet to come will be extraordinary.  Unfortunately, many people give up sowing seeds, because they feel that their deeds are too ordinary or too unremarkable for this world.  They lose sight of the importance of the tiny seed, “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.”  

Mind you, as small and ordinary as a seed may be, it is a miraculous creation. As long as it remains alive it will sprout when you sow it.  That is the nature of the seed.  It does what God has created it to do. Not so surprisingly, it is true of the spiritual life as well. The seed of faith that is found within every believer when nurtured and allowed to grow, it cannot help but yield its fruit.  

But that is not the whole story. A seed, to be faithful, must first die when it is sown. I must admit that even though both my parents grew up on farms in southern Minnesota, I never really understood what it meant for seeds to die.  Placed into the earth, I could understand.   But die?  That seemed a little too dark and severe. So I read the writing of Dr. David Gibbs, a plant physiologist at the University of Washington.  Inside every seed is an embryo which possesses a root which goes down into the ground; and a shoot that goes up into the sky, and inside that little embryo, there is an “on” and “off” switch.  When you plant a seed into the ground at 40 degrees for 40 days, that mechanism goes on.  So when this dormant seed is in the ground, for the designated number days and the right temperature, the switch goes “on” and the seed takes in water, and it miraculously begins to expand, maturing to produce sugar and protein; and then out comes the little roots and the little shoots. That’s what happens when the old seed dies.  The new life draws energy from the old seed. The result is remarkable not simply because a dead seed generates life, but especially because it generates so much life.  In southern Minnesota two bushels of seed an acre produces forty to fifty bushels of grain.  As Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit” 

In theory, most of us can accept that miraculous property in seeds, but it’s far more difficult to accept that uneasy transition of sorrow and death as a part of an abundant and fruitful life.  We question  whether God will be faithful to his promise that every new beginning must start with an ending when the seed falls into the earth to die. We doubt the possibility of the resurrection. Instead, we try to avoid those painful experiences, and we try to protect our children from them.  In those midnight hours of the soul, you may hear your own voice crying “Now my soul is troubled.  And what should I say- ‘Father save, me from this hour.’” Frankly, it’s hard to let go of our own sense of self preservation and our need to control and trust God’s faithfulness.  Whoever serves me, will follow me.  

I am reminded of the mother whose only son was preparing for college, she wrote the following letter to the college president: Dear Sir: My son has been accepted for admission to your college and soon he will be leaving me. I am writing to ask that you give your personal attention to the selection of his roommate. I want to be sure that his roommate is not the kind of person who uses foul language, or tells off-color jokes, smokes, drinks, or chases after girls. I hope you will understand why I am appealing to you directly. You see, this is the first time my son will be away from home, except for his three years in the US Marines. “

Our Christian faith may not necessarily be a religion of big, heroic deeds.  No, your task and mine may simply be to sow the seeds of faith, charity and goodwill everywhere, and with every one we meet.  But every once in a while, God may require more of you.  Your life may be the seed and example for others to witness and see.  That is what Jesus’ suffering on the cross teaches us. For the greater challenges of life you will need a stronger, tempered faith.

Jesus could have chosen another path, a path without suffering and without death, but he trusted his Father’s promise of life and death, and then life again. Yes, if Jesus had loved his life in this world only and wanted to hang on to it, he could have avoided his death on the cross and we would have never heard of him again. But he didn’t. Jesus understood that he had to die to give hope and to save this sin sick world. But he also knew the power and wonder of the Father’s love. Instead of fleeing, Jesus chose to offer himself, so that you and I could enjoy the assurance of a new and richer life here and in eternal life.  “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.”   Faith, you see, is ultimately about letting go and trusting in God.  

Martin Luther once said, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.”  My friends, that confidence of faith all  begins with the tiniest and most ordinary of seeds.  Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.