2024 03 17: A Seed that Falls

Posted on 18 Mar 2024

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

Historically, the season of Lent has been marked by  fasting, self-denial and reflection all for the purpose of spiritual growth.  This often meant encouraging the faithful to give up something for Lent, a bad habit or some personal vice.  Unfortunately, not all attempts at giving up were done in earnestness nor were they successful.  I heard the other day one women announce to her friend, “I was going to give up procrastination for Lent but I thought nah, I’ll just do it next year.”  There was a man I overheard in a restaurant confess, “I was going to give up lunch meat for Lent, but I just couldn’t quit cold turkey!” I heard a man jogging around the lake saying to his running partner, “I decided to give up eating out for Lent, but my wife’s not very happy.”  Then the other fellow responded, “Well, don’t feel bad. I gave up giving up things for Lent.”

God wants our lives to be as vibrant and colorful as the earth in springtime bursting forth in new life. Regretfully, our attempts to be a bit more Christ-like in the 40 days of Lent are allowed to falter quickly. Instead, we spend all kinds of time and energy creating excuses of why God’s divine plan will not work our lives.

Even Jesus dearest disciples seem to have had a knack for making excuses. Our gospel reading this morning tells the story of some Greek pilgrims who were in Jerusalem for Passover.  They were looking for a new beginning in Jesus, so they came to Philip and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  Philip awkwardly and hesitantly went and told Andrew. Then together, Andrew and Philp, still more hesitantly and awkwardly, went and told Jesus, and 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.”  It was a remarkable answer.  Unfortunately, we have we have no idea whether Philip and Andrew understood Jesus’ words, or whether the Greek pilgrims were ever brought to Jesus to meet him.

I wonder if the disciples weren’t a bit confused by Jesus’ image of a seed dying. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never thought about seeds needing to die. To me, seeds are always the picture of new life just bursting to get out. The seed doesn’t die. With the right conditions, it just ceases being a seed, and breaks forth into new life. The seed transforms into roots that go deep, and leaves and stems that soon make their way out of the dirt into the air in order to grow and blossom. If you dig up a plant after it has blossomed and borne fruit, you won’t find the seed.  You will only find the new life which God created and intended it to be.   That’s what God wants of you.  My friends, let me share with you this morning three convictions drawn from the story of the seed falling into the earth.

First of all, a new beginning is always about the right conditions. There is a spiritual principle at work in the world, which is also true for seeds as well. No person can take on something new until they let go of the old and the conditions have to be just right. In Scripture, Jesus speaks of the seed falling into the earth to bear much fruit.  Seeds are inert when they fall from the plant or are cast onto the earth. They revive due to water, air, light and nutrients. In the same way, God  provides you with the right conditions for your life to be changed, but a decision may be needed to accept the possibilities of change and growth, and often times it is easier to make an excuse than a commitment. Sometimes we resist. We want to hold on to an old idea, a place, a particular sin, or a bad relationship simply because they are ours.  We believe they define us.

I am reminded of the mother whose only son was preparing for college, she wrote the following letter to the college president preparing the way for the right : 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. My friends, let me assure you, God is preparing the conditions for you and for your growth.

Let us turn now to my second conviction: Growth is a choice. You can never rest on yesterday’s or someone else’s decision for your life.  Nor does there seems to be a once and for all decision.  You will be called back to choose again and again. I know that’s true for ministry. 40 years ago, when I was a young pastor at the Norwegian Church, I was told by a guest pastor Harald Grindahl, that his most satisfying moment of the week was putting the dishes away in the kitchen cupboard on Sunday evening. For one brief moment, all his work was done.  The decision to act again would soon appear again.

Letting the seed fall into the earth, like making a decision to let go can be the hardest and scariest time of life- because of the unknown transition that awaits you.  You know that God has prepared the earth with the right conditions for new life to occur, but to deny yourself  is not an easy endeavor.  You’d prefer to look back on what you’ve done before. In the early 19th century, a French field marshal requested an audience with his general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. The field marshal brought news of a great victory he had achieved. He talked for a long time about his accomplishment, piling detail upon detail. Napoleon listened closely throughout the entire narration, but said nothing. The officer was disappointed. He had hoped for a more enthusiastic reception, as well as Napoleon’s congratulations. Neither was forthcoming. When the marshal finally stopped talking, Napoleon asked him one question: “And what did you do the next day?” The field marshal was speechless. You can never rest on yesterday’s decision. You must let the seed fall into the earth, and let the right conditions God has provided, let it grow.

Finally, remember the truth and promise that the seed that falls into the earth will rise and bear much fruit. God doesn’t promise us a life without pain or sorrow.  He doesn’t promise a world without tears or weeping.  Nor does he  promise a fellowship without hatred or enemies.  This is not the abundant life that the Savior offers.  But he does promise that whoever follows him, Jesus will accompany. “And whoever serves him, the Father will honor.”

That is the story of St. Patrick whom we celebrate this day, knew great hardship and loss. Patrick was born in Britain of a Romanized family in the late 4th century. When he was 16 years old, Irish raiders tore him from the villa of his father, and carried Patrick off into slavery in Ireland. He spent six bleak years there as a herdsman, during which time he turned with fervor to his faith. Upon dreaming of a ship in which he was to escape was ready, he fled his master and found passage to Britain. There he came near to starvation and suffered a second brief captivity before he was reunited with his family.  In his Confession, an autobiographical writing of his life, Patrick  tells of a dream, after his return to Britain, in which one Victoricus delivered him a letter headed “The Voice of the Irish.” As Patrick read it, he seemed to hear a certain company of Irish beseeching him to walk once more among them. “Deeply moved,” he said, “I could read no more.”  In 432 Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the Irish to Christianity.  By the time of his death on March 17, 461, he had established monasteries, churches, and schools.

God is looking to you to bear fruit though your life as well. Mind you, fruit doesn’t simply burst forth out of the “big” moments in our lives, like that of St. Patrick.  No, God’s lasting fruit is often borne through life’s everyday moments – and even mundane, ordinary aspects of life with those we know and love.  Still, there are always the same excuses for why we refuse to let go of the old.

How can I be so confident of God’s intent to make my life colorful and fruitful? It is because I know the ending of Jesus’ story at Easter.  As long as a grain of wheat keeps on being just a kernel, it remains just that – a lone kernel of wheat. Only when it is detached from the head and buried in the ground does it produce more grain. Jesus could have chosen that path, but instead, he trusted his Father’s promise of life and death, and life again. Yes, if Jesus had loved his life in this world as it was only and wanted to hold on to it, he could have avoided his death on the cross on Good Friday and we would have never heard of him again. But he didn’t. Instead, he chose to offer himself, so that you and I, and everyone who wishes to see Jesus, could enjoy the possibility of a new and richer life with him now and forever.

My friends, that is the assurance that will allow you to make a decision to follow Jesus again and again, and to invite others to make that choice as well.  Put aside your doubts and excuses. As Jesus said, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there my servant will be also. And whoever serves me, the Father will honor.  Amen.

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