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March 21, 2021
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Theologian Walter Brueggemann describes Lent as our season of honesty. A time when we can break out of our illusions to face the reality of our life in preparation for Easter, which is a radical new beginning.
He goes on to say that as long as there is denial and illusion, nothing genuinely new can happen. But when reality is faced, it becomes possible to imagine new possibility.
As humans, we’re creatures of habit. We get caught up in establishing routines for our daily living because, to a certain point, those routines provide structure and a degree of balance that help us live.
But as they form the world in which we live, they can limit our ability to imagine new possibility. We get comfortable with the way things are and can’t envision anything changing because it would be disruptive and make us uncomfortable. But when we get caught up in that lack of imagination, we aren’t able to notice how what we’ve created might be causing harm to others – and that the new possibility of transformation is exactly what is needed.
The conversation in today’s gospel reading is the last time Jesus speaks in public before his arrest. It marks the end of his public ministry. He has raised Lazarus from the dead which, in John’s gospel, is the event that sets in motion the circumstances for his arrest and crucifixion.
More and more people are taking notice of the miracles Jesus has performed and the things he has taught. They’re publicly talking about him, and coming to see him, and his popularity is growing. So much so that gentiles – people outside of the Jewish faith – want to meet him.
So when the request for him to meet with people from Greece comes up at this time, Jesus speaks to the transformation of the world that is coming. And he connects it to the image of a seed being planted and the death that must happen to it in order for that transformation to happen and new life to come forth.
If this sounds like it was a heavy conversation, it probably was. Jesus knew that his death was coming soon, and that new life would come from it. But he also knew it wouldn’t be easy for the disciples because it would jumpstart their own transformation as they continued his ministry and teachings.
They themselves would grow and be shaped by God’s love as they gave of themselves to others in Christ’s name. Continuing the transformation and building God’s community through those relationships, and teaching others to do the same so that the process continued.
Jesus knew that that transformative work, so necessary for our world, would not be easy and it would take time that lasted well beyond the disciples’ lifetimes.
So for us the truth, and the promise, is that the transformation of the world is still happening. It began with Jesus’ incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension – it continued with the disciples’ work and it continues with us. It still isn’t easy, and it still takes time.
It’s a lifelong commitment because, as it was for the disciples, it’s about relationship. First and foremost, it’s about our relationship with God. Recognizing that we ourselves are seeds – and that God’s love is what shapes our growth, our identity and who we become. And in that transformation, we die to what the world requires of us and live for what God asks of us.
Which is, namely, to love one another – to care for and nurture the seeds that are other people. To give of ourselves in Jesus’ name, teaching them to do the same for others and continue building God’s community.
In the process, we ourselves continue to grow and to be shaped. And we are reminded over and over that all of this takes time. And that it doesn’t happen on the timetable that we set.
We are steeped in a culture that demands results “now-now-now!” But that isn’t God’s timeline or timing. Slowing down, taking care of the relationships we cultivate, requires patience and letting go of that sense of urgency.
In US culture, that’s counterintuitive. But in the culture of God’s realm it’s exactly right. That doesn’t mean do the work slowly but, rather, thoughtfully and with the expectation that the fruit of our labor may not come quickly.
As Pastor Michelle Magee says, “The seed will grow when it grows – and it likely won’t be during business hours.”
Many of you know that my youngest brother died unexpectedly a little over 2 years ago. In his memory, his landlord planted the sapling of a giant Sequoia tree the following spring – so it’s been in the ground almost exactly 2 years.
In my mind, after 2 years in the ground, a giant Sequoia should already be fairly good-sized. But I saw a picture of it a few weeks ago and even though it’s gotten taller and more filled-out, it still looks more like a sapling than it does the giant tree it will become.
The fruit produced by the death of a seed takes time, so much time, to yield. Even a giant Sequoia starts out as a seed, and then becomes a sapling. What will eventually become a strong, formidable tree begins with the same fragility as all other living things. It takes time to grow, and to bear fruit – to bear more seeds to produce more trees.
In the same way, God’s community – the transformation of this world – is built one person at a time. And it happens in God’s time. Nurturing those seeds is the work we do as people who follow Jesus.
It’s work that recognizes the fragility of relationships and the people in them. And in order to do the work of nurturing those relationships, we have to let go of the sense of urgency that’s so pervasive in our culture.
Because it’s more than just telling the world about God’s love. It’s also sowing and cultivating the seeds of things like anti-racism, so that we also work against the things that work against God’s love.
It’s more than just reminding people that we have to care for creation. It’s also sowing and cultivating the seeds of climate justice, recognizing that many of the decisions we make here negatively impact people who live in other parts of the world.
Nurturing these relationships is more than just telling people about the teachings of Jesus. It’s also sowing and cultivating the seeds of recognition that the world we’ve helped create and sustain is harmful to most of the people living in it. And that even though the transformation needed is disruptive to our comfort, the new possibility it brings is necessary.
The seeds that we are call us to follow Jesus, to die to the world we’ve created, and to live for Jesus. That is, to live in a way that’s open to the transformation that began with his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and continues today.
A way that recognizes that even though none of this happens as quickly as we would like, our work is not in vain because it happens in God’s time. And God will continue to transform each of us until the work is complete. Thanks be to God. Amen.