Sermon on John 12 20-33.
Before I start, I would like you all to do one thing for me write down in percentage terms how much God has been a support for you in lockdown? How present has he been? As I am speaking please just put a number , zero being not at all, and 100 a total all-pervading presence. It’s a rough tool but have a go?
NOTE if you are reading this – Press stop and write a number down?
Don’t go ahead till you have answered this question!!
Just type the number in the comments section please, as I speak? We will come back to this at the end.
The Greeks had come to see Jesus, the gentiles, that is us,
These were strange people knocking at the door, they had check before letting them near him.
Gentiles asking to see a Jewish rabbi was a bit weird, but being as the disciples had probably seen lots of weird, they checked, before possible sending them on their way.
Before we stir up any more problems best check.
So the Greeks asked Philip, Philip told Andrew, who told Philip who, told Jesus. The thing here of course is this was happening just as his own people rejected him, and the pharisees were trying to catch him out , here are strangers, from outside his people, outside his faith asking to see him. Big news if you ask me? His message is getting out!
When asked , can they come in, Jesus does as he often does and rather infuriatingly for those of us who want a nice easy to understand text so that can write a sermon, Jesus gives one of his sideways answers and starts speaking about seeds. Not how lovely let them come in , or what? Not today thank you, his answer is about seeds.
The disciples are probably as confused as ever because after they had plucked up the courage to ask whether the gentiles can say hi and then to hear their messiah say he is going to be glorified and then talk about seeds dying. They probably wouldn’t have seen it as him speaking about himself because of course messiahs don’t die?
Whatever this message means it does sound disturbing. But he tells them he is troubled, so they are probably right to worry despite not really getting it. We do not find out if the Greeks ever got in to see him.
In our gospel reading today, writing much after the event, our apostle John gets it because he’s writing his gospel many years later and he explains to the reader that Jesus did this to speak about , the kind of death he was going to die. So, we are all the readers since then are also in on it, and its with that context we are going to have a look at what Jesus means with all that stuff about seeds…
So what did Jesus mean about seeds and whats this got to do with having Greeks at his door?
What metaphor is Jesus illuminating?
Anyone who wants a crop this year is either awfully close to planting or has put their seeds into pots and is probably waiting for some green shoots (I’m probably late again, I wish Fred was here as he would know). Our fields around us in Wickford have been tilled and are ready for the farmer to sow his crop. As average a gardener I am I know when you plant a seed, you bury it in the soil, and wait. The potato we plant shrivels and dies and becomes many potatoes, the tomato seed disappears as soon as the first root pops out and then the plant takes on a new life.
In or story today Jesus was troubled by what was to come but he knew he had to be buried, lost from sight to make new fruit, he was the seed that had to disappear to make new fruit. He had to head through lent, to the period of darkness that is Good Friday to make easter happen.
Why did he have to do this? I think that’s why the Greeks at his door sparked off this train of thought. Because he knew he was here to make disciples of billions of gentiles rather than just the few that had come to see him. To make that happen and open the gates of eternity he had to die. I think the Greeks at the door may have been seen by Jesus in the same way I noticed the tiniest shoot in my greenhouse this week. A tiny shoot, but not enough, nowhere near what he had come to do.
To make more
He had to disappear to reappear, he was the seed that had to die to make new fruit.
But what do we make of this? What lesson is there for us in this story? How do we relate to this story?
I think many of us may understand what it’s like to be buried this year, our homes have become very small boxes. We have tried to find as many legally inventive ways to be free from. We have been entombed like the potato or tomato seed. We have tried to be faithful servants, and many of us have tried new ways to worship him, via zoom or YouTube. How many of us used zoom for the first time as a result of all this nonsense? But we are all his servants and we remained faithful.
Here in this act of death and renewal , is a message of hope for all of us who have had bad times in this last year. For all of us who have felt this was like a time of being buried, of darkness, maybe we can see the green shoots of spring. Our church has seen itself in new ways, worshipped and carried on and been Christians in so many new ways. Its forced us to revaluate the importance of this building, as much as we missed it we have learnt that we can carry on regardless. We can’t unknow that we are more than bricks and mortar. Also, we have found new ways to reach out, and be church, and we have had much time to reflect on those things that we have missed. I bet very few of them are grand things. A cuddle from a loved one, dinner at a nice restaurant, being able to move around and breathe fresh air.
What long term change this year will bring about ,but online church is here to stay, maybe online bible studies and lent courses. Who knows? So, what will we do differently in our communities once we can reach out again? Asking ourselves what can we do with these new tools we have made will be important things maybe on our next parish day or reflection day at pleshey?
Also when I listen to peoples stories from lockdown its amazing how much of a presence and a steadfast pillar of strength God has been for all of us. How much part of this year he has been.
We can’t unknow that, where to turn when the world goes mad.
So, turning back to Jesus metaphor of the seed,
When we put that seed below the soil, think how pleased are we when it pops up again as a new shoot. Both at prospect of lots of lovely tomatoes but also as a sign of spring.
The end of the burial of the seed and a season of plenty is round the corner, as we approach good Friday the thing is we know Jesus knew it was the only way to easter Sunday. He was of course referring to himself knowing his death would bring billions of gentiles to his door for all eternity and he was going to his death for each and every one of them and us. He knew when he burst forth the world would see signs of spring, for the whole of humanity.
But I also think there’s a message for us who have been buried away for a year now. Hopefully when we can all be together again soon and we will meet with the vigour and joy of what was seen as mundane being wonderful, we can share that sign of spring with others. Maybe just maybe spring is round the corner in this life, as we know it is in the next.
So as we endure the last days of lockdown, maybe we can console ourselves that albeit we have been locked away, locked down, hidden away. When we come back and speak up people will have questions. Maybe the only way we could make new fruit is to be buried, and we have been buried, but who knows whats round the corner.
He knew that the Greeks coming to see him were just the beginning, that was why he answered as he did. He knew he was the seed that would bring forth all the fruit in the world, he was the living water to bring that fruit from the darkness of the soil and set it free and into the light.
I think that might be a lesson for us and a cause for optimism. That all the things we have learned in this period will hold us up and embolden us when we step back into a more open life.
When we emerge from darkness maybe we can bring much light into the world, we can share knowing how much we relied on him, how little he relied on this building and how much of the church was in us
What is your score please comment? Have look at some of the comments I hope have gone up? Some of those scores
Those scores should give us that confidence so that we can tell of our experiences with God and have new tales to tell our community about what being a follower of Jesus is like. When our community says where was God in this we can answer from confidence, from experience he was with me every step of the way. We know from our stripped back lives how important he is to life, we can say that with total confidence because think just for a second how much have you relied on him this year. Hopefully borne out by the numbers going up? We know that much more now than we may have done before, just how much he is with us in hard times
Jesus has been with us in our darkness, he will be with us in the light. He was with us in our solitude, he was with us in our community. We can be the seed that was buried, the seed that fell to the ground but grew into new fruit. We can witness to others how much he has been with us, when people ask where’s he been, think of the number you put up, and know that. Tell others about that number, tell them hes been with us all.
So now as we stand at the gateway the threshold of the literal and metaphorical spring we can take these new tools, these new ways of doing things and move forward. Remembering we are Christs body here on earth, we are the ones he expected to him bear new fruit and he is with us. When he said he knew that the only way was to fall into dust to rise up that includes us.
That’s the lesson here today , that with that knowledge of how present he has been we can help show the world that Jesus is the only way into the light forever so that Jesus that was the seed that died , will through rising again and his body here on earth , make new fruit forever.