Message for Lent 5 on John 12:20-33 given on March 21, 2021 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, TX. This sermon and all worship videos can be seen on YouTube.
The Greeks are in Jerusalem for the Passover festival and they have heard about a new teacher named Jesus. They find one of Jesus’ disciples, Philip, and say to him, “Sir we wish to see Jesus.” What a great request – who wouldn’t want to see Jesus? After all, he has declared that he is not just a wise teacher, but he is the very embodiment of God. If I had never met Jesus, I would want to see that as well!
Philip, thinking that this is a great way to expand the circle of disciples, goes to Andrew and tells him that a group of potential followers are wanting to see Jesus. Andrew takes up the mission and finds Jesus and tells him. At this point, we would expect Jesus to welcome these worldly disciples to his movement and describe the rights and responsibilities of being his follower. But that is not what Jesus does. Instead he tells a very strange parable about a grain of wheat that must die.
What an odd response to such a straightforward request! But Jesus never wants us to simply see him; he wants us to know him. When we truly know Jesus, we not only recognize him for who he is, we also take on his mission that he summed up so eloquently back in Chapter 3: For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, his unique and only begotten Son, his one and only Son, so that all those who believe in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.
When we behold God’s very self, the great “I AM,” Yahweh, in the person of Jesus, we are joined his mission to save the world. For he came not to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through him.
Jesus tells his parable to let us know that he did not come to save the world through conquest and earthly methods; rather, the Son of Man comes to save the world like a single grain of wheat. “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.”
A grain of wheat. How on earth is Jesus going to save the whole world like a tiny grain of wheat? Those of you have lived on a farm or are avid gardeners will understand this more readily. You cannot feed anyone with one grain, or even a whole head of wheat. If we save that one grain of wheat and do nothing with it, it is useless. But when that one grain falls to the ground and dies, it springs back to life as a new plant, producing up to 110 new grains! Plant those 110 grains, and you are up to 12,000; by the third harvest of replanted seeds you are up to 1.3 million grains of wheat. Very quickly you are talking about enough wheat to feed the whole world! All because one seed fell to the ground and died in order to bear much fruit.
This is how the Son of Man loves and saves the world. Not through domination, but by letting go, by dying, sacrificing. He will fall to the ground and sink below, so that his death will bear much fruit. And where is this fruit? We are the fruit. Bringing a few Greeks along builds the kingdom by addition; Jesus builds His kingdom by exponential growth. And like Jesus we produce a million-fold when we are willing to be planted and bear fruit as well. Jesus calls us to follow him to bear more fruit so the world can experience God’s love through us. Jesus’ death is a transfer of power—like a seed into a new plant—a transfer of the Spirit’s power from him to his followers, so that we can be filled with the power of his life, his love, his forgiveness, so that the whole world can be loved and fed and freed for an eternal relationship with God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
That is the mission that God calls each of us to—deeply rooted in our relationship to Jesus, for us in order to share God’s salvation with the world. Jesus clearly states, “those who love their life lose it”—if we love only ourselves to the exclusion of bearing the fruit of God’s love in the world—we become a single grain that is not planted. We are of no use to God’s mission and thus we have lost our purpose. But, “those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” This does not mean we hate ourselves or the life God has given us so we can go to heaven—it means we are wheat, willing to be planted, and bear fruit for God’s Kingdom. We participate with Christ in loving the world, not with conquest, but by letting go, by dying to ourselves, by sacrificing earthly desires and values in order to bear the fruit of service in the world God so loves. We can live out this mission by:
- Dying to our ego and starting a relationship with someone with whom we have absolutely nothing in common to bear the fruit of love and understanding.
- Dying to our need to be right and humbly look for Christ in the person we can’t stand, asking God to help us find a way to work them or forgive them to bear the fruit of love.
- Dying to our self-importance or busy-ness, and as soon as we are vaccinated, visit someone who cannot get out and does not have many visitors—someone who is sick, homebound, in a nursing home, or jail, to bear the fruit of love.
The Greeks wanted to see Jesus. And like them, so do we. But Jesus sees so much more in us. He sees not only those who will look at and know him, but who will take up his mission to share his love and mercy with the world. Jesus wants us to move from seeing him as God, the great, “I AM” in the flesh to being him and embodying his love in our own flesh. Jesus sees us as disciples who can go from seeing to being; to being the bearers of John 3:16—through Jesus, we become participants with the great “I AM” in the world! God wants to love the entire world through us, each just a single grain of wheat, but through Christ’s power, able to produce 100 and 1,000 and even a million-fold of love for the kingdom. This is the vision we embrace, when we not only see who Jesus is, but join his mission to save the world that God so loves.
• The disciples bring the Greeks to see Jesus which is adding believers; Jesus’ response is to talk about planting seeds, which is to build disciples by multiplication. One seed brings in or produces 114 new ones. How does this change how we think about evangelism?
• As a Christian community, how do we make disciples who make disciples?
• What is it about your relationship with Jesus that has made a difference in your life? When have you experienced God in your life? Being able to briefly share those experiences with someone who is struggling is part of being an evangelist in daily life. Have you had this kind of opportunity to share your faith? What holds you back from trying if the opportunity presents itself with someone who is struggling? Can you ask God for an opportunity to help bear this kind of love in the world?
• Dying to ourselves can include letting go of our ego, our sense of superiority, being right, and a sense of our separateness from the well-being of others. What part of dying to self is hardest for you or what does it mean for you to die to yourself?
• What does it mean for you to bear Christ’s love in the world? Who or what in the world is it most challenging for you to love? How might you ask God to help you in loving that situation or “those people?”
• Have you thought of yourself as going from seeing Christ to being Christ? Who has been Christ for you? Has anyone told you that you have been Christ or a sign of God’s love for them? Pray about what it means to be in the ELCA, whose motto is: “God’s work Our hands” and what this means for you to be filled with the power of Christ in your daily life, in everything you do.
Image by RENE RAUSCHENBERGER from Pixabay