the one about death and (new) life...
March 19, 2018, 8:57 AM

Sermon from March 18, 2018

Text: John 12: 20-33, Jeremiah 31:31-34

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, we come to the final week of Lent before we begin the story, remembrance, and celebration of our Lord’s passion and resurrection. We are at the cusp of something great as we look forward to that eventual celebration of new and eternal life. That time where we can once again shout that A word that ends with ouya! Where we end the fasts of our lives – the ones we’ve tried to hold on to during this season of Lent – not so that we can indulge ourselves with those things we’ve gone without. But, to remember that though we have been without those specific things, we have never been without God. That our Lord takes precedence in our lives and that is who we are directed by and leading towards.

But, as Jesus reminds us today – again – that before that celebration there will be something not very fun to celebrate and remember. That in order for the new to come forth, the old has to go away.

Jesus tells a story that I think a lot of us can relate to – even if our understanding of it may be a little different. Jesus tells the story of a seed. In order for that seed to bear fruit, it has to die. It has to cease being a seed. There isn’t any way around that. No matter what, the seed must be no more so that the plant can grow. No matter how long it has been a seed, it has to end. It has to ‘die’ so new life can be born.

You plant a seed, you water it and care for it. As it takes root a plant sprouts from the ground. If you dig that plant up after it bears fruit, you won’t see evidence of the seed that it once was. It’s ‘gone,’ it is ‘no more.’ It goes through change.

Most of us are pretty frightened of change. We don’t like it, we don’t want to experience it. Even though change – in all aspects of our life – is the most common thing each of us experience. We resist change; even if going through that change might lead to something great and better than where we are now.

Have you heard the joke about how many Lutherans it takes to change a light bulb? One to change the light, one to hold the ladder, and the other to complain about how much they liked the old bulb.

I remember when I started running competitively. My parents remember it vividly. They couldn’t believe that I wanted to run cross country and track. They remember the kid in Italy who didn’t want to play soccer because, “There’s just too much running.”

Now, anyone who has participated in a sport or talent of any kind, whether it be running, baseball, soccer, football, playing an instrument, and so many other wonderful talents knows where we want to be. We see the likes of the ‘superstars’ in our world. Those in our small networks – the ‘best ones’ of our schools, but even more so the ‘truly elites’ of the world. We see that and think, “man, I want to be able to do that!”

Of course, in order to get there, it requires practice, patience, change, and even ‘death’. To hone our skills and craft, work and change must take place.

A story from my life. In high school I wanted to break 5 minutes in the mile. That meant that my ‘old’ way of life had to die. No more being inactive. No more taking the ‘easy’ way in training. No more eating of the not so great foods (that taste oh so good). It meant changing almost everything. The seed that was born – the one that wanted to run had to change – it had to ‘die’ to become something even better.

So, I went full bore into it. Gave up pizza – kind of. Was invested into running and training. To the point that when I returned a movie to the video store for my family – I didn’t drive there. I ran the 5 miles to the store and back.

Eventually those ‘old ways’ finally fell away and new ways emerged. In that process I was changed. I was fit and lean, strong and agile, confident and daring. I didn’t just break 5 minutes, I smashed that goal. I ended up 6th in the state of South Carolina during the state championships my senior year. Running a time of 4:31.6 in the mile.

During the time from when I set my sight on where I wanted to be to the eventual surpassing of my own goals – it stunk – for the most part. It was hard. There were some days that I fought mightily against the change. I didn’t want to get up and go run - again. It would be so much easier (and faster) to just drive to the store instead of running. I really wanted to eat pizza at school with my friends. Man, it would be good to have a Coke instead of just water. But, I knew what I hoped to achieve and the sacrifice that came with that goal.

Jesus gives us a similar goal as well. Jesus has come to this world – come to us – to free us from the bondage of sin that enslaves and wraps us. Those places and things that bind us into the thinking that we are not enough, that we ‘can’t,’ that pull us away from God and that which is so good for us and creation.

As a church God has planted those seeds of faith where we can see how great we can be at bearing fruit for God in our community. Those new opportunities and new ways of being church – of being followers of Christ – of serving those in our community.

But, in order for that time happen – the old nut has to die. It has to. The hardened nut of ‘we’ve never done it that way before.’ The nut of ‘it’ll be hard’ or ‘we aren’t enough.’ And so much more.

As we go through the season of Lent – we began with Ash Wednesday where we remembered that one day we will die. That we will die both literally and physically. Where we remembered that our life of faith is wrapped up in the care and the life of the person before us and the people – all of them – around us. The old way will pass away and a new way will shine forth. But, in that death – in that change – God will be and has promised to be with us.

We again are reminded of that eventual reality in Christ’s words this morning. As Jesus talks about how a seed must die (foreshadowing his own death) and how if we are to serve Christ – we must follow. Following Jesus leads to death. It does.

There’s no way around it. Serving and following Jesus leads to death. One can’t be done without the other, and both will lead to death.

But, we know that death is not the final word. That we – as the church – as the ones who serve and follow Christ – that we are a people of the resurrection. That death and change are difficult and adverse to what the world offers to us.

That though Christ talks about seeds dying, that the seed must do so to bear much fruit. And we are to follow Jesus in those ways.

As we approach that time of death – the darkness appears ever so dark. It’s easy to fall into that. To be consumed by that darkness. That darkness, in many ways, is ‘safe’ because even though it might be bad for us, it is what we’ve known and what we’ve grown comfortable with. But, Christ calls us to follow the light. To leave the safe conformity that we know to venture out into the harsh light of life. The light that leads us to new life. That in that service and following – we will die. Those ways that the world lifts up will die and fall away and we will walk into the new life that God has promised us in Jesus Christ.

Where our death might mean that we are looked sideways by our friends and families. Where we don’t participate in the jokes that continue to spread harm and untruth. Where we stand up for those being pushed down, even though standing up might mean being shunned ourselves. Where we share our hurts and pains, even though the world might see that as weak. Where we follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior and mingle and associate and befriend those on the outskirts of life, fully expecting the backlash to come from those in the majority. Where we stand up and say, “No! This isn’t right – that is not how God’s people are called to act.” Where we don’t disparage, ridicule, bully, taunt, hurt, or worse – no matter who among the world’s powerful might do the same. As we live into that sort of new life, we invite others to be a part of this as well.

Our ‘death’ buries the old life, so that the new life of hospitality, welcome, and radical inclusion might bear fruit for the kingdom of God.

Where that new life leads us to the vision that Jeremiah gives his people and shares with us. That life – those days that are surely coming – where a new covenant is made between God and creation. Where that law and grace of God are printed on our hearts and lived out through our lives. That new covenant where there is forgiveness and sin is forgotten.

That new life that bears so much fruit. That new life that serves and follows the one who has gone before us. That new life where death must come first. Where that single grain must give way to bear so much fruit.

Come and serve. Come and follow. Come and die with Christ. God is with us. Do this so that we might all live full and abundant. Amen!

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