Some Greeks Wish to See Jesus
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
Jesus Speaks About His Death
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Over and over again in scripture, we hear Jesus talking about seeds and plants as he teaches his disciples and the crowds. In the gospels, we hear, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” Later, we hear Jesus comparing the kingdom of God to a mustard seed that in time will grow from the tiniest of seeds into a giant bush. And we also hear the parable of the sower. You know, the story in which Jesus talks about a farmer sowing seeds. We’re told that the seed that fell on the path served up a nice meal for the birds, who quickly devoured them. Other seeds fell on the rocky ground producing plants that “sprang up quickly” but just as quickly they withered away. Still other seeds fell among the thorns and the thorns grew up around them and choked them. And finally, a portion of the seed fell on that good, rich soil and grew into beautiful plants!
We learn that soil is very important to the growth of the plants. But then, Jesus goes on to explain to us that the seeds are the word of God and the different types of soils are the hearts of those who hear the word. But why did Jesus talk about seeds and plants so much? Well, because most people in Jesus’ time knew about farming, and planting, and harvesting. It was a way of life. They couldn’t just get in their car and drive to Stop and Shop to buy their food. They had to grow it and care for it if they wanted to have an abundant harvest. So, Jesus spoke in words and in ways that the people would understand.
Throughout the season of Lent here in Oldtown, we have been talking about many of the difficult words and understandings of our faith – words that carry with them fear and doubt and misunderstanding. We have been digging through the mess, to understand just how those difficult words can speak to our lives and to our faith. Today’s word is “Dying” or “Death” – two words that we never like to hear. So many of us are afraid to talk about death because we don’t totally understand it, and things that we don’t understand make us uncomfortable and fill us with anxiety and fear. But the truth is, like birth, death is simply a part of life.
When a seed is planted in the ground, the seed dies and ceases being what it was. A plant grows from the seed, and when it does, the shell of the seed is no longer needed. And when people die, they no longer need their “shell” or their earthly body. Instead, their spirit is free to grow into something new and eternal. As Jesus tells us in today’s Scripture reading, “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.”
Yesterday, here in Oldtown, I officiated a funeral service for a man that I have known all my life. Mr. Cupp, which was how I always referred to him, lived in the neighborhood where I grew up. I would always see him working in and around his house. I went to school with his son Jason, and though Mr. Cupp was always private, quiet, and reserved, he always offered a smile and a warm welcome to everyone he met. He never complained when we would play flashlight tag in his yard, and you never felt like he was judging you or waiting for you to make a mistake like some of the other neighbors did. I was amazed, when meeting with his family last week, to learn about all the courageous things he had done the people that he helped, the gifts and talents that he had, and the wisdom and understanding that he shared with others.
Friends, the older I get, the more I understand that we are put on this earth of a very limited time and that we are put here, not to buy expensive cars and fancy houses or to have our name in lights, but to make the world a better place. When our time here on earth ends, if we have done what we could, then we see the seeds that we have planted, the lives that we have changed, and the love and joy that we have brought to this world. During the process of dying, our spirit is released from the body or the shell that held it here on earth, and our work on earth is done. As friends and family, when we lose a loved one, we feel sad. We grieve and struggle for our loss. But the truth is my friends, we are the ones that feel the pain as the ones left behind, the ones still stuck in their earthly bodies. The person who has died has moved on to something even more amazing.
Because of my work with hospice and with grieving families, I have come to understand birth and death to be very similar. When working with a dying person, I sometimes feel like a midwife that helps deliver the person from one life the next. The truth is, we don’t have all the answers about exactly what happens when we die. But like many things that have to do with our faith, I don’t honestly know that the answers would change anything. Because there is a sacredness in the mystery, and though we don’t have all the answers, we do know that we are held safely in the hands of God, who loves us unconditionally and would never let us go! So, friends, sometimes all we can do is imagine what it will be like.
At this time, I’d like to invite Jim Fennell forward to share a special song with us. (I Can Only Imagine)
So, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, are you going complain about what you don’t have and worry about what you can’t control? Or are you going to think about what you can share with the people around you or the seeds you can plant? And what you can do to make the world a better place? The possibilities are endless, my friends, and I can only imagine the amazing things you are going to do!!
May it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!