5th Sunday in Lent – March 18, 2018
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 23Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27”Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 30Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” 33He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:20-33)
We’re coming to the end of winter. Finally. As the weather gets warmer, as the wind picks up, the ground will become softer. Out in the fields an army of planters will soon be dusted off and marched out into the fields. That’s when the funerals will start. Thousands, millions of them. No, not the funerals of persons who have died. The funerals of countless seeds.
I know we don’t usually talk that way about planting seeds in the ground, but this morning Jesus does. He looks out into the field and he sees a mass burial. Millions of funerals simultaneously, methodically taking place as farmers place each seed into the ground. Covering each one with dirt the seed is laid to rest – never to be seen again.
We don’t normally treat planting season like a funeral. No ceremonies take place for the seeds we bury into the ground – nor should there be. After all, we know what comes next. So does Jesus. “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
Don’t get too attached to that seed you plant. The seed itself has to die. But as Jesus says, that kernel of wheat needs to fall to the ground and die so that it can produce many seeds. This entire natural process God set up of seeds dying and being buried to produce a new plant gives us a most important spiritual truth: Life can actually come from death.
That probably wasn’t the message the Greek people expected when they came to Jesus in our Gospel reading for this morning. How could it be? They had traveled so far to Jerusalem for the Feast. One great bonus would be that they would finally get to see this Jesus that everyone was talking about. They might get to see a miracle – or watch the teacher give one of his astounding sermons! So they approached Philip, the disciple with the Greek name, and made a beautiful request: “Sir…we would like to see Jesus.”
If we could travel back in time to Jerusalem on that day, we might have made the same request. “Can you just show us Jesus? That’s all we need.” But if these Greeks were expecting some astonishing miracle, they were going to be disappointed. Instead of showing them his great power, instead of towering over them, Jesus talks to them about one of the smallest things in creation. He talks about seeds. “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
So let’s ask the question those Greek believers were probably thinking at this point: “Why seeds?” To answer that question we have to look at the calendar.
It was springtime. It was Passover week. In fact, it was Holy Week. No one knew it yet, but this week that already began with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, would end with his death on Good Friday.
Jesus has death on his mind. And he wants us to have it in mind as well. “The man who loves his life will lose it.” In other words, if you care more about preserving your own life than Jesus, if you care more about serving yourself than others, then you run the risk of losing your eternal life. It is like a single seed clinging desperately to its own life. If that seed doesn’t want to go through the process of being buried – of dying – then nothing will grow from it.
“The man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The seed that is willing to be buried and die is the seed that produces life. The person that is willing to give up his life, the person that is willing to serve will also inherit eternal life.
So which seed are you? Are you the seed that wants to save its life here on earth, or are you the seed willing to give up selfishly looking to yourself first? Do you want to be planted in the ground and die or stay above ground a live for a little while? Selfishly, we have that desire to look inward and save ourselves. I want to avoid any semblance of death. I want to live for myself.
Long ago, Adam and Eve gave into a selfish sin. They ate the tree, thinking that they could improve their own life rather than look to God. After they had sinned the Lord came and told them that the wages of that sin would be death. But then, in love, he promised salvation. Speaking to the devil, the Lord literally promised: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
That Seed of the woman, Jesus, was now walking toward that fulfillment. His heel was about to be struck by the cross. The Seed was about to be lifted up on that cross. That is why Jesus ended by saying: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” John explains what he meant: “[Jesus] said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.”
There is a moment when you plant a seed when doubt creeps in. Will the seed actually grow? Will anything come out of that seed buried in the dirt? The few believers left who watched Jesus die on the cross to take away the sins of the entire world wondered that very thing. The Seed looked dead forever.
Seeds are a mysterious bunch. For as simple as they look, there are still some surprising details we don’t yet know. For some reason, seeds always know which way is up – so they grow the right way. Seeds are some of the most impervious things on earth – they can survive for thousands of years. And most of all, we don’t know what sparks a seed to grow. We know the conditions it needs to grow – but we still don’t know what sparks it.
With Jesus, the promised Seed, we know. He who once was dead came alive again on Easter Sunday. As a Seed, Jesus died so that he would produce many seeds. He died that we might live.
And we do live…like seeds. We die to sin. We bury our sinful nature. And we rise anew to live for our Savior, Jesus. And now we get to grow where the Lord plants us. We grow through his Word. We grow through the sacraments. And we live for him – here on earth and forever in heaven.
And that is the most marvelous part of all. Only Jesus can give you life…even through death. Amen.