“Seeing Jesus in the Wheat” John 12:20-33 John Henson
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 25, 2012
People claim to see Jesus a lot these days. To them, he shows up in all different places.[show images from www.stuffthatlookslikejesus.com] They claim to see him in potato chips, in a marble wall, a shower curtain, in water stains, and other locations. While this seems to indicate either lunacy or being in the right place at the right time, to me it shows how we all want to see Jesus, and we all can–just by looking at wheat. That’s what the Greeks (non-Hebrews/Jews) in our Gospel text today were invited to do by Jesus. And that’s where we will see him too.
The account here begins here with these “Greeks” who were entering into Jerusalem to worship at a festival. They were not Jews, but God-fearing individuals who had a respect for the Law and wanted to please God through it. They were seekers of God. They had either heard about Philip or someone in town had sent them to him, as Philip was a recognized follower of Jesus. He, from the multicultural and multi-ethnic Bethsaida, also would have been able to converse with these men in their own language. They came to Philip not for a chat, a tour of the Temple, for business, nor to find out where the best restaurant in town was. No, they came with a specific, urgent request: Sir, we wish to see Jesus. They didn’t want to just hear about him, they wanted to see him. They wanted to see Jesus, to hear his voice, to be introduced to his teaching, to find answers. Philip got right to it and made connections for them to be introduced to Jesus.
We don’t hear an introduction made by Philip and Andrew to the Greeks in this text. John doesn’t give us the idea that Jesus talked about the weather, sports or current events at Caesar’s palace. Instead, he jumped right into what they needed to see in him: as one who was getting ready to be glorified in loss and death. He wanted them to know that the way to find real life was in real death. In order for him to bear real fruit, he would need to give everything up. And, as he said to them here, they would need to do the same to find real life and to bear lasting fruit.
“Say what?,” they must have said in their own language. I can just see them looking at each other, scratching their heads, thinking of how this was not the Jesus they had heard about. It could be they had heard of his challenge to religious as well as government authorities. Or, maybe they had heard of the grace and love of God in his powerful ability to tell stories. It could be that they were drawn to him because he was known to stand up for the little guy, to take a whip after money changers, and to begin a holy revolution. This was not what they were expecting, I gather.
Jesus has a way of doing that to us, doesn’t he. His words have a way of getting through our ears, blowing past our minds, and getting ingrained in our souls. They left these Greeks thoroughly challenged. John wanted to make sure his audience, decades later, was also exposed to this paradox, and equally challenged. And, today, if we really have ears to hear, we find that we are stretched by this teaching as well.
What does this wheat talk have to do with us today? How do these words of Jesus relate to us, with who we are, with what we do, and with where we are heading as individuals and as a church? They are still as relevant today to daily life as they were then. These words of Jesus are still calling people to come and die. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it with his words and his life: When Christ call a persons he calls him to come and die. That’s right. To die. Such talk just doesn’t sound inviting does it? If there is anyone in the world we really love, it is ourselves. Let’s admit to it that we are like that single grain that Jesus was talking about, living for our day of glory in the sun, doing everything we can to preserve our lives. As humans, we do not like to say no to anything we want much less need for ourselves.
As followers of Jesus, we see Jesus in the wheat by learning to die to ourselves. It is coming to the realization the waste of a seed when it grows up in the glory of its own existence when was intended for it was to die for the glory of producing a whole harvest. Dying means that we learn to put other people’s interest above our own. It also means we surrender or goals and dreams to God. It also means that we let go of what we have been preserving in order to lose control of our lives into the hands of God. While this sounds scary, it is really the best thing that can happen. God has a great plan in place for this world, one that includes you, just as it did Jesus, your leader. If you recall, no one who was with Jesus before he was crucified thought it was a good idea. They thought what Jesus was saying about his need to die was all wrong. But Jesus saw the fruit on the other side.
What is the harvest here? What is the fruit of this counter-cultural way of life? People will be touched by God through you, as God can move mightily through a life system that exists for the sake of others. People will know and experience that they are not alone, not forgotten, and not unforgivable when you serve them above yourself. Bearing fruit is leaving this world much better than you found it, providing a true picture of God for people who are tired of looking at their own image. Fruit in your life is the reminder to the world that God didn’t enter the world to condemn it, but to save it. It is the product that will feed people who are hungry for righteousness as they starve on a diet of their own sins and selfishness. This is lasting fruit for the future–for yours and for others’. What kind of impact will we make on this neighborhood through our sacrifice of time, energy and work here at CFTH? What fruit will come from our lives? And consider what fruit will be borne from your sacrifice at home, in your friendships, marriage, children, school, and workplace! This fruit is real life, one you have to die to receive. Are you dying to receive it?
This past week, I read a poem (End of Chapter 6 in The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind, Cynthia Bourgeault) that is a powerful expression of the paradox of Jesus’ teaching here in John. It was left by an unknown poet at the body of a dead child at the Ravensbruck death camp, where thousands upon thousands were murdered by the Nazis.
O Lord, remember not only the men and women
Of good will, but also those of ill will.
But do not remember all the suffering they inflicted on us;
Remember the fruits we have bought, thanks to
This suffering–our comradeship,
Our loyalty, our humility, our courage,
Our generosity, the greatness of heart
Which has grown out of all this, and when
They come to judgment let all the fruits
Which we have borne be their forgiveness.
And Jesus said, 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.
Are you seeing Jesus in the wheat yet?
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