A Communion Meditation delivered by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens at The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, April 6, 2003, Lent 5, dedicated to all the children of the world, those living in peace and those under the siege of war, especially the children of Iraq and always to the glory of God!
(VI of VIII in the sermon series "For the Love of Christ")
Psalm 119:9-16, Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our salvation. Amen.
All kinds of seeds are beginning to show up in my kitchen, again. There are seeds for green beans, tomatoes, peas, corn, and cucumbers. There are a few pumpkin seeds. There are seeds for perennials as well. On days when the air is warm, the seeds disappear. Either my cats have found them and turned them into play objects or a mysterious gardener gently parting the earth and depositing them in all the right places.
I do know that some of the seeds stay in the house. They are planted in flats of dirt which also begin to appear in my home this time of year on counter tops and tabletops. Within a few weeks, the garden will begin to claim these seeds as little seedlings of hope, carefully buried by the hands of Susan and Sarah, and sometimes Daniel. When this exercise is complete, new life will consume a now mostly barren terrain. Seeds, flats, seedlings, planting are all reminders that winter is losing its grip on the earth and Spring is pushing up new life from dead-looking, hard, little seeds.
Today's text from John speaks of the transformational love springing forth from dead looking seeds. Jesus says:
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 be my servant also. (John 12:24-26).
In these transformational words of love we see the amazing paradox of life. He says three things which are all variations on one truth, that is - to serve God is to be selfless in serving others.
The first thing Jesus says is that only by death comes life. My experience echoes this paradoxical truth. In the earthen tomb, the dead seed grows. As well, out of the spiritual deaths we face and in the innumerable losses of our lives, we paradoxically encounter new life. I can't begin to tell you how often I have seen new life spring forth from death. Growth through ages of Christian faith has come, in truth through martyrs, saints, and seers thus confirming the famous phrase, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."
When any one of us buries our personal ambitions and egocentric desires for recognition, new life for God's purposes grows out of these burial moments. In these points in time and these times of our lives, in Madeleine L'Engle's words, "We are opening ourselves up to the darkness between the galaxies which is the same as the great darkness in the spaces within our hearts." (From The Rock that is Higher: Story As Truth, p. 263).
The second thing Jesus says is that only by spending life do we retain it. Jesus insisted that the person who hoarded his or her life must in the end, lose it, and the person who spent his or her life must, in the end, gain it. So why do we hoard? Why do we collect and keep and huddle around money and things? Quite honestly, the world owes everything to people who recklessly spend their strength and give themselves freely to God and to others.
It is (possibly) true that if we sit still and keep quite and never stir things up, never raise a question, never bat an eyelash, look after ourselves and all our possessions, we will exist longer - but we will never live!
Yesterday, at the memorial service for Jennifer Keefer, I told folks that Jen lived well and fully each day. She lived with zeal and love. Artie Isaac told how Jen, when she received a salary increase, bought fresh flowers for her desk each week because she loved beauty! Beauty was worth the price for her. For 33 years, seven months, and two days Jen lived fully. Yes, it was too short. But, she never simply existed! She lived! Now, she lives eternally!
Are you living life or simply existing? Are you sharing for a greater good or holding tight in hope of possessing more, and possessing it longer? Jesus is quite clear - let go of your obsessions with possessions. Only by spending life do we gain it in the end.
The third thing Jesus says is only through service comes greatness. The people whom the world remembers with love are those who serve others. The prophet Jeremiah in chapter 31:31-34 reminds us that the new covenant of our God will not be written upon doorposts, but upon the human heart. We will know in our hearts what is right and wrong. We will serve others because the inward call to follow God is written on our hearts.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, prayed this prayer to Christ, "Lord, let me not live to be useless." Ashton Oxenden prayed in the early 19th century, "O my God, make me happy this day in thy service. Let me do nothing, say nothing, desire nothing, which is contrary to thy will. Give me a thankful spirit, and a heart full of praise for all that thou hast given me, and for all thou hast withheld from me. Amen.
How is your life dedicated to usefulness? How are you happy this day in the service of others? What is your prayer of serving brothers and sisters with whom you share this planet?
Jesus came to the Jews and eventually to the world with a new view of life. Others looked on glory as conquest. He looked on it as a cross. He taught people that only by death comes life; only by spending life do we retain it; only by service comes greatness. Although we call this paradoxical, it really is nothing more than the truth. Look to the dead seeds of spring and you will encounter the paradoxical and transformational truth of the gospel as these seeds of hope rise up and bear fruit in their season. Amen.
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