Lent Sunday 5 B - The Seed must Die and ---be Lifted up

Fr. Jude Botelho:

Today's passage from Jeremiah provides comfort to the people in the midst of his gloomy predictions. The comforting part was the fact that Yahweh was going to make a New Covenant in the new and final age of salvation. This New Covenant would be God-centred and like the Old it would involve the people of God in the response shown to God's law. But the New Covenant would also be different from the Old in many ways. It would last forever and it would not be written on stone tablets or in books but on men's hearts, as God would intervene directly. Finally all this 'newness' would be made possible because God would create 'a new heart' for his people and give them 'a new spirit.' "Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people."How I would love to know you!
Once there was a salt doll who lived so far inland that she had never seen the sea. Consumed with a desire to see the sea she set out one day and walked hundreds of miles towards the ocean. At last she arrived and she stood by the seashore enraptured by the wonder of what she saw she cried out, "O Sea, how I would love to know you!" To her surprise and delight the sea responded to her, "To know me you must touch me." So the little salt doll walked towards the sea and as she advanced into the oncoming tide she saw to her horror that her toes began to disappear. Then as her feet began to disappear she cried out, "O Sea, what are you doing to me?" The sea replied, "If you desire to know me fully you must be prepared to give something of yourself." As the doll advanced further into the water her limbs and then her body began to disappear and as she became totally dissolved she cried out, "Now at last, I know the sea!"
James a Feeban from 'Story Power'

In the Gospel we see Jesus speaking of his forthcoming passion and death not with fear, but with hope and promise. We are told that a small group of Greeks came to John and expressed their desire to meet Jesus. "They wanted to see Jesus". Andrew knew that no one who desired to meet Jesus would be a bother and so they approached him. Jesus begins by stating that "Now the hour has come for the son of Man to be glorified." Earlier at Cana he had said to his mother: "My hour has not yet come." But now he openly stated "that the hour had come for the son of man to be glorified." Jesus' message here is that the way to glory for Jesus and for all of us, is death to self. Jesus challenges a worldly way of living. "Anyone who loves his life will lose it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." Spelling out his form of discipleship he points out that it is not enough to be Jesus' fans, admiring what he has done for us, we become his followers as we try to live like him and for him. Jesus interrupts his trend of thought with the confession of his own fear. It is human to feel fear in the face of great trials and suffering. We all know how we suffer at the thought of what is going to happen to us. Courage is not the denial of fear but rather knowing enough of what is to come and yet doing what you have to do. Once we begin to love we open ourselves to pain as well as to joy. When Jesus says; "Father, glorify your name!" what Jesus is saying is "Father use me as you will!" What God did for Jesus, he will do for everybody. In times of crisis God is glorifying us, and we should be ready to say, "Use me as you will!" For Jesus the hour of being lifted up on the cross was also the hour of being lifted up in glory. All who share in being lifted up on their crosses will also be lifted up in glory in Him.

Facing One's Fear
One of his biographers tells us that Dr. Martin Luther King knew many low moments. One night, for instance, his house was bombed. This literally plunged him into the deepest pit of despair -he hit rock bottom. In a state of utter exhaustion and desperate dejection he fell down on his knees and figuratively threw himself into the arms of God. This is how he prayed: "Lord I have taken a stand for what I believe is right. But now I'm afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership. If I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. But I'm at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I can't face it any longer." In other words, that was Martin Luther King's Gethesemane. But, like Jesus, he went on to add, "I experienced the presence of God in a way like I had never experienced before. And that was the only factor that enabled me to carry on regardless of the outcome."
J. Valladares in "Your Words are Spirit and They are Life"

Unless a Grain Dies
Several years ago Catherine Marshall wrote an article called "When We Dare to Trust God". It told how she had been bed-bound for six months with a serious lung infection. No amount of medication or prayer helped. She was terribly depressed. One day someone gave her a pamphlet about a woman missionary who had contracted a strange disease. The missionary had been sick for eight years and couldn't understand why God let this tragedy happen to her. Daily she prayed for health to resume her work. But her prayers were unanswered. One day, in desperation, she cried out to God: "All right I give up. If you want me to be an invalid, that's your business." Within two weeks that missionary was fully recovered. Catherine Marshall was puzzled by that strange story. It didn't make sense. "Yet" she said, "I couldn't forget that story." Then one morning Catherine cried out to God: "God I'm tired of asking you for health. You decide if you want me sick or healthy." At that moment, Catherine said later, her health began to return. The story of that missionary woman and the story of Catherine Marshall illustrate what Jesus is talking about in today's gospel. "Unless a grain of wheat dies, it cannot bear fruit." Or to put it another way, unless we die to our own will, we cannot bear fruit for God.
Mark Link in 'Sunday Homilies'

Death to Life
In the movie The Poseidon Adventure, a ship is turned upside down by a tidal wave. Under the leadership of a priest, played by Gene Hackman, a small group of passengers make an incredible struggle for survival. Several members of this group die during this adventure, including the priest himself. However, it was his heroism that inspired the passengers who did survive to persevere. His death became the source of their escape to life. Death leading to life is one of the themes of today's gospel. Jesus says: "Unless a grain of wheat falls and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit."
Albert Cylwicki in 'His Word Resounds'

Dying for Another
The story of Maximilian Kolbe is well-known. He was a Franciscan priest in Poland, and he was in a concentration camp during the Second World War. Some prisoners had escaped and the authorities were determined that this should not happen again. For every prisoner that escaped they picked a prisoner in the group, and that prisoner was condemned to die. After one young man was picked up, someone who had a wife and young family back home, Maximilian stepped forward and offered to take his place. The soldiers were shocked at this, but they took him up on his offer, and the young man returned to the group. Maximilian died in a horrible fashion, as they were all locked in cages and left there to starve to death. All during that time he encouraged others, and inspired them with his prayers. He was canonized some years ago and the prisoner whose place Maximilian took, wept through the entire ceremony. I like to think that he understood what real love is, and that death would no longer have any fear for him.
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel truth'

The Grain of Wheat Must Die
In New Zealand there are more flightless birds than anywhere on earth. Among them are the kiwi and the penguin. Scientists tell us that these birds had wings but lost them. They had no use for them. They had no natural predators on those beautiful islands, and food was plentiful. Since there was no reason to fly they didn't. Through neglect they lost their wings. Compare them to the eaglet that somehow ended up in a chicken barnyard. The eaglet was raised with the chickens, pecking at corn, and strutting around the chicken coop. One day a mountain man, passing by, recognized the bird, now a fully grown eagle, and asked the farmer if he could work to rehabilitate it. The farmer said, "Go ahead, but it's useless. All that eagle knows is pecking corn like a chicken." The mountaineer began weeks of rigorous training with the eagle, forcing it to run after him so that it had to use its wings. Many times the eagle fell out of the limbs of trees onto its head. One day, finally, the mountaineer took the eagle to the top of a mountain and held it above his head on his wrist. Giving an upward thrust to his arm, he sent the eagle into the sky with a "Fly!" The eagle circled and wheeled upwards, straining, till it soon took off in a majestic sweep and looked directly into the sun. It was gone. It had regained its nature. It was an eagle once more.
Gerard Fuller in 'Stories for All Seasons'

The Gain in Grain
'Hope for the Flowers' is a well-known parable written by Trina Paulus. It tells of two caterpillars, Stripe and Yellow, who are crawling in a caterpillar queue (rat-race) to reach the top. They see another caterpillar hanging upside down waiting to become a butterfly, who explains: "It looks like you will die, but, you will really live. Life is changed!" Convinced, Yellow surrenders and becomes a butterfly; Stripe continues crawling. Am I ready to surrender and fly rather than crawl? To yield hundred-fold harvests rather than survive selfishly?
Francis Gonsalves in 'Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds'

May we be ready to surrender, knowing that we are safe in His love!

From Fr. Tony Kadavil:

1) "All you have to do is to add water:
Years ago, when General Mills first began marketing the Betty Crocker cake mixes, they offered a product which only needed water. All you had to do was add water to the mix which came in the box, and you would get a perfect, delicious cake every time. It bombed. No one bought it and the company couldn't understand why, so they commissioned a study which brought back a surprising answer. It seemed that people weren't buying the cake mix because it was too easy. They didn't want to be totally excluded from the work of preparing a cake; they wanted to feel that they were contributing something to it. So the company changed the Betty Crocker formula and required the customer to add an egg as well as water. Immediately, the new cake mix was a huge success. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake when it comes to "packaging" or presenting the Christian religion. They try to make the call of Jesus Christ as easy as possible because they're afraid people won't "buy" it if it seems too hard. You hear this expressed all the time by popular religion, in everything from well-known gospel songs and best-selling books to earnest evangelists standing on your doorstep. "All you have to do is tell Jesus you love Him. All you have to do is accept Him as your personal Lord and Savior. All you have to do is pray to Saint Jude and put an ad in the newspaper classifieds. All you have to do is ask for what you want in the name of Jesus and it will be done for you.” Whenever you hear someone say "All you have to do" in relation to Christian faith, all you have to do is walk away as fast as you can! You don't want to buy a religion where you don't even have to break an egg, where it's all pre-mixed for you in the box. That kind of faith has an immediate appeal, but it lacks the depth to sustain you over the long haul of Christian living. Jesus did not "package" Himself in this way. Jesus said a number of things about the blessings of faith, and He talked about asking in order to receive, but He never presented the overall Christian life as being particularly easy as described in today’s gospel  

2)”Hoc feci pro te; quid fecisti pro me?”
When Count Nicholas Zinzendorf was a young man, he had an experience in an art gallery that changed his life forever. He was born an aristocrat and had always known wealth and luxury, and he was an extremely gifted individual. Zinzendorf had been reared and trained for a diplomatic career in the Court at Dresden. Beyond all of this, it has been said of him that he was a child of God. One day, on a trip to Paris, he stopped for a rest in Düsseldorf; during his stay in the city, he visited the art gallery. There he caught sight of Sternberg's painting of the crucified Jesus that he calls "Ecce Homo." The artist had written two short lines in Latin beneath the painting: Hoc feci pro te: Quid fecisti pro me? ("This is what I did for you: what have you done for Me?") As the story goes, when his eyes met the eyes of the thorn-crowned Savior, he was filled with a sense of shame. He could not answer that question in a manner which would satisfy his own conscience. He stayed there for hours, looking at the painting of the Christ on the cross until the light failed. And when the time arrived for the gallery to be closed, he was still staring at the face of Christ, trying in vain to find an answer to the question of what he had done for Christ. He left the gallery at nightfall, but a new day was dawning for him. From that day on, he devoted his heart and soul, his life and his wealth - all that he had - to Christ, declaring, "I have but one passion; it is Jesus, Jesus only." The sight of the crucified One "high and lifted up" on the Tree made a sudden and permanent change in his life, and the resurrection bore fruit then and there in his heart and soul. [Weatherhead, Leslie D. Key Next Door - and Other London City Temple Sermons. (New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1960).] So it is, then, that the crucified Jesus "draws all people to himself,” as stated in today’s gospel - because the cross concentrates the love and mercy of God the Father into one tremendous event, Jesus' death and resurrection. 

3) Sacrifice of Olympic champions:
When we watch the Olympics, what do we see but young athletes who have made enormous sacrifices over the years? They have sacrificed a normal childhood for countless hours of hard work, pain and solitary training, and they have done it all just for that moment when they would stand on the winner's platform at the Olympic Games. If few of us are Olympians, many of us are parents, and what is parenthood but a whole slew of sacrifices? You sacrifice all of your privacy and a piece of your sanity. You sacrifice a neat, orderly environment in which to live, where things stay just where you left them. You make a huge financial sacrifice - between children and taxes, you're lucky to have a dollar in your pocket at the end of the day - but you do it all for the sake of something which money can't buy. In these and in many other ways, we are perfectly used to the idea of losing one thing in order to gain something else. It all makes me wonder: if we are so willing to sacrifice and even suffer for things which matter for us in our worldly lives, why shouldn't we do even more for the sake of our spiritual lives? Why should we shy away from the full meaning of what Jesus said in today’s gospel: "If you love your life you will lose it, but if you hate your life in this world, you will gain it for eternal life." 

4) “They do come to you, but you do not hear them.”
In George Bernard Shaw’s play St. Joan, which is about Joan of Arc, Joan tells of hearing God’s messages. She is talking to King Charles. Charles doesn’t appreciate this crazy lady in armor who insists on leading armies. He’s threatened by her. He says, “Oh, your voices, your voices, always your voices. Why don’t the voices come to me? I am king, not you.” Joan replies, “They do come to you, but you do not hear them. You have not sat in the field in the evening listening for them. When the Angelus rings . . . you cross yourself and have done with it. But, if you prayed from your heart and listened to the trilling of the bells in the air after they stop ringing, you would hear the voices as well as I do.” [Bruce Larson, My Creator, My Friend (Waco: Word Books Publisher, 1986).] Joan heard the voice of God; the king, if he heard anything at all, heard only thunder. Why? Because she was listening for that voice. Some people are so disconnected from God that they never hear God’s voice, as described in today’s gospel. 

5) “Are you a philosopher?”
Two men went up in a hot-air balloon one May morning. Suddenly they were enveloped by clouds and lost track of where they were. They drifted for what seemed like hours. Finally the cloud parted, and they spotted a man below them on the ground. “Where are we?” one of the passengers hollered down. The man on the ground looked around, looked up at the balloon, looked around some more and then yelled back, “You’re in a balloon.” The two balloonists looked at one another and then one of them yelled down again, “Are you a philosopher?” “Yes,” the man hollered up from below.

The other balloonist said, “How did you know he was a philosopher?” His friend replied, “No one else could give an answer so quickly that’s so logical and yet tells you so little about where you are and where you want to be!” (Donald J. Shelby). Jesus was not a philosopher. He did deal in paradox, which is a favorite tool of philosophers, in seeking truth. Yet, he had a way of using the simplest examples from daily life to make plain the truth of his paradoxes. In today’s gospel Jesus uses the paradox: We must die if we want to live. 

6) "Doctors' dilemma:
The ethics of not prolonging life." A sign of our times appeared in recent newspaper headlines: Benjamin Weiser, a Washington Post reporter, wrote: "For eight weeks in 1979, Frederick Schwab, a 25-year-old medical student training in a Pennsylvania hospital cancer ward, braced himself each time he entered the rooms of his five dying patients. Especially Sarah's." Sarah was dying a slow, painful death. "Her tiny, darkened room smelled of decay. Her pain seemed the worst. Her cheeks were sunken. She lay motionless in her bed, staring at the ceiling, whimpering as Schwab gingerly searched for one more vein from which to draw blood." Weiser says, "It wasn't until the ninth week, Schwab recalls, that he saw a strip of yellow tape on her door." It had been there all along, but Schwab had not noticed it. The nurse whom he asked about it told him that it was a "no code" sign, and that "no code patients were not to be saved when their hearts stopped or their lungs failed. A decision had been made in advance," she said, "that the hospital resuscitation team, called the 'code team,' was not to be summoned."1 No one had ever told him about that. Schwab, almost by accident, learned that not all patients receive the full benefit of medical knowledge; those who are terminally ill may be allowed to die. A life-and-death decision has been made for them; their ultimate fate has been taken out of their hands. That is the "doctors' dilemma": who should be kept alive and who should be permitted to die without employing extraordinary means to keep them alive a bit longer? Jesus faced no such dilemma as described in today’s gospel. The choice was his to make, not that of others. Not Herod's, not Caiaphas', not the other priests' - it was his to determine his own fate when he was in the very prime of life. Only by dying (there was no other way), could the Father's purpose for him and his life be completed.

7) Lance Armstrong endured the pain by focusing on just completing each day's journey.
One hero who has captured the attention of our world is cyclist Lance Armstrong. Armstrong overcame such great odds. He not only won his battle against cancer, but he won one of sport's premier showcases of determination and endurance, the Tour de France bicycle race, for a record seventh time. Armstrong is not alone among determined cyclists. Let me tell you about another man whose dedication equals that of Lance Armstrong. In the 2003 Tour de France, American cyclist Tyler Hamilton suffered a fractured collarbone when another cyclist slid and fell in front of the pack, causing a crash that involved thirty-five other riders. Collarbone injuries are notoriously painful, and they heal slowly because the collarbone cannot be isolated and immobilized by a cast. No one expected Hamilton to return to the race. But the following morning, Tyler Hamilton set out on the next leg of the Tour de France. Against all predictions, he finished the race. How tough was it? According to one report, the pain was so great that he destroyed eleven of his teeth from gritting them so hard. This feat of finishing with a broken collarbone was so unprecedented that competitors demanded proof of Hamilton's injury. His doctors had to release his X-rays to the newspapers in order to prove that Hamilton really had ridden this grueling race with a broken collarbone. Hamilton explained that he endured the pain by focusing on just completing each day's journey. [John Eliot, Ph.D. Overachievement (New York: Portfolio, 2004), pp. 129-130]. Can you even imagine that? Hurting so bad that he destroyed eleven teeth from gritting them so hard. That reminds me of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane while sweat like great drops of blood rolled off of him. Of course, Jesus was not trying to win a bicycle race. He was winning our souls. But we read about such determination as Tyler Hamilton's, and it says to us that this is what it takes to be successful in this world, whether you are building a career or a family or a life. Are you willing to give your all? Then we come to these words of our Lord found in John's Gospel, "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." And deep in our bones we realize that Jesus is talking about a way of life that doesn't stop at the Mediocre Inn.  

8) "Will I do?"
In 1992, the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl with an explosive victory over the Buffalo Bills. Seventy-five thousand people gathered on the mall between the Capitol and the Washington Monument to cheer their team and Coach. Four days later, Chuck Colson called the Redskins' office to see if any football players could attend a rally at a prison the next day. Many of the players had given their lives to Christ. Joe Gibbs the head coach answered the phone and told Colson that all the players had left the city for a well-deserved rest. With his characteristic humility, Joe Gibbs asked Colson, "Will I do?" Colson immediately accepted the offer by the coach of the championship Washington Redskins. Five days after winning the Super Bowl, Joe Gibbs could have opened any door in Washington, DC, but he was willing to walk behind the locked steel doors of the penitentiary for the District of Columbia to speak to men about his faith in Christ. Joe Gibbs stood up to speak to the cheers, whistles and applause of 500 prisoners five days after he had won the most prestigious event in pro sports. He told those men: "A lot of people in the world would probably look at me and say: ‘Man, if I could just coach in the Super Bowl, I'd be happy and fulfilled...’ But I'm here to tell you, it takes something else in your life besides money, position, football, power, and fame. The vacuum in each of our lives can only be filled through a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Otherwise, I'm telling you, we'll spend the rest of our lives in a meaningless existence. I've seen it in football players' eyes, and I've seen it in men who are on their deathbed. There's nothing else that will fill the vacuum." [Chuck Colson, The Body (Dallas TX: Word, 1992), 377.]  

9) “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound!”
One man who learned what there is to lose and gain was an eighteenth century slave-trader named John Newton. Captain of a trans-Atlantic slaving ship, he had everything this world can offer as he made a lucrative living from the brutal business of buying and selling human cargo. Eventually, he was confronted by Jesus Christ, and he was converted to the gospel truth which makes us free (John 8:32). He spent the rest of his life crusading to abolish the very business which had proven so materially enriching. He also wrote a number of great hymns, including a familiar one which goes:

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound! That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found, Was blind, but now I see.” Once, John Newton thought that he was on top of the world, but in truth, he was wretched and blind. He lacked the moral clarity to see that he was nothing more than a cynical businessman making money in an evil enterprise; he was allowing the agnostic's law of supply and demand to separate him from his Christian conscience. Then Jesus came along, and the old John Newton died. A new John Newton was born. An old life was lost, and a new one was found, a new life whose melodic fruit remains with us to this day. What about yourself? What have you got to lose? You've got to die to yourself in order to live with Christ! You've got to sacrifice and give up to gain! So what about it? What have you got to lose? What about selfishness? Shouldn't we lose that narrow-minded little love which only extends to family and friends? 

10) Peace on earth for sale at Jesus’ shop:
There was once a woman who wanted peace in the world and peace in her heart. But she was very frustrated-- the world seemed to be falling apart. She would read the papers and get depressed. One day she decided to go shopping, and picked a store at random. She walked into the store and was surprised to see Jesus behind the counter. She knew it was Jesus, because he looked just like the pictures she’d seen on holy cards and in devotional paintings. At last she got up her nerve and asked, “Excuse me, are you Jesus?” “I am.” “Do you work here?” “No,” Jesus said, “I own the store.” "What do you sell?” “Oh, just about anything! Feel free to walk up and down the aisles, make a list of things you want, and when you come back and I will see what I can do for you.” The lady walked up and down the aisles and saw all sorts of things she wanted: peace on earth, no more war, no hunger or poverty, peace in families, no more drugs, clean air, and careful use of resources. She made a list of the things she wanted. By the time she got back to the counter, Jesus read through the list, looked at her and smiled. “No problem,” he said. Then he bent down behind the counter and picked up a number of small packets. “What are these?” she asked. “Seed packets," Jesus replied. "This is a catalogue store.” In surprise, she said: “You mean I don’t get the finished product?” “No," he answered. "This is a place of dreams. When you choose what you want, I give you the seeds. You plant the seeds and watch them grow. There is one catch, however: you will not receive the benefit of your good work -- others will.” “Oh,” she said with disappointment. "Then I'm not interested." And she left the store without buying anything. Today’s gospel instructs us to bury ourselves in the soil of life by selflessly and sacrificially spending our lives for the temporal and spiritual welfare of others just as Jesus did.  

11) “How could you pick up the sound of a cricket in all this noise?”
There is a time-honored story about an old farmer who was persuaded by his nephew to visit the big city. The young man proudly took the farmer on a tour of the large metropolis. At one point as they walked down the street the old man suddenly stopped and asked, “Did you hear that?” The young man looked at the milling pedestrians and the traffic and replied, “Hear what?” “A cricket,” the old man said as he walked toward a little tuft of grass growing out of a crack next to a tall building. Sure enough, there tucked in the crack was a cricket. The young man was amazed. “How could you pick up the sound of a cricket in all this noise?” he asked. The old farmer didn’t say a word and just reached into his pocket, pulled out a couple of coins and dropped them on the sidewalk. Immediately a number of people began to reach for their pockets or look down at the sidewalk. The old man observed, “We hear what our ears are trained to hear.” Psychologist Ellen Langer says that many people are so preoccupied with their daily tasks that they rarely listen to those around them. Today’s gospel presents a few Greek visitors who came, eager to meet and listen to Jesus.

12) "I made a difference for that one."
(Adapted and condensed from “The Star Thrower” – a story by Loren Eiseley (1907-1977), from the book Unexpected Universe): One day, a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, "What are you doing?" The boy replied, "Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going down. If I don't throw them back, they'll die." "Son," the man said, "don't you realized there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can't make a difference!" After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, "See? I made a difference for that one." "The Star Thrower" is a classic story of the power within each one of us to make a difference in the lives of others. Today’s gospel challenges us to make a difference in the lives of other people by our sacrificial service to those around us in the family, in the workplace and in a wider society.  

13) “Would you please occupy my room for the night?”
One stormy night many years ago, a man in his forties and his wife from New York entered the lobby of a small hotel in Philadelphia. Trying to get out of the rain, the couple approached the front desk hoping to get some shelter for the night. "Could you possibly give us a room here?" the husband asked. The manager, a friendly man with a winning smile, looked at the couple and explained that there were three conventions in town. "All of our rooms are taken," the manager said. "But I can't send a nice couple like you out into the rain at one o'clock in the morning. Would you perhaps be willing to sleep in my room? It's not exactly a suite, but it will be good enough to make you folks comfortable for the night." When the couple declined, the Philadelphia manager pressed on. "Don't worry about me; I'll make out just fine," the manager told them. So the couple agreed. As he paid his bill the next morning, the New Yorker said to the manager, "You are the kind of manager who should be the boss of the best hotel in the United States. Maybe someday I will build one for you." The manager looked at them and smiled. The three of them had a good laugh. As they drove away, the couple agreed that the helpful manager was indeed exceptional, as finding people who are both friendly and helpful isn't easy. Two years passed. The Philadelphia manager had almost forgotten the incident when he received a letter. It was from the man, who recalled in it that stormy night and enclosed a round-trip ticket to New York so the manager could pay them a visit. The man from New York met him in airport. He then pointed to a great new building there, a palace of reddish stone, with turrets and watchtowers thrusting up to the sky. "That," said the New Yorker, "is the hotel I have just built for you to manage.” “You must be joking," the Philadelphia manager said. "I can assure you I am not," said the New Yorker, a sly smile playing around his mouth. The New Yorker’s name was William Waldorf Astor, and the magnificent structure was the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, one of the world's most glamorous hotels. The Philadelphia guy who became its first manager was George C. Boldt. Here is a striking proof of what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, “If a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it produces much fruit.” Young George Boldt buried his own comfort and convenience by giving up his room. His sacrifice sprouted and brought forth the reward of becoming the manager of the most outstanding hotels in the world.


Years ago, when the Betty Crocker Company first began selling their cake mixes, they offered a product which only needed water. All you had to do was add water to the mix which came in the box, and you would get a perfect, delicious cake every time.

It bombed. No one bought it and the company couldn't understand why, so they commissioned a study which brought back a surprising answer. It seemed that people weren't buying the cake mix because it was too easy. They didn't want to be totally excluded from the work of preparing a cake; they wanted to feel that they were contributing something to it. So, Betty Crocker changed the formula and required the customer to add an egg in addition to water. Immediately, the new cake mix was a huge success. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake when it comes to "packaging" or presenting the Christian religion. They try to make the call of Jesus Christ as easy as possible because they're afraid people won't "buy it" if it seems too hard.

Jesus said, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it bears much fruit. Jesus then explained what he meant. He said, "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it." It's true in life isn't it? If we are going to get anything out of it we have to invest ourselves in it. Do you remember the second to last album by the Beatles? It was called "Abbey Road" and for my money it was their best. The last song is a little musical reprise called "The End." It's the last lyrical statement the Beatles make on the album. And it went, "And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make."
The truth of this is written in creation. It is evident for everyone to see. It even is found in something as small as grain of wheat, a seed. Jesus said,

1. First, when a grain of wheat falls it dies.
2. Second, when a grain of wheat falls it bears much fruit.
3. Finally, Christ is the grain of wheat that dies and bears much fruit.

A few years ago, just before Thanksgiving, Tom Lind, a salesman from Montana, was making his rounds, traveling his regular route along the southern Oregon coast. As usual he was in his older model pickup, piggybacked with his small camper. Looking to continue his route south and east, Lind made a fateful spur-of-the-moment decision. He opted to take the scenic route. Only a few miles on this blue highway, however, the elevation rose rapidly and good ol' Oregon drizzle transformed into swirling snowflakes. Tom was in his big pickup, so he kept going. But the snow kept coming. Soon Tom found himself in the middle of a blizzard whiteout.

Forced to pull over, Tom stopped for the rest of the day. By nightfall his pickup was a slightly discernible lump of white in a vast landscape of snow. Still Tom wasn't terribly worried. He was in his big pickup Soon the road-clearing crews would be along and would help him escape the cold clutches that held him and his truck captive.

What Tom didn't realize was that the scenic route he had chosen was closed after the first winter snowfalls. The Forest Service didn't maintain that road in any way. They would not be coming up that way until spring thaw.

But Tom didn't know that. Convinced that someone would be along as soon as there was a break in the weather, Tom determined to do the smart thing: stay in his big truck. Avoid the risks of exposure or getting hopelessly lost in a snow drift by hunkering down in his big truck.

As soon as he failed to arrive at his next sales appointment, family and friends, state and local police forces began searching for Tom. No one thought to venture up the little used, completely snow-blocked back track Tom had chosen. When the weather cleared and blue skies and sun shone down on Tom's trapped vehicle, the salesman opted to continue being smart and safe: he stayed with his big truck.

It seems impossible to understand now, but Tom stayed with that big truck for over eight weeks. He kept a journal of his thoughts, his hopes, his fears, his considered options. But still he sat in that big truck. Eventually he grew too weak to have any real options anymore. By Christmas he couldn't have walked out if he had wanted.

At the end of January a group of back-country skiers inadvertently came across Tom and his safe haven big pickup truck. Tom's journal revealed he had finally died sometime around January 15. His emaciated, dehydrated body was still in his truck. In trying to minimize his risks, Tom thought he was opting to stay safe. It turned out Tom was opting out of life.

Life is risky business. Right now we may be focused on those who are standing at risk as members of the armed forces. But the truth of creation is that all of us stand in harm's way every day of our lives.
We may no longer think of ourselves as part of the food chain. But the truth is the mere fact we're breathing puts us on the list to someday NOT be breathing.

Like Tom and his big pickup truck, we may believe that seat belts, FDA regulations, security alerts, and smoke detectors can keep us safe. But the truth is we're fragile, fallible, fractured creatures whose lives are always hanging in the balance. Every one of us is only one breath away from eternity. Five seconds is all that separates us from forever.

Getting stuck on a snowy road is an experience with which all of us can identify. So too is the example Jesus gave his listeners of the wheat grain. Just as we're (almost) all drivers, so was Jesus' audience almost all farmers. The weaknesses and fallibilities of a car-the weaknesses and fallibilities of a crop-these are common, personal, everyday information. The organic nature of the wheat grain led to Jesus' natural rendition of the conclusion: the grain of wheat would either submit itself to death--falling into the fertile ground voluntarily--or would experience dying on the vine. When the wheat grain falls into that fertile ground, it is then, and only then, assured of a new starting point in life...
What kid doesn't love to splash in a mud puddle? Do you remember the squeal of delight as the wet, dirt-filled explosion splattered all over you? For how many of us was our first "culinary" experience creating mud pies - artfully decorated mud balls, frosted and festooned with leaves, grass, and weeds?

But for most of us the love of mud quickly fades as we grow up. The biggest "tell" for this dirt aversion -- have you ever gotten invited by a friend to come and spend an evening at their "pottery class?" Have you ever accepted? Yeah. We really don't like mud any more after a certain age. 

Except. If you ever saw the weird, but romantic, classic movie "Ghost." Demi Moore plays an artist. She sculpts, she paints, she works with clay. When her sweetheart, played by Patrick Swayze, joins her at the potter's wheel while she is creating a new piece of art, the loving relationship between the clay and the artist is much more than making mud pies. The spinning, shape-shifting clay becomes a celebration of their life and the love they share. 

Being a Christian is not a "something-to-do-on-Thursday-night" pottery class. Being a Christian means being the product of a lifelong creative process that is fueled by divine love and the Christ-formation in us of commitment, compassion, and sacrifice. The most miraculous culmination of that potter's wheel process is introduced in this week's gospel text - the final glorification of Jesus. 

There is nothing "weak" in this week's text. The message Jesus offers, as he enters into Jerusalem and into the final phase of his earthly ministry, is all about being strong -- even as the world sees Jesus as being broken...
 The Planted Seed

For nine months a mom and dad wait for an embryo to grow into a person; for the next year or so they wait for the child to speak and walk; then they wait for the child to master the skills necessary to begin a program of formal education that might last up through graduate school; during the years of adolescence they simply "wait out" the youngster; and then they wait for the young adult to get up and running economically, so they can recall the credit card. 

Then in time, the planted seed that became the buried seed becomes the fruitful seed. "... it bears much fruit," (v. 24) says Jesus. The child becomes a contributing adult; the visionary idea becomes a full-fledged program; the trainee becomes trained; the tune becomes a symphony. And so the process goes. 

But there is a further twist to this. Jesus sees himself as the planted and buried seed that will eventually bear much fruit. He models what we can call the ministry of fading. In a culture of shakers and movers, fading may seem to some a form of wimping out. But there is more to it than at first we might realize. At the very least, fading is a form of courtesy. We have all been in groups where one person tends to do all the talking; it's as though that person has no ears and only a mouth. As we like to put it, it's hard to get a word in edgeways. If the person's loquaciousness goes on long enough, others begin to simmer, and still others will drop out of the group. Interestingly, when the preacher in Ecclesiastes is going through his litany of opposites and how each has intrinsic value, he mentions silence before speech. Everything in its season, he says, "A time to keep silence, and a time to speak ..." (3:7a).  

Minimally, the ministry of fading has to do with good manners and allowing others their mike time.

Robert A. Noblett, Sermons for Sundays in Lent and Easter, CSS Publishing Company
The First Ten Feet of the Trip

"When I am lifted up," Jesus goes on to say, "I will draw all people to myself." And just in case you are tempted to interpret this up-lifted status to mean something glitzy, John sticks in a little commentary in verse 33 to make clear that the "lifting up" Jesus had in mind was the cross. Ultimately Jesus would get lifted up in the ascension into heaven, but the first ten feet of the ascension came by way of a cross. Jesus' upward journey started when the Roman soldiers hoisted him up skyward at the Place of the Skull. 

So if you want to fly off into glory with Jesus, you've got to be part of the first ten feet of the trip as well. You can't prop up a stepladder on the side of the cross, climb it, and then meet Jesus at the top for the balance of the journey to glory. You've got to be crucified with him. You have to be the kernel who gets buried into death with him. "Where I am, my servant will also be." But as a servant, it is not up to you to pick and choose the times and places you want to be with Jesus. You are with him always and everywhere or you are with him never and nowhere. 

Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations
Planting Seeds 

Every year at this time my wife plants seeds for her flower beds. She places them in containers that sit under fluorescent lights. She adds water every day and waits for them to sprout. She will plant them in her flower beds when they begin to bud. A few weeks later they will flower and by the end of the summer, depending on the variety, the flowers will have many blooms and eventually they will spread and fill her flower gardens.

It's amazing that tiny seeds can transform the landscape around our home from bare ground to beautiful flower beds. Botanically, we know quite a bit about seeds and how they germinate. We know that a seed consists of a protective seed coat, some kind of storage tissue with nutrient reserves, and a dormant plant embryo. We further know that under the correct conditions the dormant embryo can be "awakened" to germinate and grow into a mature plant. Some Botanists say that in every seed there is an on/off switch that will let the seed grow.

So at some point the seed is turned "on" and it begins to sprout. In time, what was once a seed is transformed into a flower, fruit or grain. Jesus used the illustration of wheat being buried in the ground. For Jesus, planting seeds is what it means to be faithful. 

I like Eugene Peterson's interpretation of this passage in his book, The Message. It reads, "Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is, destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in love, you'll have it forever, real and eternal."

Keith Wagner, Planting Seeds
God Will See You Through

I like the story of an unusual account of how the news of the Battle of Waterloo reached England. The report from the battle ground back in those days was first carried by sailing ship to the southern coast and then by signal flags to London. And when the report was received at Winchester, the flags on the cathedral began to spell out the message, "Wellington defeated." And then before the message could be completed, a heavy fog rolled in and with that heavy fog the gloom of a nation filled the hearts of the people. But then, when the mist began to lift, it became evident that the signals of the Winchester Cathedral had really spelled out this triumphant message. "Wellington defeated the enemy!" Too often we allow the future to be colored by what we understand at the moment and it keeps us from moving forward. Trust God in the midst of transition and conflict. Let go of resistance to change. Let go of panic, release yourself again into His hands. God is for you and God will see you through. Trust in him. 

George Antonakos, Life on a Ferris Wheel
What Weather for the Seed?

Some of you remember back to the 1940's and 1950's. As World War II ended, America went through a period of time which many remember as 'glory days' for the church. Everywhere new churches were being built, others added on to. Church attendance soared, all across the land and American Christians enjoyed an unprecedented season of religious vitality. Those who chronicle such times in public life, say that as America moved beyond the aftermath of war, some of the so called 'foxhole' conversions wore off...when the crisis was over and the world returned to normal, America again lost her religious vitality. While I think that America's trends in religious vitality or decline have many more complex factors than that......I do wonder is it true that those who turn to God in crisis tend to forget God when the sun shines bright and the weather is fair? 
Deborah A. Koontz, Glory Days
The Christian Life Is Lived Daily

Remember Gracie Allen, who played the scatterbrained wife in a comedy team with her husband George Burns? Once, Gracie called in a repairman to fix her electric clock. The repairman fiddled with it for a while and then said, "There's nothing wrong with the clock; you didn't have it plugged in." Gracie replied, "I don't want to waste electricity, so I only plug it in when I want to know what time it is."

That's an apt description of many of us. We save our religion for a rainy day. We go about unplugged and wonder why our lives are so devoid of power. How sad. Christian faith is not something to be plugged in when it is convenient or when it is necessary. The Christian life is lived daily. There is a cost involved.

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
Burnt at the Stake and Fired in Their Hearts

When Joan of Arc knew that she had been betrayed and was to be burnt at the stake by the leaders of her own people, as George Bernard Shaw has it in his play, she turns to them and says, "I will go out to the common people, and let the love in their eyes comfort me for the hate in yours. You will be glad to see me burnt; but if I go through the fire I shall go through it to their hearts for ever and ever."

 What was the passion of Jesus? You are the passion of Jesus. Even if you were the only person in the whole world he would still have died for you. He would rather go to hell for you than to heaven without you. 

Stephen Sizer
Wesley's Rule of Conduct

John Wesley wrote to his people called Methodist the following Rule of Conduct: 

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can. 

This is the meaning of the Passion. The crucifixion of Jesus is God's conduct; it is the rule for our lives as long as we shall live. 

Brett Blair,
Christ without the Cross?

Theologian H. Richard Neibuhr condemns cross-less Christianity whether it is promoted by liberal Protestantism or the evangelical "feel good", seeker-sensitive churches. It is a false gospel in which "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross." 

There is no Christianity without the Cross. 

Quote by Richard Neibuhr
The Mercy of God

Wangerin has a wonderful story, called "Matthew, Seven, Eight, and Nine" about how he tried to stop his son Matthew from stealing comic books. He tried various uses of the law over several years and continued to fail. Finally, he resorted to something he rarely used: a spanking. He did it deliberately, almost ritualistically, and he was so upset when he finished that he left the room and wept. After pulling himself back together, he went in to Matthew and hugged him. A number of years later, Matthew and his mother were doing some general reminiscing, and Matthew happened to bring up the time when he kept stealing comic books. "And you know why I finally stopped?" he asked. "Sure," she said, "Because Dad finally spanked you." "No!" replied Matthew, "No, because Dad cried." Wangerin concludes with these words:

"Hereafter, let every accuser of my son reckon with the mercy of God, and fall into a heap, and fail. For love accomplished what the law could not, and tears more powerful than Sinai. Even the Prince of Accusers shall bring no charge against my son that the Final Judge shall not dismiss. Satan, you are defeated! My God has loved my Matthew" (The story can be found in Walter Wangerin, Jr., The Manger Is Empty, pp. 116-132).