Year B Lent 5 John 12 2012
When a Grain of Wheat Falls
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,
- First, when a grain of wheat falls it dies.
- Second, when a grain of wheat falls it bears much fruit.
- Finally, Christ is the grain of wheat that dies and bears much fruit.
Get Out of Your Big Pickup Truck
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...