March 22, Fifth Sunday in Lent:
Psalm 51:1-13 or 119:9-16;
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33
Other texts: Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
Draft text of the homily, please do not cite without permission.
What if our hearts are 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.”
And then goes on to talk about hating and loving life, losing and having, and the paradoxical relationship between them.
And we still wonder what it all means.
Maybe we even ponder these things in our hearts.
Hating your life is pretty strong language.
There are many parts of my life that I really do love.
My family, my ministry here, periods of silence during the day, walking in the woods on a beautiful spring day…
Do I have to hate all that in order to follow Jesus?
I don’t believe so.
But it is true that I will eventually lose all of that.
We all go down to the dust—we were reminded of that at the start of Lent.
And after he says this about hating and loving life he give us this image of the seed.
The seed is the oldest Christian metaphor for the resurrection of the body.
Rabbinic literature around the time of Jesus contains much speculation about what a resurrected body would be like.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, written some 50 years or more before the Gospel account of John, he responds to questions the Corinthians have about the resurrection, and he uses this same metaphor of a seed.
“But some will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”
And Paul, in his usual retiring manner replies, “Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.” (1 Cor 15:35-38)
A bare seed, but God give it a body…
The seed is a powerful metaphor.
One of the most powerful.
For Paul and Jesus the seed metaphor—death and life—planting and growing is one of radical transformation and rooted continuity.
The seed that goes into the ground is certainly not the same as the plant that comes out, and yet—in a very real way—it is.
There is continuity and there’s also difference.
So what we are to become—the body God gives us —is contained, in part, in this life.
Germinated in this life.
Does the seed die?
I suppose it depends on your definition of life and death.
What seeds do, (if I remember my 4th grade science project) is they transform. They break open.
The husk, or coat breaks and the plant grows from it.
It is a kind of death, I suppose, but it’s the breaking that is crucial.
Later on in his letter Paul says, “we will not all die, but we will all be changed.”
We will all be changed…we will all be broken and we will all be changed.
Anne Lamott in he book Plan B, tells a “lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts.
One of them asked, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?”
“The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside.
“But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.” (Anne Lamott, Plan B)
When your heart breaks…
Heartbreak will come for all of us…just as surely as the ashes and dust of the grave will.
And when it happens…what then?
We don’t always know when the heartache will come.
When the breaking will take place.
Sometimes I’ve been able to see it coming…
a spiraling relationship…
a chronic illness…
but most of the time I don’t.
What triggers our heart-break?
Sometimes it’s not even the big events.
Today, Jesus says his soul is troubled…
That’s a nice way of saying his heart just broke open a bit.
His “hour” has come.
The moment we’ve all been waiting for ever since the wedding in Cana when his mother told him to do something about the lack of wine, and he curtly replies, “woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.”
Well now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified, which means his heart—and ours—is going to be cracked wide open—so wide that that whole cosmos is going to fall into his heart—into God’s heart.
And what triggered this, earth-enveloping heart break?
Some Greeks come to the festival.
They seek out one of the disciples, Phillip, and say to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
We’re not even told if they ever get to see him or not.
This simple act triggers everything that follows in John’s account.
I wonder what heart break these Greeks had suffered, that allowed the Word to fall into their hearts, and emboldened them to ask to see.
To really see…
To see Jesus.
To see God face to face.
So if seeds are this ancient metaphor for transformation—resurrection, and if they have to be cracked open in order to bring forth new life…
and if our hearts also are broken open so that the Word can fall in…
what if our hearts are seeds?
What if our hearts are seeds…
That are planted in the soil of our bodies, and broken open so that new life \ springs from them?
What if our hearts are seeds
that swell and pop when soaked with tears
sprouting shoots of green compassion
in the hard soil of indifference?
Seeds by themselves are almost impenetrable.
Seeds by themselves are stony hearts of self-protection, of preoccupation, of criticism, and animosity, and avarice.
They can be cracked open by smashing,
or grinding in the mortar and pestle of daily drudgery,
but that destroys the life within…that truly is a kind of death.
They are more graciously split open by planting
in fertile soil, and given
water and space
light and time…
Time will crack open all our hearts
and God’s tending
will break our seeded hearts open with new life, new growth
of this we can be sure.
So maybe it’s best to let our heart-seeds sink deeper into the silence of our souls…
allow them the time and space to absorb the nutrients of care, and community,
of ritual and word,
Let them sink and swell and break open
to the mystery,
respond to the gentle prompting
of the warmth and light of God.
Let the desire to seek God—to see Jesus—germinate within
So that from the least to the greatest we shall know God, for we will be in God’s heart, just as God is in ours.