Here is the sermon I preached for this evening's Eucharist at St Martin-in-the-Fields:
A few years ago researchers at the University of Warwick devised a novel way to recycle discarded mobile telephones - bury them and watch them transform into the flower of your choice. They designed a mobile phone case made of biodegradable polymer which broke down on the compost heap into a pile of soil nutrients. And then, because the engineers included a tiny transparent window in the case in which they embedded a seed, the final touch was that the case flowers.
The seed lay dormant in its plastic window until the phone cover got dug into the ground. The phone cover then broke down allowing the seed to germinate and, as the flower grows‚ to get additional nutrients from the biodegrading phone cover.
This story reminded me of Jesus’ words from our Gospel reading: “a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains.” (John 12. 20 - 36)
Just like the mobile phone case which is hard but biodegradable and which contains a seed, “a grain of wheat has a hard, glossy husk within which its life is contained. But if it falls into the ground, then its husk softens and rots and breaks open, and from inside the seed the power of its life begins to push outwards, and the pattern of its life begins to unfold. Roots go down into the soil, and a shoot comes up into the light where it grows stronger and taller and produces an ear of corn.”
Jesus equates that picture of the hard outer husk which has to rot to release the life inside to our choice in life to be either people who love our own lives or people who hate, lose or give away our lives. Those of us who love our own lives reinforce our hard, outer husk. We put up barriers between ourselves and others in order to protect and enjoy what we have for ourselves.
Jesus says that when we live life selfishly, protecting ourselves and what we have, then we have actually lost the essence of life itself. We are dead to the world, its peoples and its wonders because we engage with what is other not for its own sake but only for our sake. When we cannot appreciate other people and God’s creation except in terms of what we can get for ourselves then we are dead to the world and all that is in it. Not only are we dead to the world and all that is in it but we are sterile as well. If we live just for ourselves; if we give nothing away to others but keep all for ourselves; then everything we have dies with us and what we have had is lost forever.
But says Jesus, if we are like the grain of wheat that dies, then we will know what it is like to really come alive and really live. If we allow our protective shell to rot and be removed; if we are focused not on ourselves but on others; if we disregard our own life in this world and follow Jesus in serving others; then we gain, then we come alive, then we see a single grain of wheat multiply and produce many grains.
Stephen Verney points out that when a single grain of wheat produces an ear of corn “there are forty seeds where before there was only one. Next year if those forty seeds are all planted in good soil they will produce sixteen hundred seeds – in the third year sixty-four thousand – in the fourth year over two and a half million – and in the fifth year over a hundred million.” “Gradually out of one little seed,” he says, “there appears a harvest, which men and women reap and grind into flour and bake into bread. So it is that one seed has within it the capacity to feed a multitude of people – if it only first falls into the ground and dies.”
“And so it is,” Verney continues, “that Jesus offers bread to the whole world … He offers himself, his life, to come alive in hundreds and then in thousands and then in millions of others. But first he must die, and if his followers are going to pass on the life then they too will have to learn the pattern of life through death.”
If we are to be Jesus’ followers then we must follow him in the way of life through death which is the way of letting go and receiving back. Then we will share Jesus’ work and he will come alive in us as the seed comes alive in next year’s harvest and we will “be reaped, and ground into flour and baked in the oven, and become the bread which is broken for the world.”
Seeds are a good symbol of the way in which the good news of Jesus is shared. Our words and actions can be seeds in the lives of people who have yet to come to know Jesus for themselves as we share something of ourselves and our faith with them. “Our calling is to live and share the gospel of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ. We have good news for a hurting world – words of comfort; words of life. To help someone else experience the love of God is indeed an act of loving service, in a world where many people ‘live lives of quiet desperation’.”
Through our words and actions we can be like seeds in the lives of those in our family, our community, our networks and our work. To be a seed we have to become open and give that thing that is of most value in our lives to others; the life of Christ. Whether it is by practical actions or by giving a reason for the faith we have in us; we become seeds when we share the love of Christ where we are.
So, what seeds will we plant in the life of others during this coming week? What seeds can we plant in the lives of family, friends, neighbours, colleagues? Will we, in fact, live our lives as seeds giving ourselves and the love of Christ away to others each day of every week and thereby seeing the grain of wheat become an ear of corn and the corn become the bread broken for the life of the world.
Michael W Smith - Seed To Sow.