We heard Jesus say “The truth of the matter is, unless a grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.”
Jesus then speaks about losing one’s life and hating one’s life.
Whoa! Is this a suitable scripture for the living of these days? In particular these days of living in a pandemic?
Jesus also says “Now my soul is troubled.” We know something about troubled souls!
In this past year, we’ve been weary and discouraged. We’ve been afraid and anxious and yes even cranky. It’s not that we haven’t practiced gratitude – we have. We’ve acknowledged our abundance to ourselves, to each other, and to God. We’ve been mindful of those who have less. We’ve made to-do lists and we’ve completed them – or most of them. We’ve cleaned and organized and reorganized drawers and closets and spare rooms and office spaces and basements and garages. We’ve followed pandemic protocols. Much of the time we’ve been pretty good sports. And – truth? The truth is we know something about troubled souls.
With no apology Jesus acknowledges this truth: “Now my soul is troubled.” And then Jesus asks a question: “What will I say: Abba, save me from this hour?” YEH! Seems like a good idea. Seems like a really good idea!
However, almost in the same breath that Jesus declares his soul is troubled and raises the question about being saved from this hour, Jesus reveals a truth. A profound truth. A simple truth. A sorely needed truth. God is. God is in that place in that hour. Fully expecting and fully relying on God’s Presence, Jesus holds together trouble and God.
God is. God is right here, in our midst, right now. Does it matter how faithful we’ve been?
Does it matter how often we have the broken our covenant with God? No. God is. God is right here, in our midst, right now.
In this morning’s reading from Jeremiah, God says, “I took your ancestors by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt” (out of soul troubling circumstances). God laments: “I was like a faithful spouse but they broke the covenant.” The end? No! Misdeeds are forgiven. Sins are forgotten. And God brings into being a new covenant!
In Jesus dying and rising God is faithful to God’s covenant – to God’s commitment to be there for all people in the good and in the bad (as in troubled soul times). Fully expecting and fully relying on God’s Presence, Jesus holds together trouble and God.
Picture with me a playground and a slide – a fairly high slide. A three-year-old girl climbs up the steps to reach the very top of the slide. She sits down, clutches the sides, and peers downward. This is her first time on this slide and it is so high and the ground is so far down.
She hears words of encouragement from the folks below but do they know what they’re talking about? If she lets go will there be for her a safe landing?
We’ve been there – one way or another. If we stay in covenant with God will there be for us safe landings? Will something good come out of our letting go? Our yielding to the downward slide?
There’s a squeal of delight. A smiling three-old jumps off the slide, runs around to the steps to climb up and to once again let go. God is with us at the top of the slide and God is with us all the way down.
A single grain of wheat is designed to let go to become a “rich harvest.” According to Jesus’ words not just a harvest but literally “much or great or plenteous.” God intends transformation for a grain of wheat. God intends similar transformations for all of us. What rich harvests are yet to come? Can we commit to being alert to the hour when we need to let go? Can we commit to being ready to die to what is and in so doing experience God’s love and power – God’s glory?
In this past year, we experienced so much change. We’ve struggled and we’ve changed.
Some of our priorities have died. Other priorities have intensified. Our appreciation for small everyday things has strengthened. We’ve become more aware of how connected we are to people around the world. We’ve been given the gift to see how changing ways of living can have an immediate and positive influence on the planet. A recent Globe and Mail article mentioned two changes: new work-at-home models and reduced business and leisure air travel. This article goes on to say that these two changes along with a global push toward low-carbon energy have (and I quote) “caused a dramatic downward shift in expectations for oil demand.”
In a recent email our daughter-in-law, who lives in Calgary, mentioned how she had bought packages of seeds and couldn’t wait to put them in the ground. Calgary, Alberta! March, April, May – it will be awhile. But she knows the hour will come when she will plant those seeds and the hour will come when we will hear about the harvest – the carrots and peas and the marigolds and pansies. God intends this transformation for seeds and God intends similar transformations for all of us. Jesus leads the way for us in his dying and rising.
In the latest edition of Broadview, the United Church of Canada’s magazine, there is an article titled: Black Jesus Matters. The subtitle: “Three writers reflect on the meaning of a saviour whose skin matches their own.”
Years ago, when I was teaching a confirmation class of kids twelve to fourteen years old I brought to class a picture of a black Jesus. Breaking an uncomfortable silence one of the boys blurted: “Duh! Well, considering where he was born!” Still there remained an almost tangible uneasiness. Could they, would they die to the familiar pictures of Jesus? Could they, would they let go and in so doing allow this picture of a black Jesus to reveal God’s glory?
I don’t know the outcome. It would be interesting to talk to them now and hear how they are responding to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Over and over again we find ourselves faced withholding on or letting go to trust God to be transformed. Will we trust God in the downward slide? Will we trust God to provide safe landings? When we do we experience something of God’s glory. (Glory is that which makes God impressive.)
Back to the Broadview article. One of the writers, a lawyer, and Black history scholar, J. Nailah Avery ponders what the imagery of a white Jesus meant for her “great-grandmother, who was the daughter of an enslaved woman.” Avery raises the issue of what lens we look through. She invites us to consider if our lens is one that promotes the idea of white superiority?
God is. God is here. God is now.
God is the God of a single grain transformed into a rich harvest.
God is the God of planted seeds transformed into carrots and pansies.
God is the God of our dying, of our letting go to arrive at safe landings.
God is the God summoning us to willingly cooperate with God’s willingness to transform us.