By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
March 21, 2021
John 12:20–33 (ESV)
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. 27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
The past few weeks we have considered weighty topics. I use the word weighty meaning they are deep, have significancy, and their consideration should be listened too. There is a difference between loud and weighty. When a person is weighty in the Quakerly sense, it means that they exhibit deep spiritual clarity and wisdom. This weight can come from a lifetime of experience or it can be a gift granted by the spirit. But then there are people that are just loud. They have an opinion about everything, but it is unclear if that opinion is derived from listening to the spirit of God or from the wisdom on the kingdoms of mankind. I hope that we can be weighty people. People who know the will of the Father because we seek that relationship above everything else.
I bring up these ideas of weightiness because the past few weeks we have considered the anger of God, and the reevaluation of what it means to be born again. When discussing the anger of God, we watched in our mind’s eye as Jesus was furiously whipping merchants and bankers that were working within the temple courts. And when we spoke of this I asked if there were things within our lifestyle that would cause Jesus to become that angry with us.
We often hear that story from various political perspectives, but that is not what it is about. God is angered over injustice and the exploitation of others. Jesus was angry because the temple had used religion to exploit people for personal gain. They were in a sense selling salvation. And if you did not participate in their schemes you did not have access to God. In our actions, are excluding people from fellowship with God?
Then last week we discussed the ideas of being born again and that this is more than just making a verbal confession but it is turning to God. Every aspect of life can carry the venous properties of sin, and unless we turn toward God that venom can take hold and cause harm within our spiritual lives. This is something that we really should think about, because even good things can still cause spiritual death if it is not turned toward God.
Let us consider some benevolent service like a food pantry or rent assistance. How can these possibly be laced with the venom of sin? Are we really helping or are we enabling? Are we restoring dignity to the image of God they bear, or are we shaming them as being something less? In our assistance we should make every effort to helping those around us find their true need. This requires greater investment than a simple can of soup. This does not mean that we should not give out food when we are able, it simply means that we should not stop there. We need to get involved and encourage them toward a life of repentance. And every one of us has areas that we need to turn toward God, especially regarding the ministries of our Meeting. It is not about what we want but we are here at this place currently to bring glory to God and expand the influence of His Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. We need to repent as a church, we need to turn and allow the Spirit of God to provide the antidote to the toxicity of our sinful natures.
These are weighty concepts. We do not like to hear these things. We like to think of ourselves as being good people. And we are good people, but even good people have the capacity to cause great harm.
In today’s passage we see that the message that Jesus brings, the gospel, is transcending ethnic and racial barriers. This shows us that the gospel is and always has been for all people. In last week’s passage we read that famous verse, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This verse does not name one nation, or ethnic group. It includes everyone, we are all part of the world. It also does not only regard humanity in general but all the world. God is concerned with every aspect of creation because all of creation was made and is loved by God.
Today’s passage begins with some Greeks wishing to come to Jesus, and these Greeks were participating in the feast. I find this interesting. The teachings and the traditions of the Hebrew people were even transcending ethnic barriers, this was one reason why Jesus was so upset at the market in the temple. The market was set up in what was known as the court of the Gentiles. It was the area where all the nations of the world could participate in the worship of the one true God. Yet they were putting up barriers for entry even to this place. When Jesus heard that these Greek individuals were wishing to speak with him, he accepted them. And he began to teach them.
Where do we begin discipleship? This is a question that theologians have discussed since the beginning of the church. Along with this question is when is someone really a Christian? For most Christian faith traditions this revolves around baptism. For those that baptize infants they begin discipleship from the very beginning of an individual’s life, for those that participate in “believers” baptism they participate in apologetics until the individual is convinced that they believe and are baptized and then they encourage discipleship after that. But what about Friends? We do not universally utilize the symbolism of baptism; how and where do we begin to teach?
If an individual is participating or even asking you a question they are like these Greek individuals in today’s passage. If we have any interaction with an individual it is at that moment we should begin teaching. And we are to use whatever is at hand to inspire understanding. Jesus began teaching in a manner that all could understand. It does not matter if you are from Hebrew or Gentile heritage, all people around the world understand food.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” This of course has ancient Hebrew understanding, but Jesus is of course referring to himself, so even those that do not have religious training can understand that he is speaking of how he is going to gain his greatest honor. Then he goes on to say, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
I grew up on a farm where our primary crop is wheat. Today’s worship slides on PowerPoint feature my grandfather standing in a wheat field. My family knows wheat. What my grandfather is doing is testing the wheat to see if it is ready to harvest. Wheat has been a part of human civilization from the very beginning of civilization. When I took agricultural history class, they presented the idea that the domestication of wheat is the singular event that promoted civilization. When humans first learned to isolate and systematically grow fields of grain, they began to establish cultural centers. We can see this early in scripture, Cain worked fields and able was tended animals. Cain, according to scripture, established the first city.
Jesus speaks of wheat. The staple of human diet and the beginnings civilization. The layers of this teaching are eminence. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. Yes, Jesus is speaking of his death, but there is more. The teachings of the New Testament from the gospels through the various epistles all tell us to follow Christ, or to put on Christ. We are to take on his life and lifestyle so he is not only speaking of his own glorification but ours as well.
The requirements of bearing fruit are simple. We must die. This does not necessarily mean that we must physically die, but we must invest ourselves for something greater. We must take the risk. At harvest, a farmer goes out into their field and they reap their grain. This grain is the basis of their entire year’s life, it will provide for the most basic of their needs. But the farmer does not use all the grain, they keep some of that grain to invest in the next year. This is the discipline of farming. You sacrifice a portion of the immediate needs for the future. I say it is a discipline for farming but it is a discipline for all of life. This grain that could have fed your family is kept and sacrificed so that it can be planted with the hope of providing more grain in the future. If we do not make that sacrifice there is not a future.
I want us to let that sit in your mind for a bit. If you do not invest there is not a future. If YOU do not invest there is not a future.
The Greeks may not understand the theological concepts of God’s economy, but they are very aware of the economies of man. And that is why Jesus spoke in this manner. For there to be a future, we each must participate. We must invest our lives into the next generation so that a new crop can grow and a new harvest can be gathered. Those in business understand this in the realms of finance, those that are retired have participated in this as you prepared for your retirement. This is one of those aspects of life that we need to teach when we aid, because truth is always truth. Without short term sacrifice there cannot be long term success.
But Jesus is not speaking only about the economies of man. God also regards something as precious. This goes back to the conversation with Nicodemus, “For God so loves the world.” We are precious to God, not just those of us that have made verbal and visual commitments to Christ but every human being that has and will ever live. We all bear the image of God and because we bear that image, we are what God values in His economy. We are the wheat in his civilization, and we must make sacrifices to bear fruit.
When a farmer, like my grandfather, holds seed back from the harvest the intent is to plant the seed the next fall. Once that seed is in the ground it will sit there until conditions are right for it to germinate. It will then begin to grow for a while but it will go dormant through the entire winter. It must go dormant for a while because that dormancy prepares it for its next stage of life. Finally, when the time and conditions are right, the head will emerge from below the ground and the grain will begin to emerge.
It can take time for the seed to first show signs of life. When the plants begin to grow, the dormancy is also filled with stress. And when the plant begins to emerge from dormancy even more stress comes. The same is true in the sacrifices we make. We invest our lives into people. We encourage them, we provide aid in various forms. They might show signs of new life, but then they seem to go dormant. There is no further growth, and they seem to go stagnant. What do we do at that time?
We continue to encourage, and we continue to teach. That dormant period is vital. The wheat plant during the dormancy is still growing. It is during those winter months when the roots are going deep and seeking out the sources of nutrients and water. The dormancy is where those we are investing in are trying and experimenting with their faith. They are working through aspects of their lives that are deeper and more problematic than what we might see on the surface. It is that dormancy where the Spirit is working on the venom of sin within. Only after the roots of the spiritual life are developed can the seed, we invested begin to grow into the new life we hope to see.
It is that dormancy that is often neglected. Someone might seem interested and we invest, but they do not show enough growth so we back off. We do not continue to encourage, and eventually their roots wither and die. But are we continue to sacrifice our lives for those that God holds precious, when we continue to encourage and teach then when the time is right, they will begin to bear fruit?
It is not easy to live this kind of sacrificial life. My grandfather is one of the greatest men I know. It takes great faith to live the lifestyle that he lives. He is not famous. The only reason you see him today is because he is my grandfather, yet his sacrifices and sacrifices of those like him, have provided food for everyone in this building. Every year he invests. Every year he risks his life and the livelihood of his family, so that those in our civilization can live. Those are the requirements of bearing fruit. Those are the requirements of the church as well. Are we willing to make that sacrifice? Will we invest so others can live? If we do not die today there is no future.