Sermon: "Called to be Wheat ... or ... 1001 Ways to Die"
This is not the appointed reading for today; we are going off-lectionary to celebrate Environment Sunday. And yes, I know we are one week late in doing that. We are not exactly orthodox here, but so what?
Quick take on the reading
The only way the harvest comes, is if the grain of wheat lets itself be sown into the earth to die.
What harvest am I called to serve? It may be the size and security of my own home and my retirement nest-egg. Or might it be the kingdom of God in my time? The continuing good life of Earth? My children's and grand-children's well-being? The well-being of the congregation? The spiritual health of one another person I encounter along the way?
And what is the grain of wheat? Is it my whole life and being? A particular talent or gift that I can either hoard or share? An act of love or compassion that I can choose to offer or withhold?
Today we know our powerlessness in the midst of the massive interests (powers and principalities) that control the world. But is it still through the small, individual acts of justice, peace and love that we sow into the common soil of our daily lives, that the kingdom comes? (Does "sowing the kingdom" ever go out of style?)
Also, how often do we hold back from speaking, acting or giving something we can, either because we think what we have to offer is not good enough, or we would rather not expose ourself (to ridicule, embarrassment, or expectation to keep giving?) in offering what we have? But who are we ultimately to judge what we have to offer, and what good is a grain of wheat that never is sown?
Going a little deeper
A lot of the time when we read Gospel passages like this -- about dying as the way to life, we assume a reference to the sacrificial ritual of the Temple and that the Gospel is portraying Jesus as the perfect sacrifice from God that atones vicariously for our sins once and for all, and paves our way to heaven.
But this passage goes in a different direction. The kind of dying in mind here is the dying that is part of the natural cycle of life rather than the religious rite of atonement. The kind of dying being invited here is not a vicarious self-sacrifice to cover another's moral debt to God and get them off the hook of judgement. Rather, it's the kind of dying of self and to self that fuels the larger cycle of life and maintains the well-being of the whole --
- from something as simple and ordinary as a mosquito losing its individual life to become life-giving food for a swallow or a bat,
- to something a little more complex like a grain of wheat being buried in the ground and losing its enclosed, self-contained life in order to give rise to new wheat,
- to something even more complex and not-ordinary-enough as human beings choosing to die to self-interest and selfish convenience for the sake of the well-being of Earth.