John 12: 20-33, Lent 5 B, "A Dying Seed"

Theme: a dying seed results in new life.

It seems just yesterday, but it wasn’t.  We went out on a family picnic.  We went out to one of these lovely state parks; and the water was so green, so blue green as it is around here on the high mountain streams.  The water came tumbling down that white waterfall, and it came into this deep, green pool of water. There was a great rock formation that came out into the middle of that deep green pool.  Obviously, this was a great swimming hole. And so just as we were getting ready to dive into that swimming hole of cold water, I noticed a huge salmon, a whole bunch of huge salmon, lumbering along the bottom, slowly, every so slowly, their noses worn white from the long trip up this mountain river, their bellies and backs were colored black.   They had traveled literally hundreds of miles, thousands of miles, to that swimming hole to spawn.

For a half an hour, we watched these old hogs, as the fisherman fondly call them, old hogs lumbering like logs along the bottom, swirling, preparing to die.   …..   I know the stories about the instincts of salmon. A salmon has an instinct inside of it to bring it back to the place of its birth. After spending a year or two or three out in the ocean and swimming thousands of miles  back up to the stream of their birth, the salmon are preparing to die.  These salmon come back to the place of their hatching, being driven over rocks and dams and waterfalls. They finally at the end of their long laborious journey and dig a hole, lay their eggs and they diiiiieee.  And out of those eggs comes new life.  For it is ONLY through dying that there is new life among the salmon.


The story for today finds Jesus six days before he was going to die.  How would you feel if you knew for sure you were going to die this coming Friday, six days from now?  Now if you knew that you were going to die this coming Friday of cancer, heart attack or whatever, wouldn’t you be preoccupied with death?  Would you not be preoccupied with dying? Distracted by it?  Would you not become philosophical about death?  Well, in the passage for today, Jesus is philosophical about death.  He is philosophizing; he is thinking; he is contemplating  for it is only six days until he is going to die.
The story for today is in the city of Jerusalem.  It is Passover time. Literally hundreds of thousands of people are gathered in Jerusalem, from all over the world, crammed into the city walls.

In this wild mass of humanity, there were a couple of Greeks in the crowd. They came up to the disciples and wanted to talk with Jesus.  These Greek travelers came up and listened into the conversation of the disciples, and they heard that one disciple in particular had a Greek  accent.  Philip from Bethsaida.  If you know anything about Bethsaida, it was a Greek speaking city in Israel.  The Greek travelers thought:  “ That guy speaks Greek.  He must be one of us.”

And so they approached Philip and asked him in Greek,  “Can we SEE  Jesus?”  That’s often the question in the Bible. That is often the question in the Gospel of John, “Can we SEE Jesus?”  Philip went to Andrew and the two of them went to Jesus and said:  “There are two Greeks who want to SEE you.” 

Now you think that Jesus would have answered them directly, but he didn’t.  Jesus was distracted.  Preoccupied .  He was preoccupied with his death in six days, and therefore he said:  “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it will remain a single seed. But if it dies, it will produce many grains of wheat.  For whoever will find his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will find it.  If anyone would serve me, they must follow me.  They must follow me in death “

Now that’s a weird answer!!!  Wasn’t that a weird answer?  All the Greeks wanted to do was to see Jesus, but Jesus was preoccupied with his death, was distracted by death, was thinking about his death.

But maybe there is a connection:  That is, to see Jesus is to see the importance of dying in order to live.

You can almost see Jesus words;  they are so visually clear.  “If a seed is planted into the ground and it does not die, it remains a seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds and seedlings and those seeds and their seedlings produce much fruit.” His words are so visual.

And it all begins with the seed dying.   

Could it be that the key to life is death?  Could it be that the key to living is dying?  Could it be that dying is important to living? In preparation for the sermon for today, I wanted to find out what happened to seeds when they are planted into the ground and die. 
I called Dr. David Gibbs who has a Ph.D. in plant physiology at the University.  So I telephoned Dr. Gibbs and said, “My name is Pastor Markquart.  I am preaching a sermon about Christ.  The key to the sermon is this:  Unless  a seed dies, it remains a single seed, but if it dies, it produces many seeds and therefore much fruit.  Can you tell me what happens when a seed dies?” 
It helps to have a Ph.D. in plant physiology.  He told me that inside every seed is an embryo, and in that embryo is a root which goes down into the ground; and a shoot that goes up into the sky.  Every embryo has a root and a shoot; and inside that little embryo, (and this is really a miracle), there is an “on” and “off” switch.  I didn’t know that.  I didn’t know that seeds have “on” and “off” switches.  But they do.
Every seed has a little “on” and “off” mechanism.  And when you plant a seed into the ground at 40 degrees for 40 days, that mechanism goes on, but if the temperature is at 20 degrees, the mechanism stays off.  There is a miraculous mechanism which goes on and off.  Now there is also a thin coat around that seed which protects the oxygen from coming in prematurely.  And then when this dormant seed is planted into the ground, for 40 days at 40 degrees, the switch goes “on” and the seed takes in water, and it miraculously begins to expand, and the seed coat is broken, and it begins to mature and produces sugar and protein; and then out comes the little roots and the little shoots, and the shoots produce more seeds which produce more fruit.  And that’s what happens when a seed dies,” said the professor. “It’s a miracle.”   Thank you, Dr. Gibbs. 

Jesus said,  “Unless a seed dies, it remains a single seed; but if it dies, it produces many seeds and then much fruit.” 

And so there is a parallel, is there not, between the seed and the salmon.  That is, in both the seed and the salmon, death is necessary for life.  Dying is important for living. 

I would like to suggest to you that this is a fundamental law of life; that dying is important for living.  This is a law of human psychology; it is a law of human sociology; it is a law of human relationships.  It is a law of divine spirituality. 

And the law is this:  it is in dying that we begin living.  It is only by first dying before we will ever begin living. 

St.  Francis of Assisi knew this law well when he wrote in his famous prayer for peace;  “it is in giving that we receive;  it is in dying that we are born again.” 

Edited from a sermon by Rev. Edward Markquart