When Death Becomes the Seeds of Life
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry
August 5, 2018
John 12:24-25 MSG
24-25 “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.
There has been a lot of death in our community over the last couple of weeks giving us a lot to process and think about. It seems ironic that our Vacation Bible School this year dealt with loneliness, worry, struggle, and feelings of powerlessness – all issues that are involved in the grieving process. Mourning and grief can take the wind out of us, but often it is in learning to live within the grief and pain , where we are allowed to see the hope!
This week, Nancy Scott spoke of this in the Friend to Friend section on the community garden regarding our friend, Ann Panah. She said,
Many plants die after harvest. Some, like chives, return in the spring (Some of the chives in the Community Garden are part of what Ann started in her plot). Others begin anew from seeds left behind. Some come up on their own as volunteers. Others need a helping hand to collect and sow their seeds when the conditions are right. Most need pollinators. People, like plants, have relationships and life cycles.
Ann’s work on her garden showcased persistence, commitment and endurance. She gave her energy to the earth and that lowly dirt reared up with life as a blessing to Ann. In this process Ann herself embodied hope. She became a living presence of hope through her example. We hoped with her and learned from her. She was a gift living among us.
Rob Bell in his widely read book, “Love Wins” also addresses this idea in a chapter titled “Dying to Live.” He says,
“In the fall in many parts of the world, the leaves drop from the trees and the plants die. They turn brown, wither, and lose their life. They remain this way for the winter – dormant, dead, lifeless. And then spring comes, and they burst into life again. Growing sprouting, producing new leaves and buds. For there to be Spring, there has to be a fall and then a winter. For nature to spring to life, it first has to die. Death, then resurrection. This is true for ecosystems, food chains, the seasons, -- it’s true all across the environment. Death gives way to life.”
That is what we heard in our text for this morning. Seeds have to be buried in the ground before they can rise up from out of the earth as new life. Think about that for a moment…when we see death around us, when people are being buried in the ground, when we are ending an era, when jobs, ministries, administrations, even buildings or businesses are closing – each are making way for life. The “seed” is the metaphor for potential life to break forth!
But in our grief, in our pain, in our wanting to hold on to the past, or our idea of what we thought something should be – we cling to death – we hinder the needed change – we miss the opportunities around us to embrace the life that is around us now!
I am not saying grief, mourning, remembering, are wrong (they are essential, needed, and part of each of our lives) – but if they begin to strangle out the life around us they diminish life.
· The death of a loved one can be devastating.
· The ending of an era can be full of anxiety of what is next.
· The loss of a job can seem like the end – but often these are only the beginning of something new.
When death comes it forces us to see life in new ways. It changes things. It also gives birth to new possibilities.
Rob challenges his reader to “Think of what you’ve had to eat today.” He says,
“Dead. All of it. If you ate plants, they were at some point harvested, uprooted, disconnected from a stalk or vine, yanked from the ground so that they could make their way to your plate, where you ate them so that you can…live. The death of one living thing for the life of another.”
What he is saying is that this “Dying to Live” is built into the core of our being as humans. It is part of how God created us. Take for example how…
· Scientifically – the cells in our bodies are dying at a rate of millions a second, only to be replaced at a similar rate of millions a second. Our skin is constantly shedding and replacing itself with new cells – we have an entirely new skin every week or so
· Relationally – when someone sacrifices their life to save another – policeman, fireman, soldiers, a heroic neighbor, etc…we are inspired by the giving of life to save life.
These are only two examples, but I bet if we thought for a while we would begin to see death giving way to life all around us.
Just pause for a moment and ponder where in your life death has given way to life? (and again…where may it be wanting to, but not able to?)
Or how about First Friends – where in the life of our meeting has death given way to life? (and where may it be wanting to, but not able to?)
I have been pondering this for quite some time…I believe many of us in this room are facing this very thought process – some on a daily basis.
Because death is giving way to life all around us…we must be aware of what this may mean in our day-to-day lives, ministries, careers, families, etc…
In his book, “The Holy Longing,” Ronald Rolhieser, speaks of the various deaths in our lives, I don’t have enough time to go into great detail about each of them, but I do want to give you his list and briefly explain each. Rolhieser says that these deaths are the “bread and butter of our lives.” – that unless we die in infancy we will be experiencing many deaths in our lifetime – and more importantly that means we will also be given new life through that death. Here are the deaths Rolhieser emphasizes…
1. Death of our Youth…
Each day we are getting older, but that doesn’t mean we are dead. Our choices in life are happening now – not back when… Many people refuse to give up their youth – always trying to live in the past. Our bodies are changing, our minds are changing, and the world around us is changing. We cannot live or even be like we were in our teens, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s,…etc… We must admit that our youth has died and given birth to new seasons, eras, and most importantly who we are in the present moment.
Just think about it – many of us cause more death in our lives because we have what we label a mid-life crisis – where for some reason we feel we can go back. The reality is that our past lives have died and given birth to who we are now.
2. Death of our Wholeness…
This Rolhieser explains is the death that results when part of us is fractured and dies. Maybe it was an abusive relationship, a lack of care or love, a divorce, a bad childhood, a degrading work situation, having been diagnosed with cancer or sickness, the loss of mobility, or even our minds…each of us endure things in life that cause us to be incomplete.
Acknowledging these deaths make us aware that we are not whole – that part of us has died along life’s path. Each of us has something that makes us incomplete. The death of our wholeness does not mean that we are not living – that God isn’t bringing newness to our pain. Instead, we are admitting that we are not whole – that there are places that need newness of life!
3. Death of our Dreams…
Karl Rahner put it well, in the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we begin to realize that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.
Rolhieser says, “When we fail to mourn properly our incomplete lives then this incompleteness becomes a gnawing restlessness, a bitter center, that robs our lives of all delight.”
Part of us, on this earthly journey, will never be fulfilled, we will experience times of loneliness, restlessness, and incompleteness. As we become more aware of who we are, we may realize we are trying to live someone else’s dream or a dream that has died a long time ago, instead of the dreams that you and I are being made for in the present.
I believe that God wants us to dream dreams that are for now! That ideal dream, the American dream, the dream that someone else has for you – whatever it is may need to die – so that you can allow yourself to really dream with God for the future.
4. Death of our Honeymoon…
I have heard people say…well, the honeymoon is over. The passion of a relationship has died. We have changed. This could be for married partners as well as friendships. All relationships must go through times of death.
That big argument, that time of separation, that disagreement, may actually be the beginning of a death – but if we can see it as the beginning of something new – a new season in our relationship – it will give life!
The honeymoon is much like the “mountain top experience” – when we let it die – we begin to find new adventures that fit more into the daily aspects of life and allow us to sense renewal and hope on a more regular and ordinary basis.
And that leads us to the last death…
5. The Death of a Certain Idea of God and Church...
Where ever we are on life’s journey with God, we too often cling to a specific era in our walk with God. Many of us spend our lives trying to find the meeting or church of our youth – or the meeting or church that provides that one experience that we encountered back when.
The reality is that we are constantly changing…and we are always spiritually forming – whether we are attempting to or not. We are learning, experiencing, and feeling our way through life and our walk with God.
I don’t see church or God the way I did when I was in fourth grade – or high school – or in college – or for that matter last week!
Too often you and I are so stuck in the image of God or of church from a previous time or experience, that we cannot recognize God’s presence within our current reality. God wants to meet and work with you and I in the present moment.
We are in a critical time as part of the church in America – I think it is becoming clear that we are going to have to put to death some of our ideas from the past so that God can do new things with and through us currently.
These five deaths that Rolhieser points out are what I would call “seeds,” They need to be buried and die – so new life can arise! What might that look for you and I?
I return to Rob’s words from “Love Wins” – he says,
“Jesus talks about death and rebirth constantly, his and ours. He calls us to let go, turn away, renounce, confess, repent, and leave behind the old ways. He talks about life that will come from his own death, and he promises that life will flow to us in thousands of small ways as we die to our egos, our pride, our need to be right, our self-sufficiency, our rebellion, and our stubborn insistence that we deserve to get our way. When we cling with white knuckles to our sins and our hostility, we’re like a tree that won’t let its leaves go. There can’t be spring if we’re stuck in the fall.
Lose your life and find it, he says.
That’s how the world works.
That’s how the soul works.
That’s how life works – when you’re dying to live.”
So ask yourself this morning…
· What do I need to die to, so that I can really live?
· What do we need to die to as a meeting, so we can really live?