Gardening and Glory, March 21

Gardening and Glory

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; John 12:20-33

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill, Palenville, Quarryville United Methodist Churches online, March 21, 2021

 

Yesterday was the first day of spring here in the northern hemisphere of planet Earth.  Forecasters say it will be above 60 degrees by early afternoon here in Catskill, and there are purple crocuses blooming in the front garden of the parsonage.  Soon there will be daffodils along the driveway of the church and only weeks later there will be irises in the playground.  If you’re a serious gardener, you may even be ahead of the game, with new shoots breaking through the dirt’s surface in flats in your basement because you planted them weeks ago and have encouraged them with gentle light and warmth.   The next month will be filled with new sprouts rising from the ground, from dirt that seemed utterly dead and barren only a few weeks ago.

 

I am not the gardener in our family.  I am the appreciator of flowers and the chef for the tomatoes and basil that grow in the garden.  But I know enough about the garden to understand Jesus’s illustration here in John’s gospel.  He’s referencing that phenomenon we’ll witness in the next few weeks, the transformation of an apparently dead seed or bulb or grain of wheat into a living, growing, thriving thing.  It never ceases to amaze, from that first paper cup of dirt in kindergarten in which you planted a seed and watched it grow, to the yard of roses and marigolds, cucumbers and cilantro you have cultivated in your retirement, and all the Springs in between, this miracle of growth is wonderful to watch.

 

Jesus is referencing gardening, but talking directly about his own death, and the resurrection into life that will follow.  Here in the 12th chapter of John, he has just come into Jerusalem, hailed by the crowds as the Son of David.  He has told his disciples that this trip to Jerusalem will be his last; he will be killed for us, for his determination to speak the truth in the face of authorities who are threatened by his words and ministry.  Father Ray Brown, a wonderful teacher and scholar on John’s gospel, likens this passage in John to Jesus’ struggle in the garden of Gethsemane in the other gospels.    It is here that we get a chance to listen to Jesus consider the path that lies before him and explain it, to himself and to the disciples and the crowds.  Jesus says his soul is troubled, as it is in Gethsemane, just before the arrest in Matthew and Mark and Luke. 27“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? Nope, he decides.  That’s not the plan.  God’s will for him includes his death.  In John’s gospel, Jesus’ death is the ultimate revealing of God’s glory.  When I am lifted up, Jesus says just after this passage, I will draw all people to me.  The word from God in today’s reading – I have glorified (my name) and I will glorify it again – acknowledges that God’s glory is being revealed in Jesus and will be fully revealed in his death.  The grain of wheat falls as if it dies.  But God has another vision of what will happen to Jesus, and what will happen to those of us who belong to him.  This is the essence of our faith, that death is not the end of us. 

 

Death is not to be taken lightly.  Jesus names that his soul is troubled as he approaches his death.  This gift of life is a wonderful gift.  It isn’t always easy; it is painful at times, filled with sorrow and with joy, with struggles and with triumphs, and with long days of boredom and loneliness.  I don’t need to tell you that; we’ve all lived through this last year with all its challenges and isolation.  And we’ve made it through and there is hope for better days ahead of us.  The gift of life is all of that – the pain, the joy, the beauty, the hunger, the hope and anger, that which we understand and that which is beyond our grasp.  At its best it is marked by love that touches us deep in our hearts and holds us.  If we choose, we are welcome to connect with the power and strength and peace of God’s love and grace in the midst of this gift of life.  And there is death.  Death separates us for a time from those we love.  But it does not and cannot separate any of us from God’s love.  Resurrection life is our hope and our faith.  It is ours in Christ’s love, even beyond the reality of death.  We are grounded in the hope and confidence of resurrection as we trust in Christ’s resurrection.  We always see death through that lens.

 

This has been a week of death, shocking death, surprising and painful death, and the sorrow that accompanies it. Eight people were murdered in Atlanta.  Eight precious children of God who didn’t get home to their families Tuesday night.  We are still wrestling as a society with the racism and the othering of Asian Americans that seems to be a significant part of this tragedy.  We are still working toward that day when we recognize that we all belong to each other, that each of us, in all our glorious diversity, is made in the image of the God who therefore somehow looks like each of us and all of us.  It is part of our task as disciples of Jesus to mourn with those who mourn.  And it is ours also, in the spirit of resurrection, not to let the tragic death of these sisters and brothers be the last word.  We who are baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ remember our baptismal vows, to resist evil, to stand against and speak against the sin of racism, to put our trust in the God who promises to walk with us on the path that leads not to death but to life.

 

So much closer to home, we weep for Eli Jaen.   We weep with Aleta and Henry; we weep with Paul, and with one another, at the death of a young man for whom we had such dreams and hope.  Like Jesus, our souls are troubled, and full of sorrow.  Such sorrow does not betray our faith in the resurrection, nor does it undermine our trust in God’s love.  God understands that we can feel sorrow without giving into despair.  So many of the psalms are prayers which give voice and space and time to sorrow and pain, and then, and only then, find and speak a word of hope.  Read them.  Let their voice be your voice in your words with God.  Let your heart be sorrowful at Eli’s death; he was only twenty. 

 

And do not forget that death does not have the last word – not in Jesus’ death, not in Eli’s death, not in your death nor in mine.  God’s love has the final word. God’s love which has embraced Eli since he was born, God’s love which we acknowledged and claimed for him at his baptism in this sanctuary, God’s love which held him Friday night and Saturday morning as he breathed his last, and which welcomes him even now into the joy of eternal life.  Nothing can or will separate Eli from that powerful and triumphant love of God. 

 

Jesus will glorify God’s name through his death and resurrection; the world will see the ultimate triumph of God’s love over the powers of sin and death.  Just as a grain of wheat looks like it’s dead and then rises and blooms into golden stalks that wave in the wind and shine in the sun, so we will live through death into life.  This is the good news by which we live and rejoice. Amen.

 

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34

31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Psalm 51

1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

3For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

4Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight,

   so that you are justified in your sentence

   and blameless when you pass judgment.

5Indeed, I was born guilty,

   a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6You desire truth in the inward being;

   therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

   wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8Let me hear joy and gladness;

     let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

9Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

10Create in me a clean heart, O God,

    and put a new and right spirit within me.

11Do not cast me away from your presence,

    and do not take your holy spirit from me.

12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

 

John 12:20-33

20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

27“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.                            

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