John 12:20-26 The Message There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?” Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus. Jesus answered, “Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. “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. “If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice.
MESSAGE “Dead and Buried” Rev. James Renfrew
The best part of preaching is starting with the text of the Bible story, in this case John 12:20-33, reading it over at least several times, sometimes more times than that, to distill it’s meaning, to see how the ancient text intersects with our lives today, and how it leads us forward in commitment and hope.
So I read this text multiple times. The intersection I found begins with an experience I had at the age of thirteen. My church in New Canaan, Connecticut, offered a confirmation class for all of the thirteen year olds. In that large church there were probably fifteen of us. When the day came for us to be confirmed that spring as members of the church each one of us took a turn to recite The Apostles Creed. We had all memorized it over several months. To this day I still know the words. Here is how it starts:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried ….
At the age of thirteen I didn’t know a lot about Scripture, theology, church history or creeds, but I do remember how that phrase “dead and buried” was spoken with brutal finality. “Dead and buried”. Even though I knew the Apostles Creed did not end with that phrase it always sounded like the defeat of love and hope. Nothing good can happen from this, defeated, dead and we are lost.
The Apostles Creed could have said “crucified, dead”. But there’s that extra word “crucified, dead and buried” means that it’s all over, there’s nothing left, nothing to do but accept defeat. You had hopes and dreams? Forget it, they are buried deep in the ground forever.
I’ve told the story before about the woman who told me about going to the graveside service for her ex-husband. In years of mistreatment she had no love for him at all, but she told me that she went to the graveside to see for herself that he was not only dead but buried under the dirt, never to trouble her again. Dead and buried. End of story. Period.
“Dead and buried” is a key phrase in this morning’s Gospel reading from John’s Gospel. For Jesus these are not the final words of the defeated, it is explanation of what is about to happen to him. For a seed to grow it has to be buried. It’s that simple, the seed is treated like something dead, to be stuck under the dirt, lost and forgotten, and then, only then, does it begin to grow. What was dead now bursting through the dirt reaching for sunlight and life.
The oldest form of baptism by immersion seems to have come from a reading like this one. Some of you were there the day when Nelson was baptized in the Trestle Park pond. We pulled him under the surface, then he emerged into the air again. It was like an experience of drowning in the depths, and then bursting out of the water to breath in the new life of Jesus Christ. It was incredible, something not easily seen when we use this baptismal font.
I hope you are following my train of thought. Dead and buried, and bursting into new life. In this season of Lent many talk about the things they are giving up, various bad habits that we don’t want to return to when Easter dawns. But using this text from John, it’s not just setting things aside, it is burying them once and for all.
What dead things could you be burying before Easter? Worries, fears, doubts, anger, hatred, prejudices, sadness, poverty or violence?
And not only bury such things, but already be thinking about what can grow in new life from what is dead and buried.
Yesterday at the Presbytery meeting Ruth and I heard testimony from a group we are supporting with funds from One Great Hour of Sharing, ROCovery, in which members have learned to replace their addictions with physical exercise and activity outdoors. It sure sounded to me like an illustration of this Bible text, addictive behaviors dead and buried, but with new life on the other side.
And not just you and what you might bury, but think about what our congregation can bury, the things that limit us, keep us stuck, hopeless or dreamless. Bury them deep, and then marvel at what God can do in Jesus Christ!.
Our Cross is still a bit bare. So today we want you to think about the distance between you and God. Think about what needs to be buried, so that God can grow something new in you, something new in our church. Write it on one of the cards, put it in a envelope and nail it to the Cross.
What is about to poke up in you from under the dirt, what is sprouting, what new life is God birthing in you?
Something to think about at the Table, wheat grains and grape seeds buried in the ground, dead and buried, but pushing their way to the sunlight and new life, rich fields of wheat and delicious grapes in the vineyard for us to enjoy. The bread and the cup served to all, a taste of what God does in Jesus, dead and buried, but now alive with hope.
“Dead and buried”. It’s not the last word. It’s only the beginning, your beginning!
Let’s join our voices in the words of the Apostles Creed.
WHAT WE BELIEVE “The Apostles Creed” p. 35
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. I and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.