John 12:24 Very 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.
What does it mean to let yourself die that seeds of new growth might flourish? If a seed does not fall to the ground, it’s an ominous thing to hear one say. The easiest and least threatening response is that this is Jesus talking about his approaching death and this makes it not about us which is a relief! I mean what if Jesus were inviting us to die? And did he mean this literally? It’s the same sort of response he gave Nicodemus, One must be born from above, but how, Nicodemus wondered, does one do that? What does it mean that anyone who loves his life will lose it? It appears that Jesus was talking about more than his approaching death, he was talking about us. And if being born again from above gives us pause, surely dying that we might yield a rich harvest is certainly pause-worthy.
It’s pause-worthy because we have been taught to grasp, to achieve, to accumulate. It’s pause-worthy because we have learned to identify ourselves with what we have done, what we have, by our careers and all of this is not something from which we come but is something which we create, leaving us in control. What does it say of us that we seek less to express the dna of our creator than that we seek to create ourselves according to what we have learned is the best, most appropriate, most desirable? Jesus gently mocked our striving saying, do not be anxious nor strident in your seeking to provide. Look at the birds, they do not sow nor reap nor gather into barns but the father provides for them, look at the lilies of the field, they do not toil nor spin but look how your father has clothed them. Do not be anxious, do not strive for your own success, let all of that die in you, do not be afraid, do not be anxious. It is God who will provide.
Dying to our own striving and self-protecting, self-producing ways is to fall gently into the hands of God. It is to let go, finally, of all our striving. It is to lay back upon the waters, gently releasing our earnest efforts to hold our heads above the waters, and allow the waters to carry us, to bear us up, to cradle us gently.
Dying to our own striving is to release our tight grip on the seams that appear to hold us together, noticing that something within us is struggling to be born, is struggling to blossom and it can only do so by ripping apart the seams of our carefully ordered world. It is to breathe that deep fresh breath of new life that tells us we will no longer be constricted and made small by our tidy efforts to control life, no, instead we breathe deeply of the spirit, the wild, holy wind which blows where it will and which will carry us with it, if we can release our tight grip, if we can dare to come apart at the seams and allow all the seeds within us to burst forth like dandelion seeds before the breath of a child. If we can allow our hearts to be torn asunder by compassion and love and weep the tears of bitter loss and even more joyful laughter.
So it’s easier and safer to believe that Jesus was only speaking about himself, falling to the ground that a rich harvest would ensue. And this easier and safer keeps our lives very small and stifles that impudent, unrealistic, blossoming, burgeoning thing which threatens to rip the seams of propriety apart and we can all breathe a sigh of relief, except…
except that it keeps our lives very small and very safe and something within us dies and we know that and it hurts so we become very tightly laced and proper because that thing that wants to live inside of us cries out to be born and to live this wild crazy life where we burn as bright and beautiful as the lilies of the field and sing like birds but it seems too impossible for us and we don’t dare listen. Because if we listen, if we hear these cries of the Spirit, then we must die to all our striving, controlling, perfecting, and we don’t know how to do that.
We do ourselves no favors if we say that it is easy or that it is not frightening. Jesus goes on to say, my soul is troubled, but what should I say? Father save me from this? This is why I came, that the Father might be glorified in me. So we ought not be ashamed of being afraid, or struggling to release our tight grip on what we know, but we have been called to something more, something more beautiful and mysterious, more gracious and more loving, than anything we could do on our own.
It is the stepping into an impossible mission of reconciliation even when we don’t know exactly how it will work. It is the leaving of friends and family and the only way of life you’ve ever known to go where you are called. It is the tender vulnerability of saying out loud that God has touched you and changed your life and you know it sounds weird but you’ve got to say it anyway. It is the refusal to stop loving, even after pain and loss. It is the saying of “Yes, this too,” to all that life has to offer. It is the promise to show up fully, heart, soul, and body and the promise you won’t leave when things get scary. It is the stepping into the unknown, knowing only that God is with you, when you truly don’t know anything else and even that you take on faith. It is all of this and more.
It is releasing our tight grip on the life we thought we ought to have, that we should have had, in order that something new might be born in us. That something new might live through us and claim us for that higher good, that higher meaning; that some ineffable mystery of the Spirit would light up inside of us, burn brightly within us and we would have new life.
If the grain of wheat, which is only a single grain, should fall to the ground, it yields a rich harvest. Let us be fall gently into the ground that is God, that is God’s way and God’s path, and God’s love, releasing our anxious striving, that we may be a rich harvest which gives joy to God. amen