"The Virtue of Going to Seed"

5 Lent.B.21
Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

Were I to hazard a guess, I would say most of us would not consider it a compliment if someone to look at our home and remark: “My goodness, it looks as if you’re really let this place go to seed.” “Going to seed” is another way of saying that something is past its prime. We a person who appears unkept, and we might say: “Look at that priest, that woman has really let herself go to seed.”

This morning, I would like to offer an alternative to this perception—indeed, I will go so far as to suggest that there is purpose, and even beauty in allowing oneself go to seed.

Take a look at the picture on the front of today’s program. It is Vincent van Gogh’s painting from 1887 titled: “Four Sunflowers Gone to Seed”. Now, by far, van Gogh’s most popular paintings of sunflowers is a series of glorious arrangements of flowers in vases. However, what we see here are four sunflowers who are clearly past their days of being part of such an arrangement. And yet, I suspect most of us would agree that they are still beautiful in this painting of warm and cold colors in contrasting tones.

The process of going to seed refers to the flowering stage of a plant’s life, in which it prepares for seed production (an essential component in the life of a plant.) True enough, at first glance these plants which have “gone to seed” might appear to be past their prime, particularly if you were considering serving them up for dinner. Plants in this phase of life might be tough, woody and bitter to the taste—but they are also immensely productive when it comes to laying the foundation for future generations. Going to seed is vital if there will be another generation of such plants in the future.

In today’s lesson from the Gospel of John, we learn that some Greeks (meaning people who were not Jewish--Gentiles) come to the apostle Philip and ask to see Jesus. Philip and Andrew bring this news to Jesus who replies: “The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified. 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.” It’s a cryptic and confusing response. Surely Andrew and Philip must have shaken their heads in confusion. What could Jesus possibly mean?

But we stand on the Easter side of the cross, and we know that Jesus, here, is speaking of his death and alluding to the spread of the Gospel—the hope and promise of the resurrection. It is through our Savior’s death and resurrection that the Good News is given—not simply to a few close friends and associates, but to the entire world; to those Gentiles who asked Philip if they could see Jesus, and ultimately to all people, in every time and place.

Christianity, you see, is a faith that spreads by word of mouth. Christian’s aren’t born—they’re made—baptized into the faith—and formed through prayer, study and practice. In a very real sense, each generation of Christians could be the last—for if no one takes the initiative to share their faith or form fellow Christians, there is no longer any church. Seed spreading is crucial if the church is to survive.

We frequently think of “going to seed” as referring to the last part of a plant or a person’s life. There’s some truth in this. A Christian isn’t finished once they’re baptized—it takes a lifetime to grow into one’s faith. There’s a good reason we associate wisdom with age. Looking back, I have been blessed with fine mentors of all stripes and many different ages; however, most have been older and more experienced than myself. Some of them were retired clergy; others were wise parishioners whose lives and words continue to be an inspiration; still more were those kind enough to be patient when I was a young priest and teach me the ropes. Some were teachers and others fellow journeyers. All of them important in shaping me and my ministry and forming me as a follower of Christ. I carry their examples and words with me daily. Had they not taken the time to share what they knew and had experienced, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I suspect you might feel the same about the mentors who have graced your life as well.

In an era when we can learn most anything we want to know on YouTube or with a quick query to Siri or google, we must ask ourselves, is there still a place for mentoring in our faith and our society? Where does community play a role in our formation? Is spirituality simply an individual pursuit—or is it something more? Certainly, during this pandemic worshiping online has been a blessing; but I know a good number of us miss walking through these doors, sharing the peace with our neighbors and kneeling side-by-side at the altar rail of God.

From where I stand—there is nothing more fundamental to formation than being together in community. Those mentors who formed me—if I’m honest, I’d admit that I wouldn’t necessarily have been wise enough to choose all of them for myself. Through the grace of God they found me, and I them. They walked through the doors of the churches I served and into my life, and sometimes I walked into theirs. All of us, of different ages, experiences, backgrounds and talents, engaged in a common pursuit of seeking to know and love God. There is no substitute for being together as a community of faith. There is no substitute for telling the stories of who we are, what we have learned, and what we believe with those around us. To do so takes a loosening up and a willingness to share as an offering of faith.

Going to seed is a supreme act of trust and sharing. It is the giving of oneself; not only entrusting one’s life into God’s promises, but also investing for the benefit of future generations. Spreading the seeds of our faith entails telling stories (both happy and sad) and sharing lessons learned. Think of what we lose when the stories of our life and our faith are not told—when lessons (even hard lessons and tragic stories) are not shared with others.

Consider again the words of Jesus. “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.” There is hope in these words—as well as a mystery. Death, we learn from our Savior, is not the end of who we are. And yet, this earthly life we live is important for all those who come after us. It is not enough for us to be concerned solely with ourselves and our personal salvation; but to share what we have for future generations. So, if you have moments when you think that you might be “going to seed”; take a deep breath and relax—know that you are doing the work of God by sharing of yourself with others in the community of faith, and indeed are laying the foundation for future generations in this great and glorious garden of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.