"We are, all of us, seeds"

- 5 Lent.B.24
John 12:20-33
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

One of the remarkable figures of the twentieth century was Albert Schweitzer, who, by the age of thirty, had become Europe’s premier organist, an acclaimed biographer, and a first-rate theologian. Most everyone would agree Albert was sailing the high seas of success. His future seemed secure. Concert halls, acclaim, a professorship…the wonders of earthly success seemed destined to be his own. Then, Albert decided to study medicine in order to devote his life to helping people in Africa. In 1913, Schweitzer and his wife Helene, traveled to what was then French Equatorial Africa to found the Schweitzer Hospital on the Ogooue River, where thousands of people received treatment during the following decades. In an interview with Fulton Oursler, Schweitzer says:

“Often people say: “I would like to do some good in the world. But with so many responsibilities at home and in business, my nose is always to the grindstone. I am sunk in my own petty affairs, and there is no chance for my life to mean anything.”

This, (he continues) is a common and dangerous error. In helpfulness to others, every (person) can find on (their) own doorstep adventures for the soul—our surest source of true peace and lifelong satisfaction. To know this happiness, one does not have to neglect duties or do spectacular things.”

Schweitzer says: “Our greatest mistake, as individuals, is that we walk through our life with closed eyes and do not notice our chances. As soon as we open our eyes and deliberately search, we see many who need help, not in the big things but in the littlest things. Wherever a (person) turns (they) can find someone who needs (them).”

In the Gospel passage appointed for today Jesus says: “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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

At first glance a seed appears rather insignificant. How could something so small, hold within itself the potential to feed a multitude? Yet, stored within this compact form is the greatest of energy and potential. Appearances are deceiving. Look at one person gathered amongst a crowd, and you may not notice anything spectacular. Yet each individual holds within themselves the power to affect and change lives and nations. Amazing!

Yet there is also this. A seed is of little use if it fails to be buried. Without a burial of some sort, a giving up of one kind of life in exchange for another—a seed is simply possibility, encapsulated in a shell. Picture a sunflower seed. By itself that seed will stay precisely what it is—a seed, holding all of the genetic potential to become a magnificent plant with a multitude of uses to benefit animals and people. That’s all it is—potential, until it is placed in fertile soil, watered and nurtured by the sun. By itself, a seed, stored in a cool, dry basement, is of very little practical use or value. Yet that same seed, planted and grown, turns into a grand and wondrous plant, yielding itself for an immense variety of purposes.

You and I—we are like seeds. One person, holed up by themselves, focused inwardly upon personal gain and achievement remains very much a seed. They may be a very smart seed or a very wealthy seed—but they are still a seed. Think of it, all of the promise and energy—all of that great potential for changing themselves and the world, encapsulated in a hard casing. A person in the form of a seed is not serving the purpose for which they were intended—not until that individual dies to itself and lives.

In order for a seed to reach its full potential—it has to give up being a seed and become a plant. Albert Schweitzer, gifted organist, writer and theologian, gave up his successful life to become an individual even more remarkable. In order to do this, he had to let go of part of who he was to become the person God intended him to be. Organs are wonderful instruments; but they are ill suited for hot, humid climates. Yet. in exchanging this profession for another, Albert Schweitzer found purpose in living.

When Jesus speaks of a grain of wheat dying, in essence, he is speaking not only of what God is asking him to do as the Messiah, but what God is asking each one of us to do. We are to begin to die—to give ourselves up to the nurture and grace of God so that we might become more than we are at present—for the good of ourselves—and the benefit of the world in which we live.

Henri Nouwen writes: “I have a deep sense that if we could really befriend death, we would be free people. So many of our doubts and hesitations, ambivalence and insecurities, are bound up with our deep-seated fear of death. Fear of death drives us into death. But if we can make friends with our own death, we can choose life freely.”

If we were to see dying as a continuation of the process of living, not only would the fear of death be taken away, but our fear of failure as well. There are a good many people in the world who spend a great deal of time, money and energy working hard to preserve themselves as seeds. Filled with enormous potential—they remain inert—just potential encased in a hard covering—only of benefit to themselves.

Jesus says to us: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” And then our Lord speaks of his death saying, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” Our Savior knows that dying is part of life. Just as a seed cannot reach its full potential without giving itself up to the earth, neither can we. Each person is a seed—a hint and promise of what we can become both in this life and the hereafter. The Gospel lesson for today tells us that the art of living well entails dying—in large and small ways, giving ourselves up to what we can become in God. We learn this from Jesus. Ask yourself, What do I need to give up? What needs to die in me in order that I might find life? What is holding me back from following Jesus with my whole heart, mind and spirit? The promise of our faith is this, that Christ has been raised to new life—and so, praise God, shall we, be raised to new life in Christ. We shall be utterly changed, transformed—in giving up our lives we shall truly find life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.