The text for this sermon is John 12:24-25. Pastor Jim Kniseley preached this sermon at Resurrection on March 25, 2012, the Fifth Sunday in Lent and Commitment Sunday.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains 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.
Today Jesus is calling you and me to bear fruit and to truly live. The only way we can do this is to die. Some here today might hear this call as a real downer, even a show-stopper to their participation in the Body of Christ. I pray that those who want to have God’s law written on their hearts (as the prophet Jeremiah foretold) will welcome this godly way of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Our hands can be a window to our souls. Young children often say “gimme, gimme, it’s mine, it’s mine” and they give this gesture. The idea of sharing, of thinking of others too is something that must be taught. Who will do this teaching? I pray it is faithful parents and grandparents and teachers and numerous other folks in the Body of Christ. The goal , as scripture affirms over and over again, is to be spiritually mature and receive with gratitude whatever we have as a gift from God, and then share what we have out of gratitude to God and in response to the needs of others.
The signs of new life are all about us now. The tulips and daffodils have popped up and are blooming. The trees have shown forth their colorful blossoms and now the leaves are emerging: all this after the winter when everything looked barren and dead. I must say that as a preacher in Virginia, it is easier to describe death and new life from nature than it was in Southern California. Out there something is blooming or bearing fruit all year long. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I ever saw a plant in the ground that had been grown from a bulb. At church they seemed to just magically appear at Easter in the garden at the front of the church.
Jesus today in the gospel reading is foretelling his own death and then his resurrection to new life. But he is also speaking about what can happen in the lives of us, his disciples. We are called to die to self in order to live for others. We are called to give up the “gimme” attitude and adopt instead the “gratitude” attitude. The grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies will spring to life, will bear fruit, if it falls in the right place. The grain cannot just fall anywhere and die. It must fall into a place where sprouting can take place, where nurture can be found, a little water, some minerals. The grain does not bear fruit without a fertile bed. That is what we are all about here in this congregation: we want to be the fruitful soil, the place where faith is nurtured, where growth in grace is encouraged, and where fruitfulness is taught, caught and practiced.
Today you and I are called to practice generosity. We have arrived at the fifth practice of fruitful congregations, that of extravagant generosity. St. Paul tells us that generosity is one of the fruits of the Spirit. The practice of generosity is a means by which God builds people up, strengthen their spirits and equips them to serve God’s purposes.
In this congregation, folks are at different places in their understanding and practice of tithes and offerings. For some, it is a way of life to give 10% of their income. At the other end of the spectrum are folks who have never given thought to what tithes and offerings mean. So their practice might be: what do I have in my purse or wallet today that I won’t miss?
Here’s how the grace of God works. God will continue to love and provide for you whatever your response. Tithes and offerings are not a pay for service kind of thing. What God truly wants is a change of heart and attitude. God wants to provide the gift of extravagant generosity. God wants to expand our capacity to do his work and serve others. Here is a most amazing promise: God will even provide for you enough to share. Here’s how St. Paul wrote this promise in 2 Corinthians: “You will be enabled in every way for your great generosity.”
Bishop Robert Schnase, who authored Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations reminds us that fruitful congregations thrive when three things take place:
1. Extraordinary sharing
2. Willing sacrifice
3. Joyous giving out of love for God and neighbor
I conclude with a true story from Bishop Schnase…
A long-time member and proud grandfather (1) stood at the baptismal font with his family for the baptism of his baby granddaughter. Another infant from another family that was new to the congregation was baptized at the same service. Following the service, the two families intermingled at the front of the church as they took turns having their pictures taken. At one point, the mother from the new family needed to get some things out of her bag, and the grandfather from the other family offered to hold her baby. Other church members commented on the grandfather with the baby; and he found himself saying several time, “Oh, this one isn’t mine; I’m just holding him for a minute.”
Monday morning the grandfather called the pastor at the church office and said, “I want to change my will to include the church, and I want to talk to you about to do that.” The pastor was stunned and couldn’t help asking about what brought the grandfather to this decision. The older man’s eyes grew moist as he said, “Yesterday I realized something while I was holding that other baby. I kept telling people the he wasn’t my child, but then it dawned on me that he was part of my family, part of my church family. I’ve been a member of this church for more than 40 years, and in God’s eyes I’m a grandfather to more than just my own. I’ve taken care of my own children with my will, but I realized I also need to provide for the children of the church. So I want to divide my estate to leave a part to the church as if the church were one of my own children.”
People of Resurrection, may we today truly practice extravagant generosity.
(1) From Cultivating Fruitfulness, a devotional by Robert Schnase, 2008 Abingdon Press