“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.” A Gospel reading we sometimes hear at funerals – for good reason.
For nature reveals a truth that is at the center of our Christian faith – that within the hard outer shell of a grain of wheat is contained the beginning of new life. The only way for this seed to bear fruit is to die and then be placed in the darkness of the earth.
St. John ties this truth of nature to the “hour” when Jesus was glorified –when his purpose of life is most made known: it was NOT at his birth when the angel choirs sang glory to God –
it was NOT when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish and fed 5,000 people – it was NOT when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. . .
No, in St. John’s gospel the “hour” of Jesus’ glory is when he offers himself to God on the cross – and suffers and dies. Jesus greatest hour, his greatest accomplishment occurs on the cross – which is why the final words Jesus speaks in his earthly life are: “It is finished.”
Like the seed that dies in order to bear fruit, Jesus died that we may enjoy the fruit of eternal life. We call this the paschal mystery: the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus --- it is the paradox that one must die in order to really live.
The Church presents us with this Gospel passage NOW – in order to put us in the right mindset for what is coming in these next two weeks.
For next Sunday, we shall hear not just prophecies about Jesus’ death – but we shall read on Palm Sunday, once again the story of Jesus Passion, Crucifixion, and Death. And those events will unfold for us day by day during Holy Week.
We hear this Gospel of the grain of wheat NOW to help us understand why Jesus goes to his death --- and why each of us must follow Him to the cross.
For if we are unwilling to die to our sin by going to the cross with Jesus --- and get back on the right track by dealing with the rats in our lives –
then we will not experience the new life Jesus died in order to give us.
I’m pretty sure that’s why Jesus told us we need to take up our cross daily – and follow after him---- because going to the cross, allowing the seed to die – is not something we just do once a year ---
there is always some selfishness to turn away from, some failure to overcome, some weakness that needs to be strengthened. If we don’t detect these things in our hearts and lives – then we aren’t looking hard enough. . . So daily we must ask: what inside of me must die in order for me to live more fully: to live more like Christ?
What do I need to turn loose of or overcome– so that the divine life of grace can take root within me and grow and bear fruit?
So this is the ultimate commitment we must make during Lent and on our journey of life: to follow Jesus to the cross –
To nail our faults, failings, sins, and rats to the wood of the cross in order to free ourselves from the past in order to change – or as we heard at the very beginning of Lent – to repent and in the Gospel ---so that we can be the kind, merciful, gentle people God is calling us to be.
Change isn’t easy.
To develop new habits and new mindsets can be very difficult. But change we must.
Growth isn’t optional if we want to follow the Lord with all our minds and all our hearts.
But change isn’t easy: we resist it. We wish that we could do without. We expect it of others but hope they don’t expect it of us.
Change isn’t easy.
It’s hard to say goodbye to the old version of ourselves. It’s hard to admit that we have fallen short of our potential in the past. It’s hard to shed our skin and reveal our new, vulnerable self to the world.
But unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies – it remains just a grain of wheat: it fails to produce fruit.
So do we dare to commit ourselves to this journey to the cross over the next two weeks?
We can if we remember that the only way to get to the new life of Easter – is through death on the cross on Good Friday.
Since hopefully during these days of Lent -------we all want to make a commitment to use prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to get rid our rats and get back on the right track of turning away from evil and doing good—of seeking after peace and pursuing it – we might all benefit from this story:
A young man went to see an older, wiser man for advice on being a good person – because it was something he truly desired.
The older, wiser man said to him: “to be a good person, you need to learn how to make better decisions.”
“And how do I learn how to make better decisions?” the younger man asked.
“Well,” the older man said, “to make better decisions you need to get more experience.”
“And how do I get more experience?”
“Well,” the older man said, “to get more experience, you need to make more BAD decisions.”
It’s tempting to wait until everything is perfect before making a decision and taking action, but that’s not how life works and that’s not how we grow.
The reality is that making choices and doing anything of importance is a risk. We may do the wrong thing, we may make a mistake and others may give us a hard time about it.
But the consequences of making a bad decision with good motives is rarely as damaging as making no decision and doing nothing.
So, if you want to be a better person by making better decisions – just make decisions.
Do something. . . anything!
Take action, make mistakes --- and learn from them.
In time, all of us can become more intuitive and wiser about the best course of action for our lives.
And that’s wisdom we don’t get from sitting around doing nothing.
So yes, as we heard last week – God gave his guidance and direction to the Israelites –
You shall not have other gods besides me.
Remember to keep holy the Sabbath.
Honor your father and mother.
You shall not kill, steal or lie.
And the Israelites tried their best to keep those promises – and sometimes they were successful – but many times they failed: “in those days, all the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations. . .”
But God did not give up on them: “Early and often did the Lord, the God of their ancestors send his messengers, his prophets, to them, for he had compassion on his people.”
And so after a time of enslavement and suffering in Babylon, some say this exile lasted up to 70 years –
the Israelites return to their homeland – and started over:
They rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem which had been burnt and torn down.
The priests Ezra and Nehemiah read aloud to the people from God’s word – and all the people re-consecrated themselves to the Lord.
The Israelites had fallen – but they had gotten back up -------- only, in time, to fall again – a pattern that repeated itself throughout the Old Testament.
But every time they failed – they gained experience from their mistakes, became a little firmer in their convictions, listened a little more attentively to the messengers, the prophets, which the lord sent them early and often.
God never gave up on them – and God will not give up on us --- God just wants us to keep on trying!
Never giving up on God, never giving up on ourselves, and never giving up on each other.
There’s a Japanese proverb that says: “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”
And Confucius once said: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in raising after every fall.”
So we get a splash of color today on this Laetare Sunday with the Rose Color Vestment – a splash of color to remind us we are more than half-way through our Lenten journey. . .
And human nature being what it is – some of us still may not have gotten into the Spirit of Lent yet – and that’s okay --- because it is never too late to start.
And some of us who have started, may have stumbled and fallen in keeping our Lenten promises – and that’s okay too --- as long as we learn to make better decisions through the experience our bad decisions have brought us. As long as we get back up after we have fallen.
One thing to remember in all of this – our Lenten journey as well as our life journey --- is that we don’t have to do this alone:
“God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love God has for is, even when we were dead in our transgressions – brought us to life with Christ – by GRACE, this great gift from God --- we have been saved.”
So that goal of ours that we should all have as Christians – to walk in the light of Christ so as to be more like Him: hold on to it.
Work on it.
Constantly remind yourself of it.
Sit down quietly and ponder it.
Never give up on it.
We have that goal for a reason ---
And IF, but more accurately, WHEN we fall – we just have to make the commitment to get ourselves up, dust ourselves off – and start all over again: walking in the grace of God.
In case we don’t know how bad habits take root in our lives and grow as fast and defiantly as weeds—Darren Poke, in his Better Life Coaching Blog gives us this explanation:
How do bad habits grow and what are some of the warning signs that we need to watch out for?
The example I would like to use is that of bad driving habits, but you will be able to see how this pattern applies to any area of your life.
Let’s just say that one day I slept in and was running late for work. I then have a critical decision to make. Do I risk the wrath of my boss and show up late – or do I take my chances and speed a bit on the drive?
I make the decision to speed in order to get to work on time. . . But when I get to work, I feel guilty because I’ve never chosen to speed before. I hope that a speed camera didn’t catch me and fine me.
After a few weeks of nervously checking the mail for a traffic violation notice – I have a sudden realization: I GOT AWAY WITH IT! I broke the law and there were no consequences.
I now have another critical decision to make. I can either buy another alarm clock and make sure that I never need to speed again – OR -- perhaps I will be less uptight next time and if I find that I’m in a similar situation in the future – I’ll just put the pedal to the metal – and speed again.
The reality is that if you get caught doing something wrong, like speeding, you COULD just consider yourself unlucky. However – chances are that if you get away with something that you know is wrong a couple times --- you will feel less guilty and the potential is there for a habit to begin.
And then the third critical decision is made. I purposefully start to set my alarm 5-10 minutes later than normal – knowing that I can just speed in order to get to work on time. I do so with little regard for the consequences and – in fact – become slightly annoyed that there are people out there trying to catch me.
At this point – I have a bad habit which formed -- and it will take a lot of will power to break this pattern of behavior.
When someone speeds, lies, steals, cheats, curses, slanders, belittles, abuses, gets intoxicated, is unfaithful ---- ONCE – the second time is always easier. And if we get away with it – and there are seemingly no consequences --- before long, a bad habit is formed.
St. Paul in his letters tells us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Our temples sometime get cluttered with all kinds of bad habits –
and they need to be cleansed just as sure as Jesus chased the money changers and the sheep and the oxen out of the temple in Jerusalem. . .
In the 1780s, a boat shipwrecked off the coast of Hadawax Island which is in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska --- and a few stowaway rats made their way from the ship onto the island, resulting in a mass infestation so great – the island was eventually re-named: Rat Island.
After their arrival, the rats decimated the local bird population – by eating eggs, chicks, and even adult birds.
Over two hundred years later – in 2008 – a group called Island Conservation, finally intervened and successfully removed all the rats from the island. I don’t know how – maybe with lots of rat traps or people running around with nets. However they did it – it was done with the efficiency of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland!
Since then, most of the local bird life has recovered, with many species returning to the island that haven’t been seen there for many years.
It was an extraordinary recovery and a great victory for wildlife conservation.
We all have rats in our lives: bad habits that are destructive to ourselves and others.
As Darren Poke told us – it’s easy to develop bad habits that start small and slowly get bigger until they take over our lives and we become defined by them.
BUT IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO DEAL WITH THEM! And Lent is a most excellent time to do so. Through the disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving—let’s make the changes that we know we need to make in order to drive some bad habits – rats if you will – out of our lives.
Let’s ask for forgiveness. Let’s ask for mercy. Let’s ask for the grace, the help that we need – to create new habits that are more aligned with our goal of following after Christ and imitating his actions in our lives.
Let’s use the disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to get rid of our rats and get back on the right track of turning away from evil and doing good – of seeking after peace and pursuing it.
It won’t happen unless we make a commitment to do it – just like we have been challenged so far this Lent – to spend time in the desert --- and to commit to climbing the mountain. . .
ANNOUNCEMENT AFTER COMMUNION:
Today I received my second covid shot –and I encourage all of you to receive a vaccine. It’s not that I am going to start living recklessly – but I will feel a little safer doing the things I have to do – like going into hospitals and care centers.
For all of you still at home – know that we are anxiously awaiting your return to us – but only when you feel safe and confident to do so.
I would like to thank everyone for the fantastic job you are doing on continuing to support us financially at St. Patrick. Whether you are here or not—we still have bills to pay – mostly salaries to our teachers and others who minister in the parish.
If nothing else, the pandemic has taught us the importance of electronic giving – and remember you can always donate using your credit card so you pick up a few points along the way!
Our school enrollment is already strong for next year – we are staying current on our debt payments – so are looking forward to great things continuing to happen here at St. Pats – all thanks to you!