The heart of following Jesus isn't about getting anything and everything we want right now. Following Jesus is about turning a blind eye to the shallow and instantaneous and slowly, surely, steadily, faithfully planting our lives here, there and everywhere for his glory.
January 5, 2003: Seeds - John 12:23-26
Pastor Trent Johnson
The following comes from Rev. Kenneth Landall:
"There once was a woman who wanted peace in the world and peace in her heart, but she was very frustrated. The world seemed to be falling apart and personal life wasn't that great, either. One day she was shopping at the local mall and walked into one of the store. As you might imagine, she was surprised to find Jesus behind the counter. She knew it was Jesus because he looked just like the paintings she's seen in museums and in devotional books. Not sure what to say or do, the woman finally worked up the courage to ask, 'Excuse me, but are you Jesus?' 'Yes, I am,' Jesus replied. 'Do you work here?' the woman asked. Jesus smiled and said, 'Well, in a way. I own the store.' A bit dazed by the turn of events, but curious all the same, the woman asked, 'What do you sell here?' 'Just about everything,' Jesus answered, 'Feel free to walk up and down the aisles, see what it is you want and make a list. Then come back here to the counter and I'll see what I can do for you.' The woman did just that. She walked up and down the aisles writing furiously. There was peace on earth, no more war, no hunger or poverty. There was peace in families, harmony, no dissension, no more drugs, the wise use of the earth's resources. By the time the woman returned to the counter, she had a long, long list of items. Jesus looked over the list, then smiled at the woman and said, 'No problem, ma'am.' Bending down behind the counter, Jesus began to pick through all sorts of bags and boxes. Finally, he stood up and laid out packet after packet on the counter. Not sure what to make of this, the woman asked, 'What are these?' 'Seed packets,' Jesus answered, 'This is a seed store.' The woman blurted out, 'A seed store? You mean I don't get the finished product?' 'No,' Jesus responded, "this is a place of dreams. You come in here and see what 'could be' looks like and then I give you the seeds. You go home, plant the seeds, water them, nurture them, help them grow, and someday someone will reap the benefit.' 'Oh,' said the woman. And she left the store without buying anything."
Now consider Jesus' words in JOHN 12:23-26 (Please read.). One of the defining characteristics of a determination to follow Jesus is that our new found direction places us at odds with much of what is commonly called "everyday life" or "the way things are". Pick a cliché - going against the grain, wading upstream, swimming against the tide, marching to the beat of a different drummer. Regardless how you describe it, nowhere should this determination to follow Jesus in going against the flow be more evident than in how and where we invest our lives and what it is we expect in return.
America's spending habits are affirmation of a stubborn belief in the lie of instant gratification. To quote Michael Roe, "I don't care how much it costs me now or later. I want it now and I want it fast." If I want food, McDonald's puts it on the counter in under a minute. Sometimes it's even hot. If I want clothes, JC Penney sells me a new shirt and pants, and even a matching jacket, in under 10 minutes. I can wear them out of the store. The instantaneous has become an expectation in nearly every area of life. Computers we once thought functioned like lightening we now curse for having turned to molasses. It isn't the computer that changed, but our expectations of the instantaneous. This past year we've learned the average speed on Twin Cities metro freeways is at an all time high. Even so, the same studies show the frustration level at travel times is also increasing. No matter how fast we get there, it isn't fast enough.
Worst of all, this fascination with the instantaneous has affected the way people relate to one another. Friendships are being replaced by "acquaintanceships", that come and go like the daily newspaper. It's now the norm in many circles for "romantic" relationships to move from an exchange of names to an exchange in the bedroom in the course of an evening. This "romance" can then be over before sunrise. A couple married 3 or 4 years will experience normal growing pains. But for too many today, if those problems can't be fixed in a week to 10 days, divorce becomes an option. Even our most significant relationships are being forced to conform to the ever increasing pace of life.
In the face of all this fixation with instant and immediate everything, Jesus has the nerve to talk about seed. I'm sorry, but really, what's slower than seed? Snails and slugs race by like jet airplanes compared to a seed's progress. In this day and age, why would anyone in their right mind ever plant seed? You can go down to the local store and buy the produce whole in all of about 5 minutes. The modern supermarket has eliminated the need for planting seed. And that should tell us something now that all of life seems to be turning into a great big, gigantic supermarket. Who needs seed?
In MARK 4, Jesus talked to his followers about sharing the good news of the Kingdom. He talked about that good word in terms of seed. Implied is considerable time between initially sharing the good news and that word actually bearing fruit. Seed takes time. Further, in talking about rocky soil and thistles and birds that consume the seed before it germinates, Jesus was also implying a lot of the time spent planting seed might well produce nothing. In modern vernacular, it might be viewed as a waste of time. Considering what Jesus said, the question remains, who needs seed?
A while later, in MATTHEW 13, Jesus told his followers the Kingdom of God was like a tiny mustard seed. Once planted, this little seed produces a tree large enough for the birds of the air to rest in. Some of us love this parable because we love the idea of very small investments producing great big returns. Most every investor dreams of buying $1000 worth of penny stock and having it turn into the next Microsoft. But because we no longer live in an agrarian cultural, we fail to understand how long it takes the tiny mustard seed to become a great big tree. This isn't a Chia pet that's lush and green in two weeks. It isn't a sunflower that grows 10 or 12 feet in a single season. It's a tree or shrub requiring years between seed planting and maturity. Again, it's legitimate to ask, who needs seed? You can drive down to the local nursery, buy a tree and have it planted in a day.
And what are we going to do with our text, JOHN 12:23-26? Jesus talked about a seed, a kernel of wheat that falls to the ground and dies to produce many seeds. He was talking, of course, about his death on the cross. Please excuse my irreverence. I'm only speaking as any sensible, modern thinker might. Couldn't God have found a quicker, more efficient way to save people from sin? Wasn't there a quicker way to call out and create faithful servants for the Kingdom? The seed of Jesus death was planted almost 2000 years ago. No doubt, over the years many seeds have been produced thereby. Much good has come of Jesus' death. But c'mon, 2000 years?!? And the job still isn't done! Who needs seeds? They take too long.
Jesus said, "The one who loves his or her life will lose it, while the one who hates his or her life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me." Here's the thing. And it's real simple to understand in theory, but really, really hard to understand in the practice of everyday life. When the world tells us, "Faster, faster, faster", and then has the gall to tell us this is the key to success and satisfaction and all-around quality of life, the world is nothing but the lying mouthpiece of Satan himself, the father of lies. The truth is that breakneck speed kills. That's why they call it "breakneck". And if we're foolish enough to marry a need for speed to gross overindulgence, the never ending hunger for more of everything, we'll have a recipe for something that kills, steals and destroys most anything of value life has to offer. Sounds like a devilish, infernal plot to me.
The truth is when we determine to follow Jesus, we determine to stop living according to the world's lies and start realigning our lives with the truth of Jesus' words and example. Easier said than done, I know, but that's the deal all the same. In this particular instance, we determine to take literally what Jesus says about our lives being seed. Our life only produces something of real value when we're willing to give it away. Determined to die a little here and die a little there, before long we start dying in a whole bunch of ways all over the place. As we die, and as that seed is planted, there's opportunity for new things to come to life. Further, we need to recognize as our seed is poured out on the ground of other's lives and other's needs and other's brokenness, it isn't always going to produce an overnight crop of sunshine and light. In some cases, the fruit might be years in the making and we might taste little if any of it. In some cases, it might never produce anything.
The world's fixation with "faster and more" and Jesus' talk about a seed life are absolutely incompatible. They are mutually exclusive. If instant gratification is your thing, forget about following Jesus. Go follow Ronald McDonald. Become a disciple of Bill Gates. Don't get me wrong. Jesus can and does do many wonderful things in the moment. Jesus can and does transform hearts and lives in an instant. Jesus can and does cause us to experience things in the moment we've never experienced before. But the heart of following Jesus isn't about getting anything and everything we want right now. Following Jesus is about turning a blind eye to the shallow and instantaneous and slowly, surely, steadily, faithfully planting our lives here, there and everywhere for his glory. We follow Jesus' words and example confident we can trust his promise. Jesus said, "The Father honors those who serve me." Even now, as we follow Jesus' example God honors us after a fashion. If we continue in this, there's confidence God will honor us beyond anything we can imagine in the Kingdom to come.
God's Word, the Bible, is a place of dreams. God's Church, the fellowship of believers, is a place of dreams. God's very presence, whether enjoyed alone or corporately, is a place of dreams. We come to the Word, to the fellowship, we come into the presence of God, and there we see what "could be" looks like. God shows us the potential of "great and mighty things" that have never before entered our thoughts. And then Jesus gives us the seed. We go home, we plant the seeds. We water and nurture and help them grow and someday someone somewhere reaps the benefits. That's how lives are formed. That's how families and church communities and ministries and earth shaking spiritual movements come to living, breathing reality.
Who needs seed? I need seed. You need seed. The world around us needs seed. Because without seed there is no life. All life begins with seed. The produce down at the grocery store and the full grown trees waiting to be purchased from the nursery, they all came from someone somewhere willing to plant seed. So how about you? Are you going to jump in the parade with the faster, faster, faster crowd, or are you going to step out of the world's line and get down in the dirt and start planting and nurturing seeds? The parade is pretty attractive at the moment, but to plant your life like seed, that's eternal. You can't have both. Choose.
Hope Christian Church