Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sermon: "Planted" (John 12:20-26)

Jesus said: “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
This is not the only time Jesus talked about grain and seeds. On another occasion, he compared faith to a mustard seed. On another occasion, he talked about seed falling on the road, among thorns, and in good soil. And on other occasions still, he talked more about seeds being planted, and plants growing from seeds, and the fruit they produce.
Last weekend, when Cristi Sharpsteen led us through our New Beginnings gathering on Friday night, and again when she met with a few of us on Saturday, she mentioned seeds growing. I specifically remember her using examples of both peach trees and oak trees, and the seeds from which they grow.
And from others, too, I’ve been hearing about seeds and plants and growth. The metaphor is a familiar one. It’s used a lot.
So I started thinking: with all these people talking about seeds, what do the seeds themselves have to say?
So I went out to look for a seed to talk to. I found, on the ground, an acorn. An acorn is a little different than a grain of wheat, but there isn’t much wheat growing in southern California, and an acorn is still a seed, like a wheat grain, so I knew their stories would be similar.
The acorn I found was half buried in the ground. I think the rain we’ve had lately had helped it to somehow embed itself deeper into the soil. Dry leaves covered it, keeping it almost hidden. I was surprised I saw it. If we have a few more days of rain - or if an animal or person comes along and steps on the acorn and pushes it into the ground further - I think it will be buried completely.
I got down low, next to the acorn. I introduced myself, and said I was looking for a seed to talk to, and since an acorn is a seed, I asked the acorn to tell me its story.
“Well,” the acorn said. “Technically, I am not a seed. An acorn is a hard fruit that contains a seed within it.
“Oh,” I said. “OK. Close enough. Can you tell me your story?”
The acorn said: “Not too long ago I was a part of a tree up the hill. I grew from that tree, and I was a part of that tree. And it was amazing. It was a most beautiful tree, a magnificent old oak tree. And I was there, with hundreds of other acorns, all surrounded by big, bright, beautiful green leaves, basking in the sun. And the view from where I was on that tree - I could see for miles. I could see the snow on distant mountains on clear days after a winter storm. I could watch hawks circling, diving, hunting. I could see clouds drift past the sun during the day, and admire the stars at night.
“Those were the good ol’ days. The glory days. I was a part of something big, something fabulous, something glorious.
“But every time the wind blew, I had to hold on to that tree. I had to hold on, or I’d be blown off.
“The thing is, each time the wind blew, it got harder and harder to hold on. I tried to hold on to that tree, and I did hold on for as long as I could. That tree was all I had ever known! All my memories were in that tree!
“But every time, it got harder to hold on. Before long, all my energy went into holding on. I had no energy for anything else...Then, one day, I realized: I couldn’t hold on to the tree any longer. I couldn’t hold on to the past any longer. And all the energy I was spending just holding on, was meant for something else.
“So one calm, sunny day, I let go.”
“Wait,” I said. “You let go?”
“Yes,” the acorn said. “I let go. I chose to let go. No windstorm forced me to let go. It was a choice I made.”
“But why?” I asked.
“Two reasons,” the acorn said. “First, holding on had just become too hard. It was taking all my energy just to hold on. Holding on to the tree, holding on to the past… wasn’t there something better I could be spending my energy on? When I was younger, holding on was easy. But when I grew older, holding on became too difficult. Painful, even.”
“And the second reason?” I asked.
“The second reason,” the acorn answered, “was that I finally realized that I was created for more than just holding on. I was created for something more. There was a bigger purpose for me….So I let go.”
I asked, “Was it hard to let go?”
“I thought it would be,” said the acorn. “And for a long time I didn’t want to let go. But then I realized that I was being called to a different future. So that’s when I let go.”
“So now here you are,” I said, “stuck down here in the mud, sinking into the soil, practically buried. No more sunlight by day, no more stars at night. Just the darkness of the earth. Don’t you miss being in the tree? Don’t you miss those good ol’ days?”
“I don’t miss them, exactly,” said the acorn. “Well, maybe I do, in a way. I do remember them. I remember them fondly. And I give thanks for every single day in which I was blessed to be part of that tree. That tree made me what I am. In fact, that tree is part of me. It’s part of who I am. That tree is in me, even now. I am full of gratitude for that tree.
“In that sense, you could say I miss being in the tree, but it’s not a longing to go back. It’s not a sorrowful missing. It’s more of a joyful remembrance.
“And when I first landed here on the ground, and found myself sinking down into the soil, I was a little surprised, and much disappointed, at least at first. I knew I was created for something bigger, something more, but I didn’t understand how being buried into the soil was a part of that.
“To be honest,” the acorn said, “it felt like death. It still does feel like death, in a way. Once, back in the day, I was out in the open, on top of the tree, surrounded by beautiful green leaves; now I’m sinking into the ground, covered only by dirt and by brown, dead leaves. That’s death, right?
“I admit, some days it is hard to find any hope in this situation. If all I focus on is what I can see - the darkness of the soil, and the decaying leaves - things seem hopeless indeed.
The acorn continued: “I’ve heard that transformation to new life often feels like death. And it’s true; it is a death experience - I’ve let go of everything that once defined life for me.
“But there within me is that seed of life. In the right soil, there, in the darkness, in the place that feels like death, that seed of life will grow. If it is nurtured and watered, that seed of life will expand, and the life of the tree that is within me will sprout and be visible for the whole world to see!
“The world doesn’t see it yet. Even I don’t see it yet. But I have faith. I know that a new, glorious tree is within me. I know that there is a difference between being buried, and being planted.  
“And I know that for there to be any hope of that new tree that is within me becoming a reality, I had to let go. I had to let go of the life I once had in order to embrace the new life that God has in store for me. I had to lose my life in order to find new life.
“Is it risky to let go? Sure it is. It’s risky, because it involves venturing into unknown territory. It’s risky, because here on the ground, I’m more vulnerable to animals that might want to eat me. It’s risky… but new life requires risk. New life requires bold, courageous action.
“And that’s why I let go.
For a moment, we just sat there in silence. A very gentle breeze blew. I breathed it in, then asked, “So what now?”
“Now,” the acorn said, “I let the Spirit do its work. I’ve let go of everything in order to let the Spirit work in me and bring to new life that seed in me. I’ve stopped trying to hold onto what I wanted, and am letting God lead me to the future God desires. I can’t rush this process…”
I said, “So now you just wait?”
“Well,” said the acorn, “I wait, but I also do my best to work with the Spirit.” As he said this, I saw him wiggling around the soil, trying to dig himself a little deeper... Or maybe I imagined it; are acorns capable of wiggling themselves like that?
I said, “Is there anything I can do to help? Can I maybe spread some soil over you, to help you be planted a little better?”
“Yes,” said the acorn. “That would be nice. Thank you.”
So I spread some soil until the acorn was completely covered. Buried. No, wait - not buried; planted.
I stood up, and I felt both happy and sad. I knew I would never see that acorn again in its current form. And I didn’t know if I would ever see the tree that the acorn would become. Transformation can take a long time; we don’t always see the end result in our lifetime. But I had faith, and I knew that, one day, it would be a magnificent tree.
I walked away from the spot where I had talked with the acorn, and I spied in the distance an old, old, oak tree, perhaps past its prime, with many old, gnarled branches, some of them already dead. I knew it was the oak tree from which that acorn had come.
I walked over to that old oak tree. I placed my hands against its rough bark.
And my heart was filled with gratitude.