The Seed that Dies
March 21, 2021
Over the last few weeks, it’s been getting warmer. Last weekend was amazing, to the point that we got in several good walks and Hazel got to play on the playground without having to worry about the snow. All that warm weather got me thinking about the summer and gardening, and planning out what I’d like to grow. I imagine at least some of y’all who have gardens are also starting to think about that—or maybe you’re like my neighbor and are already getting your seedlings started indoors. In the midst of thinking about that, this phrase that Jesus says about a seed falling to the earth stuck with me.
Because think about how planting something works. You put the seed into the ground, and quickly enough there’s something green that comes up. The two little leaves poking up are a pleasant reminder of the return of life in any garden—but then there’s the long wait for the fruit. You plant your tomatoes or your beans or your corn, and for a good chunk of the summer, it’s just greenery. Even the fruit that gets put on seems to take forever to actually ripen! Can you imagine what it would be like if you had never experienced growing food before?
Imagine looking at a corn kernel, or a grain of wheat, or a bean, and saying to other people, “you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to bury this perfectly good food, and I’ll bet it’ll make more!” If no one around had any experience growing food, they’d think you’re crazy! Bury food? You might as well throw it away! Who would be crazy enough to think that somehow robbing from your present store of certain food would be a good idea?
It’s a little hard to imagine, maybe, because we do know what happens next. We know how plants work, and we know that even when the corn takes months, eventually it will make more corn. Burying perfectly good edible seeds makes sense because we know those seeds will produce ten, fifty, a hundred times as much food! But what happens when you don’t know what will happen next? What happens when neither you nor anyone else knows what will happen for sure when the metaphorical seed is buried? What kind of faith is required to trust that it will produce fruit, and wont’ simply stay dead?
We have had a whole year to test that kind of faith, haven’t we? Just over a year ago, everything changed, and the world that was, was buried. Our worship services together went online, and for months we praised God in our living rooms or on our porches instead of in the sanctuary. When we did go out in public, we wore masks and kept six feet apart, hoping that the sacrifice of human contact would produce the fruit of keeping more people safe. We mourned losses close to home—those the pandemic took—and those far away, the half-million fellow Americans and the two million more around the world. The seed that died has, in many ways, really felt like death.
But we also slowed down, and not being able to go so many places made us pay attention to where we were in the moment. We learned how to use Zoom and other technologies to keep in touch with friends and family who couldn’t come to visit. We dedicated ourselves to taking any opportunity we could to safely see the people we love, whether in porch visits or park visits, masked quilting or a brief word grabbing a cinnamon roll or pint of soup. We adapted the ways that we cared for each other, the ways we did ministry together, and the ways we saw what was important, because the world that was, was buried.
And now we’re starting to see those little leaves poking up from the seeds that were buried last March. There’s hope as we pass 12,000 people in our county vaccinated and 38 million Americans vaccinated, and the numbers of new infections are in a steady downhill direction. Even as we search for reminders of new life as Spring begins, we can see new life growing on the other side of this pandemic and the hope of emerging from this world that is into a world that will be. But as we get there, when it’s all over, will we try to dig up the seeds that were buried by COVID, or will we trust God to make them into new fruit?
Because that would be so easy to do. Once we no longer have to do things differently, we may be tempted to fall back into the old routines of running from one thing to the other, filling our schedules with anything and everything that’ll fit in the hopes of getting ahead. We may be tempted to put all this new stuff back, throwing to the side all the ways we grew in digital ministry, new ways of engaging each other, offering more grace because life is hard in ways we all experienced. We may be tempted to return to a habit of not believing our actions affect the lives of others. We may be tempted to dig up that buried seed of the world that was only because it’s familiar, not because it was life-giving.
Because “the days are surely coming, says the Lord,” when all things will be made new. The days are surely coming when we will see the fruit of that buried seed, and God is going to do something amazing with it. We’ve already started to see the world as it could be, one where we are using technology to reach more people with the gospel, where we are committed to stepping up and caring for our neighbor for the long run, where we see how the kingdom looks like the mundane ways that we share God’s grace with each other in soups and pies, in check-in calls and letters, in new ideas and letting the creative movement of the Spirit happen.
God’s glory is in taking what should be dead, useless, gone, and making new life out of it. Jesus talks about the seed that falls to the earth and dies, and yes, he’s speaking of the literal life out of death that we are promised, but he is also speaking of so much more. Sometimes we have to trust that God is actually doing what God promises to do—making life where we only see death. Making something new by shedding the old. And in times like these, we are called to be crazy like the first farmer, taking a perfectly functional world and burying it, trusting that God will make something even better from it.
So what do you need to let stay buried? What old habits have you discovered you only held onto out of comfort, not because they were life-giving? How has God shown you in this pandemic the ways that you can creatively love your neighbor in big ways and in small ways? Where are you being called to trust that the seed that God buried needs to be left there so that God will make it produce even better fruit? And what life have you already started to see that God wants you to help cultivate?
The seed of familiarity may fall to the earth and die, but in dying, it will produce a crop of new life, fuller life, abundant life. Let’s trust Jesus when he says this is true.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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