Plymouth United Church of Christ

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Sermon, Year B, Lent 5, March 25, 2012
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber Focus Scripture: John 12:20-33

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” That’s what Jesus said. He was, I think, foreshadowing of his death at this point. Although we know that Jesus was not merely planted like we might plant a seed so he could die and bear much fruit. He was executed. He was murdered. he was forced to die. Death was not his choice, it was forced upon him by political and religious forces beyond his control. Although we do have his statement in one of the Gospels that if he wanted to he could call forth legions of angels to protect him, and chose not to. So in some ways the death was his choice, but it was still forced upon him. The decision to die was not initially necessarily his. It was the choice of the religious leaders and the choice of Rome. The sentence of death already handed down to him. Much as the seed does not choose where or when to be planted, and therefore does not choose to die, so Jesus was forcibly planted, so to speak.

He was murdered. Executed. It wasn’t just Rome that did it, or the religious leaders that did it. But we did it.

All of us were complicit. We did it.

And we keep doing it.

Every time an innocent person is murdered or killed, whether it be through gang violence or through the violent power of the state or its agents, or our inaction to respond to the healthcare, food, or shelter needs of our sick, starving, or homeless neighbors, we kill Jesus. We kill another Jesus. And not so much individually. Although we do have our individual sins. But I don’t think this is so much about personal sin as it is about corporate sin. The sin we commit as a society, or as a group, as a community. There is something about us that even though we wouldn’t do anything particularly horrible or evil on our own, when we come together as a group it becomes easier to make those kinds of choices and those kind of decisions, to be more removed.

We kill Jesus. And we’re good at it. We’re good at it. Innocent people executed on death row; children killed by terrorist bombs or drone attacks, or through neglect; teenage African-American boys wearing hoodies, that’s been the big news this week; gay teenagers bullied to the point that they feel suicide is their only option for relief; people who work in unsafe factories because want cheaper electronics or cheaper clothing.

Rome killed Jesus for political reasons: to protect and preserve the state and the social order from a possible revolutionary. From ideas counter to the ideas of Rome. And we often seem to do so for more prosaic reasons: to protect and preserve our state of need for convenience, greed, or vengeance. None of which are in Paul’s list of the nine Spirit Fruits.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and die, it remains but a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus had to be lifted up on the cross to die at the hand of those who feared the power of his difference and the power of his disengagement from the power structure of Rome, from the dominant narrative.

But scant few (probably none) of those we have lifted up since Jesus have needed to be lifted up, even though we stack up bodies like cordwood as fast as we can to feed an insatiable furnace of our fictional fears. We keep telling ourselves, “Just one more and that will be enough,” though we never follow through. Like the addict who can’t go one day without feeding his addiction. “Hi, I’m David, and I kill Jesus.” Because it’s easier to make someone else pay than to change my fears, greed, wants, or apathy.

Jesus had to be lifted up on the cross to die at the hands of those who maybe, in a sense, were afraid of him. Afraid of his ideas, preaching about love and kindness and care for the least of these. His concern for the outcast.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and die, it remains but a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus’ death bore an awful lot of fruit. Much came out of that. We are here because of his death. Because of his resurrection. His death bore the fruit of salvation, resurrection, it gave birth to the Church that we enjoy and that we are part of and we are baptized into. We are part of this church that, though we do share in corporate sin, this Church has also inspired billions of people over the last two thousand years to look around them at the political and religious structures, the social and cultural structures in which they live and say, “that needs to be changed because it is not God’s way. It is anti-loving, it’s anti-grace, it’s oppressive, demeaning, dehumanizing, it’s contrary to the Gospel.” An awful lot has been done because people have been inspired through the Church and through Christ’s teaching. They have looked at the destruction they have caused, looked at the death around them that they created, have looked at scripture where it says ALL are created in God’s image and that we are to love our neighbor. And much fruit has been born from the misery and death of the innocents. We have decided over the years that inquisitions are evil, that torture is evil, forced conversion is evil, slavery is evil. Because of our faith we have decided that women ought to have a right to vote, ought to have a right to be ministers, that God can call women into the life and leadership of the church just as much as God can call men. And that women ought to be free from predation or abuse. That children ought to be protected, that they have a right to education, that they ought not be forced to work in factories for cheap labor but should enjoy their childhood and learn so they can grow. Much fruit has been born that different races are equal in God’s eyes, that different cultures are equally valid, that our LGBT brothers and sisters have as much right to come through the doors of the Church as anyone else and to touch the Divine. And to approach God and be called God’s children.

We’ve come a long way toward some level of fulfillment of those words of Jeremiah that someday God’s law will be written on our hearts. That we will all just know instinctively how to love one another and live as faithful people. There is a way to go yet, but churches like ours, and many others, and even a lot of secular organizations and other religious institutions continue to step forward and stand up to the powerful on behalf of the powerless and say, “No more. Not today. Not today. And not tomorrow. Not ever.” And to let the plight of the innocent inspire us to bear out of that death much fruit of greater awareness of our corporate sin and to change. To repent. To know that we are forgiven. To lift up their crosses and redeem their deaths by letting them inspire us to find a better way. To inspire us to truly listen to Jesus’ words of Jesus’ better way, The Way of Jesus, The Way of life which is lived in love. And lived in love all the way to the cross on Good Friday. And the love that bore Jesus out of the tomb and into resurrection on Easter morning.


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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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