Lent Year B Week 5

We heard in the gospel according to John: “Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, it is never any more than a grain of wheat.
If it is buried, it sprouts & reproduces itself many times over.”
I think this passage from scripture is one of the most well known lines in Christianity. Hmm, what can a grain of what tell us about life?

Or about the kingdom of God? Let’s start with the life of Jesus.
Jesus drew his parables from the common, everyday circumstances of life.
His audience back in the day, could easily understand the principle of new life that was produced by seemingly dead seeds. Jesus lived among rural folks who knew the cycle of planting seeds, followed by growth, and culminating in harvest—then starting all over again with the same process the next season, and the next, and so on.

Many spiritual writers over the years have used the image of this parable as a metaphor of Jesus’ own death & burial in the tomb, followed by the resurrection.
Some people have literally lived and violently died in the footsteps of Jesus.
What a paradox! Death leads to life!
Is this really true? Was it/is it true only for Jesus? Of course not!
We believe, it is also true for us, and that it is true for everyone.
Some of us grew up on a farm (any farm children out there like me?).

Some of us to this day still like to raise plants (any green thumbs out there, or want-a-be green thumbs?) Whether green thumb, or farm child or neither, all of us share the lived experience of birth, growing throughout life, and then one day the life cycle ending.

During our years of cycles of growth, we have encountered many episodes of what seems like dead seeds: disappointment, hardships, mistakes, and countless other negative mishaps. Though difficult times have visited us in the past.

And, they will continue to come upon us in life’s journey,
so also we’ve known increased energy to move forward.
Perhaps a new path, a new job, a new perspective,
a new approach to a relationship.
Similar to the seed in Jesus’ parable, by losing a piece of our old lives,
we have found new life flourishing in our hearts,
growing into new activities and deeds, evident by our words and actions
as we come out on the other side of rocky roads.

Today’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah fits well with Jesus’ parable about the grain of wheat. Jeremiah lived in historical times of political & religious turmoil—sounds familiar, doesn’t it!! When the Jews went into exile, the ark of the covenant was gone, and the Temple was gone;
Both had been destroyed, both symbolized God’s connection to the people. However, Jeremiah promised that a new covenant was coming because of God’s love of humanity. Jeremiah realized & preached that new life would come
not because of what humans did by building the Temple and the Ark of the Covenant, but because of God’s great love.
Jeremiah promised a new covenant to come that would be based on an intimate relationship of God with the people: Jeremiah shares these words as from God:

I will write my law on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
I will forgive their iniquity.

People would know God’s love through forgiveness, setting their hearts free from burdens of sin & suffering. Jeremiah promised a God of love.

Do we also inherit a God of love like the Jewish people in the Old Testament?
Yes we do, because no matter our offenses, our mistakes, our downfalls,
we are still God’s treasured possessions.
God has written the law of life and love on each of our hearts.
The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews likewise supports the image of a grain of wheat, the image of dying and rising, death and new life.

Paul conveys that Jesus offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears. Again, it sounds like some of our own experiences. Have we cried out to the one who could come to our rescue, save us from our sorrow
or our deep pain from the difficult circumstances of life as Paul suggests?
We know we can cry out and be heard by a God who loves all of humanity.
We cry out to God who has written the law of love on the hearts of everyone.

Several well known people of our own day come to mind from today’s readings:
Martin Luther King Jr — killed in 1968 in Tennessee
Four US women missionaries— murdered in El Salvador 1980
Bishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, also killed in 1980

Like Jesus, they and many others, listened with their hearts & lived accordingly. We know now, Romero was not a vocal critic for social justice originally.

When he was chosen to be a bishop in El Salvador, the powers that be thought he was a safe person to put in power. By this I mean that there were some clergy, though not all clergy, in central America who attended to their liturgical & business duties as a priest, but they kept themselves at a distance from the plight of suffering people.

Romero experienced a conversion as he gradually identified with the plight of the poor who were disappeared & tortured; he gradually spoke up and spoke out against the poverty, violence and oppression suffered by the people.
Romero, like Jesus, did not seek political favor or influence. Romero and Jesus desired to be connected to the people who were entrusted to their pastoral care.

As we know, they and many others like them, were killed for their outspoken words and actions.
As we journey in these last two weeks of Lent, let us be mindful of those who have courageously gone before us, who have risked their lives and even paid with their lives, for speaking up and speaking out for truth.
Let us be mindful of countless courageous workers who have risked their lives during the pandemic, to care for others, to feed others, to defend others and so much more. They are the face and heart of Jesus in our midst.
Romero boldly said in one of his homilies: “How many cab drivers, I know, listen to this message in their cabs; you are a priest at the wheel, my friend, if you work with honesty, consecrating that taxi of yours to God, bearing a message of peace and love to the passengers who ride in your cab.”
And in another homily: “How beautiful will be the day when all the baptized understand that their work, their job, is a priestly work.”
Quite prophetic & dangerous words in 1980 in Central America.
In fact, Romero’s words still sound prophetic & somewhat dangerous in 2021:
And so I repeat: “How beautiful will be the day when all the baptized understand that their work, their job, is a priestly work.”

During this 5th week of Lent, let us recall & give thanks for persons
in our own lives who have been positive, perhaps even prophetic,
models of truth and justice for us.
Maybe we could even send them a note, make a phone call, to share with them in some way, how they have influenced our lives in a positive way.
May we follow in their footsteps.

Homily shared on Saturday, 20 March 2021, by Rev. Katherine Elsner.