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Unless A Seed Falls

Unless A Seed Falls To The Ground – John 12:24-25

Below you will find the manuscript for this sermon and video from April 26, 2015, preached at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church, Richmond, VA.   You can also find an audio of this sermon by visiting the church website and subscribing to our podcast.

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You can watch the video here or read the manuscript below.  Here’s the text.

 

24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

 

 

“What does your church look like?” That was the question asked by a guy I met at Chick-fil-a, not far from our location.  As I was eating lunch, an attractive young lady walked behind where I was seated.  I didn’t see her, but the sharply dress young man sitting across from me gave the proverbial male grunt of approval.

 

Now, if you are a guy, that guttural sound requires that you turn and see what is being grunted about, so I did.  Then I turned back toward the young man, smiled, and said:  “Yes, I agree!”  He smile sheepishly at being caught and conversation was engaged.

 

He was a recent college graduate.  He was starting a career in sales and waiting to make his first presentation.  We talked about the changes taking place in culture and society, how hard it is to find a job, that sort of thing.

After a few moments, he asked:  “What do you do for a living?” “I am the pastor at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church,” I replied. “Oh, I think I know where that is?” he said.  “On Patterson Avenue, right?” You know, we are an oddity in Richmond.  We are actually located where we say we are.  You could drive all day on Grove Avenue and never find Grove Avenue Baptist Church.  If you want to find the Third Street Baptist Church, you’d have to go to Fifth Street.

 

“Yes,” I said.  “We are located at 4301 Patterson Avenue!” “What does your church look like?”

 

I answered describing the appearance of the facility.  The sign out front.  The chapel building that houses the Korean congregation that meets in this facility.  I talked about the parking lot, the playground, the columns and the steeple.

 

“Yeah, I think I know where you are located!” At that point his appointment arrived and our conversation ended.  I gave him a business card and went on my way.

“What does your church look like?”

 

When answering this question, I gave a description of the physical appearance of this building.  I should have known better.  I should have spoken about our life together.  What do we look like as a community of faith?     The Apostle Paul describes the church as “the body of Christ.”  He was not speaking about a building, sanctuary, playground, or parking lot.  The church is not a building.  It is not bricks and mortar.

 

The church is “the body of Christ.”  The church is the extension of Jesus life and ministry.  The church is the ongoing incarnation of Jesus presence and redemptive love.  I thought about this as I left my conversation with the young man at Chick-Fil-A.

 

Since we are the “body of Christ,” we need to see ourselves in terms of both death and life.  Our self-description as church must reference our co-crucifixion with Jesus.  The gift of resurrected life, power, and purpose, are fully realized only after we accept the reality of our own death in Christ.  Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live…yet it is not I, but Christ lives in me.”

 

In today’s text, Jesus speaks of a seed falling to the ground and dying.  Till that happens its remains only a single seed.  But when that single seed falls to the ground and dies, it produces a multitude of seeds and the potential for a great harvest.

 

I know what that’s like.  You see I use to own a farm.  Well, I called it my farm.  It was actually just a garden where I planted a few fruits and vegetables.

 

One ear I planted watermelons.  They became ripe while I was on vacation.  When I returned, we harvested several great tasting watermelons.  Unfortunately, some of them had begun to rot.  It was the end of the gardening season, so I just plowed over them and worked there remains into the soil.  In my ignorance and naiveté, I figured it would serve as good nourishment for the soil.

 

Do you know what happened?  The seeds inside those melons were dispersed throughout the garden.  They remained dormant till the following year.  Then they all burst forth into new vines.  That year I harvested dozens watermelons.  We shared watermelons with everyone we knew and some we didn’t,  One seed DIED.  Dozens more were born.  The  harvest was tremendous.

 

That’s the story of Easter.  One seed died.  Jesus was crucified, dead and buried.  On Easter the Father rose Jesus up from the grave.  With Him humanity was reborn.

 

That great Easter harvest of life continues till this day.

 

That’s what I am praying for in this congregation.  I want to see the Kingdom of God advanced.  I want to see the gospel clearly declared and radically lived.  My prayer is that each of us will hunger passionately to more fully participate in the kingdom harvest which began with the resurrection of Jesus.

 

But before that will happen, there are some things we must be willing to release into Jesus death.

 

Jesus said, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

 

What Jesus talking about?  He is speaking about an end to narcissism.  He is speaking about the end to our self-centered lifestyles.  He is speaking about the death of thinking that things need to work the way we want them to work; sound the way we want them to sound; look the way we want them to look; and be the way we want them to be.  He is talking about releasing our sense of control, management, and ownership over our lives, placing everything into the hands of the crucified and risen Lord.

 

“What does your church look like?”

 

That’s the question the young man asked as we spoke over lunch at the nearby Chick-fil-a.  He was asking about the bricks and mortar.  He was asking about the columns, parking lot, steeple, and play ground.  But the question should have some deeper meaning for us this morning as we gather for worship and reflection.

 

“What does our church look like?”

 

Do we look like a people who are dying with Christ? Do we look like a people who are living out of the resurrection and life of Jesus? Do we look like a seed a falling to the ground so that Christ through us might reap a bountiful harvest in our live? Do we look like the “body of Christ?”

 

By the way, it’s very important to note that this is not something we formulate, fabricate, manufacture, or engineer.  We do not make ourselves into the “body of Christ.”  That is the reality of who we are because we belong to Jesus.    Yet there is some faith by us that needs to be expressed for us to more fully experience the reality of our identity as Christ’s presence in the world

 

So what does that faith look like?  How do we live out both the messiness of Christ’s death and the glory of his resurrection?

 

One of the things I’ve notice is that we spend a lot of time trying to appear sanitized, spotless, and squeaky clean.  That was the way of the Pharisees, by the way.  They avoided anyone and anything that would make them look unclean.

 

Jesus always seemed to be in trouble with the Pharisees for this very reason.  He did not live a sanitized life.  He got down at ground level with real world people.  He associated with sinners.  He embraced the lepers.  He hung out with all the wrong kinds of people.

 

What if our faith is suppose to look something like that?  What if being the “body of Christ” – being the ongoing incarnation of Jesus in the world – means that we are not afraid to get our hands dirty?  What if real faith demands that we allow the death of all of those sanitized religious rituals and routines so that the real world presence of Jesus might be our way of life and ministry?

 

Here’s another thought:  We have a tendency to play things pretty close to the vest.  We spend a lot of time trying hide what we are really thinking and feeling.  We don’t ask hard questions and we do not appreciate it when others do.  We do not express our doubts and fears and do not like it when others do.  We do not let our real emotions show and we do not like it when other do.

 

Jesus was not like that.  He wept.  He laughed.  He expressed both frustration and sorrow.  What if faith means that we allow all form of façade to fall to the ground?  What if faith asks us to release into the death of Christ all forms of pretense?

 

As the “body of Christ,” shouldn’t we look like the most open and authentic people in the world? And shouldn’t we allow others the freedom to be the same way, not expecting people to live up to some set of standards that we impose?  What if we refused to shy away from the messed up people of the world because we know that we are messed up too?

 

When our family was younger, we went to “King’s Dominion.”  The placed was filled with tens of thousands of people.

 

Michelle was maybe seven or eight years old and had  tendency to chase after some of the “characters” who walk around in costume to entertain park goers. Throughout the park there were places designated as safe for children.  I remember showing Michelle the “sign” for one of those “safe places.” I told her that if she could not find us, she needed to go to one of those locations.  The people there would keep her safe and help her find her lost parents.

 

Jesus was one of those safe kind of people.  Seekers were safe with Jesus.  Wanderers were safe with Jesus.  The wonderful, the weird, and the wacky were safe with Jesus.  The frighten, hurting, broken, and confused were safe with Jesus.

 

What if real faith asks us to be a “safe place” for all kinds of people?  What if our discipleship allowed all forms of exclusionary attitudes to fall by the wayside so that we could be with Jesus a harvest of all sorts of people?

 

What was it about Jesus that people found and continue to find so appealing and attractive?  I think there are lots of things.  Jesus did not put on airs and act more important than anyone else.  He was strong enough to be authentically honest, open, and vulnerable around others.  He was accepting of those who had doubts and questions.  He included the marginalized.  He offered love and grace to all. There’s one more thing I’d like to mention.  Jesus knew what he was all about.  He knew what the Father’s purpose was for his life and he was defined by that mission.  He was defined by the Kingdom of God. Let me put it another way.  Jesus was proactive rather than reactive.  What if real faith called us to live the same way?  What if we were not distracted by institutional survival, but had a laser like focus on God’s Kingdom?  What if we were completely geared toward being the body of Christ?  What if everything about us declared and embodied the grace of the Father revealed in Jesus the Christ? Folks, it is far too easy to live like raging against the machine.  It is far too easy to spend our days bemoaning and lamenting what’s wrong with those people out there.  What if faith demands that we allow the death all our concerns about what we are against?  What if we looked like people  defined by what we are for – defined by grace and love of God.

 

So, what do we look like?

 

What does this church look like?

 

That’s a good question to which I invite your contemplation and discussion.

Recovering Hope for Your Church: Moving Beyond Maintenance and Missional to Incarnational Engagement (TCP The Columbia Partnership Leadership Series)
by: Edward Hammett
publisher: TCP Books, published: 2014-08-30
ASIN: 0827232284
EAN: 9780827232280
sales rank: 253703
price: $15.39 (new), $17.27 (used)

“Why?” seems to be on the lips of many church, judicatory, and denominational leaders today. “Why has our church plateaued?” “Why are so few young leaders going into church-based ministries?” “Why are so few interested in church these days?” Recovering Hope uncovers the “whys,” creating space to embrace new realities, commit to the tough road of recovery, and develop new skills, structures, and ministry designs through a process of spiritual discernment, congregational coaching, and a deeper reliance on the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Eddie Hammett, a Professional Certified Coach and Church and Clergy Coach for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina, provides a step-by-step process of hope and health to encourage, guide, and inspire pastors, leaders, churches, regions, and denominations that recovery of hope is possible. A TCP Leadership Series title.

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