Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Psalm 51: 1-13; Hebrews 5: 5-10; John 12:20-33
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
St. Andrew, for whom this church is named, and St. Phillip were both brothers. And when they were little boys they were probably pretty rambunctious, and gave their parents a run for their money, though the Gospel never says so. But they grew up and became intrepid fisherman - familiar with the patterns and currents of the Sea of Galilee. They knew how to retie nets and cast them out into the sea, pulling in the harvest of the day. Andrew and Phillip were privileged, not because of their background, but because they were the first to be called disciples by Jesus.
In the Gospel we hear this morning, Phillip and Andrew receive a second honor, one that I completely overlooked the importance of until writing this sermon, though maybe it was pointed out to me in a seminary class on the New Testament and I had long since forgotten it. In John’s Gospel, a group of Greek people travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, and they approached Phillip and then Andrew, now disciples, with a request to see Jesus.
Andrew and Phillip were the first Jewish disciples of Jesus and their presence in the story today establishes a connection between their call as the first Jewish disciples and the arrival of the first Gentile disciples – this group of Greeks who somehow heard of Jesus, and wanted to meet him. So Andrew and Phillip are at the front of the VIP line, both to become Jesus’ disciples, and then to welcome the first gentiles – these people from Greece who we do not know their names, to be followers of Jesus.
Phillip and Andrew tell Jesus about these visitors, but we never find out if Jesus met them or not – the Gospel doesn’t say. In place of an answer to Andrew and Phillip’s request, Jesus instead talks about his coming death – which must have been very odd for Andrew and Phillip to hear. Jesus picks a seed of grain of the ground, and holding it in his hand says, “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.”
The point of the illustration is that the physical body – or the grain – goes away, but from it emerges a new plant with many new grains. How confusing for Andrew and Phillip who approached Jesus and said “hey some people are here to see you” only to hear Jesus’ respond with a soliloquy about how his body going into the ground would lead to a whole new world – a world that would be as different as the wheat plant that emerges from one grain. I imagine that if anyone approached Andrew or Phillip with the request to see Jesus after this, they would’ve pointed to him and said – he’s over there, you go talk to him!
While it may seem that Jesus did not answer Phillip and Andrew’s request to meet with the travelers from Greece – he really did. The Greeks wanted to see Jesus, and what Jesus told Andrew and Phillip was that they would see him, but not in the way they expected. They would see him displaying his love for all humanity while crucified upon a cross.
The community of faith that grew out of the death and resurrection of Jesus is the plant that bears the fruit Jesus spoke of. St. Andrew’s church is part of that fruit. We are but one shoot, one branch off the massive plant that has grown from the grain of wheat placed into the ground.
But the nature of life is that the fruit produces more seeds, more grain that yields new plants and new fruit. Several years ago St. Andrew’s sponsored two parishioners, Jody Greenwood and Kevin Shubert, for seminary and now they are ordained Episcopal priests, planted in their congregations where they are bearing much fruit. So the fruit that is here is birthing new grain.
We have started Rhythms of Grace, a weekly service for individuals with special needs and their families. It is a growing plant, and it is starting to bear fruit. In a few weeks our Deacon, Portia, will bless the feet of runners on Heights Blvd - it’s called the blessing of the soles – that is a growing plant, too. And we will continue to sow these tiny seeds of grain the Lord has given us, scattering them in every direction. Some of it will lie fallow, and some of it may die, and that’s ok, because death is not an end, it’s just the preface for a resurrection. AMEN.