Sermons

Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile

5th in Lent

March 21, 2021

Jeremiah 31.31-34

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

John 12.20-26

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.  They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’  Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.  Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Very truly, I tell you, 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.  Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.

This is an interesting Sunday.  We are welcoming a new member of the congregation, always a happy moment.  Also, it’s the first full day of spring, and the day of the Annual Meeting.

It is a year ago that Bloor Street United Church had its first halting, paper-shuffling, ZOOM service, and we said if fifteen people come, we’ll count it as a success.  The mayor has asked us to take a moment’s silence today to commemorate the pain of a year of pandemic, and the first Covid death in Toronto.  This is the International Day to Eliminate Racial Discrimination, which was established to commemorate the Sharpeville shootings in South Africa 61 years ago today.  It’s also the day we mark both the Global Day of Climate Action, which was on Thursday, and World Water Day, which is tomorrow.

This week we have been buoyed up by beautiful Lenten reflections, and our Bloor Street Anti-racism study group met, and a gathering of caregivers, and (Michael and) I met with a United Church policy task group on Israel Palestine.  A number of congregation members are working on a campaign in favour of a Guaranteed Living Income, and we are looking forward to learning more next week in the Fourth Sunday Seminar about incarceration in Canada.  As the longer days unfold toward Easter, you may want to support fair trade by getting Guatemalan coffee, or dates and olive oil from Palestine, and put a few toonies in a coin jar for the Grannies in Africa, set aside some stamps for Oxfam.

Notice that I didn’t even mention refugees or redevelopment, but that work is motoring along as well.  And this is all just church – you probably have ten other commitments and issues tugging at you.  What a rich array of possibilities –  when you are trying to be a disciple of Jesus it’s not always easy to determine where to put your energy.

And it isn’t just busy-ness – many of the things we take on are complicated. They raise serious questions about the right thing to do, the best way to proceed. They require careful, thoughtful decisions.  There are moral dilemmas, painful choices.  And sometimes you may wonder whether in the midst of it all there might be something for you – something to console your sad heart, or to nurture your flagging spirit, or to feed your soul.  Lent is the season of self-examination and deepening devotion, a time when our inner lives call out for sustenance.  It’s a challenge to be a Christian – to bear much fruit, as Jesus urges.

So, what a wonderful promise Jeremiah makes in the passage that Jennifer read.  The prophet says that God is offering a new covenant, one in which all of this will come easily.  None of it will be difficult.  The knowledge of what to do –  the knowledge of God’s law – will be written on our hearts.  On everyone’s hearts.  There will be no need to preach or cajole or write letters or march in demonstrations, because everyone will know what is right and they will do it. You will never have to agonize over conflicting priorities or find your way through the thick mud of moral ambiguity.  Because, in Jeremiah’s words, everyone from the least of them to the greatest will ‘know the Lord’.  Just sit with that for a moment.…the days are surely coming.

Well, of course, we aren’t there, not at all.  And even more daunting, Jesus seems to say that the way there is difficult.  It involves loss and even death.  Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain.  At this time of year, it is easy to imagine a display of seeds – vegetables and flowers, herbs and grasses, even a sack of wheat.  They sit there on the rack, so much potential goodness and growth.  So many possibilities.  Perhaps in some ways like all our excellent plans and efforts to mend the world.  But, Jesus says, if they are to bear much fruit, they will have to be planted, not kept.  All the risks of things going wrong, of things not turning out the way you had hoped, will have to be taken.

Jesus was talking about himself of course, but then he turned and addressed all the disciples.  You can’t be too in love with your own life, with your own vision of how things should be.  You have to give it away as if you were planting a seed, knowing that the earth itself will receive your possibilities and transform them into something you may not have imagined.   Follow me, he said.  Let yourself be planted.  Be recreated.

May it be so.  Amen.

 

 

Image Credit:  Francesco Gallarotti – Unsplash.com

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