When my children were younger, they loved animals. Not to say that they don’t love animals now -- my son works at one of Long Island’s finest veterinary hospitals -- but when they were children they really loved all sorts of animals. We had the standard collection of cats and dogs. They chased after pigeons in the park. Dinosaur figures and stuffed animals threatened to over-crowd our modest Manhattan apartment. They never met a spider they didn’t like. The Natural History Museum, petting zoos, the aquarium, were all favorite haunts. They were glued to the penguin exhibit at Central park zoo.
One of their favorite movies was The March of the Penguins. We have never forgotten the story how penguin eggs would rest on their father’s feet as the male colony huddled for months in almost total darkness – with temperatures dip to 60 below, winds whip up to 125 miles an hour. No food, just survival off of body fat. There is little room for error. If the egg falls on the ice for just a few seconds it perishes. Moms, who have been away gorging themselves on fish, must arrive within a few days of the chick’s birth, or the babies will starve.
How the timing works in all this is an incredible testimony to the innate power of life. Over the years we learned about the miraculous, yet at times unforgiving forces of nature. It is a story that reverberates across the entire tree of life on earth. This creative and generative instinct is encoded in all of life, from the tiniest microbe to humankind – to the very cosmos we are a part of.
It is the very story inscribed in a single seed. Jeremiah speaks of the days that are coming, when the seed of humans, and the seeds of animals transform into a new creation from God’s very law, God’s covenant is engraved on our very hearts. Jesus tells us how a grain of wheat must fall into the earth and die if it is going to bear fruit. Jesus gives us this illustration to describe the purpose of his impending death. Jesus is the grain of wheat – whose death and resurrection will bear fruit. Fruit that will change forever the course of human history.
The story of a grain of wheat is as fascinating as the story of the birth of a penguin chick. When a grain of wheat is planted, at about 40 degrees, and is underground for about 40 days, some sort of internal switch activates. It doesn’t happen if the temperature suddenly plummets, to say, 20 degrees. It doesn’t happen in two weeks’ time, or three months’ time. But if the conditions are right, the hard-outer shell of the seed softens, the embryo instead the seed grows, and both the roots and shoots develop and break through the seed shell. The shoot continues its fight against gravity and works its way upward to break through the earth that covers it. The plant continues to grow, provided conditions are right, and produces a crop of at least 20-fold.
Jesus faced the same saga throughout his life. The gospel of John is especially attuned to Jesus’ life’s mission found in his death and resurrection. Jesus speaks of “his hour,” or “his time” 19 times in John. At the Wedding in Cana, Jesus said to his mother “My hour has not yet come” (2:4). To the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus told her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (4:21), and that the hour had arrived when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth (4:23).
Jesus, confronted, teaching his adversaries, “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (5:25); followed by “Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice” (5:28). Jesus, continued to teach another time, saying “My time has not yet come” (7.6), then added “… I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come” (7:6). Later the Jewish leadership tried to arrest Jesus, but they couldn’t, because John tells us “his hour had not yet come” (7:30). In the next chapter, John spoke again that Jesus wasn’t arrested in the temple, for “his hour had not yet come.” (8:20). Finally, in today’s lesson, Jesus replies to his disciples, Andrew and Philip, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23). The shift has occurred. Jesus’ hour had come.
As a result, Jesus’ soul is troubled because the conditions out of his glorification would emerge were brutal beyond imagining. Jesus’ body would be assaulted and destroyed much like the land and people and temple were in Jeremiah’s time. Of course, Jesus was troubled. The conditions were now ready. Jesus had to trust that the power of God’s love and the power of the resurrection life planted as a divine seed by God into Jesus would withstand the fury of the cross. Jesus could have said no. He could have said, God save me. But he didn’t.
Everything has its hour. Just like the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us “to everything there is a season, to everything a purpose under heaven (3:1).” Our hour has come, like it did once for Jesus. We are seeds in the hand of God, planted in this configuration of time, history, locality, to produce the fruit God desires for the world. Are we not called, as the old saying goes, “to bloom where we are planted?” We are amazing seeds, but God can bring forth from us different crops, of loving-kindness, mercy, caring, preaching the gospel with our words and our life. At different times, for different reasons. When the conditions are right. When our hour has come.
Think of one seed that died this week. Stephen Hawking the prominent astrophysicist at Cambridge University and perhaps the most intelligent man on earth, died on the anniversary of Einstein’s birthday. He advanced the general theory of relativity farther than any person since Albert Einstein. Unfortunately, Hawking was afflicted with ALS Syndrome (Lou Gehrig's disease). He has been confined to a wheelchair for years, where he can do little more than sit and think. Hawking has lost the ability even to speak, and now he communicates by means of a computer that is operated from the tiniest movement of his fingertips.
He was too weak to write, feed himself, comb his hair, fix his classes--all this must be done for him. Yet this most dependent of all men has escaped invalid status. His personality shines through the messy details of his existence. He wrote in his acclaimed book, The Brief History of Time, in his quest for a comprehensive theory of life of the meaning of life. Although he did not believe in God, he said “ If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God."
Professor Hawking was a seed God planted that rose up through from adversity and produce knowledge that has advanced the role of astrophysics.
However, we don’t need to be geniuses delving into the theories of black holes, to be planted by God to advance to kingdom of heaven on earth.
This past week thousands of students walked out of school or demonstrated last Wednesday, like students have done for ages in the face of injustice, advocate for gun control. Last year, a five-year-old girl from Michigan emptied her piggy bank. Her grandmother watched as the little girl but the money in her backpack. What are you doing? Grandma asked. The little girl, responded that her friend Layla in kindergarten couldn’t afford the 45 cents that the milk cost during snack time. About half the children could not afford the milk. It would cost about $700 to make sure all the kids had milk for quarter. Grandma went on Facebook, and then started a GoFundMe page, and thousands of dollars were raised for just for poor children to get a carton of milk during snack time. Incredible.
We are seeds in the hands of God. Each of us produce abundant, overflowing gifts of love, of faith, of caring – we produce miracles in the lives of others – if we just let ourselves be planted in the soil God prepares in the circumstances of our lives. We can face the adversities, those challenges, those barriers. We can bloom through the cracks, bloom through the acts of injustice, bloom in spite of conditions that seek to limit our spirit and humanity. God will see to it that we rise, we rise above it all carrying the Good News with us as we serve, care and follow Jesus.
Your hour has come. Be planted. In the amazing, even difficult conditions of life, God will bring forth the miracle that is you. You will impact the world you are in. So, let not our heats be troubled. God will see to the growth. We just need to be planted, like Jesus was. The time is now. To assure the children, all the nations of this good earth that love can triumph, we can know God in our hearts, and see the good deeds grow and multiply, and turn us into children of the light. amen