Fifth Sunday in Lent John 12:20-33 March 21, 2021

As we draw ever closer to the Cross of Holy Week, we need to reflect deeply on what Jesus means when he says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

None of us wants to die, unless it is at the end of our life, and we are being assaulted by break-through pain.

But generally, none of us like to die, yet Jesus is telling us if we hold on to our life as it is; no matter how messed up; we will never truly experience life.

Here are some of the things this means to me. When I was initially in college, I was studying a course to make it possible for me to go to medical school. In high school my grades were high enough to be invited to be in the National Honor Society.

But things changed when I entered college in my hometown. The second semester I pledged a fraternity and discovered “wine, women, and song.”

I was having a great time, but my grades suffered. If your grades were good enough in the fall of your junior year, you were officially admitted to the premed program. When I met with Dr. Webster he looked at my grades and said I had better look to a different major. My grades were nowhere good enough to enter medical school. Just three years before I was part of the top of my class in high school, but now my grades were so bad no medical school would even consider my application to become a student.

Soon afterwards I came down with a terrible case of mononucleosis. I missed finals week and it would be nine months before I was strong enough to go back to school. Being weak and tired of sleeping all the time I laid in bed and did some serious life reflection. I discovered while I was having fun in college, I was getting nowhere fast. I also began to take seriously the call of the Lord to become a pastor. Before I entered college the Lord through members of my church had been calling me, but the idea of getting up once a week to proclaim a sermon seemed beyond me. I was on the shy side. A pastor needs to be outgoing. But during this time of radical self-appraisal, I said to the Lord – I don’t see what you see in me to do this calling, but I am going to try, and you will discover what a mistake you made in me.

Who I was died in that bedroom; and a new person was born. It took a few years but by the time I was on internship I discovered I really loved doing this job and have been in the ministry for over 50 years and still loving it. But who I was had to die that a new more abundant person might live.

It has been a little over a year since COVID-19 hit this world. It struck the US really hard. We have had over half a million who have died in our country. We must wear masks, practice social-distancing, and wash our hands often. To stop this terrible scourge, we must get vaccinated. We will not develop herd immunity until at lest 70% of our population has been vaccinated. If you have not been vaccinated yet do whatever you can to make this happen.

It is amazing the number of things about our society that have surfaced. Many of us are too independent to wear masks, and somehow think our freedom is being taken away. That makes about as much sense as complaining that we have to drive on the right side of the road unless it is a one-way street. It is apparent that if we are going to make it through this crisis we need to be doing a better job of looking out for each other.

We have discovered minority communities are underserved, and huge efforts are being made to address this inequity. Vaccines have been developed at warp speed and now over 2 million people a day are being vaccinated.

I am pleased the changes this congregation has made to make it possible for us to socially distance ourselves from each other and attend a worship service. You have worked out a way to healthily receive the holy meal. Look at this innovation to safely serve Holy Communion.

My home church has developed a Zoom worship. The last church I served developed the ability to broadcast in a one-mile radius from the church as well as show the worship live through Zoom.

But death is not just limited to changes that need to happen if we are going to survive as a people or discover the Lord’s calling at this age in our life.

Ann and I got married 55 years ago. When we were standing in the reception line, I was given 20 dollars. As I was changing out of my tux to regular clothes, I asked my best man what should I do with the money? He looked at me and said, “What did your wife say?” I was married – I should have asked Ann and had not.

There was the night I was ordained into the Lutheran ministry. No longer was I just Bernie married to Ann. I was a representative of the church and a priest. That knowledge hit me so hard that I could not utter my name. That was good. When you are good and humble and not certain you can do the job, that is when God can mold you and use you for his purposes.

What are some of the deaths you have experienced, and what has God resurrected in your life? Was it no longer being single? Have you ever lost a job and discovered that was preparing you for an even better job? What deaths has COVID brought to your life that has led to an even better life?

Yes, unless a grain of wheat dies, there can be no new life. Amen