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Edward F. Markquart

Passion Sunday

A Dramatic Reading of The Passion Story (with crowd and rabble rouser). Please examine this drama before Passion Sunday.


Series B
If a Seed Dies

Lent 5B     John 12:20-33

It seems just yesterday, but it wasn’t.   We went out on a family picnic. We went out to one of these lovely state parks; and the water was so green, so blue green as it is around here on the high mountain streams.  The water came tumbling down that white waterfall, and it came into this deep, green pool of water. There was a great rock formation that came out into the middle of that deep green pool.  Obviously, this was a great swimming hole. And so just as we were getting ready to dive into that swimming hole of cold water, I noticed a huge salmon, a whole bunch of huge salmon, lumbering along the bottom, slowly, every so slowly, their noses worn white from the long trip up this mountain river, their bellies and backs were colored black.  They had traveled literally hundreds of miles, thousands of miles, to that swimming hole to spawn.  For a half an hour, we watched these old hogs, as the fisherman fondly call them, old hogs lumbering like logs along the bottom, swirling, preparing to die.   .....   I know the stories about the instincts of salmon. A salmon has an instinct inside of it to bring it back to the place of its birth. After spending a year or two or three out in the ocean and swimming thousands of miles  back up to the stream of their birth, the salmon are preparing to die.  These salmon come back to the place of their hatching, being driven over rocks and dams and waterfalls. They finally at the end of their long laborious journey and dig a hole, lay their eggs and they diiiiieee.  And out of those eggs comes new life.  For it is ONLY through dying that there is new life among the salmon.

When Jesus finished telling the parable, he said:  The person who has ears to hear, let  him understand the riddles about the kingdom of God. 

The story for today finds Jesus six days before he was going to die.  How would you feel if you knew for sure you were going to die this coming Friday, six days from now?  Now if you knew that you were going to die this coming Friday of cancer, heart attack or whatever, wouldn’t you be preoccupied with death?  Would you not be preoccupied with dying? Distracted by it?  Would you not become philosophical about death?  Well, in the passage for today, Jesus is philosophical about death.  He is philosophizing; he is thinking; he is contemplating  for it is only six days until he is going to die.

The story for today is in the city of Jerusalem.  It is Passover time, and literally hundreds of thousands of people are gathered in Jerusalem.  Imagine, if you will, hundreds of thousands of people crammed into downtown Seattle for SeaFaire.  Jammed into Pike’s Street Market, into Pioneer Square, into the Seattle Center.  Hundreds of thousands of people coming into Seattle from everywhere.  That’s the way it was for Passover, with hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world crammed into the city walls of Jerusalem.

In this wild mass of humanity, there were a couple of Greeks in the crowd. They came up to the disciples and wanted to talk with Jesus.  These Greek travelers came up and listened into the conversation of the disciples, and they heard that one disciple in particular had a Greek  accent.  Philip from Bethsaida.  If you know anything about Bethsaida, it was a Greek speaking city in Israel.  The Greek travelers thought:  “ That guy speaks Greek.  He must be one of us.”

And so they approached Philip and asked him in Greek,  “Can we SEE  Jesus?”  That’s often the question in the Bible. That is often the question in the Gospel of John, “Can we SEE Jesus?”  Philip went to Andrew and the two of them went to Jesus and said:  “There are two Greeks who want to SEE you.” 

Now you think that Jesus would have answered them directly, but he didn't.  Jesus was distracted.  Preoccupied .  He was preoccupied with his death in six days, and therefore he said:  “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it will remain a single seed. But if it dies, it will produce many grains of wheat.  For whoever will find his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will find it.  If anyone would serve me, they must follow me.  They must follow me in death “

Now that’s a weird answer!!!  Wasn’t that a weird answer?  All the Greeks wanted to do was to see Jesus, but Jesus was preoccupied with his death, was distracted by death, was thinking about his death.

But maybe there is a connection:  That is, to see Jesus is to see the importance of dying in order to live.

You can almost see Jesus words;  they are so visually clear.  “If a seed is planted into the ground and it does not die, it remains a seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds and seedlings and those seeds and their seedlings produce much fruit.” His words are so visual.

And it all begins with the seed dying.   

Could it be that the key to life is death?  Could it be that the key to living is dying?  Could it be that dying is important to living? Could that be the key to my life?  Dying?  Hmmmmm.  They don’t talk about this on the Pepsi commercials. 

In preparation for the sermon for today, I wanted to find out what happened to seeds when they are planted into the ground and die.  They key to the text for today focuses on the seed that dies, and so..... I called the Dunn Seed Company.  I thought the Dunn Seed Company would know about seeds. So I telephoned them and said:  “This is Pastor Markquart from Grace Lutheran Church in Des Moines. I am working on a sermon for this Sunday about seeds and you people are experts about seeds.  I read in the Bible that Jesus said that when a seed dies, it bears much fruit.  Can you tell me what happens to a seed when it is planted, that is, when it dies?” The clerk on the other end of the telephone line said, “(Long pause) That is one of the wonders of nature. Let me have you talk to my boss.”  So the boss got on the phone, and I said to the boss,  “My name is Pastor Markquart;  I am preaching a sermon about seeds.  Jesus said that unless a seed dies, it remains only one seed; but when a seed dies, it bears many seeds.  Can you tell me what happens when a seed dies? I need to know. ”  The boss said, “That is quite a philosophical question.  The way I have it figured out is this.   In every seed there is a cell of diatron which is filled with chlorophyll, and all seeds have little chlorophyll in them.  For me, that’s the soul.  There is cabbage chlorophyll (a cabbage soul). There is carrot chlorophyll, a carrot soul. There is asparagus chlorophyll, asparagus soul. And we, as human beings, have chlorophyll, the human soul;  and it you want to live, you have chlorophyll.  But I really don’t know the answer to your question, but I do advice that you call Dr. David Gibbe who has a Ph.D. in plant physiology at the University.  So I telephoned Dr. Gibbe and gave him the same introduction and question, “My name is Pastor Markquart.  I am preaching a sermon about Christ.  The key to the sermon is this:  Unless  a seed dies, it remains a single seed, but if it dies, it produces many seeds and therefore much fruit.  Can you tell me what happens when a seed dies?”  The professor finally had the right answer. It helps to have a Ph.D. in plant physiology.  He told me that inside every seed is an embryo, and in that embryo is a root which goes down into the ground; and a shoot that goes up into the sky.  Every embryo has a root and a shoot; and inside that little embryo, (and this is really a miracle), there is an “on” and “off” switch.  I didn’t know that.  I didn’t know that seeds have “on” and “off” switches.  But they do.  Every seed has a little “on” and “off” mechanism.  And when you plant a seed into the ground at 40 degrees for 40 days, that mechanism goes on, but if the temperature is at 20 degrees, the mechanism stays off.  There is a miraculous mechanism which goes on and off.  Now there is also a thin coat around that seed which protects the oxygen from coming in prematurely.  And then when this dormant seed is planted into the ground, for 40 days at 40 degrees, the switch goes "on" and the seed takes in water, and it miraculously begins to expand, and the seed coat is broken, and it begins to mature and produces sugar and protein; and then out comes the little roots and the little shoots, and the shoots produce more seeds which produce more fruit.  And that’s what happens when a seed dies,” said the professor. "It's a miracle."   Thank you, Dr. Gibbs. 

Jesus said,  “Unless a seed dies, it remains a single seed; but if it dies, it produces many seeds and then much fruit.” 

And so there is a parallel, is there not, between the seed and the salmon.  That is, in both the seed and the salmon, death is necessary for life.  Dying is important for living. 

I would like to suggest to you that this is a fundamental law of life; that dying is important for living.  This is a law of human psychology; it is a law of human sociology; it is a law of human relationships.  It is a law of divine spirituality. 

And the law is this:  it is in dying that we begin living.  It is only by first dying before we will ever begin living. 

St.  Francis of Assisi knew this law well when he wrote in his famous prayer for peace;  “it is in giving that we receive;  it is in dying that we are born again.” 

The Apostle Paul knew this law well when he said:  “We will not be united with Christ in a resurrection like his, unless we are first united with Christ in a death like his.”   

I like the poem, “All through life I see a cross on which children give their breath; there is no gain except for loss; there is no life except by death.” 

I would like to suggest to you that there is a spiritual principle at work in this world:  it is only in dying that a person begins to live.  It is only when we are united with Christ in a death like his, that we are united with him in a resurrection like his. 

So what does that mean?  This fancy language about dying to begin living.   If your dying hasn’t been good this past week, neither has your living.  And if you haven’t been dying this past week, you haven’t been living.  And they don’t say that on Pepsi commercials. 

What does it mean to die? 

In the Bible, Jesus talks about dying to self.  It means dying to selfishness.  It means dying to "the big I," the old Adam, the attitude that I am going to live for me, my wife and my family, the purpose of my life is my self fulfillment and me experiencing all that life can give me.  Life is preoccupied with me and my happiness; I am preoccupied with myself, my successes, my failures, and what other people are thinking about me; that I am the center of the universe.  That’s what an infant believes; that the infant is actually the center of the universe and everything revolves around the infant’s needs.  And many people grow up but remain infants; still believing that they are the center of their universe.  They never grow up but experience infantile paralysis; being paralyzed by their self-centeredness.  But when life revolves around me, I am not really living at all. When that childish self-centeredness finally begins to die, finally I begin to live. 

Jesus said, “Unless a seed dies, it remains only one seed; but if it dies, it produces many seeds and seedlings of little love which then grow into great love.” 

It is not only our childish self-centeredness that needs to die but also our sinfulness.  Our sins that hurt us and others around us.  It is when our sinfulness dies, that we are healthier and better. 

For example, I had a great conversation this week.  A person called me recently and told me about being with their father in the midst of death.  Father, age 5l, cancer, down to 95 pounds.  And there on that Sunday afternoon, rubbing her father’s back with oil. The joy, the pleasure, the satisfaction of touching and caring for her father.  How wonderful Sunday was, and how awful Monday was when he died.  But it wasn’t that long before that this young woman was healed of her addiction, so that she was free and able to take care of her father in death. There on that Sunday afternoon, she was free, free to love and care and focus on the needs of her father, not being paralyzed by her addictions.  There would have been no living with her father in his closing moments of life if there hadn’t been dying, dying of her sinfulness.

I can tell you story after story after story about people who have died to sin, died to sinful addictions, so that they were free to live a fruitful and loving life. 

So Jesus says that it is a fundamental truth, that it is only in dying, that you begin living.

Each one of us struggles with our own sinfulness.  I have mine and you have yours.  And it is only as your personal sinfulness dies daily that you begin to live. 

I would like to leave you with a riddle.  What does a salmon, a seed and you and I have in common?  If you understand the answer to that riddle, you will see Jesus. 


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