Sowing for Glory

by Nathan Hosler. This post is a sermon from the day after the Going to the Garden Summit. 

John 12:24 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.

This is basic gardening.

Sowing assumes loss but anticipates great gain. In sowing the sower turns over the precious seed to the dark earth. The seed is hidden from light in secret places where worms roam and the mystery of life takes root. This insight, is, however, general. Anyone with experience or basic understanding of plant stuff will get this. Jesus is going beyond.

Imagery and analogy of plant life abound in scripture. In 1 Cor. 15:36-37 we read:
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory. 

Sowing assumes loss but anticipates a harvest. Sowing is the intentional burying of an object that appears dead and then awaiting the pushing forth of new life. The multiplication of the small to the many. Last year, a sunflower seed that sprouted on its own grew to 8 feet tall with well over 100 hundred blossoms from a single stalk. This growth is mysterious, unexpected, almost uncontrollable—yet also fragile, at times easily destroyed, and precarious. However, the seed must be sown, buried, abandoned, set free.

Sowing the seed of life is the same.

 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

 The cost is great but the result surpasses even this. Verse 26 continues, Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

Jesus sows with the anticipation of glory and invites us to the same. This is not suffering for suffering’s sake. And it is not personal suffering for personal gain, it is for others. An oft repeated and type of unofficial mission statement of the Church of the Brethren is: “For the Glory of God and for our neighbor’s good.” In James 3:18 also uses the imagery of sowing. The New Revised Standard Version reads. “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” The New International Version reads “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

If one loses their life (either literally or figuratively) as part of a gamble to save one’s life, then it would seem like the point has been missed. “Gambling”, however, even if one’s motive is clear, does not convey quite the right sense. For, to gamble is to bank on chance, which is rigged so that losing is neigh inevitable. Sowing—sowing is much different. Though it is still not guaranteed success, sowing is done out of trust, resolve, skill, perseverance. The sowing is risky, it is an embrace of the unknown.

This weekend we held a Going to the Garden initiative gathering in New Orleans. This brought Brethren community-based gardeners from around the country to share of their efforts in dynamic (some might say radical) community gardening. Gardening that confronts the displacement of Indigenous peoples, that builds community, that reveals racism and challenges mass incarceration, that, as one gardener describes it “is growing more than veggies.” For some, the congregation eventually told the pastor that they supported him spending as much time as he felt called in the community gardening. One took a Fed-ex night shift so that the daylight hours would be free to garden. Another stayed in the Lower 9th ward after working in disaster response to the hurricane Katrina. People left home to follow the call of God on their lives. Some envision how it may help to reintegrated formerly incarcerated individuals. (In my description you may hear the strains of the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11).

A classic text of this giving up of one’s life is Luke 9:23.

“Then he [Jesus] said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Sowing assumes loss but anticipates a harvest. Sowing is the intentional burying of an object that appears dead and then awaiting the pushing forth of new life. The multiplication of the small to the many.
5 minutes of silence—Congregational Response—on sowing

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34
31:31 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.

31:32 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.

31:33 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.

31:34 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.
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.

A defining characteristic of the new covenant inaugurated by Christ is the breaking beyond ethnic and geographic boundaries. In Ephesians 2 we read.
12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[c] through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.[d]17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 

This “new covenant” is announced already in the prophet Jeremiah. The vision of this passage concludes with:

31:34 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.

These prophecies have a predictive quality but also a visioning function. They shape the imaginations of the people who seek God. In Baltimore there is the American Visionary Art museum. In DC at the Smithsonian American Art Museum at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in NOLA there are sections dedicated to “visionary art,” These typical include art works—almost always bright, rather wild, often apocalyptic—which are often based on “visions” and biblical texts. Often these “folk” artists labor for years in insolation, creating. Prophecies such as Jeremiah participate in shaping the imaginations of the people who seek God. They shape the imaginations of the people who seek God. This shaping, however, does not mean that the task, the goal, the bringing of the Peace of Christ is simply up to the will of the church nor the will of humanity but is carried forward by the action of God. It is not simply something that we work juuust a little harder to achieve. The Spirit of God carries it forward.

Of our Gospel passage in John commentators write, “Thus, ‘lifting up Jesus’ is not something contemporary preachers and Christians are charged to do, but something that has been done by God’s act at the cross and resurrection.” (Craddock and Boring, 330).

Our work as a community remains clear: gather to worship God, proclaiming the peace of Christ through word and deed. This ministry of reconciliation seen in 2 Corinthians 5 brings us to reconciling people to God and people to people (as well as all of creation).

These prophecies have a visioning function. They participate in shaping the imaginations of the people who seek God.

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