Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sermon: March 29

In the midst of a global financial crisis, people are looking to the past, rediscovering what we have been missing, returning to the basics. A video hit on YouTube, which allows anyone to broadcast themselves to the world, has “91 year old cook and great grandmother, Clara, recounting her childhood during the Great Depression as she prepares meals from that era.”

Why is it a hit? Not only because Clara is interesting but her stories of frugality and how to cook with basic, simple items and create delicious food out of it, is what we long to hear and be able to do at this time. Clara spoke also of the garden she kept in the depression because they had to supplement what food they could afford and that is also true today.

There has been much press given to the fact the people are once again gardening or increasing their size of their garden to help cut down on their own costs. Even community gardens are seeing an increase interest. We are discovering again what we can do to live through hard times.

In the Gospel of John, we heard Jesus talk about a grain of wheat falling into the earth, something that the agrarian society would have readily know in Jesus' time, its life cycle would be basic knowledge, so he uses it as a symbol of his passion and as a symbol to call his disciples to come and follow him by losing all in their lives that holds them back. I think as we once again take up our own gardens and learn again what farmers have long know about the life cycle of seeds and plants, we can better understand what Jesus meant.

Now, if Jesus had lived and walked through the Northeastern United States, he surely would have used maple syrup as a symbol, instead of wheat. Not Log Cabin or Aunt Jemimah or any other corn syrup, but real honest to goodness maple syrup. We are at the end of the sugaring season, for about 6 weeks, from late February through mid-April, maple trees are tapped for their sap. The frozen sap in the maple tree thaws as winter ends and spring begins and the sap begins to move and buildup pressure within the tree. When the internal pressure reaches a certain point, sap will flow from any fresh wound in the tree. Farmers and producers collect the crystal clear sap, then boil it down in an evaporator over a blaring hot fire. Nothing is added -only water is removed. The sap becomes more concentrated until it becomes maple syrup.

So what would Jesus have said to us today using the symbol of Maple Syrup. Let me change our Gospel reading for today a little bit, not the meaning of the passage but its symbolism...

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Southerners. They came to Philip, who was from Bridgeport in CT, 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 the sap of the maple is tapped in season, it remains inside the tree; but if it is tapped, and boiled, it will be sweet and add much flavor to all it touches. Those who love their life will keep their sap, those who hate their life in this world will let their sap flow for all to taste. Whoever serves me must follow me, and allow their sap to be given to the world in my name, for God will honor you. Now my soul is troubled, there is too much fake maple syrup around. Okay, you get my point.

There are lots of ways for us to think about our lives with Jesus, in light of the symbols he uses, and certainly maple syrup would have been one of his symbols just like wheat. Just as the farmer would know that the grain of wheat falling into the earth, dies to produce much fruit, those who tap maple trees have faith that each sugaring season will produce sap, which will in turn produce maple syrup. If we can allow the Spirit of God to fire up and boil away all the self-preoccupation we have, than we can become more like Jesus, to become that person fully alive, to become that sweet syrup! We need to have faith that in us lies the Holy Spirit, that like wheat and sap, we too can produce sweet fruit. As Ireanus said, "The glory of God is the human person fully alive."

And like the Maple Tree which gives its sap away, we must be willing to give of ourselves for others, following the example of Jesus, and allow ourselves to be transformed by the life and love of Jesus. But it is not just Jesus who believes that we need to be transformed, the prophet Jeremiah reminds us that God is ever acting towards us, looking to reset the covenants we have once made with God. "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."

I will write it on their hearts... Similar words are uttered by Moses to the Israelites before they entered the promised land... "The word of God is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to do it."

I believe this is true for us as well. When we were baptized, the Spirit of God came upon us, and is part of our daily lives. The Word of God lives in us because the Spirit of God lives in us and is in our hearts so we can follow God. But so many things can get in the way of us knowing in our hearts that God is with us & how God expects us to die so that we might really live.

That’s why Jesus takes a very familiar symbol like a grain of wheat to help us see how it fits in the cycle of life. For some growing a garden is more that just cost cutting, or health and food safety, for many its about climate change and global warming and how we should produce food more locally.

Last night people around the world (in over 2,000 cities) turned off their lights for an hour to bring attention to climate change. Buildings such as the Sears Tower, Empire State Building all went dark & St. Peter’s too! The “Earth Hour,” organized by the World Wildlife Fund is trying to help us all respond to climate change and global warming and to begin to make changes now in our lives (like using energy efficient devices, turning out unused lights, using the right light bulbs) that will make a lasting effect for generations after us.

In many ways, the sacrifices we make now can help those who come after us have some of the same resources we have. It’s called good stewardship of the earth and as followers of Jesus, it’s part of our nature to make sacrifices to ensure others can enjoy this beautiful planet that God created for us. Unless we become like wheat and die to ourselves, we cannot produce fruit that God needs, unless we are willing to let our sap be boiled to make maple syrup, we can give away that sweetness to others. And it starts right now for us, right in our very seats.

As one author put it, “As we come to see and to know God in worship, that most elemental expression of the Christian community, God helps us to become intercessors ourselves, who believe the future into being.” (Richard Spalding)

Our God awaits us at every moment, so let us be like that sap that is tapped, boiled and becomes sweet, and let us give away our lives in fruitful service for that is to follow where Jesus has led the way, into our being fully alive and becoming intercessors for our world, for we are called to help guide it into the future that God has created, for we are discovering again how to live to the Glory of God. Amen.

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