Life from Death

One winter, a little girl received in the mail a gift from someone who said he loved her very much. In her excitement she tore open the package only to find it was a box of dirt. The note said to water the soil and then wait for the surprise. The little girl did as the instructions said and waited patiently for days. When nothing happened, she was disappointed and finally decided to get rid of the dirty box and put it in the basement. She quickly forgot about it until spring came when she was helping her father clean up. As she was sweeping, she again discovered the box but it was still nothing but dirt, she got angry and flung it out into the back yard, saying, "There! What kind of present is this?" As time went by, the days got sunnier and warmer until one Sunday morning as she dressed for church she looked out her window and saw a beautiful Easter lily standing tall in the grassy yard.

Despite the little girl's neglect, the lily bloomed. It had received a drink of water, it was shoved and imprisoned in a cold, damp, dark cellar and then kicked out the door to be lost among the weeds. The hot sun shone down on the dirt that buried it. And, yet one day it waved its white blossoms in the spring breeze.

We pretty much ignore such a small event because it happens every year. Just a few short weeks ago, the ground was covered with snow. But today, the yard is filled with crocuses and daffodils. Forsythia bushes are ablaze with yellow. And stores like Home Depot and Lowes are filled with packages of seeds and bulbs, potting soil, and fertilizer, waiting for us to pop them in the ground. It seems so ordinary, yet, for this little bulb to grow into a flowering plant is quite significant.

Have you ever tried to "force" a bulb to bloom out of season? I have to laugh at the concept, "force." It makes me think of a farmer standing over a pile of bulbs waving a spade in the air shouting, "Grow, flower, grow, or I'll hit you with my shovel!" No. Instead, it requires knowledge of a plant's life cycle. The little girl accidentally stumbled on the right steps, but most folks who work in greenhouses providing tropical plants for residents of snowy climates know they actually become the servants of a process, a life force that existed long before them. Contained within this small bulb is everything that is needed for a gladiola plant. If you cut it in half, you will find the beginning of new life: the stem, the roots, folded leaves, the bud of the flower and a storehouse of nutrients. What is needed is for it to be buried in the earth for the new life to begin.

Jesus understood this process, well. He says, 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." A grain of wheat, though so much smaller than a tulip bulb, goes through the same kind of process. It dies to itself to initiate the transformation to a plant and the plant to produce more grain or more flower bulbs. In dying, it gives life to others. Jesus used this image to describe the purpose of his death. While he lived, he would teach and heal and raise folks from the dead - but at his own death, he would send the Holy Spirit and bring new life to all.

Earlier in the gospel of John, Jesus was speaking in the temple at the end of the Festival of Booths. "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.' Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit because Jesus was not yet glorified."

Rivers of living water. What life can exist without water? Certainly the Samaritan woman at the well, understood that need. Even Jesus had asked her to draw him some to drink after a hot and dusty journey. But then he somehow turned the request around. He tells her, (John 4:13-14) Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.

Later when Jesus is speaking to his disciples, (John 14: 16) he promises that he will send an Advocate to be with them forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you."

The image of the Holy Spirit as the water of life takes us to our baptism in which we are reborn children of God and inheritors of eternal life. We pray, "Pour out your Holy Spirit, so that those who are here baptized may be given new life." "Pour out the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence."

At Baptism we receive the Holy Spirit and through the water we are given new life. But it is only a beginning. Like the seed or the bulb that receives that drink of water, it begins to send out its roots in order to nourish itself by a precious source of life. Whether the soil is sandy or rocky, it will slowly anchor itself before it ever blooms into something new. Jesus said, "Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.

The decisions that a person makes are like trial and error. Sometimes trusting the Spirit, sometimes trusting the only life that we have known. But as the Spirit teaches, nudges, guides, and whispers, the new life slowly grows and the old one dies. Our lives are daily filled with new challenges that call us to respond. But like Paul we are caught between what the Spirit teaches us and what our old bodies seem only to be capable of. This is our life force, the Spirit, that takes the words of Jesus and gives them fresh new meaning and understanding for each new circumstance.

Suppose there was a young woman who had been active in Sunday School and youth group all the way through high school, but had drifted away at college. Now she's a young mother. The father of her baby has gotten involved with drugs and alcohol and is never home anymore and she's glad of it. She's tired of covering up the bruises. The Holy Spirit is calling her to a new life. It speaks of Jesus in contemporary language. Can she hear it over the noise of the world?

What happens when a church building is destroyed by vandalism? The energy and life of the congregation has reached an all-time low, or has it? What does the Spirit say in this new time? Is this cause to give up and disburse to other congregations, or is this the impulse it needed to revitalize and redirect its ministry to something altogether new it had never before thought of because it was tied to maintaining its old life?

There are so many issues today that the Bible does not specifically speak of and yet it is for these that the Holy Spirit was given. To transform our everyday lives into lives of service to Christ. Sometimes the lives of which we dreamed and worked so hard to achieve just don't materialize. Our old selves would cry, but our new lives would recognize potential.

John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life. Jesus draws all people to himself at the moment of his death renewing and reconciling all who come.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan