Jeremiah 31:31-34 and John 12:20-33
(Quoted scripture is New Revised Standard Version)
John Wesley wrote to his people called Methodist the following Rule of Conduct: Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.
How did John Wesley come to believe and write these words, and to live them out in his life? John’s heart had become fertile ground because of the way he was raised and nurtured, so when those seeds of faith were planted, they grew and flourished in ways which brought people to Jesus. And in ways which established the Methodist Church, which this body of Christ is a part of.
In last week’s sermon I reaffirmed what I often say; ‘We are today whom we have been.’ The way we were raised and nurtured, the words spoken to us and the things done to us, what we’ve experienced up until this moment; all influence who we are. I hope you had a chance to watch the segment Oprah Winfrey did on 60 Minutes about the work being done in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She confirmed her epiphany of realizing that instead of saying, ‘What’s wrong with that child?’, we should be asking ourselves, ‘What happened to that child?’
What happened to John Wesley that made him the man he became? For John Wesley, his heart became fertile ground for those seeds of faith to be planted simply because of the way he was raised, nurtured and educated. He was loved and disciplined by his mother Susanna Wesley, in such a way that the seeds of faith and service could be planted and grow.
John was expected to become proficient in Latin and Greek and to have learned major portions of the New Testament by heart. Susanna Wesley examined each of her children before the midday meal and before evening prayers. Children were not allowed to eat between meals and were interviewed singularly by their mother one evening each week for the purpose of intensive spiritual instruction. For John and his 8 brothers and sisters, their hearts became fertile ground because of their mother Susanna. Fertile ground where seeds of faith would continue to grow and the result would be the Methodist church.
Every year at this time my mother starts seeds indoors to be planted in the garden when the threat of frost is over. She also plants vegetable and flower seeds directly in the garden. It always amazes her and many of us, how you can plant this little seed and it grows into plants which may delight our eyes with the beauty of flowers; or delight our taste with vegetables or fruit.
Botanically, we know quite a bit about seeds and how they germinate. We know that a seed consists of a protective seed coat, some kind of storage tissue with nutrient reserves, and a dormant plant embryo. We further know that under the correct conditions the dormant embryo can be “awakened” to germinate and grow into a mature plant. Some Botanists say that in every seed there is an on/off switch that will let the seed grow. In reality, that seed has to be planted in the ground and die to what it has been in order to become what God created it to be.
At some point the seed is turned “on” and it begins to sprout. In time, what was once a seed is transformed into a flower, fruit, vegetable, or grain. Jesus used this illustration of wheat being buried in the fertile ground, in our gospel reading today. In order for that seed to grow, the ground has to receive it and nurture it. Before we look at Jesus’ words, let us examine how our heart can become fertile ground for those seeds of faith to grow.
The Lord says to the prophet Jeremiah that He will make a New Covenant with the people. In Jeremiah 31:33-34, God says, “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. 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”. That New Covenant will be Jesus Christ, God’s One and Only Son.
When we receive Jesus into our heart, our heart becomes the fertile ground for seeds of faith to grow. Without Jesus, our heart remains barren, where nothing can grow and our natural sinful inclination of human selfishness continues to reign. Without Jesus, our heart remains empty and unfulfilled. Many unbelievers do not recognize this emptiness because their heart is filled with the things of this world. Yet Jesus tells us the things of this world will not give us abundant life now, nor eternal life when we die our earthly death.
We read in John 12:24-25, “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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world, will keep it for eternal life.”
Joe Gibbs, the coach of the Washington Redskins when they won the Super bowl in 1992, knew that without Jesus in our heart there is a vacuum, an emptiness.
In 1992, the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl with an explosive victory over the Buffalo Bills. Seventy-five thousand people gathered on the mall between the Capitol and the Washington Monument to cheer their team and Coach. Four days later, Chuck Colson called the Redskins’ office to see if any football players could attend a rally at a prison the next day. Many of the players had given their life to Christ. Joe Gibbs, the head coach, answered the phone and told Colson that all the players had left the city for a well-deserved rest. With his characteristic humility, Joe Gibbs asked Colson, “Will I do?”
Colson immediately accepted the offer by the coach of the championship Washington Redskins. Five days after winning the Super Bowl, Joe Gibbs could have opened any door in Washington DC but he was willing to walk behind the locked steel doors of the penitentiary for the District of Columbia to speak to men about his faith in Christ.
Joe Gibbs stood up to speak to the cheers, whistles and applause of 500 prisoners five days after he had won the most prestigious event in pro sports.
He told those men: “A lot of people in the world would probably look at me and say: Man, if I could just coach in the Super Bowl, I’d be happy and fulfilled… But I’m here to tell you, it takes something else in your life besides money, position, football, power, and fame.
The vacuum in each of our lives can only be filled through a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Otherwise, I’m telling you, we’ll spend the rest of our lives in a meaningless existence. I’ve seen it in football players’ eyes, and I’ve seen it in men who are on their deathbed. There’s nothing else that will fill the vacuum.”*
I echo Joe Gibbs’ statement. I too have seen the emptiness in the eyes of people who cling to their ‘this world life.’ They are devasted when they lose their health, their money, their job, their position, power and success. I’ve witnessed deaths where there was no faith in a life beyond the grave. The fear and desperation in their eyes is hopelessness. They have lived a meaningless existence and now they have no hope of what is to come.
I was called into Long Term Care in Ontonagon to pray over a woman who had no family and no faith. She was unconscious and in her last minutes of life. As I began to pray, she began to moan and twist and turn in her bed and a cold dark presence was in that room. I continued to pray and she began to calm down, but as I left, there was still a shadowy presence. She died about an hour after I left her room. I do not know to this day if she ended up in heaven or hell.
This is why I believe so strongly in our Christian Kids’ Club, our Christian education for children and youth. We may not know what goes on behind the closed doors of the children’s homes, but we have influence over them for 2 hours every week. If they attend summer camp at Camp Michigamme, we have another chance to create fertile hearts in which the seeds of faith can be planted and grow; fertile hearts that are nurtured in God’s love.
Jesus said in John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” I believe this meant not only lifted up on the cross in His crucifixion, but also lifted from the grave in His resurrection, which is the cornerstone of our faith, as well as lifted up when He ascended back to His home in heaven.
If we do not teach the children about Jesus’ sacrifice of love for all people’s sins, who will? Yet the sacrifice of living for the world, must be the first to go, in us and in the ones we teach. We have to ‘die to self’ in order to have a fertile heart where seeds of faith can grow.
A fertile heart is one which has bowed before Jesus and confessed. ‘I am a sinner, Lord Jesus. Forgive me for my sins. I give you my heart. Take it and mold me into the person you created me to be. I chose to die to self that I may live for you. Help me to witness to others what it means to live for you and not for the things of this world. Amen’
Pastor Rosemary DeHut
References: *Billy D. Strayhorn, From the Pulpit, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.