Sunday, April 05, 2015

Sermon for Easter Sunday, "Buried Seeds," John 20:1-18

Sermon 4/5/2015
John 20:1-18

Easter: Buried Seeds


            This year I’ve been very carefully cultivating some seedlings so that if it every finally gets warm enough, I can transfer my little plants outside and have a garden that is ready to grow and produce good fruit. I’ve started seedlings many times before, but unlike my grandfather, who was such a natural with gardening, I’ve never seemed to have much of a green thumb. In elementary school, when the teacher would have us “plant” a bean in a Dixie cup with a wet paper towel, I was always that one kid with the dud seed that just didn’t do anything. As an adult, I’ve had a little bit better luck, but it seems that too often I start things too late, or animals eat all my promising plants, or I do something wrong in the transition from inside to outside. This year, though, I feel pretty good about my start: my plants are coming along nicely.
            I’ve always hated the process of thinning plants – pulling out perfectly acceptable plants to make room for the strongest to grow. But I’ve done it this year, and the result is some really strong, stable tomato, pepper, and eggplants that will be ready to go in the ground in a few weeks. This year, though, a few days after putting some of my seedlings into bigger pots, I went to move my bag of potting soil from one room to another, and I noticed that inside the bag of soil, I must have dropped one of the tiny tomato seedlings that I had thinned out to make room for other plants. And inside the bag of soil, it was growing, stretching toward what little sunlight it could find from deep down in the bag, to the nearest window that let in a bit of light. Well, since it was so enduring, so persistent, so determined to grow, of course, I had to take it out and give it its own little pot and let it grow. Now, I can’t tell which one it was anymore – it looks just as strong as all the rest of the plants.
            Seeds, plants, things that are meant to grow – they’re persistent. They can learn to grow in some of the most inhospitable locations. I love seeing images of plants that have broken through pavement, or scale buildings, or grow in places where it seems like they couldn’t possibly thrive. Yet thrive they do. Once planted, seeds want to grow. I’ve been trying ever since I bought my house three years ago to redirect the energy of some plants in the yard. But despite pulling things out or covering things with weed mat and wood chips and other plants, they have a way of creeping around the barriers I put in their path.
            I had all this in mind when I encountered a modern-day proverb this past week. “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” The saying became popular in Mexico this past fall following the abduction and murder of 40+ young men from rural communities who were training to be teachers and who participated in a protest to fight for better opportunities. It is believed that they were abducted by the police and handed over to a crime gang who murdered the young men. In the wake of this horrific act, people were stirred to action to seek justice, this saying became sort of a rallying cry. It’s actually adapted from the words of a 1950s Greek poet, who wrote, “what didn’t you do to bury me / but you forgot that I was a seed.” (1) “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” Life persists, pervades, won’t be stamped out, will grow where planted, where buried, will defeat ardent attempts to stop it. “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” The community around these murdered young men were insisting that just because these young men were gone didn’t mean their cause would be silenced. Just the opposite. Many more voices were lifted up. I’m reminded of the words of Theodore Parker, the 19th century transcendentalist minister and abolitionist, whose words were made famous by Abraham Lincoln and then Martin Luther King, Jr., “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” Persistence. Pervasiveness. Perseverance. Injustice, defeat, and death are not the final words, because life and love will find a path, a place, a way to grow.
            I find that this theme is everywhere in the scripture, and most especially in the teachings of Jesus. The value of persistence. The pervasive nature of the good news about God’s kingdom being right here, right now. The unrelenting, unstoppable nature of God’s love, God’s forgiveness, God’s seeking us, God’s desire to build a relationship with us. The unstoppable force of love. In the parables of Jesus, we see again and again that persistence is rewarded, and that God is persistent in seeking us. God seeks us like a lost coin, a lost sheep, a lost child, stopping at nothing to find us. God wants us to seek after God like a person who won’t stop knocking on a door until it is answered, like a mother who will never stop seeking justice for her son. God’s love is relentless, impacting everything it touches like a little yeast can make a whole batch of bread rise, like a mustard seed can turn into a bush a million times the size of the seed from which it grew. It’s like Jesus says to the authorities on the day we call Palm Sunday when the crowds are praising him, “if the people kept silent, then the stones would cry out.” It is unstoppable, the work of God, the dream of God, the hope of God, the love of God.
            Over my years in ministry I have presided over so many graveside services, and words that once felt strange to my tongue in the funeral liturgy have become some of my favorite. We say, based on the words of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians, “Then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ.” I’m not sure I always understood those words, and I’m not certain that in the midst of grieving, people always catch the impact of them, the punch of them, the taunt of them. But Paul is laughing at death. Because he knows that death has no real enduring power over life. Death thinks it has buried us. Ended us. But it forgot that we are seeds. I’ve learned this as I think about the loved ones I have lost to death, but who are still so alive to me, to my family. Death was not able to cancel out the power of their lives. Of their love, or ours, or God’s. Even death has no power to stop the work of God, the love of God, our life in and through and because of and with God.
            With all this in mind, we finally come to John’s gospel and the Easter story we know. Jesus had been crucified, put to death. Everything suggested that it was all over. The disciples had basically abandoned him, and were locked in a room, scared and hiding. The authorities had won. Finally, the scheming of the religious leaders had worked, and Jesus was dead. No more Jesus, stirring up the crowds. No more Jesus, suggesting our lives might need changing, turning upside down. No more Jesus, suggesting that those in places of power might need to be humbled, that in God’s world, first was last, and those who wanted to follow most closely needed to serve and love most completely. Still, a few women, those who had stayed even through the crucifixion, were careful to attend to him even in death. And so Mary, on the first day of the week, went to the tomb early that morning. But when she arrived, she found that the stone entrance had been rolled away. She immediately goes and gets Peter and another, unnamed disciple. The two of them race to the tomb, go inside, and see that Jesus is gone, only his linen tomb cloth remaining. But they say nothing, understanding nothing, and go home. Mary stays, though, weeping. She sees two messengers of God, who ask why she is crying. She explains that she doesn’t know where Jesus has gone. And then she turns and sees Jesus himself. Somehow, through her grief and tears, she doesn’t recognize him, not until he says her name. And then, in joy, she says to him, “Teacher,” at last realizing the truth: Jesus is alive, risen, resurrected. He sends her to tell the disciples, and so she goes, and announces the joyous news, “I have seen the Lord.”
            And I hear Jesus saying, “What didn’t you do to bury me, but you forgot that I was a seed.” Of course, the crucifixion wasn’t the end. That’s what Jesus had been teaching us all along. God will not be stopped. God’s will isn’t thwarted. God’s vision for us isn’t mistaken and wrong. God finds a way, despite the strongest efforts of death to stop life. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? It is nothing, and Christ and life are everything. Persistent. Pervasive. Persevering. Injustice, defeat, and death are not the final words, because life and love will find a path, a place, a way to grow. Instead we just leave buried our doubts and fears. We leave buried our prejudices and hostilities. We leave buried our insistence on our own way, our grudges, our anger. But what God draws forth from us is new life. Resurrected life. Real life. And nothing will stand in God’s way.
            Friends, on this Easter morning, don’t be fooled where it seems that death has won and hope has been buried. Christ is alive, and we are God’s seeds, and nothing will keep God’s dream, God’s hope, God’s love, from taking root, and bearing fruit. Thanks be to God! Amen. 




(1) http://jhfearless.com/2014/11/they-tried-to-bury-us-they-didnt-know-we-were-seeds/
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