Sometimes we have to die to who we think we are to become what God intends for us to be.
Fifth Sunday of Lent B
Transcribed from a sermon given
March 25, 2012
At St. Barnabas Episcopal Church
By The Rev. Valerie Ann Hart
I love when I have an opportunity to do “show and tell,” so we have something to hand out to everyone. The story today was about seeds. I am going to give each one of you a seed. Will help out from the back and I’ll start of here and we’ll give everybody and seed.
(Seeds are distributed.)
You may recognize these. They are corn seeds. In fact they are popcorn. It is what I had in my house.
You will notice as you hold onto this how incredibly hard it is. It is like a rock. It has this hard outer shell. If you think about the life of a seed, it starts out with a plant that is growing and makes a flower. Then the flower gets fertilized and a seed begins. All the energy of that plant, all the nutrients that it gets from the soil, all the energy that it changes from the sun, all of that work of the plant goes into building up the seed, of providing it everything it needs to become strong and healthy. Then once the seed is established, once it has developed and is healthy it makes this casing around itself, this hard shell, to protect itself. This keeps it from being easily hurt, and it keeps it from growing any bigger. It has that dual nature.
This popcorn with this hard shell around it will stay like that forever. After all, this popcorn has probably been in my cabinet for years. I have no idea. Don’t check the expiration date. It is said that in some of the graves in Egypt they found grain that was still okay and viable. The seed survives because it is strong and contained.
It is kind of like when we are growing up. We start out as a major investment of our family. They feed us, clothe us, and care for all our physical needs. They teach us, educate us, and help us hopefully to grow spiritually and to develop a sense of who we are, a sense of what’s important, and a sense of what the meaning of the world is. If we have had a really good healthy childhood we develop into an adult that is strong and self sufficient, and we develop what is called a healthy ego. The ego is designed to protect us. That ego keeps us from being hurt by the outside world. It protects that sense of self that we have developed. It serves like that hard outer shell on the seed. And that is important, and that is necessary, the seed has to get to that point, just as humans beings have to get to the point where they have a really good sense of who they are and what is important. But, that shell, that ego, that keeps us safe also limits us. It is hard and rigid and keeps us from continuing to grow. And as it keeps us safe from things that are hurtful outside, it also can keep us from experiencing love and letting good things come inside. And our egos can get in the way of our union with God.
So just as the seed is perfect in what it is, it is not done. Just as when we become healthy whole adults we are not done. You see, if you take this seed, this popcorn seed, and you put it in a pan that is really really hot it is going to feel like it is going to die. Because that heat could kill it, destroy it. But if it isn’t too old, the moisture, the little bit of moisture inside will expand in that heat and all of a sudden it goes “POP” and it turns from this hard thing that you couldn’t possibly eat into one of my favorite foods.
It bursts forth and that shell becomes just a little bit around the bottom because the essence of it has expanded in a way that one never would have imagined if you didn’t know the secret of popcorn. This wonderful white fluffy thing, much more than that seed could have imagined. But it took heat; it took dying as a seed in order to become that which it was intended to be.
And so it is with human beings. We become healthy adult human beings with a good established self-concept and a nice strong ego and that’s not the end. God wants more than that. God offers more than that. But in order to transcend this ego, it has to die. It has to be ripped apart. And that is uncomfortable, to say the least. Most of us have known times in our lives where we felt like we were dying. Times when perhaps we were confronted with illness, or the death of a friend or family member, or the loss of a relationship, or divorce or losing a job where suddenly your self identity as this employee is gone. Or perhaps that happened at retirement. When what you had been doing all your life to feel good about yourself is suddenly no longer there. There are lots of different ways in which we have what one writer calls “necessary suffering.” Times when we are confronted with pain and lose and it hurts and we feel like we are dying, because a part of us is.
During those times, those times of struggle, which the psalmist calls “going through the valley of the shadow of death,” we are promised that Christ walks with us, that we are not alone in those dark times. But sometimes, when we are about to experience that death of our egos, we feel like Christ felt on the cross. We may feel abandoned by God, alone. And yet it is those moments of deepest despair and lose that can be the times that burst us open so that we are able to love in a way that we never loved before and we are able to receive love in a way we haven’t before and our relationship with God takes one step closer to union.
Christ says that we must die to be reborn. And here you are at a church, a Christian church that follows a leader who was crucified and died. And who calls all of us to take up our cross and follow him. Christianity is not easy. Christianity is about a willingness to die to who we think we are in order that we can discover who we really are - beloved children of God. But as long as we hold on to that hard rigid ego self-identification we can’t realize just how much we are loved. So like the seed it is only through dying that we come to fullness of life.