The Fifth Sunday in Lent

“Are you ready to be broken open?”

Today in our scripture, we find Jesus alluding to his death and resurrection by speaking about a seed.

“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.”

So do seeds really die before they grow into the plants they are meant to be… not in the literal  sense.  Every seed that you see on the ground is as alive as the tree or the plant next to it. Seeds carry within them an embryo that is very much alive. That embryo carries in it all the DNA, all the instructions it needs to become the plant that it is meant to be. Scientist describe the embryo in seeds looking much like a person who is bent over.  This embryo is surrounded by nutrients that help the seed germinate and then of course a hard shell that protects the embryo and together the embryo, the nutrients, and the hard shell wait for just the right amount of water and soil and heat. The seed somehow knows the exact conditions the mature plant will need to grow.  Some seeds stay right where they land and wait for spring. Some seeds travel and wait for long periods of time. One lotus seed reportedly waited over 2000 years and only germinated with the help of scientists in a lab. Coconut seeds can float from the coast of Africa all the way across the ocean and only begin germinating when settled in the fertile warm soil of the Caribbean.

Seeds get just one shot and somehow each seed knows when it has the best shot at surviving and growing. Each seed knows when it is time to unfurl from this bent position. Each seed knows when it is time to stand up and break open its hard shell.

So does each seed need to literally die before it grows? Does the life of a seed die before it grows? No, the embryo remains very much alive waiting and traveling and waiting but indeed when it begins to grow the seed is no longer just a single seed. The structure of the seed dies and in its place grows the plant it was meant to be. The plant that in turn stretches up to bring beauty and nourishment and produce yet more seeds.

So Jesus alludes to his impending death here by referring to a seed. Like a seed, he needs to stop waiting.  Jesus is telling himself … the conditions are right now and he warns us… I will need to be broken open. I will need to die as Jesus the man in order to rise up and be Jesus the savior of the world. Jesus the man, the son of God must die and rise again in order to bear the fruit of freedom for all God’s children, in order to give us the promise of everlasting life. I must die. I must be broken in order to fulfill my purpose.

My sense here is that Jesus is not just speaking of his own death, his own breaking open. He is not just, in fact, telling himself that he needs to stop waiting. He is also telling us that we will need to be broken open in order to be who he has made us to be. We too have a purpose, an embryo inside us that God has put in us and we too need to be planted, broken open, in order to unfurl, stretch up and fulfill our purpose.

We know that Jesus offers this wisdom to us, he is about suffer greatly in order to accomplish his purpose, so the idea that Jesus might be telling us that we need to break open to accomplish our purpose can cause some uneasiness… some anxiety.

And indeed at times this anxiety and fear is quite justified… at certain times in our lives the breaking, the unfurling is painful. For those who suffer from addiction the breaking first includes the physical and emotional pain of withdrawing from a substance or a behavior before it leads to freedom and living out God’s purpose. For those who seek to change unhealthy patterns in our families, among co-workers, or a group of friends, the breaking can first include a lot of resistance and hurt from the group before new healthier group patterns are formed. Sometimes the breaking open of our seed is first immense and it is first painful.

But actually more often than not my sense is that the breaking is not so harsh, not as harsh as we would think it would be. When we hear Jesus tell us that the seed must die in order to bear fruit, we know that he died and so we wonder sometimes — does that mean I must die? But Paul reminds us,  Christ died once and for all. Jesus’ purpose is to give us freedom and the promise of everlasting life and to do this his breaking involved death on the cross. Today Jesus is not telling us about his death and asking us to do the same thing. He is saying to us, you also have a purpose, a different purpose than mine, and you need to recognize that you are not just a seed. I have put an embryo, a purpose in you and you need to start the process, break that hard shell, tear down those walls, you need to stop waiting… unfurl… so that you can become the rose, the pear tree, the great oak you were made to be and no this breaking open is not always painful and dreadful. In fact sometimes it is simply and solely liberating, freeing, and full of hope.

So for years I have wanted to start a podcast or write a book, but I’ve had a kind of all or nothing mindset about it. I’ve thought that I really needed to devote 20 hours a week to it and so I would need to wait until the kids were older to start it. As I’ve waited with this dream for years and listened to other successful podcasts, I have built up some resentment in me and even some envy. I told my therapist about this dream and the resentment and envy and she asked me, “If you think about all the time you spend being envious or resentful, how much time does that take up?” I thought about an hour or so… she said, “Why don’t you take that hour each week and instead of being envious and resentful watch a YouTube video about how to start a podcast, think about what your podcast or book might be, write a little…”

At this moment I could almost hear the breaking. Like a small tap on a lake of ice. It was such a simple break open and yet somehow it was so very profound. I needed to break this “all or nothing” thought pattern in order to free myself from resentment and envy and start work that I find so meaningful and exciting. Two weeks later, I’ve got a working title for my podcast, Faith in the Darkness. I spoke with a potential collaborator. I even have a color theme and an image concept. I probably won’t have an episode for another six months and I probably won’t launch it for another year, but in a year the resentment and envy will have died and in it’s place my dream will have unfurled and grown into a seedling that I hope will bear fruit even if it touches just one soul.

I have been broken open, and this break was anything but painful and dreadful. In fact it was simple and deeply liberating.

Unfurling, standing up, breaking open that hard shell does not always involve suffering and pain. Sometimes breaking means tearing down walls and patterns that have only served to limit you. Sometimes allowing the seed to die means waking up to the fact that it is time to unfurl and be who Jesus put you on this earth to be.

Jesus tells us “unless a seed falls into the earth and dies it remains just a single seed, but if it dies it bears much fruit.”

{Do not be scared by the word “die” here… yes that is what Jesus went and did, but it is not what he is asking you to do. He is asking you to let those things die in you that are holding you back from being who you are made to be. He asking you to let those things die in you that are preventing you from bearing fruit in your life. Let those things die in your life that are preventing you from living life fully.

Jesus is asking us “Can I plant you? Are you ready to be broken open? Can I free you from that limitation and give you new life?” }

So in the week ahead, take some time to look at whatever it is that needs some breaking in your life…

It could be an addiction to a substance, a behavior or a screen….

It could be a lack of exercise or outdoor time…

It could be an unhealthy interpersonal dynamic…

It could be, like me, a unhelpful thought pattern…

What needs to be broken open so that the purpose God put in you can grow…

Ask God… break me open…. And help me grow into who you have made me to be.