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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

It Only Takes The One

John 12:20-33

New Revised Standard Version

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 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. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

I thought today would be a good day to talk about food. Maybe because it is officially spring, and somewhere in my mind I have the idea of sitting outside enjoying a hamburger or having a picnic in the yard. Or maybe I am hungry – although I did have breakfast! Food seems like a good topic for today – not just food but where it comes from.

Roger Gench recounts the experience of Tracie McMillian. Tracie wanted to know more about where food comes from. She was tired of reading about food and hearing lectures about food. She wanted to learn first-hand how food gets from the fields to our tables.

Tracie moved to California to work in the fields alongside the workers who picked the produce. After that, she went to another town to work in the produce section of a suburban market to learn more about how the fresh produce and fruit get from the fields to the place where consumers purchase it.

Finally, she went to work at a restaurant chain. Tracie wanted to work in food preparation but the only position available was as a food expeditor which she later said was the hardest job in the restaurant.

In case you don’t know, a food expeditor is the last one to see your plate before it is brought to your table. This person coordinates the presentation and flow of food in the restaurant. The expeditor makes sure the plates are prepared correctly with the right garnishes, portion sizes, and appearance.

As Tracie explained, if an expeditor doesn’t do the job right, “then the orders don’t look right, and people won’t come back, and server’s tips will be lower, and the restaurant won’t make as much money.”

It may sound like a self-centered way to look at food. In a restaurant setting, is the role of the food expeditor to please customers so that they will give big tips, come back to the restaurant, and keep the business alive and preserve their jobs?

Tracie eventually realized that paying attention to the food helps you appreciate the flavor and beauty of what comes from the earth, what God has provided for us. When our attention is drawn to the food itself, we may eat more consciously rather than unconsciously because, in our culture we have become used to eating unconsciously because we are in a hurry to get things done or we have other things on our mind.

I know you have heard before about the importance of eating slowly, of spending time in conversation at the meal, and not focusing on the food so much. But for many of us it has become ingrained that you give us a plate and a fork, knife, and spoon and we have at it.

Maybe if we slowed down for a bit, to really look at the food on the plate in front of us, it could give us a different appreciation of where the food came from. We might think of those who worked to get the food to our table – those who picked the produce or harvested the grain, brought the food to market, and put it out so we could make our purchases. When we eat at a restaurant, we can also include those who prepared the food and brought it to our table.

Eating with greater consciousness can help us call to mind the people who were involved in the food process. Did they make a decent wage? Were their working conditions dangerous? What risks did they take to do their job? When I have gone apple picking, it never occurred to me that there were risks in picking apples other than turning my ankle walking from one tree to another. But I imagine there are inherent risks for those who pick apples for a living. Risks they accept as necessary for earning their pay. These are the kinds of things we don’t think about enough.

It may seem odd to talk about food on this fifth Sunday of Lent. But the idea came to me as I read the passage. One phrase stuck out for me – when Jesus says that a grain of wheat must die for it to bear fruit – to live. Similarly, he says that we must die to our life in this world as we live it in order to have the life that Jesus offers.

This is sort of an odd thing, but if you think about seeds (which I can think about and look at, but don’t ask me to plant them so something will grow, or we would have an empty garden full of weeds) we only get them when the plant dies. When you see a sunflower with the black seeds in the center of the bloom you realize that those seeds are what are needed for next year’s flowers to grow. When the plant dies, you collect those seeds and save them to plant the following spring. The idea that a seed must come from a plant when it dies really isn’t a foreign concept to us.

What, then, does Jesus mean when he says that a grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die to have life? At first blush we see how that relates to Jesus himself. It wasn’t until Jesus died on the cross, that his life was taken from him by those who crucified him, that he gave his life as God the Father instructed, that he could then rise again and bring life to humanity – the life. To show others and us that he conquered death so that we can have an eternal life that allows us to live on earth in a way that is enjoyable in God’s sight and in our own.

As we prepare for Easter, we ponder again why Jesus died on the cross and then is resurrected. As we think about this, I would like you to consider an underlying concept. John points us to this underlying piece when he talks about losing your life to save it and when you hold onto your life you lose it.

I think part of the example given of the seed dying so that the plant can sprout, of Jesus dying and then being resurrected, is that there is an expectation that Jesus’ followers would have a new life as a result. Not only that, there is an expectation that this life would be lived for the benefit of God and of others. That it would be a response to what God has done and is doing, as they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. To have the opportunity to do for others what God had done for them through Jesus Christ.

We often say that we know we are supposed to do for others. However, we wonder, “What is it we are supposed to be doing?” Do we do what Tracie did and go out into the fields to work alongside those who are gathering food – picking strawberries or pulling apples off the tree or harvesting the vegetables from the field. Maybe. For you or someone else that may be what doing for others is means learning about the life of those who help bring food to our tables.

Doing for others requires thinking about them – who they are and what they do. Learning what their needs actually are rather than what we think they are. Our challenge is to do more than see people. It is to see past how they look on the outside to discover their need on the inside. For example consider the life of single parents. We may think we know what support they need as a single parent. But if we take the time to talk to single parents, we might find that they don’t need babysitters or programs to watch their kids so they can get things done. It could be that they need someone to take care of the yard work or pick up the groceries at the market so they can spend quality time with their kids. Maybe what they want is someone to listen rather than try to fix their problems.

I think what Jesus calls us to do is to find out about the people who we feel like we are called to serve and care about. Those who are working on our behalf. Those who have challenges in their lives that we don’t see by only taking a cursory look at them and making our own decisions about their needs. We are to talk with them to find out what they need because it is when we take the time to do so that we discover how we best can help.

We often look at the large problems in our society – people who are abused, or subjected to exploitation, or don’t make enough money to live on. Most of us would tell ourselves that there is nothing I can do to solve these societal issues, so we do nothing. Yet, if we take the time to talk with someone who is working at a minimum wage job, asking what would help, what could I do to help your life be better. We might be surprised at the answers we receive. It may not be that they want us to work on raising the minimum wage. Rather, they might say that a gift card from the local grocery store or arranging rides to and from work or providing bus fare. It could be something small that we could do that would make a difference for them. Sometimes we need to go beyond looking at the big issues, the big picture, to think about how we can help one or a few.

When Jesus calls us to give up our life as we know it, we are to give up our own preconceived ideas of how we are to live, what we are supposed to do, and to prioritize our life activities to gain the life Christ wants us to have. We have to lose our old life. We have to give up our priorities, our ideas on how to live, and be willing to put others needs at the forefront.

You may have heard this story about the starfish. It’s one of my favorites and I like to tell it from time to time. The story is about a young boy who is walking along a beach at low tide picking up a starfish and throwing it back into the ocean. He continues walking, picking up starfish, and throwing them into the water. Looking down the beach is a long line of starfish who have been left on the sand when the tide went out. Many would survive long enough to be carried back into the water when the tide rose again.

The boy wanted to help them out, so he walks along throwing them back into the ocean one at a time. A man comes along and asks why the boy was wasting his time tossing the starfish into the water. As the man looks down the beach seeing the large number of starfish, he tells the boy that he can’t save them all. What difference will what you’re doing make? The boy looks at the man as he throws another starfish into the water and says, “It will make a difference for this one.”

Perhaps making a difference for one is exactly what God is calling us to do as we live the life we have been given by Jesus. Make a difference for that one. Not all of them at once but one at a time. One at a time can change a life.


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