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5th Sunday in Lent
March 17, 2024    
Grace Lutheran Church
Lakeland, FL

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-13
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

In December of 2020, my realtor brought me to a condominium to consider as my new home. I walked in and immediately saw that it overlooked a rather large lake, partially natural and partially the work of human hands. It made me sigh. And later that day I made an offer which was accepted. Over the next three plus years, this view of the water has astounded me and often taken my breath away. I have seen all sorts of water fowl, canoers and kayakers and paddleboarders. And, there is Eugene – our local alligator who comes to visit every once in a while. But all of this is framed on three sides by trees and other vegetation.

And this time of year it is all greening up so beautifully. But it was only a few weeks ago that the green was very subdued, the browns and rusts were predominant. You could almost make out each individual tree. What a contrast to what it is today.

Our text for today’s meditation is verse 24 from today’s gospel: Jesus said, 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.

It is an unwelcome truth that for there to be new life, there must be death. Many “hellos” are accompanied by “good byes.” Old experiences give way to new adventures. Even the sweetness of childhood gives way to the wisdom and depth and aging of adulthood.

And so in foretelling his death – and also speaking again of his resurrection – he tells his followers that without the death of the grain of wheat there will be no fruit.


Over our years together, you have heard me say a number of times that the Bible is not one book to be read like a history text book or a social science text. You have heard me say that it is rather like a library – one of 66 books, each with their own style, their own context, their own content. Yet throughout this library we see some common themes or images.

One of them is the notion of “wilderness.” We see wildernesses throughout this library – the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, the prophet Elijah ran away to the wilderness in the midst of his despair, the people of God entered a figurative wilderness when they went into exile, and Jesus was in the wilderness at the start of his ministry.

Another of these themes is that of “covenant” – God made a covenant with Noah, with Abraham and his descendants, with David as he was anointed king. And in today’s first reading we hear that God is going to write this covenantal love on the hearts of God’s people. And in the words of our Holy Communion service we hear, “Take and drink, this cup is the new covenant.”

So, within this library of individual books, we see common themes. I would like to take a look at another of those today.

Let’s go back to the Garden – the Garden of Eden. The name “Eden” has become synonymous with paradise, with all that is lovely, with all that is pleasing. And the scriptures tell us that out of the “ground that God created, the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And a river flows out of Eden to water the garden.”  And, well, we know how long that lasted. So, that was at the beginning.

Now, let’s go all the way to the end, to the Book of the Revelation and let’s see what we read there. There in the new heaven and the new earth there will be a river of the water of life. And on either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month and. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

The Garden of Eden and the New Jerusalem. What was and what will be. The beginning of time as we know it and the end of time as we know it. And here we are in the middle. The glow of the Christmas Eve candlelight service has dimmed and the lilies of Easter have yet to bloom. In the middle where we face that unwelcome truth that, for there to be new life, there must be a death. That unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, there will be no fruit.

It's no wonder is it that so many gloss over Lent, weary of singing songs in minor keys, and go to buy chocolate bunnies and easter baskets even before Palm Sunday. But you see, there is a richness in this place in the middle; a richness of honesty and humility. A richness of truth that following the death of that grain of wheat, new life will come.

Lent begins in the wilderness, leads down to the cross and only then can resurrection happen. In just three weeks I will leave you as your pastor  and will enter a wilderness of sorts despite my plans for travel and time with my granddaughter and other hobbies, and indeed time to fully recover. New life. And you too are about to enter into a wilderness. In the arc of the story of Scripture, God does amazing things in the wilderness! And new life will come out of this time.

Wilderness. A time in the middle. In this time in the middle, what do we do?

Well, we …

Name the name               Jesus is at the center
Tell the story                   I love to tell the story
Sing songs of Zion          Praise the one who was and is and is to come
Gather at the Table          My body given for you
Splash in the Bath            Rejoice in the covenant made in our baptisms
Ask others to join up!      Tell everyone what God has done!

You are prepared for this walk. I will continue praying for you, and God will be walking with you.

Thanks be to God!