Well, as I mentioned at the top of the service, today is the 5th Sunday in Lent. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday and the beginning Holy Week leading up to Easter. Now, unlike Christmas, Easter is not a fixed date on the calendar. Christmas is always December 25, but the date of Easter changes from year to year.
The church, of course, has no idea of the actual date when Jesus was born or the actual date when Jesus died. It’s was at the Council of Nicea, 300 years after Jesus's death, that the church decided on December 25 for Christmas, because it coincided with a pagan winter festival honoring the sun, the Light.
And, for Easter, the church leaders decided on the Sunday nearest the first full moon of the Spring Equinox, which is why the date of Easter isn’t a fixed date.
And, I love that. I love that the dates of Jesus’s birth and resurrection are based around the Light of the Sun and Moon, and I love that the date of Easter is aligned with the movement of the Universe.
At the very beginning of Lent, I mentioned to you that the word “Lent” comes from an Anglo-Saxon word for “Spring.” And, I know that many of you are very excited that the Spring season has now officially begun. You may have noticed on your morning walks now that the flowers are beginning to poke up from the ground after this long, cold winter.
Spring is a time where the flowers and the trees which appeared dead in winter now appear to be coming back to life. Lent falls when it does – between Winter and Spring – to remind us that we need times of darkness in order to experience new growth and new life.
Think of a caterpillar, for example. It needs to go into a cocoon (a place of darkness) in order to experience new life as a butterfly.
It has to ‘die’ to being a caterpillar in order to fully become what it was created to be. And, that’s such a wonderful metaphor to explain the spiritual journey.
Now, Jesus, of course, was such an amazing spiritual teacher. He used the natural world in his lessons in order to explain spiritual principles to his students, most of whom were uneducated farmers and fishermen.
In today’s Gospel passage for the 5th Sunday in Lent, Jesus, the Master Teacher, uses the wonderful metaphor of a grain of wheat.
He says: “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain; but, if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
A tiny grain of wheat, my friends, will never be more than just a tiny grain of wheat unless it goes into the darkness and dies to being a seed. It needs to die to being a single grain, so that it can become the abundance and plentitude that God created it to be.
Now, some have speculated that Jesus was using this example to talk with his disciples about his own impending death and resurrection. But, what strikes me in today’s Gospel passage is another line, when Jesus says: “This is spoken for your sake, not for mine.”
Jesus’s teachings, you see, were never really about him. They were always about us. Jesus, I think, is saying that WE are the grains of the wheat; that we are the seeds -- tiny, yet powerful -- full of promise and potential.
Think about a tiny little apple seed, for example. Inside that little seed is the POWER to become an enormous tree that will bear much fruit for generations to come. But, in order for the seed to experience this power, it must go into the darkness and die to being a seed. If you just put the seed in an envelope on the shelf, it’ll always just be a seed.
Many people in life never realize their potential and power, because they think of themselves as just the seed. But, we are NOT the seed. We are the POWER within the seed…and that’s what
Jesus came to remind us of. It’s what all of the mystics came to remind us of.
The Sufi mystic, Rumi, wrote: “You are not merely just a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” And, the 20th Century Christian mystic, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, wrote: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
And, in our “Words of Integration & Guidance” today, the contemporary Christian mystic, Richard Rohr, reminds us that we are not just human. He said, “We’re not just the seed, the container. We are the Christ, the Light, the Power INSIDE the container.”
During the season of Lent, we – like the caterpillar, like the seed – enter into a time of darkness in order to realize that we are not separate from God, but that the power and the Light of God is contained within each one of us.
Our purpose for being is to manifest that power and that light, so that we can bear much fruit. A seed needs to die to being a seed in order to become a fruit-bearing tree, and Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel passage that we need to die to the self in order to more fully become who God created us to be.
Now, most of us in our religious education were taught that the “death” that Jesus is referring to here is the death of our PHYSICAL body, that when we take our last breath, then and only then, will we experience this light and this transformation.
But, think about it: Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now, and that it is within you. In order for us to experience this heaven, we don’t have to wait until our physical bodies die, but we do have to die.
I know this seems strange, but Jesus and the mystics of all the world’s major faith traditions have talked about “dying before you die, ” that is the SECRET to manifesting the power and the light of the Christ.
In this week’s e-Pistle church newsletter, I shared a quote from Eckhart Tolle, who said: “Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret to life is to ‘die before you die’ and to discover that there is no death.”
Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. It’s letting go of the false self, the ego self. The self that wants you to believe that you are separate from God, that you are merely a powerless little seed.
It’s what Jesus meant in today’s Gospel passage when he said: “those who hate their life will lose it and experience eternal life.” Now, Jesus doesn’t want us to hate our life. He was talking about hatred of the false self (the ego self), the self that is keeping us from discovering the Divine Self.
Richard Rohr said: Most of us grew up believing Jesus was God, but that we are not. But, Jesus came to remind us that we have the same power within us that he had. That’s why he said, “All of the things that I have done, you can do. These things and greater.”
But, in order for us to experience this Power and Presence within us, we have to die more-and-more to the ego self (to the false self) so that we can manifest more fully the Eternal Self that’s within our midst.
Now, another example from nature is PRUNING. Those of you who like to garden know that you need to prune plants from time-to-time. When you prune, you are literally cutting off parts of the living plant, but you’re not doing it to harm the plant. You’re doing it for the health of the plant.
You’re getting rid of things (cutting things off) so that the nutrients (the power) of the main vine can flow more quickly to the plant, so that plant can experience new growth and new life. Pruning is the perfect analogy for Lent, a time of getting rid of all the things that are no longer serving you, so that you can experience new growth and new life.
So, my question for you today is: What are the things that you need to “prune” from your life right now? Jesus said: “I am the vine and you are the branches.” Meaning, if we want that same “I AM” power of the Christ to flow through us, we’ve got to prune away all those things that are blocking its flow.
Spring is also a time when we do some Spring cleaning…to get rid of all the CLUTTER that we’ve accumulated. And, you know, the word “clutter” comes from the same root word as the word “CLOT.”
Think of a “blood clot.” What does it do? It STOPS THE FLOW of the circulation of life.
During Lent, we give up (we let go) of mental and emotional clutter, so that we can make more room for the Light of the Spirit to flow within us. Remember: you, my friend, are not merely a seed, a container. You are the Power within the seed. You are the Light within the container.
So, on this 5th week of Lent, may you continue to find time to go into the darkness and do some spiritual pruning, some spiritual Spring cleaning.
And, as you release more and more of the clutter in your life, may you begin to experience more fully the Power that is within you, so that you may become more-and-more of who God created you to be.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Listen to the Homily:
Watch the Homily:
What did you think?