We are in the season of Lent – it is a time of reflection and of preparation. Reflecting on who we are (and who Jesus is) and preparing ourselves for the new hope and life that is the Easter celebration.
One time Jesus said, that unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it will not bear fruit. (John 12:24)
In those words, Jesus was saying that the grain of wheat must be transformed; it must change from what it was into what it will become.
It must die for what it was and come alive to what it must be.
Unless this happens, it is neither dead nor alive; neither hot nor cold.
In a way this is true for each of us, and perhaps especially for the Church in those dark times when the future seems bleak and revival is off the agenda.
When Jesus used that parable He was, of course, speaking of Himself; He was indicating that He had to die to this life in order that we might gain the real gift of life evidenced in His resurrection. But the parable applies equally in His call for us to follow Him. We too must die to self; we also must take up our Cross!
Jesus often spoke of transformation by death. And while He was often speaking of His own impending death He also used the concept in relation to the kind of life that we are to live. It was not a physical death but a death to the old Christ-less life.
A life for God is a life of sacrifice; it requires the willingness to die, the willingness to give up that which we hold above God so that we might be transformed by the Spirit of the Living God into that which is clearly able to bear the fruit of Him.
This is often a painful experience and one from which we easily shy away. But to resist the call “to come and die” (Bonnhoeffer’s ultra-short definition of discipleship) is to miss the opportunity for the real gift of life.
Remember the story about Abraham. He was called to take his son out into the wilderness and there to offer him as a sacrifice to God. Just imagine… Abraham had waited a hundred years for this son and now he has to give him up. And then when he has the knife in his hand to kill Isaac, God calls out to him … “Wait! I now know that you honour me above all things, now I will bless you.” And he became “the father of nations”.
Also, when God called Moses to lead the people out of Egypt, it was not when he was at the height of his fame and power. He had been brought up in the house of Pharoah and had enjoyed very special privileges as the adopted grandson of the ruler of Egypt. God didn’t call him then.
God only called him when he had lost all that… he had killed a slave overseer and had run away. He had become a shepherd in the desert, Pharaoh had since died… now Moses had nothing to rely on except God. And he was able to lead the people from bondage into freedom.
If we look for renewal in the Church, we must look for God to be at work in us.
If we expect to see the evidence of the reality of God in our lives then we must be prepared to be like the seed that Jesus speaks of in John’s gospel. As we have said in the Synod Strategic Plan, we must be a different church for a different future.
We must fall from the safety and the security of the things that will pass away, just as that seed must fall from its parent plant.
Just as a child must leave home.
And we must be prepared to be transformed.
Not by our own strength but by that which God has placed within us.
We must be born again of the spirit of God.
And that only happens when we give up on our own temporal strength and yield our life to the one who is the very author of life.
Jesus said, ‘He who loves his life shall lose it, and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves me, let him follow me; and where I am there shall my servant also be; if anyone serves me, the Father will honour him.”
My hope for the Church is not that we will try harder to prop up the failing structures but that we will find real joy in Christ in worship, witness and service, as we rest, not in exhaustion, but in gratefulness to the Lord who came to give us this new life, in the laying down of His own life.
Rev David de Kock