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Who We Are Becoming



I’ve often told parents of young children that if you want to teach your children about God, one of the best ways is to plant a garden. There is nothing like putting a seed into the ground, and then waiting, and watering, and watching as the first green shoots emerge, and then the leaves, and then the fruit of whatever it is that you’ve planted.  Because not only will the experience teach children about growth, and care, and beauty, and the miracle of life, but it will also open them up to the transformational power of God, and the transformational nature of ourselves as humans who have been made in God’s image.

 

It is in our nature to seek transformation. We learn. We grow. We change in response to the people around us and our experiences of life. We long to take the things that are bad in our lives, those aspects of ourselves which cause pain, and turn them into something good, into something which bears fruit for ourselves and for those around us. Our faith is all about transformation, in fact that’s kind of the point. Repentance, redemption, renewal, resurrection. It’s about who we are becoming as people of God.

 

As many of you know, I have a scientific background, and I’m particularly interested in the overlap between science and theology. My current interest is in neuroscience, and so I’m reading a book by Patrick McNamara, a neurologist, called The Cognitive Neuroscience of Religious Experience. We often like to think of humans as rational beings. But based on his research on how our brains actually work, Professor McNamara writes that “we are transformational beings steeped in imaginative worlds more than we are rational beings.”[i] And that this is a good thing, in fact it’s essential for humanity, because, in the face of the many challenges of human life, we need a radical kind of creativity that surpasses reason, that draws on our imagination and that always involves personal transformation. We are transformational beings. And in this lies our hope.

 

Today’s gospel marks a turning point in the life and ministry of Jesus. In the early days of his ministry, back in Galilee, though it’s true that he drew great crowds, Jesus was still relatively anonymous, largely unknown outside of his home region. As John’s gospel puts it in the prologue, “the world did not know him.” Now however, in the wake of raising of Lazarus and Jesus’ triumphant Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem for the festival of Passover, Jesus was becoming known. As the religious authorities marvelled on Palm Sunday, “the whole world has gone after him.” And that’s important, because as we read last week, it’s because God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. Jesus has been sent to make God known, not just to a select group of people but to everyone, to all the world. And so when Jesus hears that there are Greeks who want to see him, he takes it as a sign:

 

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

 

The hour has come for Jesus to make God known. We’ve reached a turning point, a time to shift gears. Because the place where Jesus will make God known most fully is on the cross.

 

He starts by giving them a brief parable, an image:

 

“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.”

 

And then he points his listeners to the cross, and to his resurrection and ascension which lie beyond.

 

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

 

The image of the grain falling into the earth is an image of transformation, of radical creativity, of abundance and fruitfulness. This is the image Jesus gives us as he moves us to focus on his coming death and resurrection. On the cross, Jesus will take the worst of what the world has to offer and transform it into something good. The grain buried in the ground will bear much fruit.

 

It is another image for what we talked about last Sunday. In our text last Sunday, Jesus pointed to the cross by using the story of the poisonous snake that was set on a pole, turning an agent of death into an instrument of healing. It was an image to help us understand that on the cross, God receives the poison, the self-destructive death-dealing power of sin and the hurt and pain that it causes, God receives it, transforms it and returns it as healing love. That when confronted by the worst that humans have done, violence, evil, death, even death on a cross, God will somehow absorb even these things, endure the pain, transform them and redeem them, and give us back forgiveness, grace, and healing in return.

 

Today’s image of the cross as the grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies builds on our understanding from last Sunday. It imagines the cross as an act of self-giving, of God’s self-giving love for humanity that enables a transformation that is more than we can ask or imagine. This is how Jesus will make God known: as an agent of great transformation, as the source of a radical creativity whose self-giving love, forgiveness and grace can transform what is bad in our lives into good.

 

We are transformational beings, and the source and agent of our transformation is the God who created us in God’s own image. This has been made known to us through Jesus’ death on a cross, and not just his death, but also his resurrection and ascension, which complete the story of the grain of wheat which bears much fruit. Jesus’ coming death, dark and horrible as it will be, is a fruitful death, an enabling death which makes possible even greater things.

 

Death and resurrection. The grain which falls into the earth yet bears much fruit. In our own way, our individual and communal lives will reflect these realities. We are transformational beings. We will change and grow. Our most profound transformations will take place through times of great love and through times of great suffering. There are moments when the seed falls in the ground and it seems like nothing is happening. Sometimes we just have to wait. Sometimes we don’t see the path forward. But God is at work.

 

This journey of transformation, this journey of life that we’re on, is not something that we have to do all by ourselves. We have each other, we have our friends and family and community and that is a wonderful thing. But we also have the God who is revealed to us in Jesus, the God who is the source of our being and the agent of our becoming. A God who created us, a God who knows us, a God who is willing to celebrate our joys with us, a God who absorbs the pain of our shortcomings and gives us healing love in return. This is the God who is made known to us in Jesus and revealed most fully in Jesus’ death and resurrection. A God of transformation. This is the hope which sustains us and enables our own becoming.

 

“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.”

 

Amen.

 

Homily: Yr B Lent 5, March 27 2024, Trinity

Readings: Jeremiah 31.31.34; Psalm 51.1-12; Heb 5.5-10; John 12.20-33


[i] Patrick McNamara, The Cognitive Neuroscience of Religious Experience, Cambridge University Press 2022, p 48

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Mark's books are available at amazon.ca and amazon.com

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