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Sunday Message for 21 March 2021: “Whole-hearted Spirituality”

Today’s message involves life from death in Jesus’ parable of a wheat grain: “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” (John 12:24).

Accept Jesus’ statement with the knowledge that grains/seeds don’t die before they germinate. If a seed is dead, then it becomes a dry, lifeless piece of matter. When interpreted metaphorically rather than literally, Jesus words make sense. A grain may appear dull and dead yet locked within is the marvelous chemistry of life.

Under proper conditions (e.g., light, temperature, water), a seed germinates. A seed can appear to be dead and lifeless before it germinates. The issue is that Jesus was making an analogy between [apparent] death and spiritual life. The promise is that even when people die, they can experience eternal life, the spiritual equivalent of an apparently lifeless seed bursting with germinating energy.

Jesus makes a further, dramatic point about death and priorities: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).

This bold call for radical obedience creates controversy. Some excuse Jesus’ words as intentional exaggeration, also known as literary hyperbole. The gist is that Jesus made extreme statements because of the urgency of his mission and the short time he had to accomplish his gospel message.

Rhetorical extremes and embellishments occur throughout the Bible. And when Jesus engages in some form of dramatic proclamation he does so to punctuate his intentions and to call his disciples to a higher standard. Jesus understood that to be polite and soft-spoken risked being ignored. Without literary drama, people may not have noticed and Jesus’ new spiritual movement—later known as Christianity—would never have emerged from its ancestral Jewish roots.

However literal or not, Jesus’ words highlight heroic, spiritual discipleship. In the vulnerable birth stage of Christianity (first-century, Roman occupied Judea), Jesus recruited resilient disciples. Jesus chose to recruit steadfast followers who were willing to die for their beliefs. For Jesus there could be no hesitation, no mixed priorities or lack of commitment from his disciples.

If Jesus allowed half-hearted followers then his new movement would not have had the traction to weather storms from both Jewish and Roman persecution. Jesus’ reforms might have collapsed before getting established. Hence a question or latter-day followers of God: what are your priorities and how deep is your commitment? Are you willing to set aside things that bind you and distract you from a better life?

Jesus demanded extreme self-sacrifice, certainly from his earliest followers if not from all subsequent generations. Yet, what if Jesus still demands the type of commitment he mentioned during his time on earth? This poses a monumental challenge to people of faith desiring to serve the Almighty.

Throughout the ages even people of faith have struggled to prioritize God amid the lures of materialistic culture. It is a supreme challenge to sit comfortably in a convenience-driven world and yet also attempt to serve God with consistent self-sacrifice. Each of us may fail to fully live up to Jesus’ standard yet it is also true that God blesses our struggles.

Ever how you perceive the gravity of Jesus words, love often requires dramatic changes. What type of self-sacrificial love is God asking of you?

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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