Death and its Fruits; A Sermon during Lent from Laura Foley

Published: March 22, 2012

Editor’s Note: Each Tuesday at 11 am, when class is in session,  the School of Divinity has a chapel service at which all are welcome. Chapel is organized by a student committee and each service is led by a different person, usually a 3rd year student. Laura, a 3rd year, gave this sermon this past Tuesday. Rather than editing down the text to a shorter length, Laura’s sermon has been left in its entirety to fully capture, in authentic fashion, the message she conveyed. 

There are two very critical reasons for why I was not thrilled, better yet nervous, to have discovered this text as the upcoming lectionary text for this Sunday…

For starters it is about death, or at least seems to be… and quite frankly I prefer life and prefer to enjoy, even love… my life…

And secondly, and way more importantly … there is a particular class going on right now, of which I am not a part, titled the Gospel of John which so happens to be taught by  “a world-renowned scholar for research on the Gospel of John”….

Therefore!

The likelihood of which I will misunderstand and therefore misspeak or miss-explain something about this gospel… and then have all of you notice… just feels ENTIRELY too high for comfort!

But here we go…

The gospel of John seems soooo organized!

The intentionality with which this gospel EXPLAINS the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is so explicit!

Just to drive this point home… the word “because” occurs 15 times in the book of Mark, 28 times in the book of Matthew, 42 times in the book of Luke…. And 93 times (more than the other three gospels combined) in John!

It’s like the early Christian community had reached that developmental age where no longer was “Jesus died and rose again” gonna work…  everyone must have been asking… “but why?”, “but why?, (because Jesus was born to) “but why?”

At some point we all know, too often and unfortunately I think, what the answer becomes… “BECAUSE I SAID SO!”

This scene is “truly climatic” (thank you anchor bible commentary)

Up until this point in the story it has been about Jesus seeking out the Gentiles

But here…

Here we have the Gentiles seeking out Jesus.

They want a press conference.

The palms have already been waved and it’s time for the media…

Of which Jesus’ agents Andrew and Philip inform him…

And to which he answers…

Answers?

I’m sorry, wait, where was the question

Oh right…

The question for this book seems to always be… “But, why?”

“Beeeeecause” Jesus’ answers – “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Unlike at the wedding at Canan… where Jesus’ mom asked him to restock the cellar… “the hour had not yet come.”

“Now, now the hour has come.”

THIS celebration, during the celebration of PASSOVER – THIS is the right hour.

Very, truly… or Verily Verily depending on your translation,

I tell you,

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

That makes sense. Regeneration. We get that. Seasons, Cycles, seeds…

Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

I have no idea what this means…

Yes, I understand the dualism running rampant all over this gospel and I understand that in this scene particularly if you keep reading it is chalk full of reversals – Jesus’ death judges the world rather than the world judging him, and this death is defeating Satan rather than Jesus and this DRAWS rather than REPELS all people, what seems like death over life and is actually life over death… I understand that this line belongs in a series of reversals but still…

To hate your life in this world will keep it for eternal life…

I have no idea what this means…

(It sounds like a terrible follow up to a conversation about why bad things happen …

“because if you love your life you lose it???”

wait a minute,

If you take a risk to love anything, you take a risk to lose it, No?

It seems like if you love anything, you will at some point lose it.

“Grief is the tax on love.” says Dr. Mark Jensen.)

My Uncle Mark LOVED life… my mom still to this day won’t tell me all the stories about growin up with her only brother and especially once they were “legal adults” (as she would say)… but let me put it this way… he had 5 chickens, 4 sons, 3 pigs, 2 divorces, and 1 boat for which he did not have the papers for… and at some point – somehow – he decided taxes were optional

Mark had been married to 3 women, all of them named Lisa, he had one son from each of the first two marriages and 2 sons in his final marriage…

Considering taxes were optional in Mark’s world, and apparently so were boat papers… somehow… something… at some point financially went down between Mark and the extended family.

And Mark REFUSED to speak to any of us, not his mom, not my mom, not his niece…. Period…. This went on for 5 years… The only reason we ever even realized he had a 4th son was because Lisa (the 3rd one) was at the mall pushing little Joshua around in a stroller…

This 5 year relational hiatus that deeply, deeply grieved my mom and grandma finally came to an end one day with a phone call…

Mark shared that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and would be beginning radiation and chemo the following week…

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies it remains just a single grain…

Something had changed….

The optional-taxes and illegitimate-boat Mark… decided his life would be different… he started attending this little back back BACK country woods church with his wife and two younger boys… sold his boat (somehow)… reinvested in his mom and sister, taught his second son how to work with rod iron, waited expectantly for his first grandchild, randomly came to my play at church, showed up for Christmas lunch, and even started considering paying a few bills…

(Lisa’s boss lent the family their beach house after mark would be done with an excruciating round of chemo and sickness was taxing his energy… not surprising, at all – Mark figured out a way to get his favorite recliner into the speed boat so he could teach his two younger boys, 7 and 9 at this point, how to drive it…)

4 years and 8 months after the day Mark made the phone call to my mom about his diagnosis…. He laid in that favorite recliner, now back in his home… and with his wife on his lap, his sister holding his hand, his two oldest boys seated at his feet, his mother (thankfully) asleep on the couch, and his two youngest boys curled up in their beds… (with that) Mark took his last breath at 50 years old…

Very truly I tell you

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Very truly I tell you….

I can not help but think about today’s text this “truly climatic” scene where Jesus is talking about death and accepting death, and the hour has come… without anticipating the very next chapter where he sits down at a meal with his friends

What is that like… what is that LIKE? What is that like… to live knowing your hour of death has arrived?

—Like Mark, Jesus knew the hour was coming… unless a single grain falls to the earth and dies it remains just a single grain… but if it dies it bears much fruit

I mean how does one find life, bear fruit, in the midst of imminent death…

Those who love their life will lose it and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life…

I don’t know what that means…

But I do know…

That—

Jesus knowing he is going to die sits down at a meal with his friends and he offers them life… in fact it says, “Having loved his own who were in the world he loved them to the end.

Mark knowing he was going to die sets things in order and sits down with his family and offers them life…

“Having loved his own who were in the world he loved them to the end.”

Of course at the funeral, complete with a full alter call following the eulogy at the church where their mission statement forbid the consumption of alcohol, (of course the funeral) was attended by all 4 of Mark’s boys and all 3 of their mothers…

Only known to me a few days later via a Facebook album… that evening following the funeral the two older sons and all three of the Lisa’s got together, they bought a few cases of beer and they stayed up all night… toasting to Mark’s life, laughing, loving, forgiving…. living….

Very truly I tell you…

I do think the story of Jesus, and the story of Mark, and the season Lent, can, if we let them, provide us with a very, very real space to contemplate our deaths, to contemplate our loves and our losses and to somehow find fruit.

Laura Foley
Third Year