A sermon at Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 22, 2015
This Lent we have been attending to the way in which it is preparation for baptism. On the first Sunday of Lent, the scripture was the story of Noah and the ark—the covenant with Noah binding together the water of creation, the water of the flood and the water of baptism. The second Sunday’s Gospel was about Jesus’ rebuke of Peter: our call to baptism is Jesus’ call to follow the way of God and not the way of human fear. The third Sunday of Lent we joined with the Catechumens preparing in depth for their baptism by reading the Ten Commandments and focusing on the reverence for the Living God, reverence where we follow with Jesus beyond the safe ways that people develop to simulate reverence while hiding from God.
Last week, on the fourth Sunday of Lent we remembered that our baptism is entirely a matter of the overwhelming mercy of God that: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” The sovereign God lives and chooses to have mercy on this whole world, inviting even us to eternal life in Baptism.
Today is the last Sunday in Lent before we begin Holy Week next week with Palm Sunday. At the end of that week, on Easter Sunday we will baptize Jael join in affirming our own baptism. Today’s Gospel sums up our journey of preparation for our baptism: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen. Amen. 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.”
In Christian faith, there is an intimate connection between death and living, between glorification and humility. The metaphor which Jesus uses here is about life. Jesus’ glorification is not in his suffering, but in bringing us life. Life is not something that is stationary, it is not something that we can hold on to, put in a box; hoard because we might want it someday. That would be that single grain of wheat, left on a shelf, like a useless, dead pebble. Life is to be lived. If we listen to Jesus and watch what he did, life is not just to be lived, life is something to be spent, to be invested. The investment in life is not for ourselves, however, it is to be given for the life of the world, for those who need, who want, who suffer. Jesus spent his life without fear of death, and he lived his life until he died, as do we all.
About a month ago, I was asked to preach on this same text at General Theological Seminary. It was the feast of Janani Luwum, the Archbishop of Uganda who was killed by Idi Amin in 1977. This is a particularly memorable event for me because I was in seminary at the time and I had a classmate who was a priest from Uganda. Janani Luwum was someone who spent his life as a follower of Christ. This is an excerpt from that sermon.
In February 1977, unidentified people stormed into Luwum’s house searched it, and produced weapons they claimed they had found there. Christian leaders were rounded up and accused of plotting to kill Amin. Eventually most of them were released, but not Janani Luwum. As his colleagues left, he said to one of them, “They are going to kill me. I am not afraid.”
That’s pretty matter of fact. We needn’t assume that Archbishop Luwum was not anxious or did not feel fear of what he was about to go through. But he knew this text: “…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.” He was not afraid to accept the reality that resulted from his choices. And he had been choosing, in his entire life as a Christian and as a priest, to be forthright for the good of others.
We think of martyrs as having dramatic lives, or at least dramatic deaths. We think of them as superheroes of the faith. But they are just people, who live Christian life day by day. It takes courage to tell the truth and it takes courage to be accountable for your decisions. There is always a cost. Sometimes Christians live in dramatic situations, and the cost they pay is dramatic. I am quite confident, that living or dead, Janani Luwum would regard nothing as a greater compliment than to have it said of him that he was a Christian. He was a grain of wheat that fell to the earth and died, but has borne much fruit.
We live now into our own baptism. We bear fruit, perhaps not in such dramatic ways, but with equal significance. In two weeks, we baptize an infant. We live the Christian life for her, and for others, young and old who need the love of Jesus. We are invited to participate in the glorification of Christ.
Accept his invitation to the feast, the Great Thanksgiving, the Eucharist. Have good courage and rejoice in the Lord always.