Jeremiah 31:31-36; John 12:20-33

Jeremiah talks about God’s promise as a life-giving word written in us. It’s not just something we shouldn’t break, but something we essentially can’t break – it’s too deep within us. Jesus describes this deepest covenant as the life of a seed falling into the ground. He’s talking about himself, but it turns out that he’s also talking about seeds. The word of life is written deep within them, the instructions for making more seeds. Seeds don’t have to teach each other to sprout; “all of them, from the least to the greatest,” just know it. Wheat, lilies, even crabgrass, all have the gift of life deep inside them. We have that covenant too – the same kind of DNA is in us – in every cell, not just our hearts. The gift of life is in every bit of us. People, like all life, want nothing more than to grow, develop, and transform into what the Giver of Life made us for.

The difference is that the wheat kernel knows to die. It would be absurd to think that we do a seed any good by keeping it out of dirt: of course it must be planted. We, on the other hand, know we will die, and we spend much of our time imagining that somehow we shouldn’t, as if change and loss meant failure. We spend all we have to delay death, we sacrifice years of effort to ensure that we can buy our own stuff with our own money. Perhaps we share some portion of “our stuff” with others, often in lieu of sharing our time and attention with people unlike us, as if to justify what we keep for ourselves. But we don’t get to keep it, our stuff or our life. It wasn’t ours before we got here, and it won’t be ours after we’re gone. Life doesn’t belong to us.

And that’s the good news: life isn’t ours. We don’t belong to ourselves, as if we were something we could lose, whether accidentally or on purpose. We belong to God: our lives exist – and always have – in a web of relationship spun by One who is forever faithful to each of us. That promise was written on our hearts, in our cells, with every particle of creation. This unfolding, expanding, and changing life is God’s gift.

The promise has been written from the beginning, and it’s revealed to us most clearly in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus calls it “the glory of God’s name.” It’s a curious glory, a paradox that draws us in. How does glory shine in humiliation and death? How do we live by giving up our life? Jesus doesn’t tell us. He doesn’t give us a lesson in metaphysical mechanics. He just promises that it’s true, and then he demonstrates it: he dies and lives again. I’m not especially sure that literally happened, but I don’t argue with people who say it did. Whether the story is a fact or not, I see God’s heart in it – I know it’s true. That is, I know that giving our lives away gives birth to something new.

The trick is, we have to do it. Jesus calls us to follow him, not watch him. Richard Rohr has said, “we Christians have been worshiping Jesus’ journey instead of doing his journey” (Everything Belongs, p. 20). Only following writes God’s love on our hearts. Oscar Romero followed: before he died (32 years ago yesterday), he said, “if you kill me, I’ll live on in the people of El Salvador.” Martin Luther King gave his whole self to the civil rights movement, eventually died for it, and so became an even greater force for reconciliation than he had been in life. Francis of Assisi followed when he turned his back on his family and fortune, and he found a deeper and more lasting brotherhood with “the least of these.” It even happened to Marc Lewis, who came to the end of a self-destructive path with drugs and became a neuroscientist studying addiction in the brain.

This can happen in smaller ways every day. When we change our plans to help someon stuck on the side of the road and discover the deep joy of service. When we give away more than we thought we could afford and come out feeling richer for it. When we take time to acknowledge the people who serve us – waiters, cashiers, or nurses – and realize that the relationships that sustain us are real. When we take the chance of opening our church and its resources to others and see anew who we are: people called to love God and serve each other.

Taking chances and giving ourselves away will change us, make us different from who we once were – usually quieter, more sensitive, and thicker-skinned. Following Jesus, not just worshiping him, forces us into a new life and makes us practice the trust that makes new beginnings possible. Living with Jesus writes the law of love, compassion, and hope on our hearts. It draws us into a new life that is beyond anything we could ever imagine.

Thanks be to God. Amen.