Katharine Jefferts Schori

The 26th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

Opening Eucharist, Episcopal Youth Event

July 9, 2008
Katharine Jefferts Schori

The growing seed destroys its husk: the only home it has ever known

The Greek tourists come and say, “we wanna see Jesus.” And after the disciples play telephone for a while, how does he respond? “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.”

OK, what does it mean for a grain to die; what does it take for a seed to germinate? Most seeds come packaged in hard coats so they can survive out there in a harsh world. They’re dry and stiff, in order to protect their soft innards. Not unlike some of us, when we’re being too self-protective.

The first task is to open up the husk that keeps the seed from germinating. The possibility that a seed represents can’t even start to grow unless the outside gets softened up. Some seeds need to go through fire – like California redwoods – before they can germinate. They may sit in the soil for years or decades until the soil and seed get warmed up enough to open. Lots of seeds need to be soaked in water – like those lima beans or sunflowers you grew in Sunday school. Some seeds have to go through a bird’s digestive system before they’ll germinate. The acid and grinding of the bird’s stomach gets the action started. Gives new meaning to thinking about the Holy Spirit as a dove, now, doesn’t it?

We can’t really start to lose our husk or our heart of stone until we’ve started to grow up, and grow up into the full stature of Christ. We start out intensely selfish. Babies are completely self-centered, and need to be that way, or they wouldn’t get fed or have their diapers changed, but if we stay that way we miss life, and we miss abundant life. I don’t think that’s the part of being child-like that Jesus was talking about when he said you have to be as a child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. He was talking about the ability of children to ask challenging questions, even of strangers, without embarrassment, and the ability of children to keep nagging and crying when they need something [need, not want!]. Part of what the world does to us growing up is teach us not to do those things.

That’s part of what losing our life is about. It means getting out of our own way, and learning to putting someone else or his/her needs first. That’s part of what falling in love does for us, and most of you are beginning to get a sense of what that’s like. Falling in love usually means we think that this person is the most important in the world. But even part of that can still be about us – and can be just as self-centered – if we insist that this person’s love for me is what gives me meaning. But somewhere in the midst of that mystery called love, we begin to get a sense that there may be something more important in this world than me and my wants or desires. If we’re lucky, we’ve learned that already from parents or other adults around us. It’s a reflection of the love God has for us. It’s that promise planted within us – that God’s love is always loving us into more of what we’re meant to be. And that promise is often reflected in the way other people love us, and the way we begin to love others.

When we start to lose that intense self-focus, even in small doses, we begin to discover that life is a lot larger and more abundant than me, myself, and I. We begin to fall in love with the More – the More called God. That husk may feel safe, but only if we’re not interested in the More. It takes courage to let go of the husk, to take the risk of dying to its protection.

Unless the grain dies, it remains a single grain. Unless we die to self, we can never become anything More. We can’t build a deeply loving relationship with another person, we can’t build a just and peaceful society or beloved community. Unless we die to our privilege, our assumption that this is just the way the world is, we can’t understand the poverty I spoke of yesterday or do much to change the violence of this world.

What does that dying look like, in concrete terms? Where and how does it happen?

Clue one: it doesn’t just happen in church, though that is a natural place to help soften up the husk. The small and great ways that the seed begins to grow happen all the time, in all parts of our lives.

A couple of months ago, the news reported a softball game out West. Western Oregon University was playing Central Washington University. One of the Oregon players hit a home run, but stumbled and fell right after she left home. She twisted her ankle and couldn’t keep running. The ball had gone out of the park, but nobody was quite sure what to do. The umpire reminded the players that none of her own team could help her get around the bases, but the pitcher said, what if we help her? Could she complete her home run that way? The ump allowed as how that was legal. Well, the Central Washington team carried her around the bases, letting her touch her good foot to each base. She scored, the other runners on base scored, and Oregon’s runs meant that a couple innings later, Washington had lost the game. Several people in that game learned about losing your life in order to save it, and a lot of other people learned something from their example. Much fruit.

Losing your husk is realizing that winning, or collecting the most toys, or reaching the top of the heap is not what makes life abundant – or REAL. Loving real life means being willing to lose that hard outside that keeps the inside from growing. It looks like helping your friends with something you’re good at – and helping the folks you don’t like very much. It looks like making different decisions about how we use our resources – living simply so others may simply live. Like wrestling with a decision about making another trip downtown to cruise the main drag or chilling in the ‘hood, so we don’t put a lot more carbon in the air. What about lunch today – will it be another burger or a bean burrito instead? Maybe our decision has something to do with how much water it takes to grow a pound of beef vs. a pound of beans. None of us ever does all this perfectly, because there are no perfect answers, but losing our life means beginning to make decisions with an awareness that how we decide has an impact on the lives of other people – who may not have as much ability to choose.

When Jesus says that those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life, he’s talking about putting our own selfishness somewhere other than front and center. And more than selfishness, that expression of it called self-protection. When he says “hate your life if you want to keep it” it’s a way of saying that if you want that abundant life you have to get out of your own way. If we’ve got our own self-concern right here, two inches in front of our face, we’re going to miss the rest of life.

We see people putting that self-concern aside quite often if we learn to look. Soldiers are taught to do it, to ignore personal danger but look out for their mates. What do we do when they come back from war? How do we care for their families while they’re away? How do we advocate for an end to war?

Team players learn to do it pretty routinely as well, because they learn that the team is more important than any individual member of it. Families learn to put aside personal self-interest, too, when the immediate needs of children or elderly get priority. We do it as a society when we say that handicapped people get better parking spaces and priority boarding on airplanes and special seats on the subway. Governments do it when they say we should make special provisions for refugees.

Well, the Body of Christ is meant to live that way all the time – being concerned for the lost and the least, the left out and the unloved. When we do live that way, the whole body thrives, including us. Yes, it takes practice, and no, we never do it perfectly, but when we start, and keep trying, we discover a depth to life that we’ll never know otherwise – that’s a big part of finding abundant life forever. We discover that the love of God does move beyond any fear we can imagine, any danger we can dream up, and that love of God is present right here and all around us if we learn to look.

Lose the husk.


Bishop Jefferts Schori


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