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Bible readings:

Lent V Year B (March 22, 2015)                                     St James', Peace River

The very first grain of wheat God ever made, fell down from heaven at the moment of its creation and landed in soft, rich soil. In the way that seeds have, it dug down to just the right spot, and sat there and waited. It waited for time without length or measurement, waited for something unknown and unexpected to happen, waited for just the right moment. When the moment came, the seed didn't recognize it – all it felt was a tension, a pressure, that feeling that you are about to burst out of your skin. And so it did. The seed's hard case pushed away, and it began to grow.

It grew down, pushing out roots which made it feel much more stable, less likely to be pushed around. And it grew up, sending out a shoot that probed into the unknown. The seed had forgotten there was anything except earth, so imagine its surprise and excitement when its shoot first pushed through the surface of the ground, into the air. Excitement faded and turned to anxiety, though, as it discovered that air was not like earth. Air could be too hot, or too cold, too dry, too exposed.

The seed's first beautiful, tender shoot toughened, and became less verdant, as it learned to deal with its new circumstances. It became a stem, sticking proudly and defiantly out of the soil. It shot out leaves to absorb sunlight at the right time, and rolled them up to defend itself from drought. The drought persisted, and the plant was thirsty. So thirsty, that it grew weak and limp. Then clouds filled the sky, and rain fell – the leaves lapped at the raindrops but could barely absorb them. But the rain fell on into the earth, and the roots swelled, restoring health and strength. The stem grew, and finally reached its full height, standing strong and stark against the sky, pleased with itself for what it had achieved.

But there was still more to come. One day the plant itched and squirmed, and something new began to bud forth – a spike bearing a sheath, and inside it more new growth was happening. Finally, its full glory appeared: an ear of wheat, plump with golden, rich, fat, grains. The plant wore it as though it were a crown. Root, stem, leaves and ear, all rejoiced together.

Then the wind began to blow. It blew by and whispered to the plant, “Let go.” But the plant bent in the other direction, and didn't hear. The wind turned and blew again, saying a little louder, “Let go.” The plant held on tight and pretended not to notice. The wind spoke louder yet, rattling the seeds that crowned the stalk: “Let go!” The plant shook with annoyance, and found its voice. “Are you kidding me?” it called back to the wind. “Do you know how hard I've worked to produce these beautiful seeds? My entire life has been leading up to this moment. They are my pride and joy. Without them, I'm nothing. I'm not going to just let them go!”

The wind had no answer, it just blew harder. The plant grew dryer and weaker, and eventually had no choice. It let go, its seeds dropping into the earth. Winter came, spring and summer, and where there was once a single plant there was instead a large circle of waving wheat. And then a field. And then a farm. And then a village, and then an economy, and then a culture. And then a building went up next to that first field, and one day a preacher mounted the steps inside that building and said, “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.”

We are closing in on the end of Lent – there is really only one Sunday left, and that will be Palm Sunday. So our time of thinking about Lenten practices is also drawing to a close. We've talked about – and, I hope, tried out – some of the actions that make room for God's grace in our hearts and lives, and make it real. We've looked at the practice of repenting (saying sorry), the practices of prayer and Bible reading, of taking a risk in faith, and taking a good honest look at ourselves. Each of those incorporate small little experiments we can try, in order to lead us on toward letting grace make big changes in who we are.

But there are some things you can't just try on for size. Faith is kind of like sky-diving that way! You can practise putting on the equipment – but at some point you have to jump. The “practice of faith” that Jesus points us to today is like that. It's the practice of surrender – of letting go. When Jesus spoke about the grain of wheat, he was in exactly that position himself. The next chapter of the gospel of John is the Last Supper. He knew what was coming, and when we read about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane struggling to let himself go into God's hands, we know that he understands exactly what is involved and how difficult it is, to surrender.

Surrender isn't always about letting go of our life – although, in a way, it is. There is nothing in this life that we will not, eventually, have to let go of. Along the way to our last breath, though, there are other challenges. Letting go of your childhood; letting go of your children. Letting go of the freedom to stay out late, to do as you please, to control every single detail of your single life. Letting go some cherished aspect of your self-image, some hope that may never be achieved. Letting go of loved ones, whether it is they who are leaving you or you leaving them. Letting go your invulnerability, your boundless energy, your vibrancy, your health, your faculties (one by one). These are hard things to do, and often enough we don't choose to do them, but the wind keeps blowing anyway.

It is very, very difficult to see good news in the challenge of surrender. The point of the grain of wheat is that it must, eventually, let go – just as we must, whether we choose or not. And the point is that letting go is the most fruitful thing we can do. Holding on tight locks us into where we are. If there is to be anything more, we must let go. And when we do, who knows what may come. For the grain of wheat, it's clear enough – what comes is a new crop and all that it makes possible: people are fed, they have bread to trade, a whole world can be built on the back of a fallen grain of wheat. I don't know if that's any comfort to the stalk that dies in the frost of fall.

For human beings, the question goes deeper. Why must we let go? Why has God so arranged things that we can hardly ever see the fruit of our surrender, and must only take it on trust? Perhaps there is some small comfort in knowing that God does not exempt himself from that rule – it is exactly what Jesus was facing. But Jesus also knew that there truly was a choice to be made. Not whether to let go or to hold on; rather whether to rage against loss and defy it to the end, or to let go with grace and a willing heart. Jesus' decision to commit to the surrender of his own life, to see it through, is at once the most baffling and the most wonderful part of his story. What he lost wasn't taken away from him, it was given. That choice to give willingly, is what establishes a connection between him and you, between him and me, between him and every other living thing. Because it's to us that he gave his life.

That's good news in itself, but it creates more, because it has the potential to redeem the necessary surrenders we are called on to make ourselves. It shows us how the difference between holding tight and letting go, can be the difference between fruitless self-protection and fruitful generosity. Letting go willingly is a gift – a gift to others who can receive the fruit of our loss, whether we are around to see it or not. Letting go of things shows their true value and shares their goodness. Letting go of people, honours them and gives them the freedom and responsibility to grow in their own terms. Letting go of our own past, creates in us a wisdom that others need us to have. And just the act of letting go in itself bears witness, to people who need to see it, that loss does not have to be random, purposeless destruction, and that in the very act of surrendering, we can also create an act of generous love.

I will not ask you to go and try this out. But God will, and perhaps already is. Ponder what it is you are holding on to too tightly to let go. Think out, in advance, what God could do with it if you let it fall into his hands. Remember, as the time comes, that Jesus himself walks the path of surrender with you; that he knows exactly what it feels like, and found it desperately hard too. Receive from him the gift of his own self, that he chose to give for you. And instead of choosing defeat in a world where we are defined by what we can keep – choose victory in a world, God's world, where we are defined by what we can give away.