November 22, 2015 –
Last Sunday in the Church Year
Of Seeds and Fruit
by Vicar James E. Kirschenmann
Sermon Text: John 18:33-37
Jesus’ Kingdom Is Not of This World
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come… Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ;
In our Gospel lesson for today, Pontius Pilate is faced with a choice. And it is a choice he definitely does NOT want to make – certainly not on his own accord. He’s already been warned by Caesar that if he can’t keep the people in this territory under control, the consequences on Pilate will be hard. He’s got a couple of strikes against him already, with past uprisings that did not end well. And that is, in part, why he’s been placed as ruler over this “backwater” area that nobody wants to deal with… and the Jewish leaders are always “stirring the pot” to make things more uncomfortable for whoever it is that attempts to “govern over them,” and would like nothing more than to have Rome just pull out and leave them to their own devices.
Pilate tries to shift the decision to someone else – he sends Jesus over to King Herod – supposedly the King of Judea – but Herod sends him back to Pilate. Pilate tries to leave the decision up to the crowd – he offers them the choice of releasing Jesus or Barabbas, figuring the crowd will NOT want a known rebel released in their midst. But that ploy doesn’t work either – the crowds cry out to release Barabbas (sort of ironic, when you realize that “Bar Abbas” means “son of the Father”).
So, Pilate is stuck. The old adage about “being stuck between a rock and a hard place” comes to mind. He’s gonna HAVE to make a choice, even though he dreads the result. And even his wife has warned him against making that choice… but we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here.
Let’s step back for a moment and consider the questions that are being brought up in our lesson for today, and then see how we might choose...
How about if we bring it down to something that looks much simpler – an easier choice. I am going to need a couple of volunteers – two kids to help me out up here.
What I have here are two saucers. One has a single apple that has been sliced. On the other saucer are the seeds from that same apple. If you had the choice of the FRUIT on this saucer (extend saucer) or the SEEDS on this other saucer (extend it), which would you choose?
[ Let the children take their choices. If they take the seeds, have them explain why they did so, then lead to the application If they choose the fruit, go on from here… ]
Well, you chose the FRUIT over the SEEDS. Why? The fruit tastes better? It satisfies your hunger better than the seeds could? Do the rest of you agree?
Suppose you had chosen the seeds. Would you simply eat them? No. You would plant them. And then what? It might take 6 or 8 years, but yes, you would have not just a single apple, but you’d be harvesting a whole bushel of them. And you’d be harvesting year after year after year. And those would have even more seeds to plant, wouldn’t they. And it goes on and on from there, expanding what is produced… before long you’d have a whole ORCHARD full of Apple Trees. And beyond that, in years to come? Wow! The possibilities! [ Encourage them to take the apple slices and eat them, as they return to their seats ]
On a side note: If you get the chance to check out a guy from about two hundred years ago whose name was John Chapman, you might learn that he took this idea of planting apple seeds and spread it across several states… that’s how he got the nickname “Johnnie Appleseed.” Take some time to look it up – later…
Many people are interested only in the things they can see right at the moment. Their chief concern is to deal with the immediate circumstances and they try to seek their own comfort. Even if they look toward the longer term, they are still mainly interested in their own situation. But what about God’s long-range plan – what He wants them to do during this lifetime or how He wants them to prepare for what is to come. Most folks live only for today, or at best, the short-range view of their own lives.
Let’s go back to our Gospel lesson and look at Pontius Pilate. When Jesus stood on trial before him, Pilate had a choice to make… Here was this flesh and blood man standing in front of him, and it is up to Pilate to determine what to do, so he asks Jesus a question (v. 33), “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Now, if you remember… in the Roman Empire there were many “kings,” but all were subject to Roman rule, so even a “king” (like Herod) could be under the rule of a Roman Governor (such as Pontius Pilate). But vassal kings could still appeal to a higher authority and possibly get a decision over the head of the Governor. So it is important to Pilate to know the hierarchy here, and whether this person could appeal to a higher authority. But, as we see in v. 36, Jesus doesn’t give him an easy answer, does he?
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world…”
Whoa! Hold the phone! That’s a whole different division of territory than Pilate had ever considered! We’re no longer looking at land in Palestine, or even bordering the Mediterranean Sea, or even the Roman Empire… Not of this WORLD?? What is he talking about?
Pilate had a choice of things within his sphere of influence, for his own lifetime, but now he was being faced with something way beyond his domain. He thought only of his earthly position and the impact that his choices would make on his immediate future.
Is that what we are supposed to do as followers of Jesus Christ? In this “consumer society” are we just supposed to “go with the flow” and consume whatever fruit gets placed in front of us, to satisfy our immediate hunger? No. We as Christians are called to look beyond ourselves and beyond our own temporal lives. We have faith in what we do NOT see and hope in what is to come – life everlasting. The scant bit of history we have on Pilate says that Pilate, as well many of the Jewish leaders, failed to see the future blessings in Christ, and His eternal kingdom.
There are different types of seeds. There are seeds for dandelions and crabgrass. (I don’t have any of those seeds to show you this late in the season, but you know what the plants look like…) When those get sown, they produce abundantly and immediately… and they can choke out whatever else gets planted, until those bad things completely take over. Last week, Pastor Dave talked about being on guard. Guarding against the spread of those bad seeds, keeping that negative side in check is what we are to do. Don’t let the bad seeds and the short-range view take over in your life. Look ahead – look to the long-range – to God’s plan for your life, now and beyond!
Today, we talked about what the apple seed could produce. You can see and count the number of seeds in an apple, but you can NOT count the number of apples in a seed. What does this mean? An apple tree can grow from a single seed. We cannot know how many apples just one tree will bear year after year. Or how many other apple trees will come from the seeds that single tree produces.
We could not see the apples in the seeds, could we? But don’t we all agree that there are many more apples in the seeds than the few slices of apple you saw on the saucer? The apple on the saucer is gone. The seeds, if planted, would produce many more trees, and many more apples (and seeds), in the future. How much MORE is the seed of God’s Word a blessing! It brings us all the blessings of Jesus Christ, having the promise of the life that we have now and that which is to come for ETERNITY – Forever and Ever – with our loving God, and Christ our King!
Let us also think of others. When we choose the seeds of blessing, we then have blessings to SHARE with others. We can share with others the Good News that Jesus delivers us from eternal death and gives eternal LIFE to all who believe. And we ARE His Kingdom! (Not of this world, but IN the world).
John 18:37 in the ERV reads as follows:
… Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
So, as you go through your lives in the days that follow, listen to His voice… Listen to Christ, our King! Stay in His Word. Let the seeds of those blessings grow and bear fruit in your lives. As you receive the fruit, you also receive the seeds. Too often we choose just one, while God has freely offered us BOTH! We don’t need to choose! Let us eat of that fruit of the Spirit and then let us sow those seeds of blessing!
And now… May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.