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“Making Room for Others”

Bible Text: John 12:20-33 | Preacher: Dr. Mark Lloyd Taylor | Series: 2018 | “…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain” – which could just as well be translated: “remains alone” (John 12:24).

So, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

I spent some time on-line looking for images of the life-cycle of a wheat plant. You’ve got the best one I could find in front of you. [See image that follows the text of these remarks.] I wish the image were flipped top to bottom and left to right so that the seed falls down into the ground from the grain heads and germinates, initiates, tillerates, elongates, and develops. Still, I hope this upside down image works for you and with the line from our gospel reading. Take a look. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Throughout this Lenten season, we have been called to fasting and selfdenial. To deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus. We have been told that those who love and want to save their life lose it, and those who lose and hate their life for Jesus’ sake – and for the sake of the good news – save it and keep it for eternal life. I think I’ve heard these familiar and challenging words 2 more clearly this year. I know I have heard them differently. To be sure, fasting and self-denial involve a kind of dying. Fasting in the broadest possible sense: from food or drink; from social media or entertainment or the news; from ignoring or despising certain people. Fasting involves a kind of dying, yes. But not as if we are called to punish ourselves or delete ourselves.

Rather, and this is what I’ve heard differently and more clearly, fasting makes room for another. Fasting makes room for someone else. And such self-denial actually rests on relationships and calls forth the best from ourselves.

For you see, just before the beginning of Lent, I spent a week with my 90- year old father. Dad has been very hard of hearing for years. Now, he also manifests the early signs of dementia. He has trouble tracking what people around him are saying. He is losing short term memory. He struggles to find words and organize thoughts. At first, I was not very effective in conversation with Dad. I would jump in too quickly with my words and thoughts, to steer him or correct him or help him out. That only got in his way. Shut him down. Shut him out. Caused both him and me to remain alone, even while sitting in the same room. After a couple of days, I learned that if I could stay engaged physically and emotionally, but just keep silent and give Dad lots of time, he would organize his thoughts and find his words. And even if he was repeating the same question for the sixth time in thirty minutes, for him it was the first time he asked and so he deserved an answer from me as if for the first time. I learned that my self-denial and fasting from hurry and impatience and words and thoughts in conversation with Dad made room for him; made room for him to be the scientist, the man of 3 integrity and man of faith, the father, I have always loved. For unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
I wonder if you have experienced Lenten fasting and self-denial make room for others? (Fasting in the broadest possible sense.) Make room for someone else? And I wonder how? I invite your responses: to my words, to the image of the life-cycle of the wheat plant, or to any of our scripture readings on this Fifth Sunday in Lent.“Making Room for Others”