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John 12_20-33

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TITLE:   Jake Didn't Leave No Vacancy    SCRIPTURE:    John 12:20-33

A Preacher and his wife invited some people to dinner. At the table, the preacher’s wife turned to their six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?" I wouldn't know what to say," she replied. "Just say what you hear Mommy say," his wife said.

Their daughter bowed her head and said: "Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?"

Tom Wright is an Anglican Bishop and Biblical scholar.  A few years ago he started writing commentaries for laypeople.  He calls the series The New Testament for Everyone. 

In his commentary on the Gospel of John, Wright tells about collecting horse chestnuts as a boy.  All the boys collected horse chestnuts.  They didn't eat them -- I don't think that you can eat horse chestnuts.  They did the next best thing -- as least next best as far as boys are concerned -- they used them to fight.  Horse chestnuts have a big seed inside a tough pod.  The boys would open the pod and get the seed -- big, shiny, brown seeds -- they called them "conkers."  Then they would punch a hole through the seed and thread a string through the hole.  Then they would swing their conkers around on the string and smash one conker into another until all the conkers were smashed but one.  The boy whose conker survived to the end was the winner.

Frankly, it doesn't sound like much of a game -- but Wright is an old man and they didn't have Nintendo when he was growing up.  They probably didn't even have television.  What was a boy to do?

But one day Wright came upon the conker of all conkers -- a big, bright, shiny conker -- the granddaddy of all conkers.  Usually he would have used that conker to smash all the other conkers, but on this particular day he did something different.  He dug a hole in the ground and planted it.  He says, "It seemed a shame at the time.  A waste of a fine opportunity.  But next spring there was a tiny shoot.  The year after, there was the beginning of a small sapling."  By now, if it is still standing, it should be a great tree producing a fine crop of conkers every year.

Wright uses that story to illustrate a verse from our text.  Jesus was within days of the cross, and was teaching his disciples.  He said:

      "Very truly, I tell you,
      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" (v. 24).


Wright could have used his granddaddy conker to smash the other conkers, but his conker, strong as it was, wouldn't have survived more than a day or two.  When he put it in the ground, it grew into a tree and produced many conkers. It is possible that its fruit will last for centuries.

That's how things work, isn't it.  Once you plant a seed, it becomes useless for food.  You can't use it to fight the other boys.  The seed itself dies.  If you could watch it in time-lapse photography, you would see the seed shrivel as its nutrients feed the roots of the new plant.  The seed becomes less and less and the plant becomes more and more -- until finally there is no seed but only a living plant. 

Jesus was saying that it works that way in the spiritual realm as well.  He said:

      "Very truly, I tell you"

That is a signal -- a signal that what he is about to say was very important.  He said:

      "Very truly, I tell you.
      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."


He was talking about himself.  In a few days, he would die on a cross.  He could have avoided that.  He could have run away.  He could have hidden in the hills.  He could have called his followers to help him.  But he didn't.  He knew that there was a purpose in his dying, so he said:

      "Very truly, I tell you,
      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."


He was telling us that his death on the cross had a purpose.  He had come to earth for just such a purpose.  By dying on a cross and conquering death in the resurrection, he would open the doors of heaven to all of us.  He had come to save us from our sins, and he had to die on a cross to do it.  Of course, his disciples wouldn't understand that until after the resurrection.  Then they would begin to understand. 

So Jesus meant that verse to apply to himself -- but he also means it to apply to us. 

      "Very truly, I tell you,
      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."


That means that if we live our lives focused only on our personal needs, we will accomplish little.  Our lives will have no purpose or meaning.  We will live to work -- and work to eat -- and eat to live -- and that's about it.  At some point the cycle will be broken by our death, and there will be little to grieve. 

That reminds me of a story that I heard somewhere.  A man named Jake worked behind the counter in a little country store.  Jake wasn't worth much.  He didn't do much work.  If you asked a question, he seldom knew the answer.  Then one day a customer stopped to buy something and noticed that Jake was nowhere to be seen.  He mentioned it to the owner, who said that Jake had retired.  The customer asked, "What are you doing to fill the vacancy?"  The owner answered, "Jake didn't leave no vacancy."

Isn't that a wonderful line!  "Jake didn't leave no vacancy."  Jesus said:

      "Very truly, I tell you,
      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."


Jesus was saying that, if we live life only for ourselves, we won't leave no vacancy.  Nobody will miss us.  Nobody will grieve our passing.  The world won't be the better for our having lived or worse for our having died.

So Jesus calls us to a different kind of life.  He calls us to take up our cross and follow him.  He calls us to give ourselves sacrificially to a cause greater than self.  He calls us to love our neighbor and to show that love in meaningful ways.  He calls us to a life of giving instead of a life of taking.  He calls us to the kind of life that will make other people glad that we're alive -- and that will leave a vacancy when we're gone.

In his book, Rumors of Another World, Philip Yancey tells the story of a young man who caught the vision.  When Jesse Jackson visited the University of Southern Mississippi, he noticed a tall young man holding the hand of a tiny woman -- a midget.  He saw the young man pick the woman up, give her a kiss, and send her off to class. 

The president of the university had been showing Jackson around.  He explained that the young man was one of their star basketball players and the woman was his sister.  The young man had lots of scholarship offers, but Southern Mississippi was the only school that offered his sister a scholarship -- so that's where he went.

Jackson stopped to commend the young man for taking care of his sister.  The young man responded, "Those of us who God makes six-eight have to look out for those he makes three-three". 

That's a great line, too, isn't it!  "Those of us who God makes six-eight have to look out for those he makes three-three".

You might be tempted to say, "Well, God didn't make me six-eight.  I'm not someone special."  But if you will look closely, you will find that you are, indeed, special -- that you have something important to give -- that you can make a difference -- and that Christ is calling you to use what you have for your neighbor and for the kingdom of God.

Everyone has something to give.  Some of us have money.  Some of us have time.  Some of us have talent.  Some of us have all three.

Jesus says:

      "Very truly, I tell you,
      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."


That is a call to do something with your life.  It is a call to matter.  It is a call to give yourself to God and to other people in ways that make a difference. 

This week, I would like to challenge you to examine your life and to ask yourself two questions:  First, what are you doing with your life that matters?  Second, what could you do?  Once you have made that assessment, start giving yourself away.  Do it for God!  Do it for others!  Do it for yourself!








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