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The message for March 17th was written and delivered by Zion's Council Chair, Pat Mathews. As Pastor Brad was on vacation.

 

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible reads:  Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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.

The King James Version of the Bible:  And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

 And the Life Application Bible says it this way.  Jesus replied that the time had come for him to return to his glory in heaven, and that “I must fall and die like a kernel of wheat that falls into the furrows of the earth.  Unless I die, I will be alone – a single seed.  But my death will produce many new wheat kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives.   

 

              Pat notes that in the sermon for the day I will be referring to wheat kernels instead of fruit."

  

It is always good to remember that people came to Jesus because they heard of his miracles.   Their adoration was short-lived and their commitment shallow for in a few days they would do nothing to stop his crucifixion.  It is always good to remember that devotion based only on curiosity or popularity fades quickly.  Look around you.   We see that in churches today.

In these verses the Greeks were converts to the Jewish faith.   They probably went to Philip because, though he was a Jew, he had a Greek name.  Now Jesus begins to discuss the kernel of wheat that falls to the earth.  This is a beautiful picture of the necessary sacrifice of Jesus.  Unless a grain  of wheat is buried, it will not become a  blade  of wheat  producing many more grains.  Jesus died to show his power over death.  His resurrection proves he has eternal life.  Because of his authority as God, he can give this same eternal life to all who believe in him.  Many believed that Jesus came for the Jews only.  But no matter who the sincere seekers are, Jesus welcomes them ALL.   His message is for everyone … that includes you and I.  Don’t allow social or racial differences to become barriers to the gospel.   Take the word to  ALL  people.

Jesus knew the crucifixion lay ahead, and he dreaded it.  He knew he would have to take the sins of the world on himself, and he knew this would separate him from his Father.  He wanted to be delivered from this horrible death, but he knew that God sent him into the world to die for our sins, in our place.   Jesus said no to his own desire in order to obey his Father and bring glory to him.  Although we will never have to face such a difficult situation, we are still called to obedience.  Whatever the Father asks, we should do his will and bring glory to his name.

I can now apply what a kernel of wheat produced  in the 4th Century after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension in a story.    That’s about 400 years after Jesus died.  We know the disciples and apostles spread the word, often in difficult circumstances.   We have heard of the martyrs.  Now let me tell you about a boy named Maewyn Succat.   This is an example of a wheat kernel that Jesus had previously talked about.    Maewyn was originally from Wales.   At the age of 16, he was captured by a group of Irish pirates and was taken to Ireland as a slave.   He tended sheep in Ireland for 6 years before he managed to escape.

Maewyn actually came from a Christian family but he describes himself as  ‘the lowliest of all the faithful’.    He goes on to admit “we neither kept his commandments nor obeyed our pastors who used to warn us about our salvation. While in captivity the Lord made me aware of my unbelief that I might at last advert to my sins and turn wholeheartedly back to Him again.   However, God was very patient with me because of my youth and ignorance, and he looked after me like a father.  Great benefits of grace were bestowed on me in my captivity.”  It was during his time in exile in Ireland that he learned how to pray.   He goes on:  “In the course of a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers and indeed as many at night.  Even in times of snow or frost or rain, I would rise before dawn to pray.”  Prayer became his great refuge and strength, protecting and shielding him from harm.  In a miraculous escape, he returned to England. 

  

When Maewyn was about 40 years of age, God spoke to him in a dream and told him to return to Ireland and preach the gospel.  With little education and formal training, he was still determined to follow God’s leading, and because he did, the Lord would use him in a way few others have been used.   He changed his name to   Pa tri ci us   which means ‘Father Figure’.  Pa tri ci us, or  Patrick as we know him,  is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland.  He established monasteries, churches, and schools.  By the time of  his death in the year 461, he founded over 300 churches and had baptized 120,000 believers.  How is that for a kernel of wheat?….I’d say ‘well done’.   It has been said that he is one of the few figures in recorded history who was directly responsible for the complete conversion of an entire nation.

Now let’s think back to what Jesus said in today’s gospel.  He said, “Unless I die I will be alone, a single seed.  But my death will produce many new wheat kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives.”   Jesus   needed   to   die.

Patrick says God did 5 things for him. God took note of his humility,  took pity on his youth & ignorance.                        God was watching over him before Patrick even knew God. God strengthened and consoled him as a father consoles his son.  Even when he did not believe in God, God continued to believe in him.  Even when he was living his life carelessly, God was all the time caring for him.  Think about it …. Patrick might have given up on God,    but    God certainly hadn’t given up on Patrick.  Patrick used the Shamrock  as an educational symbol to explain the Holy Trinity to nonbelievers as he converted the Irish to Christianity in the 4th Century. 

Let’s talk about Patrick's struggles.  It wasn’t easy.  He constantly faced opposition, threats of violence, kidnapping, and even criticism from jealous church officials, while his Irish followers faced abuse, murder, and enslavement themselves by mercenary raiders.  But through all the difficulties, Patrick maintained his faith and persevered in his Irish Mission.   He claimed to have seen visions and heard voices.  This St. Patrick (as we know him) is venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church,   the Lutheran Church,   the Church of Ireland (part of the Anglican Communion)   and in the Eastern Orthodox Church,  where he is regarded as equal to the apostles and the Enlightener of Ireland.

St. Patrick was so loved that when he died on March 17th, they deemed it a holy day in Ireland.   It took a while to establish it as a national holiday.   From 1903 to 1970, most bars and pubs were closed on Saint Patrick’s Day because it was considered a religious holiday  or  a ‘dry holiday’.     Although it is observed every March 17th, it is now packed with parades, good luck charms, and all things green.  Now it is more a celebration of Irish culture.   Something similar to how Christmas and Easter is now treated here.

The seventy disciples that Jesus sent out in the Gospel accomplished quite a lot.  St. Patrick (that young Maewyn) accomplished a lot.  You might not be called to travel all over the country or to preach in the streets but we need you at Zion       to have a strong faith and therefore to be learning about God and the things of God,  to be praying,  coming to church,  and doing good deeds in our world.    YOU    can be an apostle to Zion and to the community.    Yes, everyone in faith are kernels of wheat the ones that Jesus talked about in the Gospel today.  

Let us pray for something of Patrick’s spirit to be found in each of us today.

This verse is attributed to St. Patrick ….   It’s simple.

Today we pray that we might be caught by St. Patrick’s belief in the power of prayer,   the convictions of his faith,   and in the closeness of God,   as well as the support and prayers of our sisters and brothers in Christ.     Amen… Let it be so.

Christ   beside      me, 

Christ   before      me,                        Christ   behind     me,  

Christ   within      me,  

Christ   beneath   me,                        Christ   above      me.

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