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A Sermon and Prayer For The Fifth Sunday in Lent - Year B
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; Hebrews 5:5-13; John 12:20-33
"Unless A Seed Falls"

READING:  Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; Hebrews 5:5-13; John 12:20-33
SERMON :  "Unless A Seed Falls"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-le05su 536877

   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.

   Sources: The Story by Hank Hanegraaf came to me in a an e-mail 
   several years ago.  I have since seen the story in several forms
   in various journals.   The story originally comes, I believe, in
   a book called "Christianity in Crisis".

SERMON:  "Unless A Seed Falls"

     Let us Pray - Creator and maker of us all - bless the words
     of my lips and the meditations of our hearts - grow thou in
     us and show us your ways and inspire us to live by your
     truth.  Amen

In my edition of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible today's
gospel reading is given a title - that title is - "Jesus Speaks About
His Death."

Jesus spoke often to his disciples about his death, but I wonder - do
we really appreciate his death and understand what it means to us?  Do
we comprehend the price that was paid for our salvation?

Today I wish to tell you a story 
- a story that is told by Hank Hanegraaff in a  book called
"Christianity in Crisis".

                            - - - -

The time was the roaring twenties.  The place was Oklahoma.  John
Griffith was in his early twenties - newly married, and full of
optimism.  Along with his lovely wife, he had been blessed with a
beautiful blue eyed baby.

John wanted to be a traveller.  He imagined what it would be like to
visit faraway places with strange sounding names.  He would read about
them and research them.  His hopes and dreams were so vivid that at
times they seemed more real than reality itself.  But then came 1929
and the great stock market crash.  With the shattering of the economy
came the devastation of John's dreams.  Brokenhearted, he, like so
many others, packed up his few possessions and with his wife and
little son, Greg, headed east in an old Model-A Ford.  They made their
way toward Missouri, to the edge of the Mississippi River, and there
John found a job tending one of the great railroad bridges that
spanned the massive river.

Day after day John would sit in a control room and direct the enormous
gears of that immense bridge over the river.  He would look out
wistfully as bulky barges and splendid ships glided gracefully under
his elevated bridge.  Then, mechanically, he would lower the massive
structure and stare pensively into the distance as great trains roared
by and became little more than specks on the horizon.  Each day he
looked on sadly as they carried with them his shattered dreams and his
visions of far-off places and exotic destinations.

It wasn't until 1937 that a new dream began to be born in his heart. 
His young son was now eight years old, and John had begun to catch a
vision for a new life - a life in which Greg would work shoulder-to-
shoulder with him, a life of intimate fellowship and friendship.  The
first day of this new life dawned and brought with it new hope and a
new fresh purpose.  Excitedly father and son packed their lunches and,
arm in arm, headed off toward the immense bridge.

Greg looked on with wide-eyed amazement as his dad pressed down the
huge lever that raised and lowered the vast bridge.  As he watched, he
thought that his father must surely be the greatest man alive.  He
marvelled that his father could single-handedly control the movements
of such a stupendous structure.

Before they knew it, noontime had arrived.  John had just elevated the
bridge and allowed some scheduled ships to pass through.  Then, taking
his son by the hand, they headed off for lunch.  Hand in hand, they
inched their way down a narrow catwalk and out onto an observation
deck that projected some 50 feet over the majestic Mississippi.  There
they sat and watched spellbound as the ships passed by below.  As they
ate, John told his son, in vivid detail, stories about the marvellous
destinations of the ships that glided below.  Enveloped in a world of
thought, he related story after story, his son hanging on every word.

Suddenly John and his son were startled back to reality by the
shrieking whistle of a distant train.  Looking at his watch in
disbelief, John saw that the bridge was still raised and that the
Memphis Express would be by in just minutes.

Not wanting to alarm his son, he suppressed his panic.  In the calmest
tone he could muster, he instructed his son to stay put.  Leaping to
his feet he jumped onto the catwalk and ran at full tilt to the steel
ladder leading into the control house.  Once in, he searched the river
to make sure that no ships were in sight.  And then, as he had been
trained to do, he looked straight down beneath the bridge to make
certain nothing was below.  As his eyes moved downward, he saw
something so horrifying that his heart froze in his chest.  For there,
below him in the massive gearbox that housed the colossal gears that
moved the gigantic bridge, was his beloved son.

Apparently Greg had tried to follow his Dad but had fallen off the
catwalk.  Even now he was wedged between the teeth of two main cogs in
the gearbox.  Although he appeared to be conscious, John could see
that his son's leg had already begun to bleed profusely.  Immediately,
an even more horrifying thought flashed in his mind.  For in that
instant John knew that lowering the bridge meant killing the apple of
his eye.

Panicked, his mind probed in every direction, frantically searching
for solutions.  Suddenly a plan emerged.  In his mind's eye he saw
himself grabbing a coiled rope, climbing down the ladder, running down
the catwalk, securing the rope, sliding down toward his son and
pulling him back up to safety.  Then in an instant he would move back
to the control room and grab the control lever and thrust it down just
in time for the oncoming train.

As soon as these thoughts appeared, he realized the futility of his
plan.  There just wouldn't be enough time.  Perspiration began to bead
on John's brow., terror written over every inch of his face.  His mind
darted here and there, vainly searching for yet another solution. 
What would he do?  What could he do?

His thoughts rushed in anguish to the oncoming train.  In a state of
panic, his agonized mind considered the 400 or so people moving
inexorably closer toward the bridge.  Soon the train would come
roaring out of the trees with tremendous speed.  But this - this was
his son - his only child - his pride - his joy. 

His mother - he could see her tear stained face now.  This was their
child, their beloved son.

He knew in a moment there was only one thing he could do.  He knew he
would have to do it.  And so, burying his face under his left arm, he
plunged down the lever.  The cries of his son were quickly drowned out
by the relentless sound of the bridge as it ground into position. 
With only seconds to spare, the Memphis Express - with its 400
passengers - roared out of the trees and across the mighty bridge.

John Griffith lifted his tear stained face and looked into the windows
of the passing train.  A businessman was reading the morning paper.  A
uniformed conductor was glancing nonchalantly at his large vest pocket
watch.  Ladies were already sipping their afternoon tea in the dining
car.  A small boy, looking strangely like his own son, pushed a long
thin spoon into a dish of ice-cream.  Many of the passengers seemed to
be engaged in either idle conversation or careless laughter.

But no one looked his way.  No one even cast a glance at the giant
gearbox that housed the mangled remains of his hopes and dreams.

In anguish he pounded the glass in the control room and cried out,
"What's the matter with you people?  Don't you care?  Don't you know
I've sacrificed my son for you?  Want's wrong with you?"

No one answered; no one heard.  No one even looked.  Not one of them
seemed to care.  And then, as suddenly as it had happened, it was
over.  The train disappeared, moving rapidly across the bridge and out
over the horizon.
                            - - - - 

This story is but a faint glimpse of what God the Father did for us - of
what Jesus did for us in offering up for us his own life.

Unlike the Memphis Express, that caught John Griffith by surprise, God 
- in his great love for us - 
determined to sacrifice His Son so that we might live.  

As First Peter 1:20 says

     - "He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was
     revealed at the end of the ages for our sake."

Jesus was not accidentally caught in the gears of a bridge - as was
John's son.  Rather he willingly sacrificed His life for the sins of

Hear these words from today's gospel reading once again.

     "Now my soul is troubled." said Jesus.  "And what should I say
     - 'Father, save me from this hour'?  No, it is for this reason
     that I have come to this hour.  Father, glorify your name."

The suffering and the death of Jesus had a purpose.

Those who join themselves to him,
     Those who grasp that he was lifted up on the cross for them,
          and in faith submit their own suffering and their own pain to
his, honour what God has done.

Paul writes in I Corinthians, chapter one, verse 18 

     "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are
     perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of

"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains but
a single grain.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit."

It is difficult to comprehend the will of God, difficult to grasp just
what He has done.  

But we know this 
- and we are called to accept this 
- and to embrace this -
that it was done for us 
- so that we might live.

Let us pray....     

O Lord - when we contemplate the sacrifice of Jesus - your Son - we are
overwhelmed.  Your mercy and your love know no human limitations.  Your
grace and your forgiveness are greater than all we can tell.   Help us,
O Lord, to declare your compassion and to give all praise and honour to
your most holy name.  Put in us the willingness to follow where-ever you
may lead us....  Lord hear our prayer....

Lord we pray for all those who do not understand you this day -
especially we pray for those who would blame you for the suffering that
they or others must endure.  Show them, O Lord, your will is entirely
good -- that you take upon yourself our pain, our guilt, our death, so
that we may live in wholeness and in eternal peace.  Show them O God, and
relieve their distress....  Lord hear our prayer....

We pray, O Lord, for those who bear the cross of Christ this day, for
those who give of themselves without regard to the cost....  We pray for
parents who care so deeply that they forget themselves for the sake of
their children; for brothers and sisters who give up what is theirs so
that their siblings may prosper, for those of faith who sacrifice their
time, their energy, and often their very lives, so that those around them
who are in need may be satisfied......  Lord hear our prayer....

Father, we pray for those whom have been lifted up before you today in
our sharing time - and we ask your blessing upon them....  We pray:
d recovery period for Colin 

Lord hear our prayer...

O Lord, accept all our prayers this day.  We ask it in the name of Christ
Jesus, he who died that we might live, and who lives that we may never
die.  Amen

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2003 - 2006
           please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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