Rev Simon Goddard

5th November 2017

John 12:20-28a

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

The Miracle of Multiplication

“That’s me!” said 12 year old Trevor McKinney as he drew a little stick figure of himself on the chalkboard in front of his social studies class. “And that’s three people” he says, drawing three arrows to three more stick figures. “And I’m going to help them… But it has to be something really big. Something they can’t do by themselves. So I do it for them… And they do it for three other people… that’s nine! And those nine each help three more…”

Perhaps you recognise the movie this scene is from – it’s called ‘Pay it Forward’ from the year 2000. It stars Haley Joel Osment as a young boy responding to his teacher’s challenge to ‘think of an idea to change our world and then put it into action’. “And those nine each help three more…that’s 27… and it gets big real fast!” The feedback of Trevor’s classmates causes their teacher to suggest to Trevor that his friends think “he has come up with an overly utopian idea”. Trevor responds by saying “You mean like, a perfect world? So?!” And he goes ahead and puts it into action – and after paying it forward a number of times it quickly becomes a movement – touching the lives of people across the country – and giving them a small glimpse of that perfect world which seems so out of reach.

On the occasion of this benefactors’ service I want to share some thoughts stimulated by the gospel reading and evident in that inspiring and moving movie. There is a miracle in this passage from John 12 which characterises the Kingdom of God. But it’s also a miracle which we see within nature, and in humanity. What is this miracle – it’s the miracle of multiplication!

John 12: 24 – “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

In these words Jesus is talking about himself by pointing out a truth which is evident to anyone who has ever planted any type of seed. In the harvest festivals of recent months we’ve been celebrating the miracle of multiplication. We’ve been giving thanks for the way that farmers and allotment owners buried their seeds in the ground earlier in the year, knowing that, after a little bit of rain, and plenty of sun, they would be reaping a harvest of thirtyfold, sixtyfold, or even a hundredfold. The miracle of multiplication! I am just awestruck by the reality that in every single seed there is potential to multiply and reproduce that seed an infinite number of times!

We’ll think about what Jesus was referring to a little later, but first it’s worth thinking about how we see that miracle at work in human society too. Indeed, our capitalist economy is built upon the foundations of this miracle of multiplication. It’s why Alan Sugar is willing to give away £250,000 to another Apprentice, and why the investors in Dragon’s Den are so eager to give their cash over to some of the entrepreneurs who pitch their innovations to them. Their hope, of course, is that they will get more out of the new company than they have put in. That the money they have invested will multiply itself.

In developing countries micro-loans have become a successful way for people to escape the poverty trap.

A small loan, to help buy a goat for example, enables the family to earn money from the milk – multiplying the initial investment enough for them to repay the loan, look after their family and soon buy a second goat and so on. Somehow, in the act of giving something away, of letting it go, that gift is miraculously multiplied.

Now, I’m in danger of sounding like one of those American TV evangelists. Who persuade people to send them their hard-earned money on the promise that God will give it back to them many times over. But it’s the evangelists who seem to reap all the benefits and end up flying around the country in a private Lear Jet and living a luxurious lifestyle. And it’s because the evangelist’s promise is a perversion of what Jesus is talking about in John 12:24.

John 12: 24 – “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Christ-like multiplication involves sacrifice, a falling to the ground and dying. Not a selfish act wanting to get something out of it for ourselves. But a selfless act, where we give, with the intention that someone else will benefit from the miracle of multiplication. In this verse from the gospel, Jesus was talking about his own imminent death. Like a seed, Jesus, was to be crucified, taken down from the cross, and buried in the tomb. And like the green shoots that we see bursting through the soil in spring, Jesus was to rise from the dead, and bring new life to many. With that one life of selfless love, lived with integrity - Jesus practiced what he preached – his has become a life that has inspired millions ever since.

One life of love became multiplied many times over…

Through the twelve disciples who sought to follow the example of Jesus. Through the three thousand who responded to Peter’s sermon of hope at Pentecost. Through the millions who have been inspired by the gospel message ever since. A message that can, and does, change the world for good. And in a world that seems to be increasingly full of meanness, hatred, violence and despair; doesn’t the world need more people who are inspired by generosity, love, peace, and hope? People who don’t just believe in someone who lived that way. But who count the cost, and seek to put their faith into action.

One life of love became multiplied many times over…

In the following verse v25 it says: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” A hero of mine, Martin Luther King Jr., once said that “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.” A follower of Jesus himself (and a fellow Baptist minister), he was inspired by a vision of heaven. Where the world, at last, is as it should be. For Martin Luther King Jr. it was that particular aspect of heaven found in Revelation 7:9.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing together before the throne of God.”

A heavenly vision of unity and love where the barriers that exist between us, are all broken down. Some people responded to that dream which Martin Luther King Jr. so powerfully communicated, in the same way as Trevor’s classmates, thinking that it was a dream of an overly utopian future. A perfect world. But it’s a perfect world that Christians believe in because it is one that is revealed to in the Christian Scriptures.


And whilst heaven has an eternal element to it – the hope of the Church is that one day the world will be as God intends it. There is also a temporal aspect to it as well. What the Bible calls the Kingdom of Heaven, of the Kingdom of God. And the task of the Church – the task of those who follow Christ – is to give of themselves, following the example of Jesus, making that future reality evident in the here and now.

There’s a story Jesus told called the parable of the talents. A talent being the equivalent of 20 years of a day labourers’ wages. We read about it in Matthew 25.

“The Kingdom of Heaven will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five talents more. 17 So also, the one with two talents gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”


The first two people he described as “good and faithful servants”. The third person he described as a “wicked, lazy servant”. Whatever God gives to us – our finances, our natural abilities, our health, our friendships – He encourages us to give them to Him for the making the Kingdom of God a reality. To let them go, and see them miraculously multiplied for the benefit of others.

That’s what Martin Luther King Jr. was willing to do. Even laying his life down in the process. And if you’ve not seen the film, ‘Pay it Forward’, then here’s a spoiler alert! As I said, Trevor’s school project turns into a national movement and the idea of ‘paying it forward’ goes viral, as we might say now. But, as he ‘pays it forward’ himself, one more time, by helping a friend who is being bullied, he gets stabbed and killed.

As Jesus, as well as the fictional Trevor and the real Martin Luther King both find out, it seems that our world isn’t kind to those who seek to embody love, who try to bring a piece of heaven to earth.

In our society the term ‘do-gooder’ is an insult, not a commendation. And yet, as we celebrate the generosity of the benefactors of Robinson College this evening, we do indeed give thanks to you for ‘doing good’, for acting in a way that benefits others. These verses from John’s gospel encourage and commend those willing to let go of what they have and allow it to become miraculously more than might have been possible if they had held on to it for themselves.

But what’s amazing is that, when we actually do give without wanting to benefit ourselves, we often end up receiving something back anyway. In your case, for example, the awareness of the impact that your gifts will have in the lives of the students in this place, in the research and learning that it facilitates, and the impact which this new knowledge will have in society at large. Elsewhere in Scripture Jesus said it is “more blessed to give than to receive”. May you know, through the miracle of multiplication, the truth of those words this night.