July 2023


Seeds in the Dirt

The Path of the Disciple: Imagining a New Reality

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

The theme for this part of the “Path of the Disciple” series invites us to look at potential. We are asked to imagine fruitfulness and then to work for that in the whole ministry of the church.

We’re talking about dirt. Maybe about insults involving dirt. OK, I guess they don’t have to be taken as insults, but they sure can feel like it sometimes. Dumber than dirt. Really? So, what are you going to do when Jesus calls us dirt?

There I said it. Deal with it. Jesus calls you dirt. Granted, he didn’t say you were as dumb as dirt. But there is no getting around the fact that Jesus, our Lord and our Savior, Lover of Children and searcher for little lost lambs, calls you dirt. What do you think about that? Huh? And he made fun of your ears! Or maybe it is your lack of ears. “Let anyone with ears, listen!”

Sure, you’ve heard the parable before. But have you ever really listened to it? Did you ever just feel it for a moment? Did you ever realize just what he was saying? This is one of those few parables that Jesus actually explains in the second part of the Gospel text. He explained it because those guys following him around didn’t get it. They were stumped by it. Or maybe they were just a little offended by being called dirt and decided to call him out! Hey, you, teacher guy, what did you say? Them’s fightin’ words!!

OK, maybe it didn’t happen like that. But they didn’t get it; they had to ask for an explanation. And you’ve heard it before. You’ve read it or told it or studied it or heard it preached at you. So, you know what it is about. And it is about the fact that you are dirt!

That issue isn’t really up for debate. The only question is what kind of dirt you are going to be. We get to choose our dirt-essence. Now that is pretty cool, you have to admit. It’s not like real dirt gets to choose. It’s just the dirt that it is. In fact, if Jesus had been trooping around northern Indiana while he told his stories, he would talk about dirt that wasn’t really dirt; it was hard-packed clay. That’s the kind of dirt you can’t even dig in. And once you jackhammer enough of it to drop in a seed, chances are it won’t grow right because it never drains, and things just rot in the ground because no one thought plant and water plants in the middle of your lawn. Or maybe he would mention the thin topsoil hiding a stratum of sand. And not the sand that yields oil gushers (we should be so lucky), but the sand that doesn’t provide enough nutrients and can’t hold its water any better than a leaky diaper. Or maybe he would talk about the dirt that is twisted up with so many roots it is like digging in a log pile. Or the dirt that is filled with rocks and is like digging what you thought was a flower bed only to discover a gravel pit. And then maybe he would talk about the rich, black glacier melt soil that seems to allow anything and everything to spring up when a seed comes near. There’s some of that around here too.

Dirt is dirt, even though it comes in so many manifestations. But we get to choose what kind of dirt we want to be. Maybe that makes us smarter than dirt. That might have been a nicer title, come to think of it.

Smarter than dirt, because we don’t have to accept the soil conditions of our soul; we can change them and adapt them and grow them if we pay attention. Because the truth is, all those categories seem to fit me, I’m ashamed to admit.

Yes, there are times when I am like a beaten-down path that can’t accept another word, even a good word. Even a word from the Lord. It just bounces off the hard surface of my weariness or my stubbornness, waiting for a bird to come and eat it. I know what it means to be that path.

And yes, sometimes I am so shallow it startles even me. I take the easy route, the unthinking, cliched route and mouth something inane about the word of the Lord. And even though it might sound good at first, there isn’t any depth to it, and it doesn’t sustain me or my hearers when things get difficult. I know what it means to be rocky soil.

Most often, however, I’m the weedy thorny type. I’ve got so many tendrils running around, it is hard to even remember what’s next. Going here and there, booked solid into the next millennium, I’m rushing off to do one thing or another and then forget the whys and the wherefores. Even the good Word gets choked out of me in my busyness. I know what it means to be thorny soil.

But once in a while, by the grace of God, I can find the space, find the depth, find the growing time to let God’s word take root in me and begin to show some fruit. I know what it means to be good soil.

Now, what would really be dumber than dirt would be to continue to live like that - slipping from one soil state to another. Oh, sure we have a variety of influences that cause those weaker states to take over, if we let them. But let’s not let them! Let’s be smarter than dirt. Let’s figure out what it takes to cultivate the good soil of our souls. Let’s engage in those practices that break up the stones in our rocky soil - that get rid of the hard edges, the sins we savor far too much. Let’s adopt an attitude of focusing on the opportunities to hear the Word and to let it go deeper than that hard path surface; let’s pay attention. And let’s prioritize our lives as much as we can, so that those unessential thorns don’t become such huge issues that they choke out what is really important in our lives and in our faith. And let us tend to the good soil soul, by spending time in service and worship, always listening for the Word.

Let’s be smarter than dirt. Unlike Esau. OK, you can’t use the phrase “dumber than dirt” without calling Esau to mind. OK, I get hungry; we all get hungry, but hungry enough to trade away your birthright? That seems a bit over the top, don’t you think? And what the heck is a birthright anyway?

Good question. The simplest answer is that birthright protects the rights of the firstborn son in the cultures of the Hebrew Bible. The more complicated answer is that it is something over which Jacob and Esau have been battling since the womb. It was so bad that their mother Rebekah began to think of the release of death rather than continue to be the battlefield on which her not-yet-born sons fought for supremacy. The story says that Esau “won” and was born first, but that Jacob grabbed hold of his brother’s heel so that they were born almost simultaneously. And then Jacob spent most of his early life grabbing for that heel. He didn’t compete with Esau in the traditional way, by doing the same things and liking the same things but hoping to do better. No, he forged his own path, became his own man, chose his own allies even when it drove a wedge in his family.

This event captured in our text for this week wasn’t simply an opportune moment that Jacob grabbed hold of, like a heel in the birth canal. No, he planned this, schemed for this, finagled for this. And he caught his brother at a week moment, hungry from a hunting trip, his Achilles heel you might say. Jacob got Esau to sign away his right to inheritance of the family fortune. Esau was worried about the here and now, not the someday that his brother was working toward. He was focused on the dirt he was in, shallow, hard-packed, covered with the weeds of his immediate need and not thinking about the good soil he might become someday. “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?”

Built into both stories is the idea that you have to be able to see beyond the immediate moment, to see beyond what is so that you can claim what could be. A skill that a disciple needs to develop, and quickly, is the ability to look beyond the immediate horizon into the future that God has in store for us all. That doesn’t mean that we lose sight of the dirt upon which we stand or the dirt that we are. It means that we also hold on to the birthright that we’ve been given, to be good soil. Are we mixing metaphors too quickly, slipping from one story to the other willy-nilly? Perhaps. But there is a serious point here, an important truth; namely, that disciples live in the real world, but they also envision and work toward a better one. Like Jacob, disciples look past an immediate hunger and claim a promise to come. Like good soil, disciples look forward to a crop a hundred-fold. We see a harvest when others see only seeds in the dirt.

In This Series...

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes


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In This Series...

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes