The Soil in the Garden of Your Life Sermon
May 5, 2020, by Rev. David Clark
I’m out here in the Ensley Meditation Garden just outside of our sanctuary because we’re beginning our new sermon series that has a gardening theme. Don’t Just Go Through It, Grow Through It!
Most of Jesus’ ministry was with rural people so he used a lot of images that had to do with growing plants and crops—there is a lot of stuff in there about vineyards and wine. He talked about soil and seed, fertilizing and pruning, weeds and labor, and ultimately the harvest that leads to a great feast. Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore Jesus’s teachings and see how they can help us not to just go through these unprecedented times, but how to grow through them as well.
Every growth begins with the soil. Jesus told a parable of a man who sowed seed. Some of the seeds grew and produced great fruit. Other seeds, nada. Jesus said it was the soil that made the difference. You can have a seed that is just perfect–full of potential–but if it’s not sown in good soil, it’s not going to become what it was created to be. The problem is not with the seed.
It’s the same principle in life. You’re like a seed. You are full of gifts, talents, potential, but if the soil of your spirit is filled with toxins like shame, or bitterness or arrogance, or negativity, you won’t see the growth that you should. Not because there’s something wrong with you–the seed. You are created in the image of God. The problem is with the soil. The situations and attitudes you put yourself in. They can hijack your potential.
When something isn’t growing right, the first thing you do is examine the soil. Is the soil of your spirit in a healthy state?
I learned that some agriculturalists say there is a difference between dirt and soil. Dirt is inert. It is composed of broken rock, sand, debris, all stuff devoid of organic material. Dirt is inert. You can’t grow stuff in the dirt alone.
What you need is soil. Soil is filled with the organic material needed to make things grow. The word soil comes from the Latin, humus. Humus is the decomposition of plants and leaves and other organic material. Fun fact. I read that there are more organisms in a handful of soil than the number of all people on the face of the earth-. It’s teeming with life. The word humus is the root of our word humility.
We mark our foreheads with ash on Ash Wednesday as a reminder that we are mortal. We, humans, come from humus, and to it we return when we are gone. There should be a quality of humbleness about our lives, we are not self-made, but part of the earth and it is part of us. We are but stewards of God’s creation.
When I lived in Iowa I got to do some composting. You take food waste and yard waste, put it in a barrel with a little topsoil and turn it every so often and after several weeks, wala, you have a barrel full of nice rich topsoil–the good stuff.
I like that image of dead decaying stuff turning into life-giving soil. The cycle of life.
Let me ask you about your past experiences. Do you turn them into life-giving soil, or do you let them turn into inert dirt? What do I mean?
Your mistakes, the things you’ve done that you regret, your failures. All those cringe-worthy moments that still make you cringe years later. What do you do with that? It’s inert dirt if it leads you to a place of shame, where you feel worthless if you go from saying “that was bad” to saying, “I am bad.” That negativity chokes off your growth. Inert dirt.
Or you can say, “Yup, I’ve messed up royally. But I’m going to learn from my mistakes. I am forgiven, loved, and free. I refuse to be measured by anyone by my past mistakes, it’s how I let them inform me and shape me now that matters.” That is the kind of rich soil that makes things grow.
Your pain. Think of the stuff that was hard to go through. Times you’ve been hurt, betrayed, fell ill, lost someone. You can turn it into dirt by hardening your heart, never really engaging because you are trying so hard to protect yourself from being hurt again. Or you can turn it into soil by risking again, by building empathy for what other people are going through, being a support for them.
Even your positive experiences, your accomplishments, your successes. If you treat them like trophies on a shelf, to remind you about how great you used to be, it’s just dirt. But it’s soil if you pay your blessings forward. It’s soil if it inspires you to do the next good thing if it can help motivate those around you to do their part.
In scripture, the point of the growing metaphors is that it The prophet Isiah in chapter 5 talks about the fruit we are to bear is justice and righteousness. In context, justice is looking out for those around us, especially the most vulnerable. Righteousness is about living in right relationship with God, and neighbor and who we are created to be–to let that seed in us reach its potential.
Do you know who talks about soil a lot? Winemakers. There is this French term terroir, that gets them all misty-eyed. Terroir means, “taste of place.” It’s about the composition of the soil and the environment of a location and the process of making the wine. Terroir explains why a grape seed that is planted in one place will taste different than one planted somewhere else. Some of the most expensive real estate in the world is in a tiny area of Burgundy, France because the soil and climate and atmosphere are perfect for growing vines that make the most exquisite wines.
You have a terroir. It’s the stuff you listen to, the stuff you let shape you. The way you process your past experiences. You need to pay attention to what is grabbing most of your attention. Is it healthy? Does it lead you to produce good fruit?
The winemakers say that the best vines are those that have been stressed. When the vines are stressed they sink their roots deeper searching for the moisture or nutrients they need. The more that happens, but more minerality from the soil they pick up and you can taste it in the fruit. The best stuff comes from vines that have experienced stress.
In the same way, we are all under a period of stress–as individuals, as a church, as a community, nation, and world community. We know that right now it’s time to sink our roots deeper. Psalm 1 talks about the tree that grows by sinking its roots into the soil–into God’s grace and word. When we are troubled, instead of freaking out, sink the roots deeper, into what is healthy, and good. Engage in prayer and reaching out to others in love. Pray. Meditate. Turn your experience into good soil.
Can you see God sampling your wine today? He swirls it around in his glass. Holds it up to the light. Breathes deeply and says, “O, this is the good stuff! You hung on when times were tough. Instead of breaking away and quitting, you stayed connected. You went deeper in faith instead of turning away. When things were confusing and didn’t make sense, you refused to be satisfied with shallow answers. All those times you could have acted small and petty, argumentative, and self-righteous but you chose the higher ground have really paid off. Well done, good and faithful servant. Really.”
It all begins with the soil of the garden of your life. Tend to it well my friends.