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Dirt

4 Pent Proper 6

16 Jun 2024

 

I



am in the middle of reading a book entitled Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization by David R. Montgomery.  I don’t think it is co-incidental that the Gospel reading for today is all about seeds and planting.

How many of you/us have ever lived where you/we were totally self-sufficient? My guess is almost none of us and, if you look at the world’s population as a whole, only a very small percentage of people are self-sufficient.  Why? Because of seeds and dirt and how we use it.

Growing up I lived in the city, but my father liked to have a garden, growing both flowers and vegetables. We were never, of course, self-sufficient, but I can remember helping to dig and plant and harvest crops and helping plant flowers and cutting them for bouquets. I learned to can vegetables; as an adult I learned to compost and how to fertilize and amend the soil without the use of chemical fertilizers. I learned to harvest a few things from the wild, like morel mushrooms, sour gooseberries, and wild raspberries that always seemed to ripen when the heat, the understory of plants, and the mosquitos were at their worst, and walnuts in the fall when the weather was perfect, but never the intricacies of how to use and consume all the edible and otherwise useful plants we have in the wild. I have hunted small game and at one point in my life could dress pheasants, rabbits, and squirrels and clean the fish I caught. I can cook over and open fire.  It was hard work, and often there was some danger (mainly bugs bites and poison ivy), but it was gratifying. Even today, a meal from locally raised meat, eggs from my own chickens, and vegetables from the garden, gives me an immense sense of satisfaction.

I learned that all of this was a lot of work; going to the store is so much easier!  So I was surprised to learn that hunter gatherers actually had more leisure time than early farming communities did.  It was less work to kill and preserve your game and fish, gather and preserve wild fruits and vegetables, than it was to stay alive with early farming techniques.

What was even more amazing to me was the role dirt played, and still plays, in the rise and fall of civilizations.  With a couple rare exceptions (farming in the Nile delta and on the terraces of the Incas), farming was far more labor intensive and was always destructive of the land.  Not only was the soil ultimately destroyed, but once gone there was no hope of restoration.  If you go today to the fertile crescent, China, the Mediterranean basin, the site of the Mayan empire, you will find all the evidence you need to see that those worlds crashed because they lost their dirt. Just like we are losing ours so that someday Iowa will not be able to feed itself, even if we wanted to.  Our dirt is in the Gulf of Mexico.

So how and why does seed grow?  As someone with a background in the natural sciences, I can give you an explanation based on DNA, environmental factors, etc., and answer the how of it, but science does not tell us anything about the why of it. That is part of the beauty of this parable, or rather parables, about seeds. It is all in God’s hands; God is the agent, the why of these stories.

Now you come on a Sunday in part to hear me preach (at least I think that is part of the reason people come) because they want to hear a Good Word.  I throw out seed, but what make it grow in you is what God does.  I truly believe that God is there for anyone who perceives God’s presence, so that a failure to grow is in part the inability to perceive the Message.  Now that does not mean the someone is “bad” because they do not perceive God’s saving ways, for very good seed can fail to germinate for a variety of reasons.  But as a Christian I truly, in my innermost self, believe that God is speaking and that is the water, the light, and the nourishment that I need. When I was younger, I guess I could have called myself a dormant seed. Reday to grow, but missing that God element. You all have that inside of you, waiting to burst forth.

So what about the dirt?  I believe that, as believers in and children of God, we are called to care for the earth that nourishes us.  The world was created with everything humans and all other living beings need to flourish.  It is an absolutely amazing place, of which I am more and more in awe as I grow old.  God made us to germinate and grow and the kingdom become as the big as the proverbial mustard seed. Wow. But part of that growth and that becoming part of kingdom is to turn and care for all that we see around us, including the very dirt that is our physical lifeblood.  Just as a healthy human population is diverse, so healthy soil is teeming with life, from things like nematodes and worms to bacteria and bugs. Earth, and God’s kingdom, germinates and grows and thrives because of diversity.

Darwin showed that without earthworms, new soil could not be created. Healthy soil is full of fungi.  It is all so beautiful and amazing.

You will germinate and grow and when you do remember to love God, love your neighbor and yourself, and love the land on which you live.  If we all did that, I believe we would realize the kingdom of God.

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