So What Kind of Dirt Am I?
"So what kind of dirt am I?" That's the question Jesus' parable brings to mind upon first hearing it. But is this the question that ought to be asked?
There are obviously 4 kinds of soil in the parable. There is hard soil, the kind packed down from being walked repeatedly on. This is the people who hear the Word of God, but don't understand it. They don't put things together. They hear about sin, but don't connect God's judgment upon sin to the silly, little things they do, say, and think. They hear about Christ dying on the cross because of sins, and don't understand how that relates to their being forgiven. When the Word of God lies on the outside of your heart, it can be easily snatched away by Satan even as blackbirds snatch up the grass seed lying on top of the ground.
Or are you shallow ground? Have you connected God's judgment against sins to you? Have you seen that your sins bring the judgment of God right now and in eternity? Have you connected the perfect life of Jesus to your woefully imperfect one concluding rightly that He lived for you fulfilling God's Law in your place? And have you connected His innocent suffering and death to your guilty living realizing that He suffered under God's eternal wrath so that you might go free? Well, then the sweet joy of salvation has sprung from your heart as quickly as a seed sprouts, but joy, joy, joy down in your heart is no substitute for understanding. The true Word of God brings not just salvation to souls but trouble and persecution. Joy in Jesus withers under the hot sun of trials and tribulation.
Maybe you're neither shallow nor hard dirt; maybe you're thorn infested dirt. You've heard the Law of God and know you're hopelessly damned. There is no way you can be good enough to go to heaven. But you've heard the Gospel too and believed that Jesus came into the world to save sinners like you. And so, you've grown in this faith. You've even thrived. But having the gospel is no guarantee you won't have worries. You can be a thriving Christian plant and still get cancer, marriage, work and emotional problems, and Christ doesn't give much practical help with any of these. Ah, but money, while it can't buy happiness, can sure buy a lot of other things. "Money," as Proverbs says, "answers all." That's better than Christianity which appears to answer very few practical questions. So the deceitfulness of wealth is pursued and Christianity is choked off.
Maybe after all is said and done, you're good dirt. You know Dillo Dirt, Miracle Gro Garden Soil, Iowa black dirt. You understand the Law, so it leads you to constant repentance where you don't excuse, defend or try to make up for your sins; you just confess them. You understand the Gospel, so it leads you to open your mouth wide and receive the forgiveness Jesus won for you on the cross and gives to you in Water, Words, Bread, and Wine. And now you're reproducing the love, peace, joy, forgiveness, hope, and mercy that you get from Jesus like one zucchini seed makes thousands more.
"So what kind of dirt am I?" I know that's what you asked when you first heard the parable. The problem with that question is not that we're not dirt; we are. From dirt we were taken and to dirt we will return. We're the people in movies who are shown aging rapidly back to dirt. Or as Kansas sang in the 70's, "All we are is dust in the wind." The problem is that no matter what kind of dirt you are; dirt doesn't produce anything itself. Don't believe me? Well get some dirt. Cover it up. Leave it in the hot sun for 2 weeks. Then put it in a sealed container and see what happens. Whether you use hard, shallow, thorn in infested, or Iowa black dirt, nothing is going to grow. Dirt is dirt and produces nothing on it's own.
That last part isn't exactly true. Dirt is dirt, but there is such a thing as dirty dirt. We're dirty dirt. God took us from dirt, lovingly handmade us. We we're holy dirt then; dirt that would inherit everlasting life. But then we fell away from God. God wasn't good enough, rich enough, knowledgeable enough for us. We knew better than God, and so we fell away from God and all that is holy, beautiful and true. We went from having that sweet odor of good black dirt that all men like to smell because something deep in them recognizes it to having the stench of Louisiana swamp mud. Can you see why any talk of pastors or churches motivating, training or inspiring people to missions, to good works, to grand things misses the point? Motivate, train, or inspire Louisiana swamp mud and mud it remains.
The focus of the parable is not the dirt. The focus is the Good Seed. Matthew calls it the "Word of the kingdom." Luke calls it the "Word of God." The Word of God is the Word present before creation that God spoke to create. This same Word of God took on flesh and blood in the Virgin's womb. The Word of God is a "He" in the hymn "A Mighty Fortress." The Word of God is Jesus. We know from the Old Testament that He is the Promised Seed. He was first promised to Adam and Eve as the Seed of the Woman. He was the Seed promised to Abraham by whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Paul in Galatians 3:16 clearly identifies the Seed saying that it is Christ.
The Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, descended into our dirt by the power of the Holy Spirit placing Him into the Womb of the Virgin Mary. God the Son descended into the dirt that is our flesh and blood, so that He may raise this dirt all the way to heaven. Isn't that what the plant coming from a seed eventually does? Doesn't it take the minerals and molecules of the dirt and raise them up toward the heavens? Think of a sunflower. See how it grows heavenward, and always turns its face toward the Sun. There is Christ. He descends into our dirt, our dirty dirt, without soiling Himself. Then by His perfect life and innocent suffering and death, He lifts this dirt of ours to heaven and turns it always toward the holy, true, beautiful things of God.
The Good Seed took our dirt to heaven. That's what we celebrate at the Ascension of Jesus. Ascension is not the Second Person of the Trinity returning to heaven. In truth, He never left the Godhead in heaven even when He was placed in Mary's womb. The Ascension is the Man Jesus, the Jesus who bears our dirt, bears our flesh and blood, being welcomed into heaven. The Hallelujah chorus of Handle was written to celebrate that. Hear all heaven thundering hallelujahs and know that Jesus has redeemed this dirt of ours for eternity. No matter that our dirt be fallen in sin, sick, aged, or even dead. The Good Seed that dwells in it through Baptism, Absolution, or Communion will raise it all the way into heaven.
Here's the question this parable should bring to mind: Not what kind of dirt am I, but is the Good Seed of God more powerful than my dirtiness? And the answer is, "Yes!" The Seed, Christ, is the message of your salvation, that Satan can't afford to let lie about. It's like that 2,000 year old seed from a date palm recently found in Israel. They planted it and it grew. The Word of God is that powerful, what was sown in a heart decades ago, can still sprout, so while Satan will let anything else peace, pride, power, facts, skills, lie about your heart he is quick to try and snatch the Word.
The Good Seed is so powerful it can produce faith even in shallow hearts. Faith sprouts in people who come to Church once. The joy of faith sprouts in hearts that are cluttered with all manner of earthly things, so that just the top most surface of their heart has the Good Seed. But still faith sprouts there. It's like the Seed that sprouts in the crack in the middle of the road. How can that happen? The Seed is a powerful miracle of God.
The Good Seed is so powerful that it can grow surrounded by thorns. I've been hunting in briars so thick the sun doesn't shine, and there at my feet I've found a windflower. I've seen people devoured by worries, deceived by riches, and yet still simple faith in Christ blossomed and grew. You can say, "But it will be choked." I say, "But it is a miracle that it grew at all, and the same miracle that made it sprout and grow can also make those thorns die back."
Remember if dirt is dirt, it's the Seed that matters. The Seed does it all. The Good Seed can produce amazing results. One commentator says the normal yield in Palestine is 10 fold, so 30, 60, 100 fold is amazing. The Good Seed of Christ planted in you at your Baptism, watered by the Absolutions you've heard, and fed by the Body and Blood of Christ that you've eaten, will do what you consider impossible. The Good Seed will preserve your soul even though you can feel and see only dirty sinfulness. The Good Seed will raise your body and bring it into heaven though all you can see and feel is the decaying of your dirt and that dirty hole in the ground called a grave.
But these aren't the only miracles done by the Good Seed. The Good Seed changes soil. Those of you who garden already know this. Rye grass sown on top of a pasture will erase where the hard packed cow trails were. Plants grow up over time on shallow dirt, decay and produce more dirt. Even weed infested dirt can be changed by good seed. Mexia grass can choke out goat weed and St. Augustine grass can choke out Mexia grass.
So stop asking, What kind of dirt am I? Ask instead, Is the Good Seed, Christ Jesus, being sown on me? Is His Word of Law and Gospel being weekly planted in the soil of my heart? Is His Water of forgiveness, Baptism, daily watering my soul? Is the Fertilizer of His Body and Blood feeding the Seed He has planted? Well, then dear friend, you can count on 2 things. 1) You're not the kind of dirt you once were. And 2) the Good Seed is producing more fruit in you than you could ever ask for, dream about, or even see. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost VIII (7-10-05); Matthew 13: 1-9; 18-23