Rev. George Miller
Date: Jan 29, 2017
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12
One day, when the eyes of Jesus saw the people, he went up a mountain. He sat down on the ground. And he said “Blessed.”
“Blessed…for they will be filled.”
“Blessed…for they will inherit.”
“Blessed…for they shall see.”
Today we conclude our “Land Of Delight” sermon series inspired by the book Grounded.
We have talked about the atmosphere. We have talked about the water. Today we talk about dirt, because, after all, our faith is a dirty religion.
Our faith is one that is intrinsically attached to the soil.
If you don’t believe so, look at the biblical narratives that have been handed down. See how the land is used as a gift, and a promise.
See how the land introduces good news, from Milk and Honey, to the Garden of Resurrection.
See how the land suffers the affects of sin, from the burnt fields of the Exile, to the flooded planes that carry the Ark.
See how the ground plays a part in our own formation.
Yes, our faith is a dirty religion. To see that, take a look at the Creation stories in Genesis.
I say stories because there is not one, but two different tales that tell of our beginnings with God.
Genesis 1 tells of how God created the world in 7 days, with the breath of God moving over the waters, and God speaking words into being.
“Let there be light. Let there be sun, moon, and stars. Let there be birds and animals.”
“Let there be humanity,” God says, seemingly far away, clean and detached.
In Genesis 2 things unfold much differently; horizontally.
There’s a patch of earth in which a stream rises and wets the ground.
God digs into this well watered red clay, forming the clump of soil into a figure, breathes into its nostrils the breath, the wind, the ruach of God…
…and this well watered red clay soil becomes animated. It becomes alive.
It becomes us: you and me.
Living soil. Soil that is infused with the breath of our Creator.
Soil that is infused with sacred waters.
It is then that God plants a garden, grows the trees, makes the animals, and gives this Soil-Civilian the responsibility to take care of the land.
The word in Hebrew for soil- adamah.
We are from adamah, and to adamah we shall return…
For 3 weeks we have been so blessed to spend holy time talking about the ways in which the Sacred is made known through the elements around us.
We started by talking about wind and air, celebrating that though out feet are on the ground, we are each sky creatures striding through the heavens.
Last week we talked of how the Living Waters dwell within us, making up not only most of our bodies, but making up most of the planet.
Today we end our sermon series by talking about dirt; soil.
As the author of the book Grounded states, it is time we begin rethinking our relationship with the ground.
Soil, the author says, is alive; it’s a portal to another world with an entire eco-system that exists in just a handful of dirt.
When we stand on top of earth’s surface, we are standing atop a vast kingdom of microorganisms without which life would not exist.
According to Diana Butler Bass, the author of Grounded, for the longest time we were connected to the soil.
But with the advent of the Industrial Revolution about two hundred years ago, things changed.
We went from living upon the land, depending on it, farming it, passing it down from generation to generation, to seeing dirt as a problem.
We went from seeing the ground as a living entity to an object to be manipulated.
Once we became more industrial based we moved away from the country into lands of concrete.
Instead of seeing land as full and fertile, we saw it as something that needed to be moved, removed, managed, washed away, used, and abused.
The result of this mindset is that in less than 200 years we have lost ½ of our topsoil.
Georgia’s grand red hills have lost 7 inches of cover; her rivers and streams are filled with silt.
Soil, like oil, is not renewable. It took millions of years to make, so once it is gone, it’s gone. You can’t get it back.
As Butler Bass writes, the ground holds the memory of the beginning of all things. The ground holds the memory of God.
The earth, the soil, the well watered red clay from which we come from is holy. It is sacred. It is full of life.
Over the past year my relationship with dirt has changed. Home ownership will do that.
Now that I own a small parcel of land, there is a new appreciation.
It went from “Oh, that’s a lovely tree,” to becoming “That’s my tree, and it is beautiful.”
Then the realization that the tree was there way before I came here, and will hopefully be here long after I am gone.
So it’s now more like “At this moment in time I have the privilege of being responsible for this magnificent tree, and maybe my child’s child will too.”
The soil, the ground, that I am blessed to own is not just dirt, but it is sand and it is earth is rich, deep mocha colored, and magnificent.
Nothing new may ever be planted in the soil, but it does not matter, because it is living…
Which brings us to today’s reading. It is Jesus’ Inauguration Speech, as told by Matthew.
After Jesus has been baptized in the river Jordan, after he has been tempted in the wilderness, after he saw the disciples upon the waters of Galilee, Jesus has gone out and about doing a few cool things, like curing diseases and becoming famous.
When crowds appear, Jesus climbs up a mountain. The disciples gather around him.
He begins to speak, teaching them “Blessed.”
But…before he says a single thing, before he utters a word, Jesus does something so extraordinary, so life affirming, so amazing…
…that it took someone like Jean Blough to point it out.
What does Jesus do?
Jesus climbs a mountain, which is basically a big ol’ pile of dirt, and he sits down.
Jesus, Son of God, our Emmanuel, sits upon the living, nutrient rich soil of the earth. No concern if he’ll get soil in his shoes or dirt on his clothes.
If we don’t think that is amazing, then we’re missing something, or we’ve become numb to just how astounding Christianity truly is.
We are taught that Jesus is God incarnate. We believe that Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us.
If the most Holy of Holies was to come down to earth, don’t you think it would be in a more regal, cleaner manner?
If the Sacred of All Things Sacred was to come down to our planet, don’t you think God would opt to be born in a palace, or carried by a horse-drawn carriage, or have people carry around a royal throne for when he wanted to sit?
If the Alpha and Omega of all breathe, all water, all life was to come down to speak to us, wouldn’t you expect it to be from a balcony like Evita, or a press conference like Trump, or decree after decree like Caesar?
No, not our God. Not our Jesus. He has a horizontal relationship with us.
He came down to earth, to be amongst the people, and to be on OUR level.
Jesus Christ- fully divine and fully human...
…fully human, meaning Jesus would have been made out of the same adamah, the same red clay we were fashioned out of.
Think of what this means for all of us, for the elements, for all of Creation:
That Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us, came here as a soil based creature.
Born surrounded by the smell and sounds of animals.
Healing a blind man with his own spit and soil.
Telling stories of such earthy, ordinary things as vineyards and farmers.
Throwing himself on Gethsemane ground, praying that his time of trouble may pass.
Dying on desecrated ground and being buried in an earthen tomb.
Meeting Mary in the Garden as she weeps, confusing him for the gardener.
Our Lord and Savior, our Jesus, our Christ, was of the soil. He was of the dirt. He was of the earth.
He walked upon it. He healed with it. He talked about it.
He shed tears upon it.
And one day, when it came time to give his first public speech, he sat upon it.
He said to the disciples, he said to the people, and he says to us here today-
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
While sitting upon the soil, our Messiah says “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”
While sitting upon the dirt, our Savior says “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
While sitting upon the topsoil of a mighty mountain, the King of All Kings says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
If that does not make us humble, if that does not make us reevaluate what following Christ means, what does?
God not only loved the world, the earth, the ground, the soil, but he fashioned us out of it using God’s own hands and God’s own breathe, and asked us to care for it.
God not only loved the world, the earth, the ground, the soil, but God’s Son sat upon it, and he said “Blessed.”
If we ever wonder if we are worth it, if we ever wonder if we matter, if we ever wonder what it is all about,
we can go out into the world, get on our hands and knees, scoop up a handful of rich, dark soil and realize that God is not in a far off place.
God is right here, the very core of all that was, all that is, and all that will be.
God is not apart from us, nor are we ever too far away from God.
We are already striding through the heavens.
We all possess the Waters of Life.
Our very makeup was there in the beginning garden when the Holiest of Holies scooped up the adamah and breathed us into existence.
Air, water, earth.
We are living in the Land of Delight.
From soil we came, from soil we shall return.
Between those two realities, we are Blessed.
Amen and amen.