Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 13:1-9. This series was based on a series created by Rev. Adam Hamilton. Perhaps this is also an appropriate thought for September 11:
past few weeks, we have been looking at lessons we can learn from life on the
farm that can teach us about the Christian life. The first week we talked about being stuck in
the mud, and the fact that when you get stuck, that our natural inclination is
to step harder on the gas, and spin our wheels, which of course just gets us
deeper and deeper into the much.
Instead, to get out of the mud of our lives, we first need to accept
that we are stuck in the mud, surrender to the idea that only something bigger
and stronger than us can get us out, and of course that person for Christians
is Jesus Christ, and then we must follow him.
So the first step of discipleship is accepting, surrendering and
Then last week we looked at
how we keep weeds and other pests out of our crops in order to allow them to
grow. In most farms we would use herbicides
and pesticides to protect them, but we need to be more organic in our spiritual
lives, and so the way to keep our spiritual crops free of weeds and pests is to
be ever vigilant in our relationship with God by practicing spiritual
disciplines. There are lots of things we
can do, but we talked about some recommended by John Wesley the founder of
Methodism, and included reading and searching scripture, participating in
communion, praying and fasting or abstinence. So the second step of
discipleship is preventing weeds in our lives by practicing some of the
key to understanding the Christian life is manure, and I am indebted to Rev.
Adam Hamilton for this idea, which began this whole series and which I stole,
but manure is the third key to living a Christian life because, as they say,
manure happens. I’m sure you’ve seen
that on a bumpersticker before, although it says another word instead of
manure, but you get the meaning. Maybe
you’ve even said something like that in your life. Now this sermon is going to be a little,
shall we say, earthier, than most sermons and if that bothers you you’re going
to have to just bear with me. Because I’m
not talking about manure in order to be funny or controversial, but instead
because how we deal with the manure in our lives will have a tremendous impact
on our lives and also the lives of those around us. Understanding the manure in our lives and how
we deal with it is essential for becoming the disciples that God has called us
If you have livestock of any sort you have to have a manure
management plan, or an MMP, this is one of the things I learned in my research
for this sermon series, you have to have an MMP if you are going to run an
effective and successful operation that deals with livestock of any sort. Now some of you will know this, but according
to the University of Rhode Island extension program, the average horse produces
50 pounds of manure a day, that’s 9 tons a year. I asked Al Anderson how much one of his dairy
cows produces in a day, and he said he didn’t know the exact amount, but it’s a
lot. As it turns out, according to the University
of Washington extension program, a typical dairy cow produces 148 lbs of manure
in a day, which works out to 27 tons a year, when you multiple that by, how
many cows do you have Al, well I need my calculator for that, but you end up
with a lot of manure. And when I asked
him if he had a manure management plan, he said that he did, that you had to,
otherwise you would be overwhelmed.
My favorite story from visiting with Al was that he said he
was out where the cows were milked one day, and a fly flew into one of the cows
ears, and the cow sort of jumped a little bit, but he didn’t think anything of
it, but then noticed that the cow started acting a little weird, and suddenly
the fly came out into the milking machine, but you know what they say, in one
ear out the udder. Now you might say
that you don’t really have to deal with as much as a horse or a cow produce, but
just to give a little different perspective on this to show how quickly even a
little amount can add up, a four pound hen produces ¼ pound a day, which may
not seem like a lot, but even that little bit works out to 91 lbs a year. All that manure has to be accounted for; something
has to be done with it, and so we we’re going to talk about how to create our
own effective personal MMP.
There are several things that can be done with manure. The first is that you can do nothing with it,
and just let it accumulate wherever it’s deposited. That’s what we tend to do with our dog, but
what happens when you do that? Well it
sort of spreads everywhere and then you have to watch wherever you step to be
careful you’re not stepping in it, as does everyone else who comes around. That’s not really effective. So the next thing is to shovel it up and
collect it together, and create a pile.
Maybe with small animals might work for awhile, but with larger animals,
pretty soon that pile gets huge and because you can’t just keep piling it up on
top, it’s spreads out. And it stinks, and
it attracts flies and other pests. We
might think that we can just ignore it and if we ignore it that it will go away,
but sooner or later that pile is going to get too big and the smell and the
flies will start bothering your neighbors and it can seep into the water supply
and contaminate it, and it will begin to overwhelm and overshadow everything
else. So we can’t just keep piling it up
and ignoring it.
The next option is that we can decide to bury it, but there
are several problems with that. The first is the simple logistics of digging
enough holes for it all, but the biggest problem is that manure needs air and
sunlight in order to decompose. So if
you bury it and you come back in thirty years, do you know what you’re going to
find? You’re going to find a lot of
manure that’s just as you left it.
Burying it won’t make it go away; it will still be there, festering just
under the surface.
So we can’t just ignore it, we can’t pile it up, and we
can’t bury it, so perhaps we can burn it.
Did you know you can burn manure?
Well you can, but unless it’s nice and dry, which it won’t be unless
it’s been there for a long time, it won’t burn by itself, and so you need to
pour a lot of chemicals on it, something that will help it to burn. But you know what happens when you try to use
chemicals to dispose of manure? It
stinks to high heaven, it creates a lot of smoke, sometimes it catches other
things on fire, sometimes it just smolders and doesn’t really go away and so we
keep pouring more and more chemicals on it to make it disappear. But burning it doesn’t solve the problem, in
fact it usually makes the problem much worse, and it tends to make not just the
person who is using the chemicals, but everyone around them who get caught in
the smoke and the stink. Do you
The final thing we can do is to recognize that we have to
deal with it appropriately. We know that
manure is valuable for crops and plants, but did you know you can’t just spread
fresh manure into your fields? Well,
technically you can, but it’s not always helpful because, according to the
Virginia Tech extension program, it takes nitrogen to help break manure down
and if it hasn’t already started decomposing, instead of adding nitrogen to the
soil, the microbes that break it down it will actually pull the nitrogen out of
the soil. So rather than helping the
plants, putting fresh manure straight onto fields can actually limit their growth. So you can’t just shovel the manure up, put
it in your manure spreader and take it out to the fields, and did you know that
John Deere stands behind all of their products, but they refuse to stand behind
their manure spreader?
just ignore it, or keep piling it up, or bury it, or use chemicals to remove
it, so that leaves us with one final option and that is to decide that we are
going to compost it. But composting has
to be done properly, and when properly done, it can virtually eliminate many of
the major problems with manure accumulation, including odor, flies, weed seeds
and the internal parasites, and rather than having something you don’t know
what to do with or want to avoid altogether, now you have something in the
compost that can actually bring new life, it can actually bring nutrients and
all sorts of good stuff to the soil that allow it to restore what has been
taken out of the soil by other plants, it can refresh everything and cause new
life to grow, but not just grow, but to grow abundantly. Isn’t that what Jesus said, “I came that you
might have life and have it abundantly”?
it is a by-product of living. At some
point in our lives something bad is going to happen, it’s just inevitable. Now some people will sort of fixate on all
the bad things that might happen, even sometimes to absurd lengths. Have you ever met someone like this? Even though 99% of the bad things they worry
about never happen, that’s all they can think about. They live by Murphy’s Law that anything that
can go wrong will, and it dominates their life.
But the healthier thing to do is to simply accept these things as part
of life and deal with them. But knowing
how to deal with it, or wanting to deal with it, doesn’t always answer the
question of why, which is one we have all asked at least once in our
lives. “God, why is this
happening?” And usually not just why is
it happening, but “why is it happening to me?”
been a question that has been asked from time immemorial. In fact, a large portion of the Hebrew Bible
sets out to try and answer that question, and there are lots of very different answers
given. There is not one monolithic
answer given in scripture about what bad things happen in life, why there is
manure, instead there are lots.
Unfortunately we don’t have time to go into or consider all those
answers, but we will seek to answer some of those questions in a series after
Christmas. But here is one thing I feel absolutely
comfortable in saying: God does not cause us to suffer. God does not give us cancer to punish us, or
cause natural disasters which kill hundreds or thousands. Most of the manure, most of the suffering,
pain, hardships we experience in our lives is simply the byproducts of life.
CS Lewis said that he thought that 2/3 of
human suffering was the result of things that we did to ourselves or others did
to us because we are free moral agents.
That is we have the right to make the right decisions and also the wrong
decisions and God doesn’t stop us from doing those things, and because of that
we sometimes have to pay the price, not because God wants us to, but because
that’s what happens. Hurricanes are not caused by God, they are
caused by the waters of the oceans warming, which causes the heat to rise, which
warms the air even more, which causes the air to spin and storms are formed.
But here is
one thing that is clear from scripture, regardless of what answer is given in
scripture as to why we suffer, it is that God is with us and that God can work
through even the worst circumstances to bring about some good. Paul famously said that “suffering produces
endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and
hope does not disappoint us.” (Romans 5:3-5) Now one of
the problems with this quote is that it has been used to justify suffering
because it might produce hope. Suffering
is slavery? Don’t worry you’ll be rewarded.
Being beaten by your husband?
Don’t worry, it will build character and you’ll receive hope.
A better quote from Paul, who certainly knew something about suffering,
comes from 2nd Corinthians where he says, “We are afflicted in every way, but
not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not
forsaken; struck down by not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death
of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be visible in our bodies.” (2 Cor.
4:8-11) What we find in the New
Testament, and what we proclaim as Christians, is that Jesus Christ is the
solution to our suffering, that he is the sign of hope and transformation, for
us and for the world. It is through
Christ and his presence in our lives that we are redeemed, that the manure of
our lives is redeemed, that it is changed and transformed into something
else. But how does that happen? Well I’m glad you asked, because that leads
us back to composting.
two essential aspects to composting. The
first is time. As I said you can’t just
spread manure out onto your fields, it takes time to break down, and that
certainly is true with us as well. On
the Monday after the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, there were news stories
talking about how the victims of that event were claiming that it was “a
nightmare they just can’t shake.” That
they were still having difficulty sleeping, they were still having anxiety
attacks. It had only been four days, why
would we ever assume, let alone question, whether they were over it
already. The manure is just too fresh to
be able to be spread.
It takes time to
heal many wounds, it takes allowing others to help carry us during those times. It's those times in which we go to our knees as Abraham Lincoln said because it's the only place we can go, and we cry out to God. Those are pains and hardships that simply don't disappear or get better because we want them to, they take time to heal, but for them to heal we also have to deal with them properly, we can't ignore them, bury them or try and remove them with chemicals. They have to be dealt with, and the first thing that helps is time, but the second is what we do with those hurts.
not break down unless it is exposed to oxygen and sunlight, it has to be
turned. If you don’t turn it, then it’s
just like burying it, it will never break down, and do you know how often
compost has to be turned? According to
the extension program at Virginia Tech, and others, manure must be turned at
least every seven days. Let me say that
again, manure must be turned every seven days so that it can get proper oxygen,
so that it can be transformed into fertilizer.
Turning it every seven days creates a product that can bring new life
and transformation of other things. Does
anyone see a connection here? How often
do we gather for worship? Every seven
days, and when we gather for worship we do the same thing, or at least we
should, we expose our hurts to God, we turn them over to God, we turn them
giving them fresh air so that God can break them down and redeem them. And do you know what else happens when you
compost? Composting reduces the volume of waste by more than 50%, but you have
to turn it every seven days.
happens. God does not make it happen,
but what God does is allow that manure to be transformed, but just as James
said in his letter today, we must participate in that transformation, and that
happens through the person of Jesus Christ.
To allow Jesus to transform the manure of our life we must allow it to
be exposed to oxygen and sunlight, we must turn it up every seven days, we must
gather together to expose our hurts and pains, and to carry one another
burdens, and when we do that it provides the raw material that allows new life
The first step to being a
disciple of Christ is to accept, surrender and follow, the second step is to
practice the spiritual disciplines to protect ourselves from the wrong type of
seeds, and the third step, in order to allow those seeds to grow, is to provide
them with the right type and amount of fertilizer by creating our compost by
turning it over to God and gathering in worship. Manure happens, that’s just a fact of life,
but when we turn it over every week, when we turn it over to the redeeming
power of Christ, then the manure in our lives can be redeemed and give us and
others new life, but not just any life, but abundant life. May it be so my sisters and brothers.Amen.