Monday, October 12, 2015

Manure Happens

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 13:6-9:

There was a little boy, and all he wanted in the world was to have a horse.  Every day he would ask his parents if he could get a horse and every day his parents told him no. When he would ask why, he was told that horses took a lot of work and he was just not old enough to handle the responsibility.  But he kept asking every single day.  Finally his father got tired of it and decided he could end it if he could show his son just how much work a horse required, and so while the boy was at school, he had a large pile of horse manure dropped off in the back yard.  When the boy came home from school, as he approached the house, he smelled the distinct odor, and began to whoop and holler and ran through the house into the backyard.  When he saw what awaited him, he started screaming and shaking with joy, and then ran into the garage and came running back with a shovel.  While still singing and dancing and whooping and hollering, he started shoveling the manure.  Finally, his father came out and said, “What are you doing? Why are you so happy to be shoveling all this manure?  Don’t you realize how much work it’s going to take to get this all cleaned up?”  and the boy said “yes, but with all this manure there’s gotta be a horse in here somewhere.”
For the past few weeks, we have been looking at lessons we can learn from life on the farm that can teach us about how to grow in our faith.  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, accept that reality, surrender and begin following following Christ.  Then we looked at how if we are neglectful of our spiritual lives, that we can allow weeds to grow up that will choke out our faith.  There are lots of things we can do to keep the weeds from growing, but we talked about some recommended by John Wesley the founder of Methodism, which included daily scripture reading and prayer.  Last week we were going to hear about the need for community in building up our faith, but since I didn’t get to deliver that message, we’ll come back to that next week.

But the fourth key to understanding the Christian life is manure, and I am indebted to Rev. Adam Hamilton for this idea which I stole, and it is really this message that the entire series was built around, but manure is the fourth 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 to be.

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 may know this, but according to the University of Rhode Island extension program, the average horse produces 50 pounds of output a day, that’s 9 tons a year.  One of the members of our last church owned a dairy farm, and I asked him 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 the more than 300 cows he owned 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 yet most of us don’t have an MMP.  We have no plans or ways to deal with the manure that happens in our lives.

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.  But that’s not really effective, and you cannot just choose to ignore the manure in your life.

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 our manure and pretend to ignore.

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, or deep enough holes, to contain it all.  But the second, and bigger problem, with burying it 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.  Time does not heal all wounds, if all you are doing is ignoring them; 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 should 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.  So to get it to burn so we can try and get rid of it, we need to pour a lot of chemicals on it to get 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 no matter how many chemicals we use, the manure doesn’t go away.  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.

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, 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 fresh manure up, put it in your manure spreader and take it out to the fields.  Did you know that John Deere stands behind all of their products, but they refuse to stand behind their manure spreader?

We can’t 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.  That’s what the man wants to do with the fig tree to make it healthy, to give the tree what it needs in order to grow and produce fruit.  That’s what Jesus said to us, “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly”?

Manure happens; it is a by-product of living.  At some point in our lives something bad is going to happen, it’s just inevitable, and we might want to shout out “manure” or something similar.  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.

There are 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.  We’re in another round of mass shootings, but on the Monday after the shootings at the movie theater 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.  So the first part of composting is time, but the second is really the most important and that is that for things to be composted, it has to be turned.

Manure will not break down by itself.  If you don’t turn it, then it’s just like burying it, or ignoring it, or piling it up, 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.  So now you know what to tell you when they ask why they should go to worship, or why worship is necessary, and it’s because it’s how we deal with the manure in our lives.

Manure happens.  God does not make it happen, but what God does is allow that manure to be transformed, but 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 to grow.  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 is about community, and the fourth step, in order to return our crops to health, to produce an abundant harvest, 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 you can’t ignore it, bury it, burn it or just pile it up, because that doesn’t actually deal with it.  But when we turn it over every week, every seven days, 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 life abundant.  May it be so my sisters and brothers.  Amen.

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