About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What Kind of Dirt Are You?

2014-07-13 What Kind of Dirt Are You?

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23


What kind of dirt are you?

It sounds like one of those Internet quizzes. If you’re on Facebook – or Buzzfeed if you’re under 30 – there’s no end to these fascinating little gems of self-discovery. A long time ago we had ink blots on paper, then the four letters of the Myers-Briggs (I’m an ISTJ!) Now it’s these things.

I’ve never had an urge to take one of these quizzes. I’m not saying I’m above them. And since they seem to be so entertaining, I decided I should take one, purely for purposes of sermon research. I did some study, and found out the most popular of these quizzes is, “Which City Should You Actually Live In?” It’s been viewed more than 18 million times and liked on Facebook 2.5 million times. I don’t know if it’s caused anyone to physically move to another city... (“So, what brings you to Kandahar?” “Well, I took this quiz on Facebook, and…”)

Another reason I’ve hesitated to take one of these is I figured I’d be giving away sensitive, personal information. (Insert laughter here.) But again, I thought, It’s for the sake of my congregation, so I clicked, “Ready? Let’s begin.” I would discover which city I should actually live in.

The first question was, “How Do You Take Your Coffee?” I didn’t know how this related to where I should actually live, but anything about coffee gets my attention.

Next question was, “What’s Your Jam?” I thought, “Oh, breakfast foods.” Wrong. The first three choices were, “Hips Don’t Lie,” by Shakira, “Timber,” by Pitbull featuring Ke$ha, and “Skinny Love,” by Bon Iver. Honestly, I have never heard any of these songs, and my hips are not lying.

Then, I was told to “Pick a Beyonce.” I had nine choices, including, “Super Bowl Beyonce,” “Single Ladies Beyonce,” and “Who Run the World (Girls) Beyonce.” Apparently each city is assigned its own Beyonce.

After answering 6 more equally probing questions – drum roll, please – I got London. The news came with a lovely photo of Emma Watson.

OMG! Like, how did they know?

This insight led to an insatiable quest to discover more about myself. I spent the afternoon taking quiz upon quiz. I found out that of The Muppets, I am Dr. Bunsen Honeydew. My actual age is 27. And of the Founding Fathers, my soulmate is Benjamin Franklin.

Oh, Internet, you know me so well.


A long time ago, Jesus told a parable that still causes a lot of people to wonder about themselves. It was about a sower who went out to sow. So most Bibles call it, “The Parable of the Sower,” which is odd, because no one thinks about the sower. What do we think about? The dirt. That’s what the disciples wanted to know. Jesus tells a story about a sower who, frankly, wasn’t all that intentional about his work. Like those random questions on the Internet, The Sower just threw out stuff here and there to generate a harvest which, apparently, tells us something about ourselves. God sows the seed of scripture into the soil of your soul:

What kind of dirt are you?


Jesus preached the first half of this scripture to the masses. This was our first lesson today, Matthew 13, verses 1-9. Between half 1 and half 2, the disciples – the Session, the Board of Deacons – are getting a little nervous about his sermons. They take Jesus aside and say to him, “Lord, why do you always teach in parables that no one understands?” They’re complaining. “Preacher, your sermons have no point.” In verses 10 through 17, Jesus explains people aren’t SUPPOSED to understand his sermons. He says,

The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’  (verse 13)

(And I say, “Thank you, Jesus! For setting the bar low enough for the rest of us.)

Apparently, that answer wasn’t good enough for the disciples, so Jesus relents, and explains that because they’re special, he’ll let them in on the secret message, which is the part most of us want to know. Lord, what’s it all mean?

Which leads to part 2 of the scripture, today’s second lesson, verses 18 through 23. He tells them,

“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.

“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.

“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.

“But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

So. Mystery solved. God is the sower, the Word is the seed, and we’re dirt. This should be no surprise. Adam, the first man, was formed of the earth. That’s what his name means, “Dirt Man.” (Sounds like a superhero, with no discernable powers.) “…for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” saith the Lord (Gen 3:19)

The biblical question is, then, What Kind of Dirt Are You?

·       Are you the landing strip for Lucifer’s legions?

·       Are you the shallow soil of spineless hypocrisy?

·       Are you the glutinous grime of earthly entanglements?

·       Or… are you the rich soil that yields thirty, sixty, a hundredfold for the Lord?

If you took the quiz, which dirt would you be?

Let’s think about that for a minute. Because even if we decide we’re rich, high-yield, weed and insect-resistant specialty blend soil, guess what? We’re still dirt.

And as dirt, we’re always subject to the randomness of our world. We still rely on the good graces, or gracious luck, of the hand of The Sower. Could he have missed a spot? Could he have over-seeded in others? Could the rains have washed us out? Could we have been eroded by wear before the harvest?

Is any of this our fault? Is this all just some random test?


Part of me likes the first half of the scripture much better. That’s the sermon most people would have heard. That’s the part where Jesus just throws out the story without any explanation. I like that version better. Because it really is the Parable of the Sower. The explanation turns it upside-down. We get all grubby trying to figure out, not what the parable means, but what we mean, how good we are, who we are. And that turns Jesus’s sermon into little more than an Internet quiz. Might be interesting. Might be amusing. But we always end up dirt. And it’s not the Parable of the Dirts. It’s not even the Parable of the Seeds. It’s the Parable of the Sower.

If you were one of the congregation who heard the Master’s sermon (without the secret disciple-explanation) what would you have thought it meant? Jesus even quotes scripture to prove that we’re not really SUPPOSED to know what it means. We’re SUPPOSED to be confused. God’s word is supposed to be something of a mystery, and if we over-explain, we squeeze out the juice and wring it dry, until all we’ve got left is the part we throw to the dirt. What kind of dirt? What does it matter?


A couple of weeks ago, someone posted a quote by Albert Einstein on Hugo Canada’s Facebook page….

Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

If you wanted to interpret this parable, you could see the hand of The Sower as the blunt force of randomness, casting seed on the good and the bad, leaving luck and nature to decide how things are going to turn out. Or you could see The Sower’s hand differently. You could see the Sower’s hand as the source of mystery and grace beyond all understanding. We think we want explanations and answers. We think we’re better, happier when we get them. But sometimes the answers just get in the way. Sometimes they just make us gaze at our navels instead of rejoicing in the life planted by The Sower. Wondering WHY is great. But so is wondering AT. Maybe that’s the seed of mystery the larger group of people received from Jesus. Maybe they got the better part.


Thinking back to those Internet quizzes. There’s obviously a reason they’re so popular, generating millions upon millions of hits. They’re kind of fun, but so are a lot of other sites. Do people like them so much because we’re so desperate for answers to questions of who we are?

Or is it because it’s easier, and more distracting, to try to answer what kind of dirt we and other people might be, than tackling the thornier question of how to go about building a life worthy of admiration?

Given the substance we have, given the ground we stand on, how do we go about yielding a hundred-fold, sixty-fold, thirty-fold – or any other fold? How do we answer to the immeasurable wonder so freely cast our way by the Hand of The mysterious Sower?