a sermon for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17)
God formed us from dirt, but he didn’t just leave us there.
Yesterday, I went to the garden center and picked up a few things. I got a few pots, some seeds, and some potting soil. Believe it or not, when I first met Rindy, I had never heard of potting soil. I thought that if you wanted to grow something, you just dug a hole in the ground and put a seed in it and that was that. But it turns out that that’s not always the best way to plant things. Most plants like to grow in dark, rich, fertile soil like the kind that’s in this pot. And this kind of soil has a special name: it’s called humus. Humus is the latin word for dirt or earth or ground. It’s the latin word that that our word human comes from – a human being is a person formed of the earth. Humus is also where we get the word humble from. When we say that someone is humble, mean that they keep themselves well-grounded. They don’t put on airs or think themselves better than other people. Humble people remember that they were formed of the earth.
No matter how rich or powerful a person becomes, they are really just dirt – God made us all from the same stuff. The president of the United States? Just dirt. The queen of England? Just dirt. Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney? Just dirt. Father Bill and Father Mark? Just dirt. Even your mom and dad, or your kids. Just dirt.
In fact, let’s try something. I want all of the children in the room to turn to their parents and say, “I love you, and you’re just dirt.” Now I want all the rest of us to turn to our neighbor and say, “I love you, and you’re just dirt.” That kind of takes off some of the stress of talking to other people, doesn’t it? If we’d only remember that we’re all just dirt, life might be simpler.
Of course, the problem is that whenever people come together in a social setting, we forget that we are human; we forget that we’re just dirt. That’s what happened in today’s Gospel. Jesus was invited to Sunday dinner at the home of the leaders of the community. And he noticed that as all the guests came in, each one was trying to elbow his way to sit closest to the host. They would do this because it was an honor to sit next to the host. So Jesus told them about a man who was invited to a wedding. Where should he sit? He could sit at the head table, in the seat closest to the host, the place of highest honor. But if someone else came in who was more important, the man might be embarrassed by the host by being asked to give up his seat and move down a few chairs. It would be better to be humble, to remember that he was just dirt and take a seat at the end of the table. That way, the host might well ask someone else to give up his seat, and let the humble guy move up closer.
When I was in school, I was always looking who all the other kids were hanging out with, especially in the cafeteria. There were tables for the jocks, and tables for the brainiacs, and tables for the beautiful kids, and tables for the rich kids. There were also tables for the kids who weren’t so cool – the socially awkward, the kids wearing hand me down clothes, the ones who struggled to keep up in class. Everyone always sat with their own groups and if somebody wanted to try to sit with a different group, it was a big deal. That took real courage, because it meant breaking the social rules of high school.
This is why Jesus challenged the social rules of his day – rules that said that our value in society was determined by who our parents were, or what they did for a living; the social rules that said that unless you were born to a certain family, or your skin was a certain color, or you had a certain kind of house or car or bank account, you couldn’t be part of the kingdom of God. Jesus knew that all of us are human; all of us are just dirt. All of us have reason to be humble before the sight of the loving God who created us all.
At the same time, Jesus knew something else. He knew that even though we are just dirt, God did not leave us as a simple clump of mud. Instead, the God of the universe breathed into us the breath of life and we became living beings. In the waters of our baptisms God marked each of us with the sign of the cross – marked us as Christ’s own forever. Our dirtness, our humbleness, our humility infused with the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to be honest before God and each other about who we are, the gifts we have been given, the needs we share.
Humility is being honest before God.
This coming week, I’d like us all to think about what it would be like to reach across over the social cliques and groups that define us:
- What would it be like to invite a kid who seems always to be alone to sit with your group?
- What would it be like to reach out to someone at work who is very different from you?
- What would it be like to give up your seat on the bus to someone who got on late?
- What would it be like to post something kind on Facebook about someone who rarely gets noticed?
Finally, I want you to think about this: What would it be like, if someone were to ask you why you were doing these things, to say that it’s because you’re a follower of Jesus Christ and it’s what you think God wants you to do?
There’s a song based on the Epistle of James that goes, “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord, and he will raise you up higher and higher.” In our humility, God raises us and blesses us beyond our wildest dreams. God invites us to reach across the social barriers that divide us, and invite those who are least able to repay to participate in the heavenly banquet that is far greater than our wildest dreams. Let us remember that we are all just dirt – humus beings – who are also children of God.
Thanks be to God.