Potting Soil
Acts 2:42-47; John 10:1-10

Jesus tried twice to tell us where the joy of life is found and I trust that you with your conversations with other folks will all continue trying to pass on this message of what it means to live in abundance, in fullness, beyond anything we could ever dream. Let us continue moving toward that dream. Amen.

I wore my special springtime tie this morning. It has tulips and daffodils on it. In real life some of them are up. And, as every year, they come up before it is safe to come up. They do it every year, right? They come up and then we have a spell of some sort like yesterday and today. That's just the way it works.

Friends, that's the way it works with us as well. We get out there pronouncing a "dream" of a new way to live before it's safe to actually live the dream. That's a part of who we are -- daffodil and tulip kind of people -- leading a way to a new world, being that sign that there is something coming no matter what spell comes along after we're out there.

So, dear daffodils and dear tulips, do your business of announcing a wonderful dream of a new world beyond what we've been able to dream and live so far.

What we currently have is not it. This is not the ending spot. This is not where we stop. This is not where we are satisfied.

We dream. We dream.

These dreams get us into trouble sometimes.

There is the story of the person who climbs to the top of a snow covered mountain.

He is wondering, "Can God really hear me from here?"

So he yells! "God, what should I do with my life?"

"Feed the hungry, strive for justice, work for peace," says a big voice from somewhere.

"Oh," they said, "I was just testing."

"I know," said the voice. "So was I."

Just testing. Just testing.

This is the test of the cold snap after the daffodil and the tulip are up. Are you going stay up? Are you going to keep announcing that there is springtime in a new world and a better dream than we are living out of? Or, are you going to start curling back down saying, "Too much! I didn't expect this. Everything was supposed to be rosy after I joined the faith. What's going on? Why are things not so good for me?

We have some choices to make on the tests that come our way.

One of the tests is that this is Earth Sabbath Day. So we are dealing with issues of the environment.

The Gospel message from John this morning, in its traditional translations have Jesus saying, "I came that you might have life and have it in all its fullness, that you might have it in all its abundance."

We, immersed in a consumer culture have taken Jesus literally and have said, "OK. What does it mean to have abundance?" Here's what it means to have abundance (hold up and drop the Sunday supplement of advertisements from the paper.) Isn't this what we are talking about when we hear the promise of living in abundance? Isn't abundance about getting things? Getting. Getting.

Do you remember what the church in the early church said as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles? "They gave what they had that all might have enough."

This gets to be part of the choice on the test that comes our way. Are we going to look at an abundance of "getting"?

What does it mean to have an abundance of "living"?

These are two radically different ways to travel through life.

Having an abundant life, a full life, is a life in community, is a life that has to do with sharing. So it is that we are gathered this morning. One of the questions that stands before us as a nation is, How long are we going to continue exploring fragile places?

I was overjoyed to see that Congress has decided that we will not drill in ANWR, Alaska. That never was a good idea.

Are we going to keep focusing on more and more that we can suck out of the earth?

Is there not a place for conservation? for holding things in common?

Conservation is scriptural. It is what we do to care for the earth. It is what we do to care for one another. We live frugally in order that the resources we have might go to better the community we live in.

Conservation is a scriptural mandate over and against the perpetual yearning for and going after more and more and more.

A choice needs to be made between abundant getting or abundant living.

How do we begin to hold things in common?

I have a gift for you this morning. You are welcome to one or two of the gifts that come your way.

(Ushers come to distribute the gifts.)

So, you've got yourself some potting soil.

Take an extra for a friend. You can talk with them about the importance of potting soil.

I invite you to take your little baggie of dirt and go put it someplace where it will be helpful. It may be in your garden, your windowbox, the park, right here in the front yard of St. Luke's -- we have some landscaping to do after the heat last year baked our yard.

What I want you to particularly pay attention to. Out of our funeral service we use a line, "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust." We are of the earth. We are made out of the very stuff of the earth which is made out of the very stuff of the stars. We are connected and in community with everything that is.

I want you to get several pictures out of this little bag of dirt that I think have to do with abundant living.

There is an old tradition within the church of calling us "miserable sinners" and "wretches." A picture of this is to compare ourselves to God and see ourselves as lowly worms. We are of no account. We just crawl around. We are really nothing at all in the sight of God. I personally have a difficult time with these images that denigrate God's creation our being made in God's image, but we do have this strain in the church that talks about how terrible we are and how we can never do anything right.

I would like you to remember that the way in which the soil becomes soil is through the action of worms. Right? If we don't have any worms we are in one big problem. The worm has a very important place to prepare the soil in which plants grow.

To shift to another negative image in todays everyday language, can you be a dirt-bag for Jesus? (Yep, that's pretty bad.)

Can you go out to get things ready? Part of the reason for potting soil is to get things ready. You put seeds and cuttings in potting soil because its easy to grow in. You use potting soil when you want to get things off to a good start.

We want the world to be a better place than it currently is. We need to become seedbeds of that hope, of those dreams, so the daffodils and tulips will grow up through us. We see ourselves as forerunners of a better future just like Jesus was called a forerunner of salvation and the community of faith. We are the folks out there at the start spot for tomorrow and we need potting soil.

Some of the soil we need was talked about earlier in the Acts of the Apostles. Remember these characteristics as potting soil to grow our spirits and to help grow one another.

"They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles." That means they gathered together to listen in on what it was that God has been trying to say. So we listened to Jesus trying to say it twice this morning. They didn't get it so he tried it again. "I'll try to be more explicit this time," he says. I'll try to say it in a way you can understand. And we need to hear that word a third time, and a fourth time, and fifth time. We need to hear it in Jesus' words, we need to hear it in the words of the apostles, we need to hear it in the words of the church, we need to hear it from one another. The early church committed themselves to being present to the teachings of the church. This becomes part of our potting soil. This is where we can more easily put our roots down into a larger dream. The teachings are the potting soil of our spirits.

It goes on to say they committed themselves to "the life together." Faith in not an individual kind of business. There was a community that was involved. Our community is our potting soil. It is where we find support when things are going awry in our lives, where we can call upon one another for assistance, where we get our watering, where we get our fertilizing. It is the community we find to be our potting soil.

It goes on to talk about the common meal. At that point the common meal was not a ritual of communion as we have it today. It was a meal. Folks met together, ate together. It was during the eating that they found those informal moments to be able to locate the real stuff of life. They committed themselves to the common meal.

It goes on to talk about holding their goods and property in common. They sold what they own and pooled their resources so every person's need was met. This is our potting soil, the way in which the community cares for one another. I commend you to one another. You are potting soil for each other.

Have you ever thought of yourself as potting soil? Probably not. But that is what the community of faith, the congregation of St. Luke's is. It is what nurtures children into new life. It is what nurtures those of us who have been around for awhile while we go through our various stages of growth.

Finally it says they committed themselves to the prayers -- to the prayers. It is out of the prayers that we find our potting soil. The prayers surround us and give us that base of being.

That's what the early church did, adding thousands at a time to the community of faith. I commend to take your potting soil and spread it someplace in the world where you expect it to do some good. As you spread it offer a little prayer that you who are spreading this potting soil stuff will also find a way to spread the gift of the teaching and the community and the prayers of the church of Jesus, of God.

It will not just be a matter of going ahead dumping this out somewhere and walking away. Offer that prayer.

Right now I will offer a prayer on our behalf and in anticipation that you will build on it later when you spread your potting soil and yourself.

Gracious God, we are more than bags of dirt or miserable worms, we are your people, your church. As we spread this symbol of potting soil around our community help us to be brave enough to really be daffodils and tulips in other people's lives reminding them of the dream beyond the best we've been able to do so far. Bless us, O God, we ask, as we are potting soil for you to help people grow their spiritual lives. We give you thanks for helping us think anew in such a common way -- potting soil. Amen.

Copyright 2002. Wesley White, Pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. 1022 Caledonia Street, La Crosse, WI 54603.

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