Every once in a while, a child says something so simplistically profound that it sets our minds spinning. This happened to me on our way into church Sunday morning. My oldest son was carrying my little girl as we hurried to make it to worship practice. As we walked through the unpaved parking lot at the back of the building, she noticed the brown earth we were walking on. Of course, this is a sight that we have seen very little of in several months. If you live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or another area with a similar climate, you understand. Spring has technically come, but it hasn’t exactly sprung yet. Snow still covers much of the ground, though it is slowly and surely receding to make way for the new season. This fading of winter into spring is what my two-and-a-half year old daughter noticed as she made her way into the building in the arms of her big brother. Being the talkative little creature that she is, she didn’t simply point to that dark ground and say “dirt” or “mud” or give a laugh of discovery and excitement. Instead, she looked at the dirt and then spoke these words to her brother in her sweet little toddler voice.
“It’s the churches dirt.”
Wow! Now we all know that a cute phrase tumbling out of the mouth of a child or a silly, offhand comment by a little boy or girl can sometimes hold a treasure trove of insight and wisdom that they themselves don’t understand. In this case, my daughter was talking very literally about the dirt outside of the churches doors. Even so, the second the words came out of her tiny mouth, I thought, “there’s a sermon in there somewhere.” So what does it all mean? The first question we have to ask is, “what is dirt?” Well, as with most words, there are multiple definitions. The first one I want to focus on, is probably the one that most people think about when they hear the word. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, dirt is “a filthy or soiling substance.”
Now, I want you to think for one moment about the church. What is our purpose? What is our calling? What is our initiative? Well, besides the fact that Christ created the church to be a body of believers who meet together and build one another up, there is our ceaseless task of fulfilling the great commission. We are to go into all the world and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Each of us is to head out and get our hands dirty. We are to get in with the filth of the world and hopefully come out with another soul. Sin is everywhere, and keeping ourselves in our neat, clean little boxes where we sing songs together and never leave the comforting presence of other Christians was never what God intended for us here on earth. At least, not since Christ paid the ultimate sacrifice to purchase those people lost in darkness. We are to look at the community outside of the church, look at the sin that binds them and realize, it’s our sin. It’s our dirt. We were once there. We were once lost and hopeless without a Savior. We were once bound by the same filth, the same shame, the same sin, and the same dirt. In fact, even though Christ has washed us as white as snow, we play in the dirt everyday. We still fall. We still fail, and we still sin. It’s OUR dirt! When a new believer comes into the church, there’s a whole lot of filth that comes in with them. When we as mature Christians gather in our pews, there’s a whole lot of dirt that clings to us too. It’s the churches dirt.
Now here’s the second definition of dirt… “something worthless.” If we look at ourselves in light of our God, it is very easy to see that what Christ found worthy and valuable falls very short in comparison to his glory and perfection. We label items that are broken and covered with filth as worthless… as garbage. Look at the human race entangled and wrapped up in sin and bound by addiction. We are a broken, filthy people. When placed in juxtaposition to the Creator… we are worthless. We are dirt. How fitting that we were literally created from the dust of the ground. Yet here’s what Christ does with us, with mere dirt, as we revel in our dirty, unclean state. When we call out to Him, when we surrender our lives to the Savior, He washes us clean and gives us new life. How, though, when we are still prone to sin and when we still revel in it so often, how when we are so utterly worthless in comparison to our Redeemer, can we really be new creations? Well, it all comes down to enriching the dirt. Christ redeems us. He redeems our sin-filled, filthy hearts, and he adds His blood, grace, and forgiveness into the mix. In the same way, a useless pile of dirt in our backyard can be redeemed when we add compost, perlite, and fertilizer to it. In both cases, the worthless, vile thing has sudden value. It is something new. Not only is it changed, but now, it also has the ability to produce growth, to produce a crop, to produce something of great value.
Just like the soil that has been enriched with nutrients and everything it needs in order to produce a crop, so we have been enriched by the love and forgiveness of Christ. We can now produce fruit ourselves; but we can also go out into the world and spread the fertilizer, spread the compost, and spread the perlite. We can spread the gospel message of the love, forgiveness, and cleansing blood of Jesus. We have the privilege of showing others how they can be redeemed, how they can be made new. They will then be able to produce a crop themselves and so the cycle will continue. We must always remember, however, that even though Christ needed to die to bring redemption to the whole world, our very own dirt made that sacrifice necessary. Our hands are not clean. So when you look at the hurting, broken, sinful person walking down the street or standing in line at the grocery store, don’t fall to the temptation of judging them. Just as Christ found you desirable and worth dying for, so he found them desirable and worth dying for. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). That’s one of the things that makes His work on the cross so remarkable. His amazing mercy was demonstrated in the most beautiful way possible by His willingness to come to earth and transform us into life-producing soil, while we were still nothing more than dirt.