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Jesus and the Compost Pile

What do Jesus and the compost pile have in common? The promise of everlasting life!

My partner Ruth and I love making compost. The idea that our spoiled leftovers and our

cooking scraps can be made into new earth seems nothing short of miraculous. We used

to have a small farm with a herd of goats, some chickens (layers and broilers), large veggie

gardens, and fruit trees. Our compost pile then was gigantic, composed mostly of soiled hay

from the barn and droppings from the chicken coop, as well as garden waste. Our kitchen

scraps mostly went to the chickens, who conveniently pre-composted them for us into

nitrogen-rich poop.

In the winter, our big mound of compost would get covered in snow, and a small hole would

open on the top with steam billowing out, like a volcano, letting us know that living microbes

were at work transforming/transfiguring that “waste” into black gold—the rich soil–full of life

that we would use in the spring to feed/ nourish the new seeds and plants in our garden.

Nowadays we live in town and we make compost in a handy compost turner that lives in our

small greenhouse. We’ve gotten so into composting that we now have a compost

thermometer, like a meat thermometer but with an extra long metal spike that you can insert

deep into the composter to see how active your pile is. “How Hot Is Your Pile?” was a

joke on the box that the thermometer came in, which kind of grossed me out at first, but the

more I thought about it I came to appreciate the humor. After all, everything poops, right?

That’s how animals live. We eat, we use the nutrients from our food as energy to help us

work, love, think, and move, and then we excrete what we can’t use. The waste from all

living things can become food for another living thing. What is “dead” becomes the basis for

new life.

According to the EarthMatter website and its Compost Learning Center, animal manure

is high in the basic building blocks of plant nutrition--nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Chicken poop has a 1.1 percent nitrogen content, compared to .6 percent for cows, .7

percent for horses, and a whopping 2.4 percent for both goats and rabbits. Everyday

kitchen scraps and coffee grounds are also high in nitrogen. Human waste, believe it or

not, can also be composted quite easily into “humanure” by way of composting toilets and

outhouses, where air and other carbon-rich additives (ash, leaves, straw, etc.) are

added to help in the composting process. At our small camp we have an outhouse with

a composting toilet (one made for boats), where the human waste is mixed with peat moss

and ash. We empty that into another big dark plastic bin that composts for, maybe up to two

years, along with leaves and camp kitchen scraps.

I’m not trying to be rude or sacrilegious when I write about Jesus and the compost pile in the

same sentence. What I’m trying to do is make sense of Jesus as a very powerful

symbol of hope and renewal. A symbol of everlasting life. When I take communion and I

imagine partaking of the body of Christ (or the bread of life), or drinking from the cup of ever-

lasting life, (or the cup of blessings), it’s not the last supper that always comes to mind. What I

sometimes imagine is preparing a meal in my kitchen, say, an omelet. I chop the ends off an

onion and peel away the outer layers. I might also add part of a green or red pepper,

maybe even kale, tossing the parts that I can’t use into the compost pail on my counter.

The shell from the egg I crack goes into the compost pail too. In a typical day in my ordinary

house the compost pail gets all that and more, including the spaghetti and rice from weeks

ago that have started to grow mold, citrus peels, apple cores, rotten lettuce, bruised parts of

potatoes, chunks of moldy bread, coffee grounds, tea leaves, you name it.

Composting is a spiritually potent act. It’s also an act that honors the beautiful world we live in

by conserving the precious energy inherent in our world. The law of the conservation of energy

states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only converted from one form of

energy to another. When we compost we are helping to convert energy into another form; we

are renewing life. According to Energy-Shrink website, “Composting food scraps, plus all the

remaining organic waste from one US household, equates to removing 1.5 cars from the roads

or 75% of an average homeʼs energy use per year.” Wow, talk about transformation!

The Christian story is that God sent Jesus to dwell on earth among us as a

teacher—someone like us humans whom we could recognize and relate to. Then he was

killed. Then he arose from the dead. I’ve heard it said that Jesus’s resurrection conquered

death. Rather than conquering death, I prefer to think of it as revealing the myth of

death—nothing dies, everything is always reborn as something else. Even the eggshell from

my omelet will provide food for microbes and red wiggly worms that will create the soil that

will create the vegetables that will create new chickens and new eggs that will feed me and

those I love.

When John tells Nicodemus in the scripture from today that to “enter the Kingdom of God” one

has to be “born again,” Nicodemus seems incredulous. How can a person be born again,

he asks? That just doesn’t make sense. Jesus just repeats himself, and says, if I tell you

about earthly things that you don’t understand, how can you understand about heavenly

things? You’re not getting it, he seems to be saying to Nicodemus. You are being too literal. Try harder. Or

maybe, don’t try so hard. If you want to understand about “being born again,” if you want to

understand about “eternal life,” if you want to understand about the transfiguration of the

everyday into the holy, then you have to change your mind, change the way you think,

use your imagination and plug into your faith. Inside the literal there is always a miracle hiding.

The miracle is that by composting, we become a link in the circle of life. A circle is a sustainable

sacred shape, a loop; it never ends, it is ongoing, ever-renewed– it is everlasting. As we go on with our

weeks, may we all be on the lookout for the ways that the heavenly shows up in our everyday lives,

and the ways we can use our imaginations to integrate these understandings into our faith.

Sermon Given at Shorey Chapel, Industry, Maine

March 5, 2023

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