Monday, March 31, 2014

Oceans in Acres

Exodus 17, 1-7 and Psalm 95
Chatfield United Methodist Church
March 23, 2014
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

Last week during our mid week Lenten supper we sat around tables and discussed corn. (those who are unable to come are really missing out)
Rod Nelson presented on the topic of ethanol production, which comes from corn. So we, naturally, began talking about corn farming, corn types, and remembrances of being in corn fields.

I am from Iowa. So corn is part of who I am. I am well aware of what a cornfield smells, feels, sounds and even tastes like on a warm morning in late July, early August. I spent three summers walking acres of cornfields pulling tassels out of the tops of corn stalks that were taller than me. I can still feel the sting of the cut from a sharp edge of a corn leaf, the dampness seeping into my long sleeve white shirt as the dew dried from the fields, and the smell of good fertile soil as the field warmed in the morning sun.
I am old enough that I actually walked the rows of corn. Although during my last summer of detasseling, riding detasseling machines were introduced. We wondered if this is what it felt like to see the first car roll into town.

I realize now that my work as a detasseler was helping the world create hybrids of seed corn for farmers to grow in their own acres of land throughout the world. All I cared about at the time was earning the money for my first year of college.

When I served the church in Waseca, a different type of corn took center stage. Each August large trucks would come into town filled to overflowing with ears of sweet corn for the Birdseye processing plant. It seemed strange at first to see trucks full of full ears of corn.

Driving through south central Minnesota I really couldn’t tell by looking, which fields were planted in sweet corn and which were planted as field corn. From a distance the acres of fields all looked the same to me.

After our conversations from Wednesday evening and remembering my experiences with corn, I began wondering: what is the difference between types of corn?
Which led to some research.
You can Google anything.

I learned some interesting things. 1st something to stick a feather in our caps: corn is the only important cereal native to the western hemisphere. While no one knows exactly for sure, for sure, most people think corn was developed in Mexico. [1]
All corn grown in the world can be traced back to the corn developed in the Western Hemisphere.

I also learned that there are six general types of corn grown throughout the world. Dent, which we call field corn, Flint and Flour, which are not grown extensively in the US, Sweet, Popcorn, and Pod Corn that is primarily ornamental.
When talking about the differences between these types of corn one reads about the starch content of the kernel of corn. Or more precisely, the sugar content that converts to starch.

Because even field corn is sweet before it begins maturing towards harvest. I know this to be true because my mother was allowed to harvest early ears of field corn from our neighbor’s field when Daddy was in the hospital and she was trying to feed 5 children on a limited income.

While we didn’t realize it, we were eating corn that was more similar to the early sweet corn the Peruvians ate before the sugars in sweet corn were modified to produce the amazing sweet corns we have today.

But as I was thinking about the differences in types of corn, something else, besides the sugar to starch concept, occurred to me, probably because I was thinking also about the scripture lessons for this Sunday.


Remember last year’s harvest? Remember how long into the fall it was before the corn could be brought in? What caused the delay? The corn was ripe, wasn’t it? It was ready, except that, it was too wet. And it was not that the soil was too wet for the combines and trucks, it was that the kernels were too wet. They needed to dry out so farmers could dry them without using too much fuel and store them without the risk of rot.

Water. We are not talking about a lot of water, either are we? Just a drop or two in each kernel of corn. But each drop or two combined with each drop or two in each corn ear, on each corn stalk, in each row, on each acre, could be an ocean of water.

Water. Have you ever eaten a dried out ear of sweet corn? Besides the fact that the sugar has converted to starch, the kernel also sticks to your teeth, between your teeth and to the roof of your mouth. There is not much worse than an old dried out ear of sweet corn.

Water. Even in the driest of dry corn, it is the water that is central to its success.
Popcorn. Popcorn has to be harvested and dried to moisture levels of 13%. Too wet or too dry you get a sad cracked kernel no fluffy puff.

Water. According to certain American Indian tribes, quiet, contented spirits live inside each kernel of popping corn. When their homes are heated, the spirits become angry, shaking the kernels more and more vigorously. When the heat finally becomes unbearable, the spirits burst out of their homes and into the air in a disgruntled puff of steam. [2]

Water, the spirit that lives within the popcorn kernel.

All of this tiny bits of water, sacred. Because all of it is a gift from God. God who can command water from a rock, who holds the ocean in the palms of His hands, who has provided us with living water through the Son, Jesus.

As we continue to contemplate the sacred nature of our food, in this Lenten season, it is good to remember how important water is to all of what we eat. From the kernel to the grain to the fruit to the vegetable to the milk to the meat, water is necessary and sacred.

We live in a part of the world that is blessed with good, clean water. I pointed out to Sama last week that she wouldn’t see many irrigation rigs in the SE part of the state of MN because our ground water is close to the surface and abundant.

But to the Israelites in the desert, They didn’t have enough water. Or at least they didn’t think they did. They camped one night at a place that didn’t have water. ONE NIGHT. They were in a desert. Why didn’t they carry water with them? Did they expect Moses to conjure up water out of the dessert sand? Did they just expect every little thing to be taken care of because they were following God’s way? They cried out in thirst to God with wicked words: Don’t you care about us God? Are you going to let us die of thirst? Did you bring us out here in the desert to die of thirst?

Instead of experiencing the new life they were living free from the slavery of the Egyptians, they accused God of being uncaring. 

God don’t you care about me? I am so thirsty. No one treats me right. No one gives me what I want. I can’t seem to find you anywhere. Have you just brought me into this world to die???

How can we be so blind? In a world that is so wondrous that a drop of water in a kernel of corn can be important. How can we not see how much God loves us?

[2] “Popcorn Season” by Terra Brockman; Christian Century, March 5, 2014. 

A Table for the Journey

Psalm 23
March 31, 2014
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Rev Debra Jene Collum

Psalm 23 is a Psalm about our journey. The journey of our life as God’s people with God at our side, always and every where. Our life road.

Along this road, we walk in places that bring us joy and well being. In those places God gives us the eyes to see it and the ability to feel the contentment of it. The appreciation of the beauty that surrounds us.
And not just in the beauty that surrounds us every day here in the chosen valley. Truly God’s country.
But even in the harshest of landscapes.

Have you ever been in a dreary place? Maybe a place filled with concrete and buildings? Have you ever discovered in that grey landscape the splash of a flower growing up in the crack of the sidewalk? Have you ever rejoiced in seeing such beauty in such an unlikely of place?
I believe it is God who in those moments gives us the nudge to see beauty almost as if we have lain down in green pastures.

We walk along the daily pathways of our lives. Coming to cross ways, forks in the road.
Wondering which way, which way should I go?
As you pause in the moment of decision, you feel it, that gentle but firm touch on your soul. This way my child, go this way.
And you know that this is the right path.
But even when you aren’t sure of the right path. when you take that road less traveled by and wonder, where am I, why am I here. The presence of God lights the pathway, showing you how this, right here is the pathway of God for your life right now.
God leads us in the right paths. Even when we take the wrong road.

Even when we walk through those darkest of places the valleys of despair, lost dreams and even death

See how Psalm 23 is about our life journey.
Which is why it is important to have a table in this story.  Before the Last Supper, before the Communion Table, there is the table in Psalm 23. Because how could we journey without food? How could we live without food?
In Psalm 23 there is a table.

Because we are God’s children, we are always given provisions for our journey.

And this table is unique. Because where is it spread? What are these provisions provided? Thou prepares a table before me where? “In the presence of my enemies.”

On Wednesday this week Tim Gossman mentioned how food is often used as a weapon of war or oppression.
There is nothing so tragic as the tragedy of food deprivation. Especially in our world where there are enough resources to provide every man, women and child with a 2,000 calorie a day diet.

When we hear of relief agency supplies that have been sabotaged or cut off by corrupt government officials. It makes us mad. As well it should.
Remember when the Sudan was in a crisis mode because of drought and hunger. Remember hearing how the warring parties were looting food relief supplies?

That was in the international news two years ago. But it is still happening in South Sudan today. On March 16, of this year, 2014,  a report from South Sudan warned of a new rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation because of a "lack of respect for humanitarian staff and convoys" by the warring parties, noting that food stocks had been pillaged and convoys searched. [1]

All over the world food is used as a weapon. As a way to keep people in their place. As a way to keep people dependent. As a way to insure that corrupt governments will have the upper hand.

This is what makes this Psalm so poignant. In the face of our enemy, the one who would keep food from us. The one who would try to control us by controlling our food, God spreads a table. Full of all the good things we need for our journey through life.
This is indeed, sacred food.
Now, in our lives we don’t come up against rebel armies keeping food from our plates. However, we do have enemies that keep us from enjoying the great gift of food which God has given us.

For some of us it is the number on the scale. For others it is body image. For others it is guilt about the kinds of food we eat. and for others it is simply that we have not been taught that eating is to be a joy filled and scared event.

On Wednesday we shared the ways we celebrated around the food of our culture and our families.
And thought together about how our meals could be, always, in most every way a time when we pay attention to our food. And instead of letting something keep us from enjoying our food and keeping God’s gift at an arm’s length, we eat carefully and mindfully. Aware. Aware that this is God’s table spread before us.

I remember making a wonderful holiday meal for guests once. I prepared all of my family’s special holiday foods for people who we loved. All during the dinner the guests commented on their discontent with eating this food. It was too fattening, too high in cholesterol, too high in calories, and besides, it would give them heartburn.  What a ruined meal. Even I couldn’t enjoy it.

I purchase my spices from a company called Penzey’s. They are a Wisconsin family company that urges people to celebrate food and the people who cook the food we eat.
One of their mottos is: “Love People Cook them Tasty Food.”

A story from their recent catalogue struck me with the poignancy of the sacredness of food shared and food appreciated.

This is from Tattoos on the Heart, a book by Gregory Boyle who set up a restaurant to employ former inmates who were members of gangs.
One of his employees a 23-year old former gang member has called to wish Father Greg a Happy New Year. Fater G tells the young man he has been thinking about him, and asks what he did for Christmas.

Oh you know I was just right here, meaning his tiny little apartment, where he lives alone.
“All by yourself?” I ask.
“Oh no,” he quickly says, “I invited homies from the crew, you know vatos like me who didn’t have no place to go for Christmas.”
He names the five homies who came over—all former enemies from rival gangs.
“Really, I tell him, “That sure was nice of you.”
But he’s got me revved and curious now. “So,” I ask him, “what did you do?”
“Well,” he says, “you are not gonna believe this…but…I cooked a turkey.”
You can feel his pride right through the phone.
“Wow, you did? Well, how did you prepare it?”
“You know,” he says “Ghetto style.”
I tell him I am not really familiar with this recipe.
He’s more than happy to give up his secret. “Yeah, well you just rub it with a gang a butter, throw a bund a salt and pepper on it, squeeze a couple of limones over it and put it in the oven. It tasted proper.”
“Wow,” I said, “that sounds impressive. What else did you have besides the turkey?”
“Just that. Just turkey,” he says. His voice tapers to a hush. “Yeah. The six of us, we just sat there, staring at the oven, waiting for the turkey to be done.”
One would be hard-pressed, writes Father G. to imagine something more sacred and ordinary than these six orphans staring at the oven tighter. It is the entire law and the prophets, all in one moment, right there, in his humble holy kitchen. [2]

God’s table, spread out in the presence of our enemies. Whatever our enemies or whom ever our enemies might be. Or might have been. Don’t you love this vision of a group of former enemies starring at the oven door, waiting for the turkey to get cooked.

God gives us provisions for the journey. Even if all it is is a 59 cent a pound turkey.

God gives us provisions for the journey, so that we can lay down in green pastures, walk beside still waters, journey along the pathways and even go through the valley of darkness. We are fed by God. Always, everywhere. May we see this as a gift. Let us not say to God, “Oh, I shouldn’t eat that.” Let us see all that we are given as sacred.

[2] Penzeys Spices Catalogue Spring 2014.