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. 

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