October 11, 2015
Harvest Thanksgiving & Earth Day
Psalm 104:13b-15, 24, 27, 28, 30b; 2 Corinthians 9:6-12; Matthew 14:13-21
Good morning! For those of you who don't know me, my name is Teresa. This week I realized that I've just passed my two year anniversary at St. Peter's: I walked in for the first time on October 6, 2013. I moved here from Edmonton to do my Master's in Natural Resources Management, and I have since made Winnipeg my home. Thank you all for welcoming me with open arms at a time when I most needed to find a place of warmth and home.
When Donna asked if I would be willing to preach to celebrate Earth Day, I was honoured. The Creation Care Committee discerned together that the theme for today, as you may have already noticed, would be the connection between the Eucharist and the food we eat. We have before the altar some symbols for you to reflect on: on the green cloth are grain and grapes, which become bread and wine, body and blood. There are also gifts which have been gathered to be given to those who do not have enough to eat.
Today is Harvest Thanksgiving, and at St. Peter's this year it is also our "Earth Day" celebration. This is a topic close to my heart, and my mind, as my academic studies have focussed on environmental issues for the past six years. I have longed to understand why some people behave in more environmentally-friendly ways than others. Sometimes people find themselves unable to take better care of creation because they lack money or time or energy. But sometimes there are other, subtler reasons at work as well.
So I started this degree with a theory. In simple terms, that theory is: We take care of the things we love but we can only love the things which we know deeply.
So if we want people to take care of the Creation, we must encourage love of nature. But how can we love nature if we do not have experience with it?
One place people experience nature is in community gardens. I interviewed community gardeners in the Riverview neighbourhood, in order to understand what they learned from their experiences gardening, and whether gardening was related to more creation care actions in their lives. The gardeners I talked to told me that one of the things they treasured about their community gardens was the community they built through interacting with those they worked alongside of. A south American woman had a plot beside an African family and learned how they cook with squash leaves; an American woman learned how to grow broccoli from a Korean man; and at least one gardener met their spouse because of the community garden. These were faces they never would have known had they not joined the garden.
There’s several reasons why I chose gardens as the site of nature experience – perhaps some more unconscious and symbolic than others. Gardening takes us back to our roots. When we were commanded at the beginning to be stewards of the Earth, it was in a garden.
Gardening is a symbol of how we work with the natural patterns of the world around us to produce fruitfulness that mutually benefits all of creation. I believe, and science has suggested this may be true, that when you dig your hands into the dirt, our bodies react instinctually and become more relaxed, stronger, happier, healthier: in short, more truly human.
Gardens also offer one source of hope for an alternative food system to counter some of the many problems with industrial monocultural agriculture as it exists today. We have a food system vulnerable to shocks like pests and disease, or interruptions in transportation systems. Growing food locally in diverse plots provides for biodiversity, a place where we can learn techniques, and a potential source of food security for the future. Lastly, food is an issue of justice.
Gardening is often done by those of us who have enough money for food, and simply want something that tastes better, or we want a nice leisure activity. But more often, at least globally, people garden out of necessity. They do not have enough money for food. In Winnipeg, people still don’t always know where their next meal is coming from. It is often the “working poor” who access food banks – a resource which is becoming increasingly necessary across Canada. By gardening, we can make fresh food available to those who may struggle to have access to it even right here at home.
So what does all this talk about gardening have to do with Eucharist, anyway? In the Catholic tradition, Eucharist is celebrated including the words “fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become for us our spiritual drink” and “fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.” The Eucharist is multi layered: there is grain and grape, bread and wine: these are things that we eat and drink at our dinner tables! And yet in them we know that somehow, Jesus is truly present to us.
Many of you will have been to the book study on "Take this Bread", or at least heard announcements about it. The book is a spiritual memoir of a Sarah Miles, an atheist who walked into an Anglican church one day, received the Eucharist, and was transformed by that experience. I, too, have felt the power of Eucharist. Growing up I was taught that communion was a symbol to help us remember Jesus' sacrifice. It was not until the age of 19 that I began attending an Anglican church, and after several years of attendance, I realized one day that my belief had changed. It had not changed through reading or theologizing, but through the simple act of receiving. Gradually, I had worshipped my way into believing that Jesus is truly present in this meal.
When I moved to Winnipeg, for a while, every day was a struggle. I was lonely, I was depressed, I felt lost. It was difficult to get up and face the day, to drag my butt out to St. Peter's on Sunday mornings. But I did it, because I needed it. I would sit through the first half of the church service, uncertain sometimes why I was there, distracted or upset. And then the time would come to receive the Eucharist. Just a small nibble of bread and a sip of wine. But the wine would send a warmth through me and as I returned to the pew, for a little while my burden was a little lighter. I cannot account for this, except to tell you that the Eucharist was my golden thread leading me out the other side of a difficult time; I can only tell you I know something real happened.
In receiving this great gift of Eucharist, I have experienced how we are strengthened to turn around and give it to more people. In the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus took mere crumbs, barely enough to feed a family, and made it stretch to feed all those who hungered. Similarly, this Eucharist is mere crumbs – each of us takes but a nibble of bread and tiny sip of wine, hardly enough to feed our physical need for nourishment – and yet, may we use it as inspiration and strength to multiply that food many times to feed the hungry.
Kimberly Bracken Long, with words more eloquent than my own, wrote: "When we gather around the Lord's table, we do so not only for our own sakes, but for the sake of all God's people. For the one who gave up his own body, that we might have life, demands that we tend to the bodies of others. How we share the meal at Christ's table informs all of our meals - where our food comes from, how much of it we eat, how we take part in the sharing of food. Whenever we gather for worship, we do so as the very body of Christ - our bodies washed and blessed and fed, that we might be scattered, ourselves bread for a hungry world." I want to send you with some challenges, with some calls to action.
As our Epistle today said, "you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others... Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"
We are called to thankfulness. One way in which we suggest you might cultivate this is by saying thanks before meals. We have prepared a small card with Table Prayers of Gratitude from the Book of Alternative Services to offer you inspiration; or you may wish to craft your own prayers of thanksgiving.
Both our epistle and gospel passage today talk about the sharing of food. I would encourage you to seek ways in which you can share food, including inviting somebody over for a meal, bringing donations to the St. Matthew's Maryland food box; or
contributing to our parish casserole program.
The Creation Care Committee has recently put together a Local Food Options brochure to help you discover where in Winnipeg you can buy locally-grown food; we encourage you to take one if you are interested to explore that possibility further.
Lastly, I would encourage you to go for a walk in a garden, or a forest, and engage your senses; cultivate your own knowledge of and love for nature.
Ultimately, what my heart, my faith, and my research tell me is that I wish to send you with this: Go outside today. Smell the dirt. Then go and eat and share prayerfully.