Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Matthew 26:26-29: The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’
Sometimes the internet is a steaming cesspool of rage and misinformation. And, sometimes it is a place of deep learning and joyful connection. This week, I learned something neat from the internet. I follow someone named Alexis Nicole Nelson on Instagram. Her handle is @blackforager. Her Instagram feed is sweet and silly and funny and so informative. She looks to forage for food and is passionate about teaching others to forage. She understands that foraging, particularly foraging what grows wild, is a long-standing and sustainable food tradition in many cultures and communities. On her feed, I’ve learned more about food elders where I grew up ate (like poke sallet), plants in my own yard (did you know that you can pickle tiger lilies), plants I’ve never heard of (pineapple weed!), and food I’ve only read about (she made pancakes out of flower made from acorns). I also appreciate how thoughtful she is about the ways that race and class affect the ways we eat and the kinds of food we have access to.
This week, I watched a video she made while out foraging for mushrooms. She titled the video: “The Honorable Harvest: A Rant.” I’ll share the link to the original when I post this sermon to the sermon blog. I’ll give you a little hint. When someone who’s work you respect starts a post with “I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed,” there’s a good chance that the post will be worth reading or watching. Why she is disappointed, in this post, is because someone chose to overharvest some chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms. From what she showed us, there were a couple really big patches of chicken-of-the woods on a tree, and someone cut off all of each patch nearly down to the bark of the tree. Nelson doesn’t think this is ethical harvesting. She goes on to explain why.
So much of Christian faith is about being attentive to how our values shape our actions. I heard something similar in Nelson’s description of the ethics that shape how she forages, even though she doesn’t talk about Christianity at all. She has values and those values shape her actions. She began to describe those values. She talked about a concept called the Honorable Harvest, noting that other teachers have spoken of it, like the professor Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book Braiding Sweetgrass. For Dr. Kimmerer, a key question is “how do we consume in a way that does justice to the lives we take?” (page 177). That question seems important to Nelson, too. So, she has developed a set of ideas that guide how she forages. Dr. Kimmerer shares many of the same ideas.
The first is don’t take the first of anything you find. It might be the only one. You rarely need to take the only one of anything. Second, don’t take all of something. Dr. Kimmerer goes so far as to say only take half (page 183). If you leave some, other people and creatures can share it and there will be enough left to reproduce. Third, take only what you need. In her video, Nelson pointed to her own harvest for that trip, which was a good handful of another kind of mushroom. It was all she needed. She left plenty for other people, animals, and fungi back on the log. Fourth, say thank you. In her belief system, this means offering thanks to both the mushroom and the log. I know hunters who say thank to the deer that they take. This practice of gratitude reminds those who harvest that the animals, plants, and fungi have lives worthy of consideration.
And, the fifth practice is to ask for permission. Dr. Kimmerer speaks of the power of thinking of food and harvest in ways that restore relationships... relationships between people, relationships among people and the plants and animals we consume, relationships with the land, water, and air. Asking permission is part of any healthy relationship. This can look different in different situations. Nelson says that if something is surrounded by poison ivy or out of reach for her, she takes that as a lack of permission. Dr. Kimmerer described a process of seeking permission that mixes a scientific method of assessment (is there enough, are we in the right conditions, does it look healthy) with a spiritual sense that she prayerfully tends to. Does this harvest feel like “yes” in this moment?
It must be noted that tending to these ethics of harvest does not make the harvest go faster. In fact, they slow it down quite a bit. That’s part of the point. In slowing down, the harvester pays more attention, shares better, acts more justly, and has the opportunity to act with gratitude. These ethics are not built for a culture that prizes the efficiency of clear-cut forests, mountain top removal mining, and unfettered consumption. Nelson and Kimmerer would like argue that the world wasn’t built for those practices either.
The meal Jesus shared with his friends in our scripture for today wasn’t made for efficiency or resource-hoarding either. It should be instructive to us that a key ritual intended to connect us to each other and to Christ is a ritual rooting in sharing. In his commentary on this text, Ron Allen argues that this story is probably here in Matthew, written decades after Jesus’ ministry, to help explain to later believers where this practice of sharing bread and wine came from and how it was supposed to help them know something of Jesus.
Allen argues that Jesus wanted his followers to live lives shaped by the ethics he taught them. As I said last week, they were to live in this world as though God’s Realm was already here and now. The notion that God wants people to have what they need to survive meant that the disciples would live in ways that made sure they, and the people to whom they ministered, have what they needed to survive. When Jesus’ followers eat and drink together, they are reminded of the call to feed the hungry and give drink to those who thirst. Christians have long argued about what it means for the bread and cup to be the body and blood of Christ. The traditions we follow lean into the answer that they assure us that Christ is present with us, I think especially so, when we share what we have, simple though it may be, with all who would like to partake.
I have often talked about how I think church gives us a chance to practice our faith, in here, so that we can live out our values more fully beyond the church walls. I am grateful for the examples Alexis Nicole Nelson and Robin Wall Kimmerer give of how they put their values into action in the practices of harvest and cooking. I pray that we can take some time to discern how we are living out our values, particularly this call to find Christ in the act of sharing a simple meal, beyond our ritual life here at church. When I first started thinking about this sermon, I asked myself the question “What makes a good meal?” Now, I’m inclined to shift it a bit: “What makes a meal good?” This scripture gives us part of the answer. Is it shared? Can everyone eat? Are we remembering the Holy when we sit down together? I hope you’ll consider these questions whenever you eat and whenever you share this week, and that you’ll know that Jesus can lead you, too, to live as if God’s Realm of love and justice has come.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Alexis Nicole Nelson's post that I reference: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CjvoYtEjjhs/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants, (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2013)
Ron Allen from the "Bread and Cup to Faith and Giving" resources
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.