by Rev. Joan Kessler
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
On a hot summer Sunday morning, I thought we would take time to celebrate our congregation’s stewardship these past months. Back in the spring we learned of our potential operating deficit for this year and action was taken to bridge the gap in revenue created in part by COVID. We have been able to increase our revenues through the stewardship campaign launched in April and most recently our Zoom Auction last weekend by some $25,000. This is truly something to celebrate in our small community and it gives us a sense of confidence and renewed vigor and energy to continue forward in our work. But when I hear of Paul’s encouragement to the Christians at Corinth, I am reminded that the church has never really had any money… I think it has been designed this way so that we never become complacent or disinterested in what we are here for, to live by Christ’s example and spirituality, modeling his inclusive and radical welcome of all our neighbors.
Strawberries have also been with me these past weeks. We enjoyed the homemade strawberry pie as part of our auction offering last Saturday. Strawberries are a significant part of the teachings of Indigenous peoples. June is set apart as Indigenous History Month and I decided to do some exploring into the meaning of what First Nations peoples call the Heart berry. I had the opportunity to have lunch with Kiri Geen this past week and asked her to share her findings with me about Strawberries as well as Robin Wall Kimmerer whose book Braiding Sweetgrass you may recall in our time together from last summer. For Indigenous people, wild strawberries are an important source of food and medicine. Its fruit is connected to the strawberry plant by a vast system of leaves and runners, just as the human heart is connected to all organs and parts of the human body, making life possible. The creation story of many First Nations people tells of Skywoman's beautiful daughter, whom she carried in her womb from Skyworld, grew on the good green earth, loving and loved by all the other beings. But tragedy befell her when she died giving birth to her twins, Flint and Sapling. Heartbroken, Skywoman buried her beloved daughter in the earth. Her final gifts, the revered strawberry plant, grew from her body. The strawberry arose from her heart.
Kimmerer speaks of the role wild strawberries have played in her life. She retells being a young child, lying on the grass, watching the clouds overhead and keeping a close and attentive eye on the strawberries growing beside her… sometimes she couldn’t resist and would pick and eat the young berries even before they were even ripened. She and her siblings collected strawberries in order to make their Dad’s favourite desert, strawberry shortcake for Father’s Day… she made pocket money as a young girl by picking berries for a neighbour, earning 10 cents a quart.
For Kimmerer and Indigenous people, strawberries are Gift. She writes:
Strawberries first shaped my view of a world full of gifts simply scattered at your feet. A gift comes to you through no action of your own, free, having moved toward you without your beckoning. It is not a reward; you cannot earn it, or call it to you, or even deserve it. And yet it appears. Your only role is to be open-eyed and present. Gifts exist in a realm of humility and mystery -- as with random acts of kindness, we do not know their source.
In part due to her relationship with wild strawberries, Kimmerer speaks of the gift economy, one governed by exchange and reciprocity rather than one driven by consumption and “more is better”.
Gifts from the earth or from each other establish a particular relationship, an obligation of sorts to give, to receive, and to reciprocate. The field gave to us, we gave to my dad, and we tried to give back to the strawberries. When the berry season was done, the plants would send out slender red runners to make new plants. Because I was fascinated by the way they would travel over the ground looking for good places to take root, I would weed out little patches of bare ground where the runners touched down. Sure enough. tiny little roots would emerge from the runner and by the end of the season there were even more plants, ready to bloom under the next Strawberry Moon. No person taught us this -- the strawberries showed us. Because they had given us a gift, an ongoing relationship opened between us.
Kiri shared with me teachings that spoke of wild strawberries as women’s medicine…a young woman fasts from strawberries and other berries for a whole year when she gets her first menstrual cycle. During this year, she spends time with grandmothers who teach her about womanhood and how to bring life into the world. She also gathers berries, which she will present to her community when she completes her fast. Hence, she learns how to care for and sustain her people.
Paul writes to the Corinthians and gently encourages them to share what they have with others from their surplus. Supporting the work of the church is not meant to be burdensome or some guilt-driven obligation to support. We know what is in the budget, where our money goes and we decide how much… we are good at math. He instead reminds them of Jesus’ example… Jesus didn’t accumulate but rather gave away, extravagantly and generously so that no one was left out. Rich or poor, healthy or sick, Jesus took time for everyone. Our passage this morning is one of encouragement for us to be the same.
The strawberry season is fully upon us, and how we enjoyed strawberry pie last weekend. It is a fitting symbol perhaps as we celebrate our stewardship. The more something is shared, the greater its value becomes. Reciprocity is at the heart of wild strawberries; they come from Creation to sustain, to heal, to reconcile relations. One takes only what is needed and everyone has enough. In Indigenous languages like the Mohawk, strawberry translated means I love you and I show you I care. We give thanks to God, to Creator for strawberries this morning… for their unexpected gift. I leave you with a final thought from Braiding Sweetgrass…that a gift comes to you through no action of your own, it’s free, having moved toward you without your beckoning…it is not a reward; you cannot earn it, or call it to you, or even deserve it. And yet it appears. Our only role, she writes, is to be open-eyed and present…and I might add, open-hearted. May we respond to this gift with our faith, our loving, our living.