Grandma's Home-made Strawberry Jam, Pastor Kinsey
My parents loved to give Christmas presents, especially to their grandkids! And they were very generous givers over the years, but the one I looked forward to the most was a simple one we all got, every year. And that was my mom’s home-made strawberry jam! The strawberry’s came from local, pick-your-own-farms, and were so perfectly ripe and plentiful. Canning them was a day-long, labor-of-love, sterilizing the jars, pitting, slicing and boiling the strawberry’s, and of course my mom would add a generous helping of sugar, no one knew exactly how much – but the end product was hard to argue with. That one jar of mom’s home-made strawberry jam at Christmas was a thing of perfection, and all I really needed anymore, in the gift-giving season!
And so, the first Christmas after my mom died two years ago, we still all received a jar of home-made strawberry jam! That’s because, she died in October, but had put-up her jars of jam earlier that summer, just like every other year. It was, however, strange receiving it, without mom being there at the Christmas gathering. So, I placed the jar prominently on a shelf in the kitchen, and kept it like a momento, almost till Christmas the next year, before I finally cracked it open, knowing when I did, it was the final home-made strawberry jam I’d ever eat, made from my mom’s own hands.
But to my surprise, at the family Christmas just last December, more strawberry jam! Grandma’s granddaughter Hannah, my niece, revived the tradition, picking strawberries with the rest of her family, from the same Wisconsin farm, and making and canning them into jam, as best she could. They weren’t exactly the same, a little less syrupy perhaps… hmmm… not sure if she put in enough sugar… but were very reminiscent of mom’s home-made strawberry jam, none-the-less, made in the same reccled jars.
On the Day of Pentecost, the 50th day after Easter, Peter addresses those in Jerusalem for the festival who were there, and had witnessed the fire and wind of the Holy Spirit. And Luke, the writer of Acts, sums up where the community of the followers of Jesus are at, in our First Reading today, saying, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
After the resurrection and ascension, the apostles and followers no longer had Jesus with them. But they had him in spirit and in the breaking of bread – which Jesus had done with them so many times. Of course, he could no longer be there in person, but his generosity would now live on, in them. “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,” says Luke.
Living the will of Jesus, keeping up his traditions, was what formed them into a community of believers – the Body of Christ. And together they shared all things in common, “they would sell their possessions and goods,” says Luke, “and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Sort of like, Love your neighbor as yourself! But nowhere in this passage is the word love used, even once! Yet, because they were followers, because they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, they couldn’t help but live out the New Love Commandment that Jesus had taught them on Maundy Thursday. Jesus was no longer with them in person, but he lived in and through them, all the same.
Biblical scholars mostly agree that this passage in Acts is more the ideal of the community that was sought after, than an exact description. Or, I like how Professor of New Testament, Margaret Aymer, invokes its ethos: “Whether or not this is a strictly historical portrait, there are strong catechetical reasons for Luke to portray the church in this way. Such a portrait points to Luke’s ideals of what a church community ought to be.”
This holding all things in common, sharing the wealth of their members with everyone, living and working and worshiping in community, including going to Temple, and sharing the breaking of bread ritual at home, was how it was designed to go, that’s what the apostles’ taught them. This was their Catechism. It was essentially what Jesus had taught the disciples, but it hadn’t quite dawned on them at the time, that it was the blueprint for a new, alternative community, one that was a living invitation for the Kingdom and realm of God to be enacted – in, with and thru them.
So, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, how can we be the sheep of Christ’s pasture? How do we enact, and live out, the realm of our Good Shepherd, Jesus, the Lamb of God? What is the catechetical instruction we tell to one another, as followers?
“Father James Callan, of Spiritus Christi Church, shares a lesson that he learned early in his ministry, a valuable lesson that many of us are still struggling to accept,” says colleague and friend William Brosend. “When Jesus said there will be one flock, one shepherd [in John’s gospel], he was not asking for applications. The position is filled. With that realization comes an extraordinary freedom to be about the work of ministry without needing to be in control…” And then Callan continued, “There is a great deal of difference between thinking that one is laying down [or has laid down] one’s life for the “sheep,” and that we are called to lay down our lives for each other.”
And that is the tension and the risk of being the ‘umteenth’ generation after Jesus! Do we follow the teaching of the apostles’ by assuming Jesus has done all the work for us by his sacrificial death? Or do we follow the teaching of the apostles’ by becoming the Body of Christ, by enacting, love of neighbor/love of enemy, in all we do? Would it be enough to remember grandma’s home-made strawberry jam whenever we eat Welches strawberry jam, or do we actually have to make it from the same strawberry-farm-strawberry’s, in the same recycled jam jars?!
Jesus is no longer with us in person. And my mom is no longer here to gift us with her Christmas jam. But we know what the spirit of their missions’ were, we have the catechetical instructions. All we have to do now is figure out how we apply it in our own time and place!
How do we apply the catechetical principle of sharing all things in common, for example, to passing a state budget that’s fair to all on both sides of the income and expenses equation? Or to public schools and access to grocery stores in Edgewater or Lincoln Park or Lawndale? Or to nursing care in facilities that are for-profit vs. not-for-profit? Or to healthcare as a right for all, vs. a choice based on income?
“Very truly, I tell you,” said Jesus, “anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit… The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Breaking bread together and the prayers, are what makes for abundant life – but only if we learn to share with one another, to distribute the things we share and hold in common with all. Otherwise it’s everyone for themselves, and that’s not the Catechism Jesus handed down to us.
Let us become the living community of love and sharing, that brings Christ’s mission alive!