Green Bean Stew


Randall Tremba
 October 7, 2012
World Communion Sunday
Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

Mark 10:2-16
People were bringing little children to Jesus in order that he might bless them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them to keep the children away. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms and blessed them.

* * *

For the past three Sundays we have reflected on the Battle of Antietam and its grim aftermath. And for the past three weeks I’ve had green bean stew on my mind. One mother told me that that story about the green bean stew brought tears to her 5-year old son. He heard the story for the first time here on the first pew two Sundays ago.

Three Sundays ago on Sept. 16, the day before the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, our children tied yellow ribbons and rags on the fence around our Meeting House yard. But first the children stood here at the front of the church with those yellow, ragged cloths around their necks. We offered the world prayer for peace. Then we sent them out to the yard singing: “Peace before us, peace behind us, let all around us be peace.”

Earlier that morning on the first pew the children had heard how those yellow rags marked houses, stores, and churches where wounded soldiers could receive care. This was one such place.

The wounded were brought into his house of prayer by the dozens if not by the hundreds. Within days, some were transferred to hospitals. Some stayed here for weeks. Some died right here on the floorboards beneath this carpet.

Following the Battle of Antietam the wounded multitudes hobbled, limped or were carried into this town by the thousands. There were only a few hundred people, mostly women, children and older men here at the time. There were very few resources to care for so, so many.

But what are you going to do when people are suffering right in front of your eyes? What can one person do? Well, you do what you can. You take what you have, bless it, break it open and give that others might live.

Take, bless, break, give.

Maybe all you can do is make stew as a certain Rachel Snyder did. She was but one of many I’m sure. Hers just happens to be the name, the stew and the story remembered 150 years later.

She brought her kettle of green bean stew to this Meeting House turned hospice. She ladled the stew into the mouths of wounded and hungry young men. One man exclaimed: Oh, ma’m, I so love your stew. Please bring me some tomorrow.

And of course she did. But, alas, he had died in the night.

Her heart sank and tears fell. And then, according to the story, she moved on to offer her stew to those still living and fighting to stay alive.

What else can you do in such time? You anoint the dead with a blessing. And keep tending the wounded as long as you can. As Dorothy Day put it: No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless; there’s too much good work to be done.

How do you measure success in a “green bean stew” moment? You don’t. You can’t. Success isn’t the measure. Faithfulness is. All we can do is be faithful to love in the small world in which we live. In this moment. In this conversation. In this encounter with another. In this room. In this classroom. In this kitchen. At this table—wherever that table may be.

This is world communion Sunday. But keep in mind: there are many worlds on this one planet. The planet may be one but it holds many worlds, including the small world in which you live and move and have your being daily. That’s the world you can reach out and touch and that’s the world that touches you with love if you allow it. You can’t touch every world; but you can touch the one you live in.

Last Sunday nineteen of us, including a few children, paid a visit to the Jefferson Orchards near Kearneysville where migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico had come to pick apples, temporary workers who follow the crops from Florida to Michigan and back again. Some brought wives and children.

We’ve done this for nearly 10 years. Of course all 500 of us in this parish weren’t there. But when some of us convey love and hospitality it is on behalf of—and with the blessing of—us all. And that’s what makes it such a powerful thing.

We took a meal of fried chicken, salad, coleslaw and cake, plus boxes of rice and beans and canned foods plus bags of clothing. We gave but we also received much in return. Testimonies from the migrants of joy and hope despite hard times lifted our spirits.

One of our children was instantly befriended by one of the migrant children. Emily and Jennifer became fast friends for the day. Just before leaving for home, without any prompting from parents or other adults, our Emily took off her hooded sweater and gave it to Jennifer. Emily understood that Jennifer wouldn’t have much to keep her warm come winter.

At the heart of the Christian life is a practice symbolized in this meal. We take the little we have; bless it; break it open or pour it out; and give that others might live.

Take. Bless. Break. Give.

Yes, it’s a ritual. But that doesn’t mean it has to be mindless or ritualistic. It is, in fact, a sacred practice intended to teach mindfulness and gratitude for the gifts we have received from the earth and from community. Now and then one of us gets it, really gets it. And as often as not, it’s a child. Or someone with a childlike spirit.

Let the children come,said Jesus.

You see, it’s not the big, spectacular and self-important things that bless the world so much as it is small things and ordinary people doing common acts of kindness. As Mother Theresa said: there are really no great things to be done in this world; but there are many small things to be done with great love.