Radical Radishes – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Marks of Mission IV

One of the most radical things I have done in the past few years was to grow radishes in the vegetable garden at Emery House. Now I know that doesn’t sound very radical. After all you can buy perfectly good radishes at the grocery store. Or can you?

I built a number of raised beds and in one of them I planted radishes. Radishes are fun to grow. First of all, I am quite fond of them. Secondly you can plant them quite early in the spring. And finally it’s only about 21 days between planting and eating. If you want to discover the joys of vegetable gardening, radishes are a great way to begin. They are one of the closest things to instant gratification in the vegetable world.

But all that doesn’t necessarily make planting a bed of radishes a radical act. What was radical is that we ate home grown radishes at Emery House. When you eat home grown radishes; radishes that you actually planted; radishes that you just pulled from the soil and knocked the dirt off; radishes that you can taste and can almost taste the quality of the soil that they grew in, that is a radical act. Every time we served radishes, or anything else from the garden at Emery House, people actually smiled as they ate them. To eat a radish grown less than a hundred yards from where they were sitting for the meal, was sheer joy for our guests. And you could tell by the smile on people’s faces. What was even more radical is that we gave them away to others, and especially to a meal programme at one of the local churches. Giving away fresh, locally grown radishes, some of them nearly as big as my fist was the real radical act connected to my radish growing.

Today we continue the sermon series on the Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion. Last Tuesday Brother David and today I consider the Fourth Mark of Mission:To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation. This coming Tuesday and Sunday Brother Robert and then Brother Luke we will consider the Fifth Mark of Mission: To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

If you are anything like me, you probably find these Marks of Mission to be pretty daunting. To transform unjust structures, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation is a pretty tall order. How on earth can I as an individual even begin to scratch the surface when it comes to injustice and violence? How on earth can I as an individual, or even a group of individuals make my mark and change the world for the better? How do we as a church community raise our voices together and demand that justice be done?

For us as a monastic community, this Mark of Mission about transforming unjust structures, challenging violence and pursuing peace and reconciliation is embedded in our Rule of Life. In the chapter onPoverty and Stewardship in Practice we read:

The security we enjoy as a community makes us strangers to the precariousness and destitu­tion that are the lot of the poor. Therefore we come to the poor in need of their witness to what it means to be powerless and to put one’s trust entirely in God. As a community we must continually watch for signs that God is calling us to live and work with those who endure the hardships of material poverty. Even when our work among God’s poor is limited in scope we should be their allies in every way. Our vow binds us to ruthless self-examination as to our real solidarity with the poor.  In our education, preaching and political lives we are committed to advocacy for the poor, and the struggle to restore to them their just share of power and the bounty of God.[1]

But even this can be a real challenge. How on earth can we even begin to restore to the poor their just share of power and the bounty of God?

As Brother David told us on Tuesday, justice is in fact the work of God. Throughout Scripture, the people of God are reminded that the work of God, or the mission of God is about justice and that the kingdom of God is a place where justice shall roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.[2] The dream of God is that justice and righteousness will prevail, not just for some people, but for all people.

This dream of justice is at the heart of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom. From the beginning of his mission he was concerned with justice.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’[3]

His proclamation of release, recovery and liberation is ours as well. The faith is not a smorgasbord where we can order our religion with good liturgy, wonderful music, and beautiful vestments but hold the justice.

Our early Anglo-Catholic forebears knew this. “I speak about [sewers] because I believe in the Incarnation!” proclaimed Father Stanton one of the greatest of the nineteenth century slum priests.

But how are we to begin? Where are we to begin? It all seems so daunting. There is so much injustice out there.

Well that’s where radishes come in. Start small. Start here. But start now.

When I began growing radishes, I was only vaguely aware of issues like food security and food deserts. Sure I knew about the hundred mile diet and I often referred to the Emery House garden as our hundred yard diet. But I was only vaguely aware that food is in fact a justice issue. Who has and doesn’t have access to good quality food touches on issues of racism, poverty, sexism, ageism and a host of other things. The people in this country who don’t know where their next meal is coming from are mostly women and children of colour. There are vast sections of America that are food deserts where if you don’t have a car, your two options for grocery shopping are long bus rides to the nearest grocery store, and how much can you bring home on the bus, or the local market at the gas station.

So what can we do?

Well what you might want to do is go to the gas station, and when you pay for you gas, go into the market and see what’s for sale. Imagine for a minute that this is all you and your family have access to when it comes to grocery shopping. That, or McDonalds. Never mind wondering if you could even afford it.

Becoming aware of justice issues is the first step in our journey to fulfilling the dream of God.

The next thing you might want to do is educate yourself. Read up on food security. Find a map that shows the food deserts of America.

Then you might want to do something. If you have a back yard, grow something and give it away. Connect real people with real food.

If food isn’t “your thing” find something that is. Read about the Episcopal Church’s position on capital punishment or gun control. I don’t think you could consider my maternal grandmother an ardent feminist, but all her life she was concerned with the education of girls and young women and belonged to a group that raised money to provide university scholarships to women.

A search for justice comes in many guises. For me it began with growing some radishes and giving them away. As I sat at the dinner table and watched people smile as they ate those radishes I had grown, I knew that somewhere in Newburyport someone else was smiling as they crunched those early spring radishes that came from the same Emery House garden.

Today I would say that my search for God’s justice includes radishes and smiles, for the three are now intricately connected in my mind. So much so that last year we entered a partnership with an organization called Nourishing the North Shore. They now have two 50 by 50 foot gardens at Emery House and this year will add a greenhouse and three bee hives. Their mission is to provide food and food education to low income families in the Newburyport area.

It may not sound like much, but for those families, those gardens are huge and life changing.

Helen Keller once said I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.

As followers of Jesus you and I have good news to proclaim. That good news is a message of release, recovery and liberation for the poor. That is the dream of God. That is the mission of God. That is our mission. For me that dream, that mission involves radishes. What does it involve for you? What is the something you will do to bring about the kingdom of God?

[1]SSJE Rule of Life: Poverty and Stewardship in Practice, page 12

[2] Amos 5: 24

[3] Luke 4: 16 – 21

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  1. Laurence E A Franks on June 6, 2019 at 12:04

    Well said. Indeed the Kingdom of God is about justice according to Kingdom Standards which are upside down to the ways the world normally works as pointed out by Kraybill in his book Upside Down Kingdom and Leech in True Prayer (where the topic is seen thru the lens of the sacraments).

  2. James Rowland on June 6, 2019 at 08:07

    Br. James
    Yes, it is daunting. For me the challenge is to keep going when things seem to be stalled or even hopeless. My efforts with our food ministry as well as housing often seems so minuscule compared with the great need. Thank you for “the radishes”.

  3. Margo on May 7, 2016 at 20:01

    Thank you Br. James. The parable of the talents (weather money or innate capacities) tells us we do not come equal to the world but the injunction: “to whom much is given is much expected” gives us a working perspective. Margo

  4. Ruth West on May 4, 2016 at 22:38

    Br. James, the words of Helen Keller reminds me of the time many years ago when I belonged to The Daughters of the King. Her words was our motto. I am old, and unable to do everything I would like, but I know that a little is better than nothing. Thank you for your sermon. Thank you for planting and tending the radishes and sharing them with others. Thank you, too, for your plans to have a bigger garden with fresh wonderful produce to share. May God bless you!

  5. Jaan Sass on May 3, 2016 at 20:07

    I remember the stories of anglo catholic priests locating thier churches in the slums or the inspirationaL story of Father Huntington or Benson being intimidating. I am bipolar how can do anything. Yoúr reminder of being faithful in the small things. Your suggestions are great.

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