The Kingdom of God is Like a Yoghurt Plant

The book ‘The Kingdom of God is like a Yoghurt Plant’ is something I picked up at the cottage last week, which I’ve been reading on the bus to work each day. It’s a book of selected writings by Bob Jeffrey, an Anglican priest, theologian and writer (available to buy here). I’ve learned such a lot through reading it, and thought I’d just share the very first piece of writing in the book.

The Kingdom of God is like a Yoghurt Plant

Sermon given at St Paul’s School, Connecticut, Sept’ 2002

The parables of Jesus are based on experiences of everyday life from which quite a lot of other meanings can be drawn. The Biblical commentators are pretty sure that when the Gospels do give an explanation, they are not part of the original text. So I want to tell you a new parable from my own experience, and leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Some years ago, at the end of a meeting in my house, a friend said to me, ‘Would you like a yoghurt plant?’. Not quite knowing what it was, but keen to try it, I was given a demonstration of what to do.

It is a culture, which feeds on milk. The culture I was given was supposed to have come from Imperial Russia in the 1890s – so it had a long history. It needs careful attention. It must never have contact with metal. You put the culture, which looks a bit like dry rice pudding into a glass jar and fill it up with milk.You cover the jar with muslin and leave it in a warm room. After two or three days you take the culture and rub it through a plastic sieve with a wooden spoon. What goes through the sieve is highly edible yoghurt. What remains behind is the culture. You give the culture a wash with cold water and put it back in the jar and start again.

Now comes the interesting part. The culture grows all the time and gets bigger and bigger. So the size or number of jars you use has to increase. The amount of milk you have to use gets more and more. In a state of panic, you have visions of the yoghurt plant taking over your whole home and almost being swallowed up by it.

There is only one solution. You have to keep on giving it away. So around the parish I was in, more and more people had yoghurt plants, which they were also trying to give away to each other. My curate took a service once a week in a convent and he took some down there. So that it is now part of the staple diet of the nuns. A couple of years later I met someone in Scotland who had been given some yoghurt culture by the nuns.

The plant still had to be cared for. It dies if you leave it too long. If you go away on holiday you can leave the culture in the fridge and start it up again when you return. You have to be very careful not to let it get in any contact with metal or it just dies. The only thing to do is to keep on giving it away. But that is not the end of the story.

About two years later I came across a letter in a London newspaper, which read as follows:

Dear Sir, in an idle moment I glanced through the Financial Section of your paper. My attention was caught by the drawing of a tub called ‘Natural Yoghurt’ in Francis Kinsman’s article. Curiosity aroused, I started to read. Yoghurt is a common soured milk product on sale in the United Kingdom but the soured mild make by Francis Kinsman is not yoghurt. Correctly it should be called ‘kefir’ and so made by a kefir plant or kefir grains. For this is the name of the white tapioca-like granules. On several occasions over the past few years that I have become aware of, home brewed was being made by various people and incorrectly called yoghurt. To the layman the difference between the two products appears to be trivial. Yoghurt is milk soured by a lactobacillus and streptococcus growing together for six to eight hours at a temperature of 25 degrees centigrade. The latter product is less acid than yoghurt, shoulc be slightly gassy and taste detectable ethanol (alcohol). Perhaps the difference between kefir and yoghurt is unnoticed because the acidity of the latter is often masked by added sugar or fruit.

So it is not what I thought it was anyhow. But that is not the end of the story. A couple of years later, not having been swamped by the kefir plant we went away on holiday and left the culture in a jar in the freezer. Someone was staying in our house to look after our cats and we forgot to tell him about the contents of the jar. The result was that when we came home we discovered that he had thrown it away because he thought it was something nasty rotting in the refrigerator. Two weeks ago I found an advert in the paper encouraging its readers to buy bottles of kefir. The advert read:

Fancy a drink which will keep you forever young? The latest wellness drink is a milk-based product that contains friendly bacteria and yeasts. It has been in the Caucasus for hundreds of years and is held to be the reason for longevity of its inhabitants.

It costs about $4 a litre.

I think it is time I went down the road from where I now live, to the convent, to collect a bit of the culture, which they were given 25 years ago.

Why pay for what you can have free as long as you keep on giving it away?

He who has ears to hear, let him hear. 



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