Saturday, July 26, 2014

Be the yeast!

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Prop: bread maker at work early in the day, so the bread will be done by the time the sermon finishes for the second service. The smell of yeast should be present as the dough is formed during the first service.

In today’s Gospel reading, Matthew has clustered a number of parables about the kingdom/reign of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not a place but rather a condition, or an action. The kingdom of heaven exists when God’s purposes are fulfilled, and God reigns in our hearts and in the world.
For Matthew, the good Jewish writer, heaven is another way of saying God. It is a way of referring to God without saying “God”, which Jews consider disrespectful.
… One of the parables is about a woman who puts a lump of yeast – from a sourdough type starter – into a large amount of flour. I remember an episode of “I Love Lucy” in which she decides to bake bread. She adds too much yeast and gets a loaf that is 18’ long. It just keeps coming and coming out of the oven. I’m not sure how Lucy and Ethel managed it in that tiny apartment kitchen, but I guess that’s show business.
I haven’t baked bread in a while, but I remember the basics. Start with warm water and a small packet of yeast. Stir the yeast into the water, wait a few minutes and add in flour, sugar, water, salt and seasonings. Mix that up, and let it sit for a while in a warm place. Come back and the mixture has doubled or tripled in size. Punch the air out of it, knead it, place in baking pans, and let it rise again, then bake.
Of course, it is the yeast which makes the dough fill with air and rise. A package of yeast contains just under a tablespoon of yeast. If we compare the amount of yeast with three or four cups of flour, it is miniscule. Once it is mixed into the flour, we can’t even see it. The yeast becomes invisible. How can something so small make so much happen?
The kingdom/reign of God is also like the aroma of the yeast as the dough rises and bakes. It fills the room, or even the whole house. Jesus tells us the kingdom/reign of God is like this. It starts small, seeming very insignificant, but it grows and grows and grows. It pervades the whole world. It’s not magic; it’s the Holy Spirit at work. Like the yeast, the Holy Spirit is invisible, but we know the Spirit is present, hard at work.
… Jesus told another parable, this time about a man who finds a huge pearl. He sells all he has so he can purchase the pearl. Most women and many men like jewelry. While jewelry made with artificial gem stones and gold- or silver-plated metal is affordable, what we really want is the real stuff, which costs real money.  Sometimes we see a piece so beautiful, we will work very hard to get it. We will do without, we will work extra hours, we will borrow money in order to get it. We have decided the jewelry is worth having and we will do whatever it takes to get it.
The pearl, is God’s love for us, God’s forgiveness. And that is certainly worth any price. It is worth selling everything we own in order to acquire it – yet we can’t actually purchase it! This pearl is given to us freely, as a gift.
… Jesus tells another parable, too, this time about a fishing net. In this case, there is a judgment. Not everything caught in a net, or even with a bamboo fishing pole, is worthy of being eaten.
Today, lobster is an expensive dish, and we would love to find it in our fishing net. However, it wasn’t always so valuable. In the early days of our country, servants in New England were fed a lot of lobster. It was cheap food, and the servants grew so tired of it, they eventually bargained with employers to limit the number of lobsters they received each week.
Long before that, the Jews of Jesus’ time would have tossed it back into the sea – shellfish is forbidden as an unclean food. Jesus’ point in this story is that we are all fish, caught in God’s net. We want to be the choice fish, not the ones rejected and tossed into the waste pile and set on fire.
These parables all describe the reign of heaven entering our world and changing the way things are into the way God intends them to be. We are to be Jesus’ disciples, familiar enough with the kingdom/reign of God so that we are like pearls, like treasure, like the most desirable seafood, like yeast.
We are to fill the world with the yeasty aroma of the Holy Spirit. We are to present Jesus’ love and forgiveness as something so valuable that we and all we encounter will do whatever we can to obtain it.
How will you be yeast, or pearl, or treasure this week? How can you make the aroma of the Holy Spirit come alive for someone else? How can you tell someone else that Jesus’ love and forgiveness is worth having, and you would give up everything else in order to have it? How can you tell someone else that Jesus’ love and forgiveness is priceless – worth having at any cost, yet absolutely free to those who believe in him?
(2nd service) If all has gone well, the bread you have been smelling should be done, ready to eat. It will be our communion bread this morning, so you can literally taste and smell and see and touch and hear the goodness of God. The reign of God is like this – filling all our senses with the power of God’s love and forgiveness and justice.

Please pray with me. God, you are yeast, and pearl, and priceless treasure. As we are made in your image, guide us, empower us, to be yeast and pearl and priceless treasure to each other, and to those who do not yet know you. Amen