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Sermon for 2nd before Advent Year B Evening Prayer – yeast

October 27, 2015


‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast’ – words from our second reading

In the name…

Once upon a time, a young man went to see a famous guru. He told the guru his life was a wreck, he didn’t know what he wanted to do, and his house was especially a mess. The plaster was falling off, the floors were filthy, and the windows were cracked and dirty. The wise guru listened and finally spoke. “No,” he said, “you are not ready to study with me. I can’t help you.”

At this the young man grew sad, but he brightened up when the guru said, “But there is one thing I can do. I will give you a present. I think it will help.”

He then told the young man to go home, after getting his address.

The next day, the young man was delighted when an exquisitely beautiful couch was delivered to his home. He had the delivery men set it up against the dirty, tattered wall. He then just sat and admired it—for a while.

He noticed the sharp contrast between the beautiful couch and the wall. So he cleaned up the entire wall, repaired the plaster and hung a nice picture. Then he sat down to admire the couch with the wall. At least for a while.

Then he noticed how terrible the rest of the room looked in comparison with his fine clean wall and beautiful couch. So he scrubbed the rest of the room. He’d never lived in such elegance. He sat down to admire the room with its spotless and elegant decor. For a while.

He suddenly realized how this room made the rest of the house look. Soon, the whole house was renovated. Then the yard. Then the neighbourhood, and finally the whole world! seed   Parables & Enneagram -. C. Thompson (Crossroad 1996) p. 22, 140

The whole world? Is Jesus’s story about the yeast meant to apply to the whole world being gradually transformed for the better? Or about individual lives? Your life, symbolised by your house? Or both – the whole world being transformed by individuals being transformed and using their influence?

Tony Blair swept into office in 1997 with D: Ream’s campaign song: ‘Things can only get better’. That’s the socialist dream – progress. Christians – myself included – have bought into this optimism. The world is continually progressing until it becomes the reign of God of justice and peace.

Is that what Jesus meant? Certainly the quantity of flour specified is extravagant, perhaps wasteful. * The scale of the operation suggests that the, the woman is either a professional baker, or is preparing bread for a major party. Raising Abel – J. Alison (Crossroad 2002) p. 85

But the longer I live, the more I doubt this. Yes, some things are better now than a hundred years ago: National Health Service and modern dentistry, race and other equality laws. But there seems to be more terrorism and war than ever before. A corrupt regime gets overthrown then something worse takes its place. The moment we improve something, something else gets worse. It isn’t that ‘Things can only get better’, that ‘The only way is up’. Ups are always followed by downs.

So is the story about transforming individuals? As William Barclay said in his commentary, this story is about the “transforming power of the leaven.” Unleavened bread is hard and dry and not very appetizing, but fresh bread baked with yeast is soft, delicate, and delicious. So it is with the reign of God. The kingdom may be small but the rule of Christ can transform one’s whole life.

Gradually. Fermenting. A sermon, a phrase of Scripture: a tiny pinch of yeast thrown into the doughy mass of your life, which is so full of other things: earning and spending, working and sleeping, coping and enjoying. A little pinch of God’s truth thrown in amongst the feverish busyness of your life; what difference is it going to make? Forgotten after five minutes, left behind as you remember that you have to buy bread on the way home! Left behind as you look for your car keys….

And yet …and yet. God’s Word is no ordinary stuff. Long after you have stopped listening, long after you have closed your Bible, long after you have come home from church, long after you think you have finished with God for the day or for the week, His Word is not finished with you: it’s working in your heart, silently, unseen, unperceived: slowly turning your life to Christ, slowly growing faith inside you. transforming you from a spiritually dead lump into a living child of God.

Which sounds a bit pious until you realise that, the subject of the parable is an unlikely comparison. For Jesus to compare the kingdom of God with a woman mixing yeast was doubly arresting for a first century Jewish audience. Women were regarded as inferior and subservient to men, and yeast was generally seen as a symbol of corruption, or evil power and influence Mark 8.15; Luke 12.1; esp. 1 Cor 5.6-8

So ‘a woman in action with yeast’ is quite an iconoclastic image for speaking of God’s rule! Unleavened usually means holy; leavened means secular Exodus 12.17­-20

 “The Jewish religion of the time identified everyday life with corruption, and the sacred with the temple rituals. Jesus teaches that everyday life is the place of the sacred—–the temple is no longer the place to look for it. “Recalling Jesus’ custom of reaching out in table fellowship with the outcasts of society, the kingdom of God is revealed to be active in marginal people and in the marginalized.” ” Thomas Keating (“Toward Detachment”: A personal journey toward true self-awareness?)

So where is the kingdom if it is not in the holy, the sacred, and the acceptable places? Jesus, by his example and preaching, says, “Look for it in the most unexpected places!” The kingdom was compared to what happens when you put leaven into a batch of meal, heaving, panting mass, swelling and bursting with bubbles, a ferment, pervasive, dynamic, restless.

Even so, when God’s rule enters the world there must arise a disturbing process which ultimately nothing in the world can escape. True God – K. Leech (Sheldon 1985) p.83

* “Three measures” is the usual translation for the original Greek “tria sata” which is a little over a bushel of flour (1.125 bushels, to be precise).  That’s a ridiculously large amount of flour—you’d need a 100-quart Hobart mixer with a dough hook as big as your leg to knead it!  Translating into kitchen measures, 1.125 bushels is 144 cups of flour.  Presuming we used a common recipe for basic white bread that uses 5 ½ cups of flour, 144 cups is enough to make 26 batches of bread of two loaves each, giving us a total of 52 loaves, each weighing about a pound and a half.  If we’re frugal but not stingy, we can get 16 slices out of a loaf, yielding 832 slices, enough for 416 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (we’d need 33 jars of jelly, and 64 of peanut butter).

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