Stories that Stick: Leaven
Minneapolis Livestream · Sunday, August 2, 2020 10:15 am
Matthew 13:31-32, 34
He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.
This past month I was invited by our mission partner Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry (LPGM) to participate in a three-part intercultural workshop and training with Joayne Larson with Sparks of Change. Back in June, Joayne facilitated something we called Bold Conversations, a safe space to reflect on the murder of George Floyd and the social unrest that followed. I’m grateful many of you participated. If you missed those conversations, she’s hosting another one this week on Thursday. Check our website to register and receive the Zoom link.
We’ll be working with Joayne in a congregation-wide initiative to address racial inequity. On the first Thursday of every month, beginning September 3rd, she will facilitate learning webinars for Bethlehem. Come to the ones you can. Feel free to invite others. I encourage you to participate in all of them if it’s possible. Their purpose is to help us develop the skills and awareness we need to be effective allies and culturally-aware community members. The seminars are designed to be experiential so you can apply the learning in real-time. This is faithful work to engage in as people called by Christ to bear witness to God’s love for all people.
Many of you have asked about what Bethlehem can be doing to work for justice and peace. This is just one step — a collective starting point. The more of us who participate in this shared learning the better.
Back to my experience with LPGM. As part of the workshop and training, I participated in what’s called an intercultural development inventory or IDI assessment. The assessment identifies the gap between your perceived competence for intercultural sensitivity and your actual competence. Research indicates that people most often feel they are more effective, more mature, more accepting than they actually are. Awareness of the gap can inform an action plan for developing intercultural competence. I learned about the gap that exists for me and now I have a plan to address the gap.
This gap doesn’t just exist for me. There’s also a collective gap that exists — in economics, education, race, access to health care, and other resources. Our awareness in needing to address these gaps has increased exponentially these last few months. In a recent podcast I listened to, the interviewer talk about how hard this work is — but it’s never lonely or without meaning and purpose. We’re in this together.
We’re currently in a sermon series called Stories that Stick. Each week we’re hearing a different parable about the kingdom of heaven. The parables stretch our imagination and change our perspective. The world is not as Jesus describes… what’s our part in that? What is ours to do to move toward the reality Jesus describes?
In today’s story Jesus uses yeast as a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven. The reading, I’m sure you noticed, was only a couple of verses. You may think that means the sermon will also be short but I caution you on that assumption. Give a preacher the pulpit… .and I’ll make use of whatever time’s available.
Just before Jesus starts speaking in parables he makes a radical shift in defining family. As he spoke to the crowds, someone pointed out to him that his mother and brothers were waiting to speak to him. Jesus’ response is unsettling. “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” It sounds as if he’s decided to move on, excluding his family from his life going forward. But actually, he’s growing his family to include anyone who, as Jesus says, “does the will of my Father in heaven.”
So what does that look like Jesus? Is there ever an adequate way to talk about God? Can words describe the kingdom of heaven?
The irony, of course, is that Jesus is the Word, who is the kingdom of heaven, in flesh and blood. Feeding the hungry, healing the sick, restoring community and awakening people to God’s promise of abundant life happens in and through and because of Jesus. And yet, so often we’re right there with the disciples asking Jesus to show us, tell us, and teach us the way of God. Somehow we lose sight of Jesus in the messiness of our lives. We forget that a relationship with Jesus is the way by which we discover the kingdom of heaven.
The Word made flesh doesn’t limit the kingdom of heaven with adjectives. Jesus tells parables — stories that leave space for anyone to recognize an experience of the living God. Jesus tells seven parables in this 13th chapter, each one connecting with a particular vocation that would have been represented in the community: farmers, bakers, dreamers, merchants and fishermen. All are part of this new family formed through Jesus. All are included in the kingdom of heaven. The promise and reality that God shows up right where you’re at is for everyone. God is present in ordinary ways you may never expect. It’s in community where we most fully experience the kingdom of God.
This past week as part of a staff meeting, Pastor Ben invited us to have a conversation with one other staff person in a Zoom break-out room sharing about a significant experience in our life. When we regathered as a large group a pattern emerged from the shared stories: significance shows up in a comment from a stranger, a phone call from a friend, an insightful question, a word of encouragement, a kindness that wasn’t expected. The kingdom of heaven shows up in ordinary moments to comfort, encourage, challenge and inspire us for a better world.
Last week Pastor Kris preached the parable of the mustard seed — a story that assures us of God’s promise that even as we don’t yet see the fullness of God’s kingdom it has already been planted and it’s growing.
The parable today is about yeast. I’m going to retell it. In its entirety:
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
What do you hear in that story? What detail do you connect with in your longing for an experience of heaven on earth?
Maybe for you — it’s that like the mustard seed, yeast is small and ordinary, easy to overlook and to forget about. Mixed in with all the other ingredients, with all that’s going on, you’ve lost sight of it.
Hear the story for you: You are loved. And God’s love is loose in the world. This holy love makes all the difference: a spoken word; an unexpected smile; someone checking in on you. Jesus is showing up in ordinary ways and at any moment. His love is expansive and inclusive. The spirit of the Lord breathes hope and new life into hearts that are hard or without energy and joy — flat. Wait. Watch. Pray. Pay attention.
The kingdom of heaven is like a drive-by birthday greeting for an 88-year-old man. His family and dear life-long friends show up in their decorated cars, wearing masks, shouting well-wishes and cheers of gratitude for the love and life they share.
Maybe you’re noticing the woman in the parable — who pays attention to all the ingredients needed for growth. She patiently kneads the dough, gets her hands dirty, with the batter under her nails and stuck to her knuckles. She patiently transforms the individual ingredients into something beautiful and whole.
Hear the story for you: You belong. Jesus sees you, opens his arms and heart for you and uses you to be part of something bigger than you — to be part of creating something beautiful and good.
The kingdom of heaven is like a neighborhood that’s been ravaged by violence and destruction. People bring whatever they can for whoever needs it. And a man stands on a table where all the goods are offered for someone else. He yells at the top of his lungs, three different times in three different languages: “There is enough for everyone. There is enough. There is more than enough.”
Maybe it’s the dough that captures your imagination this time. You’re feeling stretched and pulled. Weary. Lonely. Hear the story for you: You are not alone. There are others who are experiencing deep grief and isolation. Others who are in the thick of things feeling the weightiness of the hard work of transformation. Know that Jesus is working in and through you. The presence of Christ can’t be taken away from you.
The kingdom of heaven is like a table at the best restaurant in town. No reservations needed. Everyone’s welcome. Show up just as you are — a handful of dough. Be fed. Let your thirst be quenched. Receive God’s promise and mercy in the meal. Come to this table and be made holy by Jesus Christ.
The kingdom of heaven is already and not yet.
Let anyone with ears listen.