Rev. Teri Peterson
29 August 2010, Ordinary 22C (off lectionary)
Jesus said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.’
And again he said, ‘To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
Have you ever noticed that Jesus is like the king of the one-liner? “love one another as I have loved you,” “the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed,” blessed are the cheesemakers…”…well, okay, peacemakers, but still…Jesus is good at the one-line sayings—he packs more into one sentence than most of the scholars who try to explain them can say in whole books, and certainly more than I can say in a whole sermon!
Perhaps this is also a case of the form illustrating the content—a one-liner, just a little sentence, whose meaning expands until it’s illuminated our understanding, our faith, our life as people of God’s kingdom…like the tiny mustard seed that grows into a huge plant, a weed really, an invasive species that takes over the whole garden. Or like tiny grains of yeast that lead to bowls of dough rising to overflowing.
My mother loved to cook and bake. I remember watching as she mixed yeast and slightly warm water, I remember watching it fizz and then seeing it disappear into the bowl of other ingredients…and then the whole bowl disappearing under a towel. A while later, like magic, it would have doubled or tripled in size…and sometimes, depending on what she was making, this would even happen in two shifts. In between there was the punch-down-let-the-air-out move and some kneading…and in the end we would have a huge loaf of something very yummy, or we’d have bagels, or a braid of bread. Whatever it was, it always seemed so mysterious how it worked. I knew that yeast was some kind of living thing, and that it grew and it involved air..and that’s about it. And actually, now that I think about it, all these years later that’s pretty much still all I understand about how yeast works, but I can see now the beauty of Jesus’ one-liner too—the kingdom is stealthy but kind of fizzy, it works it’s way out into the world, it’s full of the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, it’s tasty…
What’s so interesting is that generally in the Bible, the holy things and holy days require unleavened bread—yeast was corrupt and unholy and impure and inappropriate for holy places and holy days and holy worship. Yet Jesus says that the kingdom of God is like yeast mixed into flour…as one of the scholars from our Saving Jesus class last year said, “until all of it was corrupted.” (Bernard Brandon Scott)
It’s hard to imagine this kind of parable—the kingdom of God is like yeast that was mixed in until all the flour was corrupted, until all of it was impure. Corruption has no place in the Kingdom of God, right? The kingdom is about purity and holiness, so unholy things don’t belong in the kingdom, so where did Jesus come up with this one? And come to think of it, why on earth would anybody plant an invasive species of weed in their garden anyway? Mustard is even worse than strawberries gone wild—it just grows and grows and chokes out other plants and takes over the whole space, not to mention looking kind of unruly!
For an idea about what Jesus could be talking about, I looked back at the story right before this one, right before the “therefore” at the beginning of today’s sayings. It’s the story from last week of the woman that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and the leader of the synagogue who was so angry about Jesus “working” on God’s holy day. The people in power, the people who depended on things being done they way they had always been done, the people who needed for others to stay in their place, were upset that Jesus healed a woman when it should have been against the rules…a little bit of unruliness in a system that depended on dotting every I and crossing every T.
Could it be that the kingdom of God, in its mysterious workings, looks, feels, and even tastes like “corruption” of the values of the status quo, the values of the world’s power structure? That healing, speaking truth, sharing love would be unruly and unholy according to the rules?
Could it be that grace, like yeast and weeds, keeps growing, wider and wider, pushing the boundaries of the bowls and the garden plots, taking over…leaving no room for hate, no room for injustice, no room for self-righteousness and self-serving systems?
Could it be that we are called to be the yeast of the kingdom in the midst of the world…fizzing and working gently and mysteriously to make room for Holy Spirit to move and blow where she will, widening the circle of grace until the Love of God has taken over the world…could that be what “your kingdom come” means?
If these things could be…then what does it mean for us to be the yeast of the kingdom? What does it mean to be the agent of corruption of this world’s power systems and values, to be the ones who work to change the world from the inside out?
One thing is for certain—yeast doesn’t do anything if it stays sealed up in its little package. Yeast works by being activated by water and air and then by being mixed in to other ingredients.
I know you can already hear where that metaphor is going, right?
If we’re yeast, we must be activated for service by our baptism—by water and the breath of the Holy Spirit…and then we’re sent out into the world to do the work of the kingdom wherever we are. We’re not only the church, the Body of Christ, the people of God, the yeast of the kingdom when we’re gathered together but also when we’re out in the world. We’re participating in God’s mission when we are at work, when we are at play, and when we are at home. Each of our jobs is a ministry in some way, each of our relationships is a place for the Spirit to move, each of our actions is a chance for grace, love, and peace to overtake the values of gain, power, and violence.
Jesus is good at the one-liner, but none of these are throwaway lines. Even the smallest sentence, the smallest seed, the smallest grain of yeast, the smallest action, the smallest person, the smallest change, can work to change the world into the kingdom of God.
May it be so.