Good morning, Friends!
We’ve got something simple to talk about today. That’s because Jesus mostly talked with ordinary people, like you and me. Jesus often used ordinary, familiar things to talk with people about the kingdom.
Have you ever noticed, when you read the gospels, that you very seldom find Jesus teaching in a church? Once or twice, he’s in the Temple in Jerusalem. But most of the time, Jesus got kicked out of churches and synagogues.
When you read the Bible, Jesus is usually found talking to people by the roadside. Or he’s teaching at the seashore, down by the beach. You find him at the dinner table, as though that were one of the places where Jesus expected that people would discuss important things about God.
It isn’t recorded in the gospels, but you get the feeling that Jesus wasn’t a stranger to the workbench, or to the kitchen. You find him by people’s bedsides, praying and healing.
In fact, if you really want to find Jesus, the best place may not be here. I hope that people do find Christ here at meeting for worship. But if the gospels are true, the best place to look for Jesus is in our daily lives.
He may be here, but he’s not just here. He’s out there. And that’s where we need to look for him.
Jesus wasn’t interested in any kind of a hothouse faith. He wanted a strong faith, a faith that could stand up to the strongest trials life can throw at us.
I’d like us to look this morning at one of Jesus’ parables. It’s a very short one. But the lesson is one we can spend our whole lives absorbing.
Jesus 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.”
– Matthew 13:33
If you want to know how God works in the world, said Jesus, then look at something you handle every day. Look at bread.
We’ve heard that idea before, of course. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger. Whoever believes in me shall not thirst. . .” (John 6:35)
We run into ideas about the kingdom and bread when we read about Jesus feeding the crowds. Remember when Jesus took two loaves of bread and fed five thousand people with them? The kingdom of God means that there is more than enough for us to feed all the people.
We run into talk about bread in the Old Testament, when God gave people bread to eat on their journey through the wilderness, fresh bread called “manna“, every day. The experience of fresh bread in the desert is probably behind that line in the Lord’s Prayer, the one that says, “Give us this day our daily bread. . .”
As I said, Jesus is always moving us from the familiar into something deeper, from something that we know into something we haven’t thought about, from the literal to the spiritual.
So, for instance, we hear Jesus saying, “People do not live by bread alone. People also need to be fed by words from God. . .” (Matthew 4:4) Bread from the store may feed your body, but it doesn’t feed your soul.
So, what lesson is here in the story about the yeast?
It’s a pity that more people in this country don’t bake their own bread any more. It’s such a simple thing to do, and it brings so much pleasure. People in other parts of the world still do make their own bread. In a lot of countries, it’s something you do every day. A parable like this would probably mean more to them.
We think that bread is made in bread factories now. We don’t see the bread being made any more. Most of us don’t experience that delicious smell of fresh bread baking in our homes every week. Bread comes in sterile plastic packages on trucks to the supermarket. We’ve really lost something.
But you know, with all the technological changes in the world today, with all of the great new things we’re able to do, bread is still the staff of life. There is still no basic improvement on the small, daily miracle of yeast rising in secret.
So, what are we supposed to learn? What’s going on here?
You can’t see yeast with the naked eye. It’s too small. Nobody even really knew what yeast was, until the first microscope was invented. But as Jesus pointed out, a little bit of yeast works its way through a large amount of dough, and changes it completely.
As in most of the parables Jesus told, there are several ways to interpret this story. The first one, of course, is that we are the yeast. We are the leavening influence in the world.
It always amazes me, the influence that just one person or that a small group of people can have. One person or one group can act like yeast. They can transform society. I think that’s the first meaning.
George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, once wrote in his Journal that: “. . .the Lord said unto me, that if I did but set up one [person] in the same spirit that the prophets and apostles were in that gave forth the Scriptures, [that] he or she should shake the country in their profession for ten miles around them. . .”
We see that for ourselves every day. When one person goes out of their way to help us, or to make us smile, or to make us feel honored and respected, doesn’t that change our day? When one person makes us feel loved or special, the whole rest of the week feels different.
We are the yeast. And we need to take seriously our role as the yeast in society. By our words. By our example. By our faith. By our strength and gentleness. By our forbearance. By our mercy. By our willingness to be patient, and not jump to judgment or say the first thing we think or feel.
We can change the world by what we do and by who we are. Yeast works by simply being itself, it does its thing by simply being what it is. Even more, we can change the world if we let God change us. There is nothing as convincing as a changed life.
I mean, think about it. If God is really working in us, we’re going to be different. We’re not going to be just the same. We’re going to be better people. We’re going to be more joyful. We’re going to let go of hate. We’re going to let go of rage. We’re going to let go of treating other people badly.
If God is truly working inside of us, we’re going to be different people. We will feel a change. And other people will notice a change.
Sometimes when I’m baking bread, I accidentally buy a batch of yeast that’s been sitting too long on the shelf. It’s gone past the expiration date printed on the package. I usually find that out after I’ve already mixed up a batch of dough, and nothing happens.
And if you wait a while and nothing happens, if your yeast has gone bad or if it’s dead, the only thing to do is the throw the whole mess away. There’s nothing else you can do with it. All those good ingredients, gone to waste, because the yeast has gone dead.
Or if you wanted to turn it around, we are the dough. We are the batter, and the yeast is the Holy Spirit within us. Working quietly, working in secret, the yeast of the Spirit is what makes it all happen.
You see, without the yeast, all that stuff I mixed together in that big bowl is just a lot of glop. It’s probably less useful and less attractive than before I began. The yeast, that tiny seed, is what makes the whole batch worthwhile.
And what’s interesting, there isn’t much you can do to hurry the yeast, either. There’s nothing you can really do to make it go faster. It takes its own time. And sometimes, if you’re in a hurry, that can be pretty aggravating.
I guess that you can affect yeast, in a way, though. You can kill it, by mixing it with water that’s too hot. Or you can slow it down, by mixing it with stuff that’s too cold. It’ll still work, but you’ll have to wait for it to warm up to room temperature first.
The other thing, is that for bread to rise properly, the dough has to be punched down. I’m not sure what that does, but it’s important. If you don’t do it, your bread isn’t going to be much good.
In the parable, if we are the dough, maybe that means that we need to get pressed and folded and mixed now and then. I don’t know. Maybe we aren’t any good unless that happens to us, unless we’ve gone through that experience.
Another possibility is that instead of being the yeast or the dough, maybe we’re the woman in that parable.
Maybe our function in the kingdom is to be the woman who mixes the yeast and the dough, who brings the ingredients together so that something can happen. Maybe our job is to knead and mix and punch down and care for the dough, so that what comes out will be bread for the world.
Maybe our daily work is to be the people who help that miracle to happen, the people who bring the yeast of the Holy Spirit and the ingredients of people’s daily lives together.
I don’t think that we need to be limited to any of those interpretations of the parable. I think that we’re free to find whatever deeper truth we’re open to in it.
I’ve got just a couple more things to say.
Jesus used to talk about faith that could move mountains. That’s pretty impressive. Faith that could ask God to move an entire mountain, like one of the Great Smokies, and shift it from one county all the way over to another. I’d like to see that.
Or faith that could calm a storm. Imagine Jesus doing that. One small word, one small prayer – “Peace! Be still!” – and Hurricane Irma comes to a complete stop. I’d like to see that, too.
Belinda talked this morning in the children’s message about faith like a mustard seed – one of the tiniest seeds around. One little seed, growing up to be a great big tree. That’s impressive!
But the story of the yeast is about something completely different. Yeast doesn’t grow by itself. It grows because it multiplies. The parable of the yeast isn’t about one tiny seed. It’s not about one powerful prayer. It’s not about one person, moving a mountain, single-handed.
No. Yeast is about multiplication. It’s about a few becoming many. It’s about shared faith. It’s about the power of fellowship.
The kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, is like yeast. It works invisibly, without our understanding of what’s going on. It expands because it multiplies. It grows, because it becomes many. Yeast is infectious – not in the bad sense, like a disease. But it spreads, wherever it goes. It actually makes buds – little pieces of itself which break off and multiply in turn.
That’s how the kingdom works, says Jesus. Through the miracle of friendship and fellowship. Through sharing itself.
And, Jesus said, sometimes in order to grow, the dough has to be punched down. Maybe that’s how we should look at some of the upsets and trials we go through. We’re pressed down, but we come back. We get all the warm air squashed out of us, but we grow again.
And when that happens, we come back as warm, fresh, nutricious, delicious bread. The living bread that Jesus talked about. The bread he wants to share.
Let’s put all of what we’ve said and heard this morning, everything that we’ve prayed and sung, and ask God to make our church the living bread.