Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 30 July 2017
(1 Kings 3:5-12 Psalm 119 Romans 8:26-39 Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52)
“Subverting our World with Hope!”
We just heard 5 short parables about the Kingdom of heaven. One of them is filled with corruption and nasty goings-on. I thought I’d begin my sermon today by having you vote on which one you think has a “nasty” image in the parable!
The tiny mustard seed.
The yeast in flour.
The treasure in a field.
The merchant searching for pearls.
The net thrown into the sea.
All those who voted for the “yeast in the flour” were right!
I can hear you saying, “Come on, that one sounds so nice—a woman, yeast in flour. Reminds me of making fasnachts! I can almost smell of warm dough coming out of the oven. “
And I say, “it doesn’t smell that good! It’s not that simple! In fact, it’s pretty nasty!”
There’s an awful lot written about yeast throughout the Bible. None of it is good! In Exodus we read: “For seven days no yeast shall be found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel” [Ex. 12:19-20]. This is all happening on the first Passover, the most sacred Holy Day for the Jewish people. Yeast is strictly forbidden under penalty of Jewish law. Yeast is a symbol of moral corruption. Yeast was made by storing bread in a damp, dark place until it got moldy. Yeast symbolized all that was unholy.
Let’s look at St. Paul. Twice Paul cites a yeast proverb; first when he is talking about people giving bad example to others [Galatians 5:6-9], he says, “A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough.” At a second place, [1 Corinthians 5:6-8] when he is talking about boasting and putting other people down, Paul quotes the same proverb. He says “Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? In both of these places Paul quotes this proverb about yeast/leaven basically saying, “One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel.” A little yeast can spoil the entire batch!
Finally, in the Gospel of Mark Jesus says, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod” [Mark 8:15]. I guarantee that’s not a compliment!
It is so clear that yeast is something undesirable/corrupt. Therefore, when Jesus says, “the Kingdom of heaven is like yeast,” such a parable was as confusing and traditional anti-Jewish as Jesus could get!
I’m not finished. Let me make it worse. The parable also says the woman puts yeast into three measures of flour. Do you know how much three measures of flour is? About 50 pounds! Enough to make bread for more than a 100 people. That’s a lot of corruption!
There is one more! This parable then gets downright subversive when you notice that there’s a woman in it! I hope you did not miss that! Remember, in that society women were worthless! Women were nothing!
Need I say more? Every detail of this parable is corrupt and nasty and subversive. Maybe rebellious is a better word. See, I want you to hear how rebellious, out-of-context, this parable is because when you do, only then will the hope-filled meaning of the parable begin to touch you deep within, especially in your dark places.
The rebellious nature of this parable reminds us that we live in the hope of the Kingdom of heaven in a very imperfect and flawed world. Therefore, with confidence we can say: “Even when my world is falling apart, even when my life is dark and terrible, even when the morning news may be horrifying and depressing, I believe the Kingdom of heaven is still with me; I believe that the Kingdom of heaven is still alive in this world!”
That’s the power of this parable: that the yeast is unholy; that the amount of flour is staggering, that it is a despised person—a woman—who jumpstarts the Kingdom of heaven! I hope you can hear the subversive power of this parable! And I pray you can believe in God’s presence in your darkest moments!
Not only do I pray you believe it, but I also pray that together we become yeast and we live it for ourselves and others!
I pray that we be people of prayer at some moments, and we be the activists in the trenches at other times. I pray we can be Christ on the square in Gettysburg and Christ waiting in the check-outline at Kennies Market.
I believe my purpose in this or any sermon is not simply to give you answers. But I do believe my purpose in every sermon is to offer you hope—hope that touches you in the very core of your lives.
Today, some of you need hope in your marriage or with your child, or in your own health. Others need hope in your addiction, or your depression, or your lack of self-worth. For still others it can be the world picture where we can feel overwhelmed. I struggled with this yesterday morning when reading that in Syria, 470,000 people have been killed, 6.5 million people displaced since the war began six years ago; or the news where yet another group of people are intimidated by laws that go to the very heart of all people being children of God, leaving certain groups of people to grieve in fear and uncertainty.
I read this parable of the yeast and I, personally, need to hear the promise and the certainty that the Kingdom of heaven is here, even in an imperfect way, and that God’s Kingdom is alive and active even when the news tells me otherwise.
Sometimes that promise and hope comes from a Benjamin Pontz, an Eagle Scout from Troop 56 in Strasburg, PA, a sophomore at Gettysburg College who wrote his own speech to the Scout Jamboree using the Scout Oath and Scout Law as the basis of his speech; each day this week, this promise and hope overflowed as I stood with 150 kids and 25 more adults here at VBS reminding us that we are true heroes as were the heroes of the Bible sent out with hope and power and courage into God’s world to make a difference!
Jesus would say that this yeast parable is saying that hope can happen anywhere: that hope beats despair and that life prevails over death. Even here. Even now. Even in cold, dark, unlikely places.
We are the church. We are the Body of Christ. With the utmost of humility we can say that we, saint and sinner alike, might be the closest thing to Jesus anyone in this world may ever see. This brings us an extraordinary grace, but also, an even more extraordinary responsibility, to be people who love so deeply that we can touch the sick and the infirm, that we are willing to support those who walk in the midst of the poverty, addiction and homelessness in this community and the world.
And when we look at who we are as the Body of Christ, if we allow discouragement to drown out hope, if we find ourselves unwilling to take up the challenge of Jesus Christ, then truly it will be a sad day on the face of the earth. Because we have a God who loves us and a God who calls us to be yeast–active witnesses to the truth of the Gospel—that the Kingdom of heaven is certainly here!
I thank God for Jesus Christ and I thank God for each one of you! Amen.