Looking for God at Night

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Dowload PDF.”

For this week’s spiritual practice “Darkness and Looking Up” led by Ivy Anthony, click HERE.



This past year, I’ve been having more memorable, vivid dreams. I’m not the only one in my household who has reported this. And it turns out that this has been a widespread phenomenon this past year. Scientific American reports, there has been “a global increase in the reporting of vivid, bizarre dreams.” 


All kinds of stuff is coming to us in the night.


There have been a lot of articles about this. My favorite title I came across was “Sweet Dreams Aren’t Made of This.” I only like that because it’s playing off the most awesome brainworm of a melody from the pop music of my childhood.


Sweet dream are made of this

Who am I to disagree?


Oh, I love that song. I hope someone’s dream is set to the Eurythmics tonight.


But I digress, don’t I?


What’s going on in the night?


One scientist says many of us are more anxious, and that plus sleep disturbance is leading to weirder dream lives. Another thinks that many of us are sleeping a little more than normal – more REM sleep, more memorable dreams. And another notes that we’re facing these massive, unfamiliar levels of disruption. We feel we’ve been thrown into an alternate reality, where our waking lives can feel like living in a dream. 


So there’s lots of disjointed, distrubed, disruptive thoughts we’re taking to bed with us for our brains to process while we’re at rest. 


This last theory really resonates with me. For nearly a year, we’ve been living through a kind of collective dark night. 


I’ll pause to note that comments on night and day, dark and light that fill our language, our culture, our religion, even parts of the Bible like the gospel of John, can be problematic. 


It’s been pointed out that in the English language and in the Western tradition as a whole, language around darkness and blackness tends toward negative connotations. Whereas language around lightness and whiteness tends toward positive connotations. I’m not a linguist or anything, but I totally buy the arguments that part of this is racialized; it’s connected to the white supremacy that lurks inside the history of our language.


So we’re going to try to correct this pattern a little. I’m going to use nighttime, darkness language and metaphor in this sermon, because it’s important to the Bible text we’ll look at. But we’ll try to avoid this straight up good/bad dichotomy.


Night – for us now – and especially for the ancients is a scarier time. Night, darkness, is a time of less visibility and clarity, of threats real and imagined. 


But night is also a creative time. Darkness can be a generative time. Nighttime is an intimate time as well. It’s a time for dreams, for art, for lovers. 


I think all this applies to our moment of time. We’ve been living through a dark time of disruptions, anxiety, and unpredictability, for sure. But it’s also a time not just of anxiety but of creativity. It’s a time of great distance in some places, and yet intimacy in others. 


In these dark, disruptive times, how do we look for what God might be doing and what God might be saying that is full of possibility?


What comes to us at night? What parts of that sap life from us, distract us, or grip us with fear? And what parts of what come to us at night focus us, ground us, give us life?


To talk about these themes I want to turn to one more parable in our little winter series “Stories Jesus Tells Us.”


Jesus tells us a parable of night-shift workers. Convenience store cashiers, late shift nurses and cops, night security – here he calls them servants and uses an image of domestic servants working for a master or head of house. Jesus says:


Luke 12:35-40 (CEB)

35 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps lit. 36 Be like people waiting for their master to come home from a wedding celebration, who can immediately open the door for him when he arrives and knocks on the door. 37 Happy are those servants whom the master finds waiting up when he arrives. I assure you that, when he arrives, he will dress himself to serve, seat them at the table as honored guests, and wait on them. 38 Happy are those whom he finds alert, even if he comes at midnight or just before dawn. 39 But know this, if the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he wouldn’t have allowed his home to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Human One is coming at a time when you don’t expect him.”


Alright, this story is weird. And we’ll look at it from a couple of different angles.


One of the things I love about this translation is what it does with Jesus’ favorite title for himself, “Son of Man.” This version translates that as the Human One to remind us that Jesus isn’t just sort of a person. He’s the real deal. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He shows us what God looks like. But Jesus is also the one that through his life and teaching shows us how to be a real human being, our truest self, just as he was an authentic, beautiful human being as well.


What does Jesus, the Human One, have to say about our collective darkness and the great disruption we’re living through?


Well, this story is part of a series of stories of warnings. The headings my Bible’s editors place in the different sections of Luke chapter 12 four times talk about warnings.


And this story is also a sub-genre of stories Jesus tells about readiness, about being ready for someone who arrives when you least expect them, being attentive and alert when something big happens. 


One thing all these stories have in common is they imply God’s arrival in big disruptions on the earth. Jesus seems to sit in this long prophetic tradition of seeing God’s involvement in major historical events, especially in major disruptions. Jesus, for instance, anticipates the destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem in the generation following his life. And he says you’ll see God doing all kinds of things in that. He uses this old prophetic line “the son of man” or “the human one” “coming on the clouds.” 


Even in an event as horrible as the destruction of a beloved city and center of worship, Jesus says God will be found.  


Jesus encourages us to pay attention to what God might be doing during big times of disruption. This is a two point sermon really, so that’s the first:


  • Pay wondering attention to what God might be doing in all big disruptions.


Have you wondered what God might be doing this year? I’m sure some of us think God is, I don’t know, asleep or something. Or busy elsewhere in the universe. Writers of the Bible felt those things sometimes too. 


But if you think God is always with us, as I do; and if you think God is not micromanaging the world, not controlling everything, but always engaging as a loving, healing, persuasive presence, then what might God be encouraging right now? What might God be inviting us toward amidst all this disruption?


We think this way as wonderers, of course, not as confident proclaimers, as if we have unique access to the mind and intentions of God. Too many self-proclaimed prophets have lied to people about what God is doing at a particular moment in time. I think of the pastors who have proclaimed during various tragedies that it is the fault of some group they scapegoat as sinners. Or I think of the lying self-proclaimed prophets who a couple months back announced God has revealed Trump would win reelection. This kind of pompous proclamation isn’t prophecy, it’s self-serving manipulation. Prophets invite us not to confidently prognosticate the future or proclaim God is on our side, but to listen and discern, to humbly watch and wonder and deepen our wisdom and love and justice as a result. 


My favorite prophetic voice into these questions of what God is doing in the disruption was the Indian writer Arundathi Roy. Right at the beginning of the pandemic, in early April last year, she published this amazing essay, “The Pandemic is a Portal.” She believed the pandemic is showing us a great deal that is true, which we might not otherwise want to see. This past year has been full of revelation, hasn’t it? In the Christian tradition, this is one of the ways we interpret the phrase “God’s judgement,” not necessarily God punishing us, but God helping us see the truths about ourselves that we would otherwise rather not look at.


This past year, we’ve seen how fragile life is, how fragile are our public health systems, our schools, our democracy, our lives. We’ve seen how deep white supremacy runs in our country, how large the gaps of resources our economies have shaped, how sick the church is in America. It’s been a time of judgement, in this sense of revelation. 


Revelation always invites us to not turn away, to not turn away but to see the truth and ask: how together will we respond? 


What have you seen about the world this past year? What truth about the way things are has been made more visible to you? 


Arundathi Roy hopes with us that with this new sight, with this new knowledge that has come to us in the night, we will reconsider how we live together. She ends her essay writing:


“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”


We’re all longing for back to normal living – to worship in person together, to travel without restriction, to send our kids to school, to touch and be touched more. Thank God for our scientists and physicians and leaders who are earnestly giving their time and talents toward this end.


I brought my elderly mother in law yesterday morning for her first COVID vaccine. And because it was at a clinic where my mom works, they vaccinated me as well. And while my arm’s a little sore, I’m so excited. It’s this symbol of hope in my life, in my body, that slowly we are emerging from this year of distance and darkness. We will emerge.


But we believe, right, that back to normal needs to be a “new normal” in many ways. So many of us are hoping to return to healthier ways of living. Maybe less days commuting. Maybe less frenzied. Maybe more connected and grateful. 


And so many of us are finding God showing us we need more just ways of living. That we need to give ourselves together to reducing the gaps that are exposed among us around resources and races, gaps in health, gaps in safety and security, gaps in all kinds of access to the goods of life.


I shudder to think what the future holds if we do not live differently, if we do not run with what this year’s disruptions have been teaching us. 


This wondering what God is doing is part of the invitation I’ll extend next Sunday to the upcoming season of Lent that starts next week. We’ll be listening in Lent this year to prophetic voices, people that know what’s most important, as we seek to learn together, to rediscover what is most important to God and to us, to re-ground ourselves in the ways we want to live, even if we’ve lost our way. 


So please join us next Sunday, get your Lent in a bag next weekend as well, as we do these things physically distant but spiritually together. 


I want to return to Jesus’ particular story, though, about the nighttime visitor and talk about it more personally before we close. 


And here’s what I’ll focus on.


  • There are many nighttime thieves. Jesus might be the only one who shows up to serve you.


These stories are weird. Jesus talks about thieves that show up in the middle of the night. And in his stories, sometimes these intruders sound like God, sometimes not. Sometimes they unexpectedly turn out to be welcome, sometimes not. 


We know, though, that a lot of intrusions come to us in the night. A lot can visit us, sometimes haunt us, at night when we’re alone.


I want you to hear just the beginning of this gorgeous song by Joy Oladokun. I met this song, of course, on the most recent episode of This is Us, which is… stunning.


Here it is: (listen to the first 28 seconds!) 



“The Devil’s in the basement in my home

A Flight of stairs is way too close

He comes for me when I’m alone

Collecting debts that I don’t owe


What comes to you in the night? When you’re up too late, and your thoughts are running, what fears settle in? What regrets come back to you?  What accusations return? 


Jesus, like this song, calls the voice of these nighttime thoughts the devil. A character emerges here and there in the scriptures that is called “the satan” which means in Hebrew, the adversary or the accuser. 


This is not the fiery horned menace who opposes God and rules over Hell. Centuries later Christians invented that character. The satan in the Bible, and in Jesus’ teaching is more subtle than that. 


Some people think it’s a hostile angelic being, who tricks and lies and seeks to encourage evil upon the earth.


Some people think “the satan” is a personification of the most deceptive, accusatory, violent tendencies within the human mind and the collective human experience. 


It doesn’t really matter for today – that’s a topic for another time. But the fears, regrets, and other negative thoughts that can come to us in the night – the literal night when we can’t sleep and the metaphorical night of tough times in life – these thoughts don’t give us life or help us. They aren’t from God. They make us sadder, more afraid, more despairing than we have reason to be. 


That’s why these visitors at night, the song says, try to collect debt that we don’t owe. 


Jesus, though, in his story, says that he’s a nighttime visitor too. The thief in Jesus’ story we heard today, the one from Luke 12 seems like the Spirit of God, which Jesus says comes alongside us and tells us everything he wants to say to us. 


Jesus messes with the usual thief imagery by saying that when he comes to us at night, it’s because he wants to get all dressed up and serve us. Nighttime Jesus isn’t like: take off my shoes and get me a beer. Nighttime Jesus wonders what we need most and wants to bring it to us. Nighttime Jesus isn’t there to collect debts or stoke our fears. Jesus wants to break through our haunting thoughts and tell us the truth. 


Jesus always shows up to serve.


What voices, what thoughts come to you in the unguarded night? And how do you tell which come to accuse, to steal, to drag you down? And which from from God, which come from Jesus, here to serve you? Which come Jesus, who wants for us all more abundant life? 


A couple nights ago, I woke up at 4 in the morning. My thoughts were racing a little, I was dehydrated, I didn’t feel so great. I knew was awake because I eaten really poorly the night before, I had been on illuminated screens a lot the night before too and several nights before that. And my mind was troubled by a couple things as well.


And there was a voice with me that was like, what’s wrong with you, Steve? Look at the way you’re treating yourself. Look at the state of your pathetic life. Negative, accusing, despairing thoughts.


But then a different thought came to mind, a different voice in my head, you can call it.


It just said: Steve, you don’t need to live this way. You don’t need to live this way.


And I instantly knew all that meant. It spoke to food and drink and how I care for my body. It spoke to my screen use at night and sleep hygiene. It spoke to other stuff in my that has been stuck and hurting. It was a voice of freedom. There’s more. There’s better. There’s another way to be. I know the way. I can go there.


I knew this voice was Jesus coming to me in the night, telling me the truth about myself, dressed up and ready to serve me, so I could have more life and freedom. 


I see this all the time as a pastor. We harbor so many self-accusing, despairing, stuck, tired, bitter voices and patterns in us. But now and then, a different thought, a different voice, a different perspective cuts through. We stumble across our own belovedness. We realize we are less alone. We realize we have more freedom, more choice than we realized. We see a different way forward – a more whole, more integrated path, a more just and peaceful future we can bring into being.


This is the voice of God, coming to us in the night. 


How might Jesus be speaking to you these days? How might Jesus want to come to you in the night, dressed up to serve you? 


My belief, based on my reading of the gospels, my witness to Jesus speaking in your lives and throughout history, and my own experience of Jesus these past 30+ years of my life, is that Jesus regularly has three types of things to say to us in the night, three ways he comes to serve. 


Jesus wants to accompany you, to assure you that you are not alone, that you are seen, heard, treasured, loved. Jesus says: I am with you.


Jesus wants to encourage you. Not necessarily just cheer you up, but literally encourage you – fill you with courage, help you be whole-hearted, fully alive. Sufficiently energetic and vital to greet your own life and this world with hope. Jesus says: Take heart, be encouraged.


And Jesus wants to direct and guide you into ever-increasing freedom. 


Jesus comes in the night not to discourage, accuse you, or collect debts you don’t owe. Plenty of others will do that. Jesus comes to accompany, to encourage, and to guide you into ever increasing life and freedom. 


I encourage you this week, each night before you to go bed, take just a moment, and say, Jesus: I want to hear your voice in the night. Jesus, I want to pay attention to what you have to say. Jesus, I welcome your accompaniment, your encouragement, and your guidance. I trust you are with me. Amen.


Exile and Return – Youth and Kids Lead Reservoir’s Service

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

A special service led by our youth and kids.

This week’s spritual practice is the Prayers of the People.

Families Pastor Kim Messenger tells the story of the people of God in “Exile and Return.”

With thanks to many of the Reservoir community who contributed to this service.


Miracles in the Mud

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

For this week’s spiritual practice “Alienation and Belonging” led by Steve Watson, CLICK HERE.

Thank you to Reverend Carrington George Moore for preaching at our online service and fellowshipping with us today!

Text from Rev. Moore’s sermon can be found below or in the slides during the service:

Luke 15:11-32 (NRSV)

11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”


The Kin’dom of God is Like…

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

For this week’s spiritual practice led by Trecia Reavis, CLICK HERE.


Thanks so much Trecia, for this invitation to be with God – to scan ourselves and ask to be ‘risen’.

I’m Ivy, a pastor here – good to be with you..
We will in just a minute press into the parable Trecia mentioned  – but first I wanted to say a little bit about why parables may be really meaningful to us – particularly in these days…


Why Parables

I love parables because they cultivate our imaginations to consider a reality beyond the present world we see. They help us continue to unlock ways that we’ve gotten stuck and/or comfortable with the status quo, and they help us reacquaint with the mysteries of the Kin-dom of God that also exists and resides here & now in our “ordinary life.”  This is what parables do. It’s what they’re for.  


As you might imagine, this means parables often provoke, challenge, and inspire us.


Today – still early on in this New Year of 2021 – I need inspiration. I don’t know about you? I feel familiar with the hard, the anger, the dislike – and I need a little “rise” as Trecia so beautifully stated….  SO I greet this little 4 week mini series, before Lent we’ll be doing on the parables – with a deep hunger. . . a deep longing… to see what God might reveal…


I need a refresher on “how to live in and believe for community/humanity”- I need a refresher on “how to keep pressing forward in a life that God wants me to live”, when I wonder how much of the small stuff that I do – or touch, really matters anyway?  I need a refresher on what the “kin-dom of God is like”…..  


Parables are goood, gooood, good. Because they reveal to us hidden aspects of ourselves over time, as much as they expand our understanding and knowing of God.


They ask us to dive deep within ourselves with those questions … They ask us to check ourselves – and often create more questions –  of whether or not these parables are still live to us today – or have we domesticated the parables? Have we tried to reduce Jesus’ story-telling down to one single meaning?


Amy-Jill Levine,  a Jewish Scholar and professor – says that “the parables, if we take them seriously not as answers but as invitations, can continue to inform our lives, even as our lives continue to open up the parables to new readings”, new meanings and new truth.


Parables invite us to stand in the light of today…this moment, our present reality –   As hard as it is, and as tired as we are – and “rise beyond” as Trecia says…”peer just above” the burning world, to see flickers of “God’s kin’dom on earth as it is in heaven…” and ask ourselves what part we will play in that continued creation.

Prayer: – Could you settle our minds God? Could you stir our hearts? Could you tend to the most tender parts of our souls and usher in peace and release to our bodies this morning? Amen.


The parable we’ll look at today is found in Matthew 13:33, it says 

“The kin’dom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

It’s one of the Kingdom parables, often coupled with the parable of the mustard seed.  And the quick interpretation we get – of both these parables, is that the mustard seed and the yeast – are “tiny”, yet will grow – and the kin’dom of God is “like” that…  – but if we walk away with just that – we likely will miss some of the particular invitations God might have for us .


The word, “parable” means to throw something side by side. Jesus does this throughout his storytelling…comparing the kin’dom of God to another element (such as seeds, a pearl, or yeast), and as He does we are invited to uncover new insights of each element.


For example:

With the parable of the mustard seed, the two images upon which Jesus is building are 1) a therapeutic image of life and healing (mustard was known to be a medicinal plant), and 2) a fast-growing weed. . . 


And so likewise, as Jesus compares the kin-dom with yeast. The two images upon which Jesus is building – and that I want to unearth more today – is a communal image of interconnected life and transformation, and a fast-growing natural, but WILD fungus.



You see, commentators have suggested that while parables were told to be relatable to the audience – they were also meant to raise their expectations and invariably surprise them.  Parables were radical, even subversive in their original context- they shook the religious status quo, provoking the audience to see that, “God and God’s kin’dom were more than they thought.”  The parable of the yeast would have been especially disturbing to Jesus’ first century audience.  All three of the elements of the analogy—the yeast, the woman, and the amount of flour—would have really been challenging – AND perhaps challenging still to us today.


You see, the Messiah, and the reign of God that God’s people were waiting for – was one that once it came – they felt would surely be recognizable – clear, defineable – and as the Torah had taught, with many a precise and detailed rule to follow, God’s reign would be controlled, certain and contained. 

And so as we look at this parable – YEAST – being related to the kin’dom of God would have given the audience some pause.

Yeast – as they would have known it – was more of the sourdough starter variety – (versus the little packets of Fleischman’s that you pick up at the market). It was this wild, natural occurring fungus that existed all around, all the time…this indeterminate living thing!

It’s not clear whether yeast would have had a purely negative or positive  connotation to Jesus’ audience though – we certainly see in the New Testament ‘yeast or leaven” show up many times in a way that suggests something was “off” -“As Jesus said beware of the yeast of the Pharisees”  – but we also know that some of the Thanksgiving offerings made in the temple were inclusive of leaven, part of their worship.

I think perhaps the greater disruption for Jewish listeners was that yeast was such a WILD, uncontrollable force, this single-celled fungus that pops up everywhere, on the surfaces that ANYONE could touch, on any day, in any place. On the skin of those they would come in contact with, on the cloaks of the priesthood and the commoner alike. A living organism that exists so boldly –  available to take up residence indiscriminately of its host – is the provocative message – as it’s compared to the kin’dom of God.


It would be very challenging for a Jewish listener to figure out this comparison. They would wonder if this is what the kin’dom of God is like then how  would they know where the kin’dom of God begins and where it ends? How would they know their place in the kin’dom?


This was jarring and stretching for many – to imagine that the elements of the kin’dom of God could somehow already be available –  in the very structure of their lived environments, as close as their skin, and as pervasive as air. And yet this parable revealed something they knew to be true of the nature of the world around them, and at a fundamental level  – for many listeners – this was compelling (as it was confusing). 

You may have noticed that bread-making became quite a frenzy in pandemic.

First it was Store-bought bread to leave the shelves of grocery stores… 

Then it was flour.

Then it was flour mills.

And also yeast. 


There’s something about bread…

Why bread?  Why not some other baked good?


I think it’s something to do with the primal aspect of yeast.  IT’s so TINY – but so FUNDAMENTAL to our lives – to the makeup of the environment around us.   It is unruly and mysterious – and ignites transformation that we play a part in – at our very finger tips, as we knead and knead it into dough.


In some ways during pandemic –  through bread-making – we’ve had the opportunity – to become reacquainted with the keys of the kin’dom – which maybe is this way of standing in the midst of a world that is ravaged by a virus and ravaged by each other’s violence, and to be alive to the tiny possibilities for newness hidden within.     Bread baking allowed people to be part of creating something new,  from what appears to be lifeless – nothing – flour …This newness that we can witness in a rising bread… the way yeast inhabits the world  of dough around it in a new way…. somehow gives us vision to live out God’s kin-dom – to inhabit the world around us in a new way –  while not rejecting the world as it is.   


Bread echoes in our bones – as something fundamental/primal, and of new life – simultaneously.


A bread-maker I listened to at the beginning of pandemic said,  “I really do like to think of what happens in fermentation [as in a sourdough starter] — how it’s a breaking down, a decay, and with that comes something nurturing, something that can feed you”…“Therein lies a  transformation.”


Jesus is inviting his followers to see that he didn’t come to destroy the law – but that the law through him might be fulfilled.  So Jesus is entering fully into the reality around him – while the religious elite were trying to uphold and grow a  kin-dom by conserving, preserving and controlling at all costs.   Protecting/defending against any wild yeast – anything that would change their way of knowing God…  In this way Jesus suggests – it’s hard to bring new life…. 


God’s kin’dom is one that seeks to live  – seeks to grow – not by limiting partnership – by expanding – by overflowing — and coaxing in/drawing in all who were around to be a part of it.  To bring in new life, this is the way of love – the active ingredient in the kin’dom of God.


He’s cautioned to say, “it’s not change (this element of yeast), that’s the nasty thing –  Status quo is the nasty thing. 


Yeast eats. It breathes. It’s alive – it’s active and in the right environment, it will multiply and flourish – wildly!  Yeast is life… much like the Kin’dom God talks about. And he’s speaking to his audience then and NOW –  saying, “and you are the activators of such life… “


  1. Woman 

As is the woman in this parable.  Jesus doesn’t give us any details about this woman in the parable. And perhaps that’s why like in Matthew’s translation we are drawn to focus our attention on the leaven being the meaning-maker as it relates to the kin’dom of God.


But in another translation  – it isn’t the yeast that resembles the kin’dom – but it says “the kin’dom is like “the woman” who took the yeast.


The kin’dom is like the woman… 

This suggests that this woman is as much an active ingredient in the creation of the Kin-dom of God – as is the yeast.  That she is an agent of the kin-dom – in her own sphere of influence…. AND this suggests that this woman in her “ordinary” role, doing a regular domestic task – is you, and me – any of us – all of us.  In whatever it is we do in our day.


The kin’dom of God isn’t magic – it doesn’t transform our harsh realities – but it does have the potential to transform us …  I imagine this woman to live in a small Galilean town  – without a lot of resources, or position in society…she likely could never earn her way to high status in the temple. … But God suggests she’s already part of the kin’dom… She’s present to her surroundings, alive to the world around her…  and in doing so she becomes an active ingredient.  She’s’ willing to work with what is around her, in an effort to spring forth more life. 


Three Measures

Scripture says, she took the yeast and

“…mixed it in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Now there’s a piece in here that would have stood out to Jesus’ listeners – likely in a way that it doesn’t for us… They would have responded to this measurement of flour – and said something like –  “WOW! That’s a lot of flour.”

Three measures doesn’t equal three cups.

Three measures of flour – is somewhere between 50 and 60 pounds, or 60 – 80 loaves.

This suggests to us that this woman did not intend to just make a loaf for herself, or just for her household, or maybe even just for her neighborhood. This amount of bread is enough to feed a village. The kin’dom of God is like a woman who takes all of what she has around her – even if it looks lifeless and like nothing – and grabs some wild spores from the air – and believes that she can feed the world around her (in partnership with God).


It is a heart posture – a leaning in with belief that what we can touch/see/do is never too small in the kin’dom of God. 


Despite all the lovely bread making – and bread-eating that I did… – (and there was a lot of it at the beginning of  quarantine )…

I still circle around to this very question and ask, “but isn’t there a “too small” category?” When we are talking about real meaningful impact in the world…   I mean really.. The ruptures in our social fabric – the devastation in our souls is too much…for a “too small”,  right?

Because that devastation – I feel it in my soul – my “soul is sore.”

In moments when I start to sense again the kin-dom of God near… when God’s love rises within me – something else occurs that deflates that stirring of hope in me.

And I feel our social contracts with one another – are stretched, and frayed, and nearly beyond repair.



However, the truth is – it’s exactly these little moments, these moments that so often fall under the radar .. that catch my heart off-guard and surprise and inject this fundamental truth of the kin-dom of God  – of locating ourselves as part of a community – that still believes in one another – by being present, aware and alive to those around us.

As you’ve heard over the last few weeks on Virch – we started a new initiative, called the Beloved Community Fund – which seeks to provide financial short-term assistance – AND also to provide a network of HUMAN resources – to holistically support the wellness of someone in need. 

Over the last seven weeks .. So many of you have expanded the kin’dom of God. 

Locating yourselves, your resources, your time, your coats, your boots, your food – as PART of a beloved community.  Knowing full well that to give and receive – to be in need and to offer to those in need is part of the pattern of life – that any of us will find ourselves in. 

This heart posture has touched folks who would identify as “part of Reservoir community” and also those beyond Reservoir INTO ALL of the kin’dom of God here on earth. 

  • You’ve helped provide a Christmas Eve meal for a group of folks with a history of chronic illness, and substance abuse and homelessness.
  • Helped someone be able to continue with therapy… 
  • Helped someone who is sick and in need of surgery..
  • You’ve been present to a family – recently new to the US – with no winter gear or resources…


THIS community – so many of you showed up in that regard. Shared your bread. Treated these folks you don’t know – NOT AS IF they were angels,  AS IF THEY were GOD – but regarded them AS angels – AS God in your midst… not b/c you can solve or fix all of the circumstances – but because you believe that your engagement, within your sphere – within your touch – can activate the love of God within and without – THAT NOTHING IS in fact “too small”, and that love can flourish greatly, even wildly so….far beyond where we can see.


You see- one of my favorite parts of this VERY short parable are the last few words of that verse – where it says, “….all of it was leavened.”

Once the love of Jesus is activated… There is no barrier to where that love spills out – no edge, no dark corner, no person, no action, no addiction, no sickness – that it won’t touch. ALL will be leavened, with God’s love…. As we greet those around us with the belief that God’s image resides within them.


Genesis 18
I want to share one last thing – that I think fills out this parable… anchors it in the long line of God’s presence here on earth… 

Parables were not unfamiliar to Jesus’ audience – in fact many of the parables evoked earlier stories that they would have been familiar to them… The story in Genesis 18 does this, I believe.  Here’s what it says: 

1The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs/measures of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”


So you can see here – probably some obvious parallels to the parable of the yeast… a woman, bread, three measures. . . . We also see, three strangers seem to appear out of nowhere.  

Abraham and Sarah greet them as holy – as God  – whether they understand that to be true in real time or not!


  • Bread is made.  Again with a ridiculous extravagance and generosity – huge portions…! As if they were feeding a whole nation of God to come. 
  • And in the mix of sharing bread with one another… 
  • One of the men tells them that they would have a son in a year.

Sarah laughs – and says, there’s no way, it’s too late – I’m worn out –  I’m too small, I’m insignificant..

  • And then Sarah becomes pregnant.  This mysterious , unexpected, miraculous thing happens… 
  • She is transformed – yes physically she becomes pregnant
  • But something changes within as well – in her heart – from the idea that she’s ‘too worn out – she doesn’t matter…’   
  • To this belief, “I’m not too small,” “I’m willing to partner with you, GOD”
  • And in her transformation…A nation of God is born… 


As we know of parables – they reveal more about our true selves, as much as they do of the nature of God – and they reveal that the birthplace of the kin’dom of God is within us


Like yeast, God’s love can not be contained.  It is everywhere. It shows up in 3 strangers to Sarah and Moses, it shows up in a family you’ll never meet,  in a worn out womb, in a heart of despair, at the edge of a Galilean town, in a baby’s cry, in the scent of bread filling your house…

The love God had for the world couldn’t be contained by heaven – it spilled over the heavens, and came to Earth, came to be in human form, in Jesus.” (Nadia Bolz-Weber).

And now God’s love has active potential – to touch everyone, to speak to the oppressed, to heal the sick, to touch the soul sore….through us.


We learn through these stories that God’s kin’dom is ordinary and wild.. Full of fish and pearls, and surprise and doubt, and leaven and laughter and nurture, and banquets and mustard seeds, “with kings – but also with shepherds” (Amy-Jill Levine). 

It encompasses everything.

  • God’s kin’dom is already folded into the stuff that makes up our world – and it’s already folded into us. 
  • To be a part of God’s kin-dom will continue to feel disruptive, unbelievable, surprising, challenge us to believe our efforts matter/our small pieces matter –  and even, like Sarah –  feel laughable at times…
  • We need to allow these parables to be active in our stories today – 



Each day we need this refresher – of what the Kin’dom of God is like.. 

God, help us remember what it is to be part of your kin’dom, “Give us this day our daily bread”.  

When we feel like lumps of lifeless flour – or when we look at this world and just see dark, stinky, decay…  God bubble up – rise up – from the cracks in our lives… help us to nurture this heavenly yeast, Because this is the yeast that we will need for decades – centuries to come. 



  • We are in a time of leavening.
  • GOD IS STILL AT WORK.  in the upheaval of covid, of racism , of insurrection.  May we keep kneading the yeast of God’s love – so we can live in this kin’dom life – both in the world as it is – and the world we are creating with God –  simultaneously. (adapted by richard rohr) 


As we close today, why don’t you consider what “The kin’dom of God is like __________ .” What is the kin’dom of God like to you?



Oh God, Divine parent of us all – *in whom is heaven*.

Holy, Loving, Merciful one is what we call you. 

May your love be enacted in this world,

and be our guide to dream, to hope and create the world now, and as we imagine it to be.
May your kin’dom come.

May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day, our daily bread.

Fuel us for the work of our days.  Feed us with rest and with love. To love ourselves and neighbors well. 

And lead us into your big heart – that expands our own, for the greater good, the common good, and the stranger.  

Lead us not into isolation, and new lines of division.

Lead us into your presence, apparent in every part of our days, 

where the glory of your kin-dom of love, restores us all – now and forever. 


*in whom is heaven* – wording from New Zealand Book of Prayer




In addition they offer these words/phrases which might resonate with you:

  • inflammation

–  right side of the body


–  waiting 

–  recovery

–  a racing heart

–  a purposed loudness (like at a bowling alley)


And an image that might tie these last 4 together:

I looked up and there was a wellspring bubbling up – a sign of hope, new life, growth.


BENEDICTION: A word of blessing as we transition from Virch this morning….


My friends as you go out into your spaces today.

May you find the sense of god’s kin-dom rising within you….

May you find that your hands and the works of your hand  are already touching it….

May you find that the words of your mouth are already speaking of it….

May you find tiny spores of newness in your ordinary life…

And may you be inspired, delighted and enwrapped in holy peace as you do…

Three Ways Jesus Has a Growth Mindset for Us All

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

For this week’s spiritual practice “Listening, Hearing” led by Ivy Anthony, Click HERE.

What a year it’s been already. As my friend Linda wrote rather hilariously on Facebook, if you have gotten out of bed, brushed your teeth, and have not instigated, committed, abetted, or cheered on insurrection, you are rocking 2021. Way to go!


Seriously, what a week it’s been. A Confederate flag flying in the Capitol, a gallows set up outside, face after face of angry white men’s rage, Christian slogans on posters lying on the ground next to empty liquor bottles. It’s a lot. 


On days like this when we’re troubled by dramatic world events, I can put a lot of pressure on myself to say the perfect things. But the truth is I found this past week’s storming of the Capitol as disturbing as I’m sure you did. Our minds, our hearts have been racing this week.


I did put out a statement on Friday morning, which I hope you read. You can still find it on our blog and social media. It’s important to speak with clarity, I know. But I’ll admit that I’ve been on the same ride you all have been on this past year, and it’s been a lot. It’s hard to always know the perfect thing to say.


So today, I’m going to do what we’d planned to do. I’m going to take us to the feet of Jesus, our teacher, who has wisdom and guidance and hope and life for us all. And I’m going to trust that the words and presence of Jesus will give us what we need for this moment.


But first, let’s pray together. 


I used to be an English teacher, and I started out with 8th graders, and mostly kids whose skills in reading and writing were a little underdeveloped compared to many other kids their age. And at first, it seemed like the biggest barrier to learning for my students was the “I don’t want to” attitude. As in: I don’t want to read that book. Well, how about this one? No. How about that one? No. How about any book you choose? No, really. Sometimes the “no” was said out loud like that, but a lot of the time, it was just on the face. Or in the body.


Have you been around middle schoolers recently? Were you ever 13? Then you know what I’m talking about. 


But as I got to know my students, I’d find that if you scratch under the service of “I don’t want to” you’d find the real issue was “I can’t.” Kids didn’t want to read out loud because they were embarrassed by how they sounded. Or they didn’t want to read books because they felt they couldn’t understand them, or couldn’t relate to them. The same with writing: kids would tell me all the time: I’m just not good at that. And they’d point to or name somebody else, and say: he’s the one, or she’s the one who’s the writer. 


I was sure they were wrong. My most important mentor in learning to teach middle school English was a teacher I’d never met, an expert named Nancie Atwell who taught there is no such thing as a good reader or a good writer. Language and communication are pretty central to the human experience, she insisted. And there are people who read and who write, and do so in ways that are meaningful to them, and give them opportunities for deliberate practice, and these are people who become readers and writers over time. But if you don’t read and don’t write in ways that are accessible and meaningful to you, then of course, your skills and experience won’t progress. 


These different attitudes about reading and writing and about learning and ability in general were later given names by the psychologist Carol Dweck. She’s studied and written about a spectrum of mindsets about intelligence and learning that have become kind of famous. She called the ends of these spectrums fixed mindset and growth mindset. 


Fixed Mindset: Believing our qualities are fixed traits which are hard to change.


These are the people who say “I can’t do this” and think that isn’t likely to change. And that attitude becomes self-fulfilling. These are the people who think certain others have the ability, not me, which again, makes it hard for that to change. 


I know I feel this way about my life and about the world sometimes – it is what it is. Things are what they are. In the classroom, though, students with fixed mindsets raise their hands less, engage less, receive lower grades, and take longer to recover from setbacks. So a fixed mindset isn’t just a self-fulfilling path to stagnation, it leads to lower levels of resilience, engagement, and hope. 


Now Dweck contrasts this with what she has labelled a growth mindset. 


Growth Mindset: Believing that effort and energy over time can lead to growth and improvement.


A growth mindset says: I may or may not be able to do this today, but I can try and learn and grow. With effort and help and perseverance, I will change and improve. 


My big challenge as a teacher was to cultivate this growth mindset about reading and writing in my students, to help them believe in the possibility of their own growth, so they would engage, take risks, keep trying, and see the results that come with this approach. 


Now in a year that’s been full of isolation and discouragement, and in a time of history where so much that is broken is being revealed for what it is, I believe that the cultivation of a growth mindset is critical to our joy, to our flourishing, even to our survival. 


We want to live with hope. And we want to put in the work to help secure growth and better futures for ourselves, for others, and for the world at large. Growth mindset. 


And I think that when we listen to the stories Jesus tells us, we find that one thing he is encouraging is a growth mindset, believing in a present and future that holds healing and renewal and fruitful growth. 


Let’s listen to one of Jesus’ stories, where he talks about why he tells stories in the first place. 


Mark 4:1-2, 10-23 (NRSV)

4 Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 He began to teach them many things in parables… 9 And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12 in order that

‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,

    and may indeed listen, but not understand;

so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”

13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 17 But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. 20 And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

21 He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23 Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

I chose this passage for today because we’re going to listen to the stories Jesus tells us, the stories called parables, over the next few weeks. And this seems to be like a keystone story for Jesus, one that helps us understand why he teaches the way he does. So we’re starting with this little story about seeds and growth. 


And I’ve got three things to say about this one today. The first is that:

  • Jesus is more gardener than carpenter


I get this line from a book about raising kids, a book called The Gardner and The Carpenter by Alison Gopnik. The idea is that carpenters have a scheme in mind of something they want to build – usually a pretty specific scheme, down to exact measurements. And you get material and turn it into the thing you have in mind. As Gopnik says: Messiness and variability are a carpenter’s enemies; precision and control are her allies. Measure twice, cut once. 


And the idea is that this is a great way to build a house, but not so great a way to raise a human being. People aren’t just commodities that become anything you want them to. They have their own natures that need noticing and honoring. 


So while a carpenter shapes inanimate objects entirely according to the carpenter’s own will, a gardener supports animate objects – life – as they grow, according to their own internal nature. 


With plants, a gardener tends to the soil, makes room, weeds and all that, and then delights as the mix of predictable and surprising as living things grow. With children, the parent or teacher gardener doesn’t try to control kids according to a pre-set pattern, but helps them grow and flourish each according to their own nature and interests.


And Jesus implies that God – not just here but throughout his stories he tells – that God does much the same. Though Jesus was – we believe – literally trained as a carpenter, he tells stories about seeds and plants and other living things. Jesus lets us know that God wants the earth, and wants humanity in particular, to grow and flourish – thirty, sixty, hundredfold – immensely.


And what is all this growth? Well, Jesus doesn’t get specific in this story, but there’s a reference to old prophecy, when in exasperation, he’s like people are looking and listening, but if only they would perceive and understand, they would turn and be forgiven. Or, in the original context of what Jesus is quoting, they would turn and be healed. Which includes forgiveness but is more than that as well. 


Here’s the interesting with God and all this growth and healing God is encouraging. God isn’t making any of this happen. God isn’t controlling us all like a carpenter picks up tools and nails and just builds his thing. God’s a gardener. God lets everything grow. Elsewhere, Jesus implies God doesn’t even like weeding – God’s going to to plant and water and nourish and whisper goodness and direction to us all and God’s going to continue to let us grow as we want. For good or ill. 


See, to drop the metaphor for a minute, God’s project is not like a carpenter’s. God doesn’t control what God made. God is love, and love can’t control. Messiness is not God’s enemy. All living things, people included, have this glorious freedom to in part set our own course. 


God has direction. God went through all the trouble to become a person, after all, to tell us stories, to teach us, to inspire and heal, to walk with us, to suffer with us. Jesus, in this parable, is like: God always has a word for each of us. God has a path of abundant life available to us all, at all times. But it is always up to us to take it or not. 


And, as we know, many of us don’t much of the time. This is why it shouldn’t shock us when people do horrible things, even people we thought we’re on our team or share our faith. Look no further than Washington this week. People are attracted to lies and conspiracy. People are attracted to power. Fear and resentment often burrow deeper in the heart than love and hospitality. 


Many of our gardens are in bad shape. We look around and it’s like, man: this world is an unkempt garden full of toxins and trash. We have a lot of work to do. God won’t do it for us. But the Spirit of God through the words of Jesus says to us as Jesus did in Galilee: I’m speaking. Look and perceive. Listen and understand. Turn, come here, talk it out with me, and be healed. And together, let’s grow something new. Let’s grow something new.



  • Jesus is interested in engagement, not performance.


Jesus does this really funny thing with his teaching. He tells a pretty generic story about 1st century farming. Seeds flying everywhere. Most of it not really taking or growing or bearing fruit very well, except the parts where it does and then, wow, look at that growth! And then Jesus is like: listen up, pay attention, this is important, and takes a seat, sees what happens.


And it turns out is he’s waiting to see who’s curious, who cares to engage. And then he says this funny thing to the relatively smaller group who are intrigued, who ask him questions, who hang around. He says, “You have the secret.” He says You have the secret to God’s Kingdom. That’s kind of an old, patriarchal word in our context, so we could say God’s family. God’s garden. God’s Beloved Community, as we’re increasingly saying around here. The people and the life God is growing on earth. You have the secret.


What’s the secret, though? They’re not doing anything special. And it’s not like Jesus ultimately wants to be keeping secrets. He follows up, as we heard, lamps are supposed to have their light shine. You can’t hide the truth. Hidden things are going to be known in time. Just like in families that try to bury their shame, just like leaders that try to cover up their bad behavior, truth rises. Secrets will come to light. 


There’s a warning here for any of us that think we can abuse power or harm others and keep that hidden. A day of reckoning is coming. It’s been happening all around this country the past few years, hasn’t it? 


But in this context, it’s true of wise and healing words too. They are meant to be known and engaged with, not hidden. Jesus doesn’t want to keep secrets. 


So why does he teach with stories and riddles? Why is so much more interested in relationship and engagement than, I don’t know, bland but clear slogans? 


Well, I think it’s because Jesus knows about growth mindset. Jesus knows that our minds, our hearts, our habits, our lives are not fixed, and they’re certainly not fixed the way we sort and rank them. This one’s smart, this one’s not. This one’s good, this one’s bad. Fixed mindset, garbage.


Jesus knows we all are good soil for the life God longs to grow. Jesus was part of making us all after all. We are all curious, we are all capable of wonderful creativity, beauty, love, courage, kindness, wisdom. All of us. But Jesus knows that there is so much that is undeveloped in us, and there are lot of toxins in our gardens, in our minds, too. Jesus wants to provoke us into a relationship where we will listen and learn, where we will be humble enough to say to God and one another, I don’t know the way forward, but I want to be healed. And I want to be helpful. I want flourish, to have a life that is abundantly good for me and for others and for this earth. Jesus, what’s my way forward? 


That kind of engagement is the secret. 


This past summer, when I was at peak 2020 pressure and anxiety, God made this clear to me. When I was most worried that in an awful year, I had to as a parent and as a pastor and as a leader, get everything just right. Perform, Steve, or else, I felt inside. 


Jesus nudged me and said, I don’t need you to perform, Steve. I don’t need you to be perfect. Just get up and engage. Engage with me, engage with the people and the tasks of your life best as you know how. Stay curious. Ask for help. And the fruit will come. Good things will happen.


And it has been so.


Jesus doesn’t want or need your performance, friends. He’s not testing you to find our if you are good or bad soil. Jesus is asking you to engage, to be curious, to listen and learn and stay in relationship, so that you can flourish. 


And lastly:

  • Everything is grace.


Pastor Lydia preached on this passage a year or two ago, and I remember her talking about how you can hear this story from Jesus as pressure: you better be the good soil. Don’t be hard-hearted, don’t give up when trouble comes, don’t get distracted. Be faithful, do good things. And she – again, in my memory – was like, no we’re all each one of these soils at different times. This is not about performance pressure. It’s about grace. 


Which is true. I mean look at this farmer after all. Jesus’ farmer, which seems to be God, just throws the seed everywhere, so wasteful. And this farmer doesn’t seem to bother trying to cultivate or till adjust the quality of the soil. I mean a modern farmer would hear this story and be like, Jesus, don’t blame the soil for not being fruitful, it’s the farmer’s fault. Just as some of us look at the state of our lives and the state of our world and think, God, this mess is your fault. Work it out. Fix it already. 


But remember, Jesus is gardener, not carpenter. God is gardener, not carpenter, with our world. God knows how we can flourish – each of us individually, all of us collectively. The ways of God, made known in the life and teaching of Jesus, will empower beautiful and productive flourishing, if we engage and listen. 


But God loves us so much that God wants us to choose life and grow and flourish, as free, beloved beings. 


This goes well beyond Carol Dweck’s theory of growth mindset in learning, but I think this is all growth mindset too. 


That no matter what the state of anything today, we live under grace. No matter the state of our minds or hearts or lives, there is more. No matter the state of our country or anything else we’re a part of, we live with a kind God of boundless compassion, a forgiving God of endless second chances, a hopeful and renewing God of abundant possibilities from this point forward. 


Everything is grace. Growth, fruitfulness, goodness are still possible, if we’re curious and humble enough to ask for help, if we’re brave enough to engage and take a step forward and try. 


God’s much less concerned with who you are today than who you are becoming. God’s so much less interested in the steps you took yesterday than the ones you will take today. Everything is grace. 


God is with us, asking: how are you growing? Where do you need to grow? How will you ask for help? How will you engage today? 


Let’s PRAY.