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…
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.
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).
BREAD MAKING PANDEMIC 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… “
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.
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.
MY STORY, PART 2 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.
*BELOVED COMMUNITY FUND
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 ASangels – AS Godin 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:
– right side of the body
– 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…