"Leaven of the Kin(g)dom," sermon by Rev. Fred Kinsey
I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I love my very basic and simple Honey Whole Wheat Bread recipe, better than any other! It’s not fancy. Just whole wheat and honey, milk and shortening, a pinch of salt – oh yes, and yeast! Mix it all together, and knead it into a dense, nascent, lump.
It’s a recipe Kim taught me when we were first dating in seminary. I didn’t even know how to knead bread. Had never done it before! We made it a lot in the beginning, but over the years, it seemed harder, to find the time, to be home, to do it. You can get quick rise yeast, but, the quality isn’t the same. So, we haven’t pulled out the recipe, which is on the first page of the More with Less Cookbook, since we moved to Chicago 14 years ago. But now, in these pandemic, shelter-at-home days, I looked it up again, and I’ve been making it, pretty much every two weeks, or so. It’s one of the things that cuts down on having to run to the grocery store, so often.
The woman in Jesus’ parable didn’t have Red Star, packets of yeast, like we use. The dried kind we buy now, is even smaller than what she had. But it’s the same, once you get the dough kneaded into a nice round ball, and put it in a greased bowl, and leave in a warm place. That’s when the miracle begins! You can’t see it rise, if you were to stare at it, but after about a half hour you can tell it growing, and at 45 minutes to an hour, it’s now double the size it was, a most pleasing surprise! And now the fun-est part comes – you punch it down. Punch all the air out, put it in loaf pans, and you let it rise again, before the final step of baking.
It was after the mustard seed parable that Jesus told them this simple, one verse, parable: “The kin(g)dom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
Though the description is small, the three measures of flour, was an awfully large batch! That’s more than a bushel of flour, which is something like 144 cups. You’d probably need a, 100-quart Mixer, with a dough hook as big as your leg! This isn’t the usual, feed your family example. Jesus is exaggerating, to demonstrate how a little bit of yeast can make enough bread to feed the whole village! Everybody!
And it happens invisibly. The exponential growth is silent and unnoticed. But it’s transformed into something amazingly large. That’s what the kin(g)dom of heaven is like, that Jesus invites us to!
And the heroine is also, barely noticeable – a mother, house-wife, or a single woman – she belonged, either to her father, or her husband. Women were not regularly thought of as the focus of leadership in the public square. They weren’t Rabbi’s or soldiers, Scribes or tax collectors. But Jesus changes that. He calls BS on it. Jesus lifts up this un-named woman, as a player in, and deserving of, the kin(g)dom of heaven.
‘God’s kin(g)dom is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of barley bread – and waits while the dough rises,’ as the Message translation renders verse 33. It grew from a tiny measure, and it made some 52 loaves! Or, about 416 PnJ sandwiches, calculates Fr. Dominic Garramone, aka, the Bread Monk!
And all the parables in today’s reading about the kin(g)dom of God, feature similarly, subversive, examples; and, I think we could say, involve, “essential workers.” This woman baking bread, a farmer sowing seed, a small business owner, and a commercial fisher. They are not Caesar’s or Herod’s elite friends; not the well-off Sadducees or members of the Sanhedrin. They are struggling laborers, working at low-wage jobs with no benefits, no sick days or child-care, but make sure that we are fed, sweating in the fields, and the bakeries, casting and pulling up the nets of fish for our meals, paying bills to keep their shops open, all so we can go to market and choose what we want, and need, for our daily bread.
Jesus lifts them, and their work, up, as examples of the kin(g)dom of God.
When will essential workers finally receive their due? When will we not only thank them for their truly essential work, but pay them as if they are workers, at least as important, as bankers and doctors – and reflect, that Jesus lifts them up as examples of kin(g)dom of God!
The surprise of the mustard seed growing into “the greatest of shrubs and becoming a tree so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches”; and the yeast that silently, but exponentially, expands into enough to feed a village – all enabled by poor essential workers – is vintage Jesus.
Which is why it is so equally apparent, that those today, who would manipulate the tiny, microscopic, corona virus, into a huge chaotic mess, an uncaring, and un-necessary, public health crisis, that endangers our safety – the physical safety, and financial well-being of all working people – is so antithetical, to the message of the gospel.
COVID-19 in the U.S., is like a parable, of neglect and excess. The invisible virus, growing into waves of transmission, spreading like wildfire in states that prioritized the economy, was created by greed and misplaced obedience. Not obedience to the bringer of the kin(g)dom of heaven, but misplaced obedience to our self-possessed, spiritually dead, Narcissist-in-Chief, who is the polar opposite of the compassionate and caring, anointed one from heaven.
Which is just what Jesus warned about in the image of leaven, or yeast, that occurs again, later in Matthew, two more times. In ch. 16, (5-12), and then in his list of Woes against the hypocrites, Jesus warns the disciples of the leaven of the religious leaders of his day, who, with their teachings, he says, "lock people out of the kin(g)dom of heaven" (Matthew 23:13). (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4512)
Can it be, that so much remains the same even today? What is required to disrupt and overcome the yeast of our leaders, who rise up, like so much dough, to become tasteless, and poisonous bread?
Like Jesus, we first of all, need to recognize their behavior, and call it out. We can’t ignore it or turn a blind eye. Also, Jesus prepares us, by blessing us. We, the laborers, essential workers, and supporters, are examples of believers that help to bring in the kin(g)dom of heaven. We must not sell our selves short. We cannot give up or give in. The Lord has shown us the way. Planting just a little mustard seed can create the greatest of shrubs! A hardworking woman can use just a bit of yeast, and leaven a bushel of flour!
So it is then, that we are fed and nourished by the simple recipe’s, and the most basic of ingredients, the everyday, tasty, Honey Whole Wheat loaves, that are enough, to join us with the Holy Spirit, Jesus sends us – and empower us, to claim the kin-dom, even now, and begin to live in justice and joy, that with Jesus, we may be masters of our household, and all its treasures.