July 27, 2008
Scripture: Matthew 13:31-52
Sermon Title:"Baking Bread with Lucy and Ethel"
Today we hear a variety of parables from Jesus regarding the Kingdom of Heaven, a concept that means different things to different people. There are those who see it as another way of saying the word "heaven" and where we will go when we die.
There are others, the UCC included, who say the Kingdom of Heaven is a political and social concept that has the ability to break into our world and create a new way.
To make things even more complicated, many in the UCC say the Kingdom of Heaven is something that is "already, and not yet." What this means is that there are places and times in which we see God’s Kingdom in action and times and places in which we don’t.
An example would be our Block Party, where all are welcomed and allowed to gather with food, fellowship and fun. Others will point to our food pantry, UCOM and Pilgrim Manor as places in which the Kingdom has become present.
The not yet part comes in all the acts of oppression, neglect and abuse that still happens. The not yet part is not about negativity, but hopeful expectation that one day there will be freedom for all and the hungry and homeless no longer wander the streets.
I personally think of the Kingdom of Heaven as a spirit of gratefulness and spiritual blessedness that works to transform us, reshape us and open us up to new ways of life. And I believe that we all can play a part in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven about through our actions and way of life.
I look around at our world, our community, where I live and can point out where the Kingdom of God already exists, and where the Kingdom is not yet.
So, today we hear a variety of parables about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Jesus uses images of fields, coins and fish to teach his lessons. Each parable is unique and uses the ordinary to talk about the extraordinary and unexpected.
It should be no surprise to anyone that the image that stuck out to me the most is the woman making bread. And I can’t help but to think back to the episode of "I Love Lucy" where Lucy and Ethel bake bread.
Regardless if you saw the show on first run or repeats, you know this episode. It’s the men verses the women: Lucy and Ethel bet Ricky and Fred $50 that they can live like people back in 1890. The losing team is the first to slip up and use a modern convenience
The chaos ensues. They wear period clothes. Ethel spends $23 trying to turn milk into butter before realizing she’s supposed to use cream. Ricky rides a horse to work and takes a bath in a copper tub placed in the kitchen
And Lucy makes bread. She misreads the ingredients and puts 13 cloves of yeast into the flour, not realizing she only needs three. She lets the dough rise. And it rises, and rises, and when it begins to spill out of the bowl, Lucy tries to put it into a bigger bowl, but that doesn’t work.
Eventually Lucy puts this pile of growing dough onto a cookie sheet and pops it into the oven. Later, when she walks back into the kitchen she notices the over door is slightly ajar. Curious, Lucy walks over and opens the oven door... and out comes this enormous loaf of bread: one foot, three feet, five feet, eighteen feet of bread! comes barreling out of the oven, pinning her against the kitchen sink.
Eventually, both teams admit defeat. To celebrate Lucy brings out a slice of bread that’s 2 foot by six inches and topped with Ethel’s 23 dollar butter. The episode ends with the four of them taking a bite out of the bread all at once.
Extravagant and unexpected indeed. Not to mention a wonderful secular image of communion and today’s parable.
Though this particular parable is just one sentence long it contains so much information about the Kingdom of God. Three of the things I’d like to talk about today is how the parable contains images of work and rest, how it reveals the mysterious, surprising nature of God’s kingdom, and the over-all image of abundance
Chapter 13, verse 33 reads: "The kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman takes and hides in with three measures of four until all was leavened." First, let’s talk about work and rest.
I don’t know how many of you have ever made bread, but that was a winter time tradition in my home. Because my Mom loved to give gifts, but didn’t have the money, she and I would make homemade bread to give out as Christmas presents to my teachers, the school bus driver, the mail man, whoever.
Making homemade bread has to be one of life’s most enjoyable experiences. We worked from the dining room table. Mixed in the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Then heated up butter, milk and water, poured it into the batter, stirred it around, added some more flour, covered it, let it sit.
10 minutes later roll it out. The texture of the dough between your fingers. The physical release of kneading, punching and rolling out the dough. The flowering of the rolling pin and table. The shaping of the bread and the pinching of the seams to make it all hold together.
Like riding a bike it is something you never forget how to do.
And the smell of a home warmed by the baking of fresh bread! Perhaps the most beloved smell of all.
So making bread requires work, after all the ingredients won’t mix themselves. You have to bring them together.
The yeast introduced to the flour and stirred about. That means using a spoon, utilizing your triceps, biceps, shoulders. It means being willing to get flour on you, getting dirty, dedicating time and focus to the task. It means being in the kitchen where its hot and you may break into a sweat.
It’s true that the dough won’t mix itself. But for the yeast to accomplish its goal you need to step back. And here’s where the rest comes in. In order for the dough to rise, you have to cover it, put it in a good location, and give it time to do its thang. 10 minutes, twenty minutes, thirty, forty and the yeast begins to work its wonders and rise the dough.
This is like the Kingdom of God. That often times for it to break into our world and become a reality, we must be willing to do some of the work, we must be able to find a way to combine the right ingredients, and it requires time, triceps and getting a bit messy.
But then we have to step back, and watch and trust that God will do what God needs to do.
This becomes a time of rest, of creating breathing room for the mystery and will of God to work without our intervention, on Gods own time, in Gods own way.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a woman baking bread because for it to become realized it requires that we be willing to work, but we also be willing to rest. Second, the Kingdom of God also holds a hint of mystery.
Note that the woman hides the yeast. It is secretly placed in with the flour. It sounds like a covert operation. A person not paying attention will look at the flour and think its just this powdery concoction that’s bland and boring. But something happens. Over time the yeast causes the flour to rise and the dough to grow.
Anyone who has made homemade bread is aware of this mystery.
After you roll it into its shape, you place the dough into a greased pan and cover it, letting it sit for about 45 minutes. Come back, and what happens? The dough is suddenly half its size!
How does it do that? What are the magical properties of yeast? How does something that begins small, dry and in a tiny packet all of a sudden grow and expand? How does something so seemingly insignificant create such a noticeable change?
This can also be said about God’s kingdom. Shoot, its something we can’t ordinarily see. It’s not like an office building or a castle that you can touch. Its something some people doubt exists or debate about. Others spend there whole life looking for it or waiting for it to happen.
And like the magical way the yeast expands the dough, its always fun to watch how the Kingdom of Heaven is slowly, spiritually, almost magically revealed to people. As a pastor I get to witness this all the time. The Kingdom becomes real through a scripture, or song, a sermon preached or the testimonies of another.
The parable shows us the kingdom of heaven as a place of surprising mystery that we assist in creating through work and rest. Finally, its also a place of absurd abundance.
We are told the woman hides the yeast in three measures of flour. Don’t make the mistake and think three measures is equal to three cups: it is more like 50 pounds of flour.
This means that like in "I Love Lucy", the bread that comes out of this woman’s oven will be enough to feed over 100-150. That’s a lot of bread!
This amount of flour used symbolizes the abundance that exists in Gods kingdom. It reminds us of how God desires to feed and care for us all, giving us not only what we need to be happy, but an abundance of it.
And because the woman is making so much bread, we can’t help but to think of the Kingdom being a festive occasion: glorious communion where every one can gather and eat.
As members of the UCC, we can believe that the Kingdom is already here, making itself known to us, but we can also say that it is not yet fully here since there are still so may people who are hungry for God.
The good news is that we, as Christians, are like that woman. We already have the ingredients needed, the symbolic yeast and flour. Although we may not always know what the yeast will be.
Could it be the way we great someone before worship or downstairs in the Fellowship Hall? Could it be during the passing of the peace? Vacation Bible School, worship at Lamar, the Block Party, the meals we serve all have ways of acting in other people’s life the way that yeast does.
Nor will we ever know what the spiritual yeast is that can causes the flour in our own soul to grow. For some it may be the moment of baptism. For others the taking of communion. A lesson learned at Sunday school, a new hymn sung or a children’s message heard.
The yeast that enters into our souls and transforms us can come in so many forms. An e-mail received, a scripture read, a prayer shared.
It can even come in the form of a health crises, a dire situation, a journey we did not expect to take, or the person we reach out to who we discover is reaching right back.
Because the Kingdom of God is already here, and still on its way, every moment we live is a yeast moment. Every encounter, every experience, every step in creation, becomes a chance when the goodness of God and the secret of the kingdom is hidden, planted, into the flour of our being or the beings of others.
Although it may seem hidden at first, there it is, waiting to grow. And through a combination of work and rest, mystery and abundance, it begins to change and expand until what at first seemed simple and ordinary becomes extraordinary and delicious.
Like Lucy’s 18 foot loaf of bread the kingdom of God pushes out of the limited constraints we can imagine, expanding and moving, able to feed 2 of us, 4 of us, 150 and beyond in a banquet of God’s’s goodness.
In conclusion, we are all that woman. We all have the ability to mix yeast with flour. With and through God we all have the ability to assist making the kingdom of God more present and to make it more real.
May God bless you day with his unexpected surprises, may you grow to know Jesus as the bread of life and may the mystery of the Spirit be a source of abundant joy.
Amen and amen.