July 27, 2014
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Sermon Title:”Baking Bread”
Rev. George N. Miller
Today we hear a variety of parables regarding the Kingdom of Heaven, a concept that has lately been inspiring my theology and sense of ministry.
It’s a concept that others are faithfully figuring out as well. For some, the Kingdom of Heaven is the place we go after we finish our earthly journey.
For others, the Kingdom of Heaven is a political and social concept about how God breaks into our world to create a new way of being.
To make it more complicated, others, such as myself, will say that 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, experience, feel and even “taste” the Kingdom in action, and there are places and times in which we have not.
An example would be our Vacation Bible School, where all children were welcomed, free of fear and judgment and allowed to gather with food, fun and fellowship.
Others will point to our Shepherd’s Pantry or the choir room, chancel and sanctuary as places in which the Kingdom has become present.
Others may say it’s when the Word is spoken, grace is preached or Communion is served.
The “not yet” part is woefully found in the acts of cowardly violence, needless deaths, unfair oppression, and purposeful neglect that occur; in the hungry and homeless who wander the streets or the acts of abuse against God’s good Creation.
The “not yet part” is not so much about being downcast or negative, but about embracing the hopeful expectation that one day, one day God’s Kingdom will prevail and everyone, and every thing, will live in harmony.
Think back to the parable of the Sower scattering seeds on all kinds of soil so they can strike root and grow.
The Kingdom of Heaven, also known as the Kingdom of God, is some thing, some time, some place, some way of being, which brings about a spirit of blessedness which opens us up and transforms us into a new ways of living and acting.
So today we hear Jesus use ordinary images to talk about the extraordinary, unexpected nature of the Kingdom.
When he uses the illustration of a woman baking bread, I can’t help but to think of “I Love Lucy.”
If you know the episode I’m referring to, it’s the one in which Lucy and Ethel bet Ricky and Fred that they can live like people in 1890.
Chaos ensues. They wear period clothes. Ethel tries to churn milk into butter. Ricky rides a horse to work. And Lucy bakes bread.
She misreads the ingredients, using 13 parts of yeast, instead of 3. The dough rises and spills out of the bowl. She scrambles to put the mound of dough onto a cookie sheet and into the oven.
Later, upon noticing the oven door is slightly ajar,
Lucy opens the door... and out comes this enormous loaf of bread: one foot, three feet, twelve feet! of bread comes barreling out of the oven, pinning Lucy against the kitchen sink.
Both teams admit defeat and the episode ends with Fred and Ethel, Ricky and Lucy all taking a bite out of a two-foot slice of bread.
Extravagant and unexpected indeed. Not to mention a spot-on secular image of communion and today’s reading.
Though this parable is one sentence long it holds much information about the Kingdom of God. It features the themes of work, rest and abundance.
First, let’s talk about work. Baking bread was a winter time tradition at my child-hood home.
Mom would set out the dry ingredients on the dining room table. We’d use a wooden spoon to stir in the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast, then heat up butter, milk and water, pour it into the batter, stir some more. Add cup of flour; continue stirring.
Then came the fun part: kneading the bread.
The texture of the dough between your fingers! The physicality of kneading, and punching the dough! Flouring the rolling pin and table, shaping the bread and pinching the seams to make it stick together.
Like riding a bike it’s something you never forget.
But don’t be fooled: it’s dirty work and requires a lot of muscle. Stirring the yeast and flour uses your triceps and shoulders. You get flour all over you and if the kitchen’s hot you break into a sweat.
Just as playing a part in the Kingdom of Heaven requires a certain amount of work, such as the willingness to spend time, share resources, use your hands, get a little dirty and break into a sweat.
Such as all the preparing and cleaning up for Vacation Bible School and the Shepherd’s Pantry.
The Kingdom of God is like making bread because it requires work and it also requires rest.
The dough won’t mix itself, but for the yeast to do its thang, you need to step back and let the mystery take place.
You allow for rest. You cover the dough, giving it time: 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 40. You come back, and what happens?
The dough doubles its size! How does it do that? How can yeast, something so tiny, so seemingly insignificant create such a noticeable change?
This is like the Kingdom of God. For it to break into our world, for it to become a reality we often have to combine the right ingredients, do some work, use our muscle, get a bit messy…
…and then step back, trusting that God will do what God needs to do on God’s own time, in God’s own way.
And the aroma of a home warmed by the baking of bread- one of the best smells of all...
We’ve talked about work and rest. Let’s talk about abundance, let’s talk about enough, let’s talk about flourishing.
The parable tells us that the woman hid the yeast in 3 measures of flour. 3 measures is about 50 pounds of flour. This means the bread will be enough to feed over 150 people.
That’s a lot of bread!
This amount of flour symbolizes the abundance that exists in Gods Kingdom. It reminds us of how God not only wants to feed and care for us all, but that God also wants to give to us in abundance.
We’re not talking about money or material things, but the things that truly make life good, like the love of family, friends, fellowship, community and joy.
The Kingdom is a festive place of glorious communion in which everyone has “enough” and our manure has been turned into good soil so everyone and everything gets to flourish.
The kingdom of heaven is already and not yet.
Although there are so many ways in which we can point and say “Surely this is heaven on earth” there are still many places in which we can say that heaven is surely lacking.
But the good news is that we are like that woman. We already have the ingredients needed to assist in growing and sharing the Kingdom of Heaven.
We can all be bakers, willing to do some work, to rest, and to trust that God will do God’s thing.
We have some of the ingredients, although we may not always know what the yeast is going to be.
The yeast can be the way we great someone before worship in the Narthex of afterwards in the Fellowship Hall.
It could be a song sung by the choir, a sermon shared or a prayer said.
It could be during Vacation Bible School, the Shepherd’s Pantry, the Feed My Sheep Jeep, The Global Mission Fair, or Trunk o’ Treat.
Or the moment of baptism, the receiving of communion, the studying of the Bible, an act of mission and outreach.
The yeast that enters into our lives and transforms us can exist in so many ways. Even in the moments of manure that we encounter.
Because the Kingdom of Heaven is already here, and because it is still on its way, every moment we live is a chance of unexpected grace when the goodness of God is ready to sneak in and surprise us.
Like Lucy’s bread the Kingdom of God exceeds our expectations and brings us together.
We are all that woman in today’s parable. We all have the ability to mix yeast with flour, we all have the ability to bake with God and we all share in the ability to make the Kingdom of Heaven that much more…delicious!
Amen and amen.