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Pentecost 8 July 30 2017 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
Sermon for July 30, 2017 | Pentecost 8
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. At first glance, this one sentence offers a simple image of the kingdom of God with an equally simple message: the kingdom grows in the world like yeast within flour. On second glance, however, there is more to be discovered in this one sentence.
The gospels reveal the central message of Jesus as the presence of the kingdom or rule of God in human life and the invitation to live into and within that way of life. There is, however, another kingdom, another way of living in this world, one that sanctions discrimination, retribution, and violence; a kingdom in which some imagine they are superior to all others; in which some are seen as loyal insiders and everyone else as inferior outsiders; a kingdom in which might always makes right. I ask you: is that kingdom, that way of life, the one in which you wish to dwell?
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour. Why three and not two or one? Is it because we have heard this exact measurement before? It is three measures of flour that Abraham uses to prepare bread for three angelic visitors; three measures that Hannah brings with her son, Samuel, to the house of the Lord; that David brings to the army of Israel. It is three measures that will be offered in the new temple described by Ezekiel; three measures of flour that will be baked into bread by the priests of the new temple.
It would seem, then, that mixing yeast into a bushel of flour would be a good thing, would it not? Well, except for this: the bread cakes prepared by Abraham were unleavened; and the offerings in the new temple were unleavened – no yeast! The celebration of Passover marks the removal of all yeast from the home and the Passover bread itself is unleavened. In other words, what is sacred is yeast-free; what is profane, less than sacred, is yeasty. But then Jesus’ parable becomes more complicated when we remember the vision seen by the prophet Zechariah: The angel of the Lord showed me a basket with a heavy cover and once the cover was lifted, there I saw a woman sitting in three measures of flour. “This is Wickedness,” said the attending angel pointing to the woman in the flour – for the woman in this vision was the god of war and destruction worshipped in the imperial kingdom of Babylon, that kingdom in which might always makes right (Zechariah 5:5-11).
Thus to his listeners, Jesus’ claim that the kingdom of heaven is like unholy yeast a woman mixes into three measures of flour would seem utterly wrong. And so, would they not be offended by this short parable? Or is it this: that he intends to shock his audience into unexpected awareness? Consider the actor in the parable, a woman. Did he not know and do we not know that in the history of the kingdoms of this world, in which some imagine they are superior to others, a woman is viewed as dependent on a man, and if she rebels against her dependency and his control, should she not be pushed into submission, locked away as it were in a basket filled with flour? And yet here, with Jesus, she becomes nothing less than the astonishing image and agent of the kingdom of heaven, an utter reversal of her status in society. 
For you see: in the kingdom of heaven proclaimed by Jesus, what you and I may take for granted and accept out of custom just might be turned upside down. For the tendency to erect borders between insiders and outsiders, holy and unholy, is always present among us and around us; the tendency to imagine that one is superior to or, at least a little better than others, is always present as can be seen in the institutions and invisible barriers that keep others outside: the gated communities; the exclusive and excluding country clubs; the gerrymandering of congressional districts; the attempts to suppress voter registration; the illegal redlining of neighborhoods; the discrimination directed at transgendered people and many others; the churches that may say Welcome but refuse the ethnic music and customs of people sitting in the pews. Does this parable not point to Jesus who chooses to share life, to share leavened, profane bread with those who are perceived to be as unclean as yeast: to share life, not as their patronizing superior but as their compassionate equal? For it would seem that with Jesus there are no outsiders, no unclean, no inferior people who need to be walled off, redlined, excluded, or suppressed. In the kingdom of heaven, there is only the sharing of bread and life with anyone – anyone – who is hungry for life.
The kingdom of heaven is in our midst; it comes to you and me without our bidding as the radical action of grace – that is, if we are able to receive it and then, as maturing Christians, cooperate with its yeasty power to grow within each of us and this parish. No wonder Jesus uses the wrong word – leaven – to speak of his followers, of you and me, as gloriously ordinary yeast, living with any and all who are perceived by the kingdoms of this world as unacceptable, as misfits, as not up to snuff, as not quite good enough. The kingdom of heaven is in our midst as we receive at this altar this woman’s leavened and holy bread as a living, “edible” sign of the kingdom of heaven. The only question is this: shall we become what we eat?