Lighting Up The Ordinary
Matthew 13:33-35

Note: For this sermon, much of the research came from Amy Jill-Levine’s great book Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi. If you want to dive deeper into Jesus’ stories and parables I highly recommend this book.

Matthew 13:33-35:
33 He told them another parable: “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.”
34 Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

There is a community based out of this small island on the edge of Scotland called Iona. The community is called Wild Goose, and they create some of the most beautiful songs and prayers for worship. One of their prayers is called, “If We Met You, Jesus Christ,” and I’d like to share it with you today.

If we met you, Jesus Christ,
We might not think that you were on a mission.

Your talk would be of common and curious things:
salt, dough,
lost lambs, lost coins,
paying taxes, hosting a meal,
wise virgins, and foolish house-builders.

We would not know you were on a mission,
we would think you were making sense of life,
lighting up the ordinary, identifying the truth.

When next you look with compassion on the world
and need mission done in your way,
Lord, send us.

I was reminded of this prayer this week. I was reminded of it because as I read this passage and read this chapter from Matthew, I realized that Jesus is constantly telling stories and teaching parable about things we so often overlook. Jesus speaks of everyday, ordinary items like seeds and birds, wheat and fields, mustard and fishing nets. And here, in verse 33, he speaks of something I never think about at all: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast.”

Now I am not a baker, but for those of you who are, that term yeast comes from the Greek word “zume,” which is better translated for us today into “sourdough starter.” I have never made sourdough starter myself, but I have heard it can have a strong smell as it is decomposes with the flour, and that smell isn’t always the most appetizing to be around. But from this yeast, this sourdough starter, comes a simple, yet delicious gift of life: bread. Now while I’m not a baker, I do love bread. The smell of it. The texture of it, especially when it’s crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside and just out of the oven. I love having it on sandwiches or dipping it into olive oil. I love it as sandwiches and pizza, and I treasure those moments where I share it with friends. There are very few days that go by where I am not eating bread, but I know that I take so much of that for granted.

Jesus doesn’t take it for granted, though. He speaks constantly about bread. He feeds five thousand people with it. He multiplies it. He spends much of his ministry sharing bread with Pharisees, Temple leaders, tax collectors and prostitutes, all gathered together. He calls himself the Bread of Life and says that he wants people to never hunger anymore. And the way he invites his disciples and friends to remember his message, to remember his death and resurrection, to remember God’s grace and love and promise of everlasting life, is to gather at a table and break bread, repeating his words, “This is my body, broken for you. Take and eat.”

Jesus doesn’t take this gift of yeast and bread for granted. Instead he sees God constantly at work in it, blessing our world, making it holy.

A big reason is that Jesus was Jewish. And in Jewish tradition, yeast is very much noticed. There is the memory that for 40 years in the wilderness their ancestors had no yeast, but only manna. They remember that as slaves in Egypt they weren’t allowed to have yeast, but only flat cakes. On Passover, they go back to having no yeast, to remember suffering in Egypt and suffering in our world today. And so there is great gratitude for bread and yeast. In Leviticus, the thanksgiving offering to God is leavened cakes brought to the altar. The traditional Jewish prayer before meals is “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” Yeast and bread are the first things to give thanks for. They are a daily reminder of the gift of life and sustenance.

The ancient Jewish philosopher Philo compares leaven to joy, writing, “Everything that is leavened rises, and joy is the elevation of the soul.” And the third Century Rabbi Joshua ben Levi compares it to the gift of peace, saying, “great is peace, for it is as the leaven to dough.”

This yeast, this small thing I never think about, never notice, just gobble down and move on to the next part of my day, is in fact holy. It is something Jesus is inviting me to see God at work in. And I don’t think this parable is just about yeast or bread. But it’s about all of our everyday, ordinary items and moments and people that we meet. Jesus is pointing us to see more in those items, more in those moments, more in our everyday lives. To see that God’s kingdom isn’t just present in far away places or Temples or Castles. That the kingdom of God isn’t just for priests or kings or prophets. But that it is also for farmers scattering seeds in their fields, for fishermen casting nets in the sea, for bakers rising dough in their ovens and, for all of us who may rush through our everyday lives without seeing how truly holy and beautiful it can be.

In our translation this morning, we are told that this yeast it taken by a woman and then mixed with three measures of dough. But in Greek the word is encrypto, which means “hidden” like encryption. Jesus is telling us that God’s love and joy and kingdom is here right now amongst us, but we have passed it, we have not taken notice, we have allowed it to be hidden from our eyes. And what Jesus is telling us through these parables and through his life is that he has come to reveal it to us, to shine a light upon it, to say take a moment and really notice how beautiful and powerful and holy this day, this moment, this item, this person can be.

This past week, I was reminded that God’s kingdom is present even in old shoeboxes. I was at an event co-hosted by the Arc of Greater Willliamsburg and Hospice House and Support Care. The Arc is a non-profit in our area serving adults with developmental disabilities. And this past Wednesday, about 25 of these adults were gathered together to remember loved ones who have passed. They were invited by Hospice House to make memory boxes out of old shoeboxes. With wrapping paper and stickers and photos and ribbon they decorated the outside of their boxes. And then inside they placed memories of their loved ones – names and notes, photos and treasured items of their loved ones. Then with incredible courage and strength, many came up and shared their boxes with all of us.

They shared the stories of their loved ones who had died. They shared stories of parents and friends, vacations and sports, songs and books. One loved one was a pastor here in Norge. One was a friend from church. One was a member of the Arc community who had just recently passed and still was missed so much. It wasn’t always easy to share these boxes and memories. There was still tears and pain and loss. But as each one finished, other friends from Arc came up and hugged each other, gave hands of support, clapped and cheered. And sitting there that night taking it all in, I knew there was something holy happening. That these lives and stories mattered. That these tears and hugs mattered. That love and kindness and beauty were all around us, and they mattered too. These people weren’t rushing by their memories and love. They weren’t hiding from pain and loss. They were facing them and celebrating them and witnessing to lives and love and more of who they are. All though the gift of old shoeboxes. They were holy items, shared on a holy evening, in a holy meeting space, made by holy people loved by God. All through some old shoeboxes.

Our message for today is to see Christ’s kingdom in our everyday items and moments and lives. It’s in a cup of coffee with a friend. It’s in shopping at a food pantry with a neighbor. It’s in hugging a loved one. It’s in hearing stories through shoeboxes. It’s in working in fields and fishing by the sea and taking walks in woods. It’s in singing your favorite song and lifting up a prayer with someone who is sick. It’s in breaking bread and sharing it with someone new. It’s in pausing for a little bit to give thanks for this day, this item, this life, this person right before me. And knowing that they too are a part of God’s kingdom.

This is the way of Jesus Christ. It’s not always glamorous or glitzy. But it’s full of love, it’s full of grace, it’s full of the holy breaking through.

To close our message this morning, I would like all of us to join together in that prayer from Iona. Will you please pray with me?

If we met you, Jesus Christ,
We might not think that you were on a mission.

Your talk would be of common and curious things:
salt, dough,
lost lambs, lost coins,
paying taxes, hosting a meal,
wise virgins, and foolish house-builders.

We would not know you were on a mission,
we would think you were making sense of life,
lighting up the ordinary, identifying the truth.

When next you look with compassion on the world
and need mission done in your way,
Lord, send us.