We don’t know how old yeast is. Safe to say that yeast is much older than mammals, and it is also safe to say that it is everywhere. All over grapes in the vineyard and on the apples in the orchard.Yeast may have been one of the first microorganisms collected by humans. Bread baking that produces risen round loaves is evident in the archaeology going back over four thousand years. Ancients couldn’t just buy paper packets of yeast like we might use at home. Our forbearers kept and nurtured something like a sourdough starter. A lump of wet ground grain can be left in the open air, so that yeast, or as we might say today wild yeasts, will land on it. Yeast is all over the place, ready and waiting.
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough. If this was the Wonder Woman of this parable (holding up a large Wonder Woman action figure) and she had a bushel of wheat flour, it would be relatively this much (holding a container of a relative volume of cereal). 80 pounds of flour. Now imagine the water or milk and oil and leaven you would need. Imagine that yeast has done its work and this incredible mass of dough rising 2 to 3 times its original size. No one person can make that much bread at one time, in one day. Not by ancient methods, just barely at the bakeries here in town. The volume is outrageous. Which is a clue to us that this isn’t just an everyday story about an everyday person making some bread.
What is the reign of God like? It is like yeast. All over the place. Unavoidable. Ready and waiting to rise. And there is this wonder woman, I imagine her more full figured and jolly than this doll. Hiding that leaven in that grain, not just mixing as it is translated in our reading, the Greek text says she hid it. Like jolly treasures that you cannot separate from all that surrounds it. Outrageous and daring this reign of God is, all over the place, indivisible from you and me and a strong armed baker woman ready and waiting to become bread for the world.
We also heard today about a mustard tree. Mustard seeds are not really the smallest of all seeds, and neither do they make champion trees. Mustard seeds are grown here in Walla Walla County. You may have seen their 3 foot high plant with yellow flowers, which you might refer to it as a bush, but hardly a tree.There are varieties that do grow taller, and are woodier, but certainly not a tree for climbing or a packed aviary. Once again the parable leans into the outrageous, garners the attention of the hearers who knew the plants well: Why in the world, what huh? What is Jesus doing with this one?
Jesus is illustrating the reign of God and therefore his mission as a tremendous life hosting tree connects it to that ancient Tree of Life of the garden of Eden, and the one of Proverbs 3 saying Wisdom, she is a tree of life to those who embrace her. The reign of God is like that holy ancient tree with deep roots and tremendous branches. That in this case according to Jesus, is a mustard one. Mustard seeds which offer spiciness - excitement that opens your eyes. And a tree that has healing and nourishment in her leaves. Taken together these two parables are not really about bread or mustard, but about Jesus himself.
Who are you we ask him again and again? Here he connects himself with the Spirit of God, the Wisdom, the Sophia, the Ruach that brooded over the waters, that breathed life into formed clay. Open your eyes, the goodness of the Lord is all around you. Here Jesus offers himself as a gigantic tree with limbs wide open, with enough bread for all to feast. It is not about the skills or strength of the yeast, it is not about the purity or the solitariness of the mustard seed. It is about how God’s reign is from the beginning, even older than yeast, and just as much all over the place, hidden in plain sight, very close at hand. The kingdom of God should open our eyes, bring healing and shelter. God’s reign is ready and waiting to be the agent of transformation with us.
We have treasures and seeds hidden all around for pursuing God’s reign, but how do we join with the wonder woman baker? Today when you leave I invite you to take a cup of cereal from the bowl in the baptismal font. Take that cup full and the small sheet of paper stacked beside the font with you on your way home.Divide that measure of grain into three even groups. With the first group list some gifts, skills, and knowledge that you or folks in this community are really good at or really like doing. With the second group name places where people gather in the Walla Walla valley. With the third group name needs, real needs of this place and time. Then randomly take one item from each column and imagine like an outrageous baker. Daydream of the loaves we could raise by connecting these three ideas.
Jesus doesn’t say that the wonder baker just mixed the leaven into the flour and then didn’t do anything with it. Unbaked dough is fun to play with, but rather a waste of treasures in the end. So, I challenge you to work with your neighbors to try one of these daydreams. We cannot wait until the new bakery manager comes to activate the yeast that is all around us. There isn’t yeast in those gluten free cereal O’s, but if you carry them home and leave them out on that piece of paper, even if you cannot see it, yeast will almost certainly show up there. The reign of God is like a wonder woman baker who tossed yeast all over the place and is waiting with eager longing, calling us with sighs too deep for words, daydreaming about the rising of the children of God.
Let us pray.
May our hearts see through the surfaces
And glean the real treasures of everything that meets us.
May our souls glimpse the infinity
that hides in the simple gifts all around us.
And may we experience each day as a sacred promise
Ready to rise around a heart of outrageous wonder.
In the name of the Holy Trinity, One God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington
July 30, 2017
RCL, Proper 12, Year A, Track 1
(I adapted this prayer for the sermon from somewhere else, but given the weeks that have gone by, I am not sure where! The cereal activity adapted from Eric Law in the book HOLY CURRENCIES.)