Summary: A short sermon looking at the point of parables to get people to think about the message of Jesus, and a call to us to be ’yeast’ in God’s hands.
I was chatting to David Lowman – the Archdeacon of Southend – this week. We were talking about ‘preaching’ – for example length of sermon, quality of sermon, and the coherence of sermons. David said that sometimes he goes to a Church and preaches and people say, “Thank you. I could hear every word you said”; and David thinks to himself, “Does that mean that normally they can’t hear every word?” Sometimes people say, “Thank you. I could understand what you were talking about”; and you can probably guess what goes through David’s mind! Sometimes people say, “Thank you. I could listen to what you were saying. My mind didn’t wander off somewhere else”; and David thinks, “Oh dear. What sort of sermon is usually served up here week after week?” David has a very good point to make; and yet at the same time we can’t escape the fact that often when Jesus opened his mouth people did not grasp what he was saying about God, or Himself.
The parables – the stories Jesus told – the illustrations he used needed some processing. People had to think about them. The message was sometimes subtle – rather like one of my Father-in-Law’s jokes, or my exceedingly poor jokes perhaps!
Verse 31: ‘[Jesus] told them another parable’. Verse 33: “He told them still another parable”. Verse 34: ‘Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable’. Verse 35: ‘So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world”’; and Matthew the gospel writer is here quoting Psalm 78 verse 2 which continues like this: ‘[That which] we have heard and known, what our fathers told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done’ (Psalm 78: 3-4).
It seems that Jesus worked hard at developing his parables, his stories, his illustrations and word-pictures so that His hearers had something worthwhile and deeply important to think about. He spoke provocatively, intentionally, and in many ways spoke simply; and yet his parables need to be thought through. His parables were sometimes like puzzles to be unlocked, and so I feel personally challenged not just about my preaching, but about the way in which all of us talk about our faith in Jesus. Could it be that Jesus not only wants us to learn from his parables, but that he also wants us - his Church - to improve the way we tell stories with a kingdom focus.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough” (13:31). When Riding Lights Theatre Company were here performing ‘Origins and Lemons’ recently the actress in her Irish accent said, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast!”
Yes it is; but more than that! It is like a woman taking some yeast. It is like a woman taking some yeast and starting to mix it into a large amount of flour. It is like a woman taking yeast and mixing it into the flour until the yeast has worked its way into the whole batch of dough. The kingdom of heaven is about patience, and purpose. The kingdom of heaven is about a process. The kingdom of heaven has a point to it. The kingdom of heaven is about starting something and seeing it through to the end. The kingdom of heaven spreads and affects everything it touches.
The kingdom of heaven is also like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in his field. Eventually it grows and becomes a tree and birds come and sit on its branches (13:31-32). This illustration also speaks of patience and purpose and a process that takes place, and both of these parables are as relevant as ever for us. We can’t click our fingers and expect our efforts to pay off immediately.
The work of the kingdom is about patience. It is about having a purpose, and it is about a process. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the work of this Church is about the long term and not about clicking our fingers and expecting immediate results. Christ Church was planted on this site in the 1930’s and God is continuing to plant seeds, to grow his kingdom, and to provide a place where people can find a spiritual home.
God wants to use us like yeast. He wants to use us to be His agents of transformation in the world, and you need (‘kneed’) to know that in God’s hands his purposes will be achieved. If I throw yeast and flour into a bowl they don’t mysteriously combine without patience and without going through the process of mixing! God calls us to mix with people and situations. To what is God calling you? God calls us his people to spread into the whole world with the Good News of Jesus, and in God’s hands we can do it! Amen.