Bread, Food, Life and the Kingdom of Heaven

A Sermon by Rev. Dr. Tici Truly

We regret that the video for Rev. Truly’s sermon is unavailable. The manuscript follows below.

Matthew 13:31-35:
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’
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.’
Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfil 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.

 

Pour warm water into a small bowl. Add yeast and sugar. Stir until dissolved. Let stand until light-colored and bubbly. Pour milk into a large bowl. Stir in oil, salt, sugar, and yeast. Sprinkle in flour, stirring until flour is evenly moistened. Add more flour and stir until dough is smooth and elastic. Turn dough onto a heavily floured area and begin to knead. When dough is non-sticky, smooth, and satiny, kneading is finished. Let rise in a warm place. When dough is doubled, knead briefly to release air bubbles. Shape into loaves and let rise again. Bake until loaves are richly browned.[1]

The aroma of freshly baked bread. It’s comforting, and to most of us, undeniably delicious. But the smell of freshly baked bread may have positive effects far beyond the obvious ones. Researchers believe it may also make us kinder to strangers. They found that shoppers were more likely to alert a passer-by that they had dropped a belonging if, at the time, they were also passing near a bakery giving off the mouth-watering aroma. The results were significantly different when they did this experiment in front of a clothing store.[2]

Jesus used many parables to teach us about this world God created and about us, God’s beloved. But bread had a special place in Jesus’ heart and teaching. Bread of heaven, bread of life. Our second lesson is from the Gospel of Thomas, 96. You won’t find it in your pew Bible. The Gospel of Thomas didn’t make the cannon (the books and writings we chose to include in today’s Bible).

Listen to this translation from the Gospel of Thomas. “Jesus said, God’s reign is like a woman, she took a small amount of leaven, she mixed it in flour. She made it into big loaves.” The word of the Lord…

The Kingdom of Heaven, The Kingdom of God, The Father’s reign. The Gospel of Matthew mentions the kingdom of heaven 32 times. And Jesus is called the king.

Dennis C. Duling, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Religious Studies and Theology at Canisius College writes,

The gospel says that Jesus was a Galilean wanderer who went about teaching in Jewish

Synagogues, preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. The future Kingdom is in some sense already present both spatially and temporally, especially with reference to the God who draws near in his Son, who, in turn, is now known on earth. Jesus says “the kingdom of God has come upon you.”[3]

The kingdom of heaven in Mathew is the message of Jesus and the message about Jesus. And this message is upon us. It is in the present, which flows from the past, and it grows mysteriously into the future.

And there are many parables that imply the growth of the Kingdom from small beginnings, like the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the woman and the leaven.

I chose to focus on this parable for two reasons. The first is that with our Bible in its male-dominated language and images, this parable opens up God’s work in women and what was at the time, women’s work. The baking of bread. But just because we are using a feminine image, doesn’t mean men or their work is excluded. Jesus preached a message of inclusivity at all times.

The second reason I focus on this parable and Thomas’ interpretation, is that it begins to speak about the Kingdom of Heaven, flowing from us. The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t something we only observe in nature, outside of people, we are active participants in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a woman…

In New Testament scholar Luise Schottroff’s book, “Lydia’s Impatient Sisters: A Feminist Social History of Early Christianity” she writes, “And so it is that this pair of parables [mustard seed and leaven] with combined effort seeks to make it plausible for us from experiences of everyday life that a glorious outcome in the kingdom of heaven can come from unpretentious beginnings.”

Unpretentious beginnings. If you go to Napa Valley when wild mustard is in bloom you can gaze upon acres and acres of vineyards with the tiny yellow flowers blooming between rows and rows of grapevines, and contemplate the potential of the Kingdom of Heaven in each tiny seed.

If we don’t bake our own bread, by the time we open the bag the aroma is long gone from the bakery or the high factory ceilings where it was baked. We might not pause to contemplate that God’s Kingdom of Heaven grows and spreads like every tiny grain of yeast. We sometimes forget to stop and marvel at the unpretentious beginnings.

In life, we forget to stop and marvel at the unpretentious beginnings of our daily activities and experiences, and the mysteries of how God brings about the Kingdom of heaven in our everyday life. The lyrics in our introit this morning sing to God to come to us, because with God in us, there a heaven on earth must be.

Since it is my vocation, I ask myself often, am I modeling living consciously in the Kingdom of Heaven, does my life feel like heaven?  And many days, unfortunately, I’d have to answer no.

Sometimes my neck hurts from stress. I worry about my six 20-something year old kids, navigating their own ways in this life. I’m grieving for my dad who died two months ago. I worry if I’m saving enough for retirement, our lifespans are getting longer and longer.

I’m a recovering perfectionist so I worry keeping my house, yard, cars, errands and pets organized, neat and tidy. Everything done, on time. I worry about doing my ministry as well as I possibly can.

I read this story at the beginning of my ministry 12 years ago that has stuck with me. It’s by author and pastor Andrew Jensen. He wrote, “My appointment as pastor coincided with the church’s appeal for aid for victims of a hurricane. Unfortunately, on my first Sunday in the parish, the center page of the church bulletin was accidentally omitted. So members of the congregation read from the bottom of the second page to the top of the last page. “Welcome to the Rev. Andrew Jensen and his family…the worst disaster to hit the area in this century. The full extent of the tragedy is not yet known.”

I sometimes worry about writing sermons, even though I like to preach. I could inadvertently say something that could become a tragedy in someone’s life situation. It’s hard, to stop and feel the Kingdom of Heaven that God is working through me and through all of us. But, heaven is like a woman, making bread.

Science teaches us how to look at something seemingly imperfect, or tiny and insignificant and find the infinite within it. How do we do that every day? How do we find peace deeper than our worry? I get a daily meditation email from Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and Christian mystic. This week he wrote about how we need prayer to free us from fixating on our own thoughts and feelings.

If we are filled with ourselves, there is no room for another, and certainly not God. We need contemplative prayer, in which we simply let go of our needs, which change from moment to moment, so Something Eternal can take over.

This is not easy. Because we’ve lost the art of detachment, we’ve become identified with our stream of consciousness and our feelings. Not that we should repress or deny our feelings. We should name them and observe them. But unless we can learn to let them go in prayer, we don’t have our feelings, our feelings have us.

Our prayer needs to allow us to get ourselves out of the way. Because God is already present, God’s spirit is dwelling within you. You cannot search for what you already have. You cannot talk God into “coming” into you by longer and more urgent prayers.

All we can do is become quieter, smaller, and less filled with our own selves, and our constant flurry of ideas and feelings. Then God, and the Kingdom of Heaven, will be obvious in the very now of things, and in the simplicity of things. In the aroma of freshly baked bread. In the seed of a flower. Even in a daily chore.

We yearn for this comfort. With feelings too deep for words. So let us sing you a lullaby, a love song, a prayer. Let us sing you to heaven…

[1] Breads, Sunset, 1963, Lane Publishing, Menlo Park, CA

[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2226067/How-aroma-freshly-baked-bread-makes-kinder-strangers.html#ixzz37kUNxzG3

[3] Dennis C. Duling, Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 4, pages 49-69.