Posts Tagged ‘Kingdom of God’

Going Viral

A sermon about mustard seeds, yeast….and viruses.

Going Viral

tiny size of seeds inside of a jar

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A Sermon on Matthew 13:44-46

Some of Jesus’ parables are short stories, complete with characters and a plot.  The Good Samaritan story is a famous example.  But other times, Jesus simply sets an image before his listeners, a snapshot of a common item or situation, like a mustard seed or a pinch of yeast, and we have to think about the picture for a while.  “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that sprouts and grows,”  he said in today’s reading.  “It is also like yeast that a woman mixed into a batch of bread until the whole thing was leavened.”

Mustard seed and yeast may sound like ordinary, harmless substances to us, but that’s not how people saw them in Jesus’ day.  Jesus might as well have told them that the kingdom of God is like a weed.  The yeast is an even more surprising example for Jesus to use.  Why?  Because every other reference to yeast and leaven in the Bible is negative.  Leaven was thought to be a symbol of corruption, rot, and sin.  To this day, Jewish Passover rules instruct families to get rid of every last speck of yeast in the house, and then to eat unleavened bread for the duration of the holy feast.

These associations would have given these two parables extra punch to those who heard them.  Who could forget?  To imagine a parable packing that kind of punch, imagine Jesus putting one before us that goes like this:  The kingdom of heaven is like a virus that someone breathed in.  It invaded a cell, where it tricked the cell’s DNA into churning out copies of the virus itself.  The new viruses invaded more and more cells until the whole body was infected.  The person breathed out more viruses, and then they went on to infect other people.  Pretty soon there was an epidemic, then a pandemic.

How can the kingdom of God be like an invasive weed, or like multiplying yeast, OR like a spreading virus? (more…)


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Image by slayerphoto via Flickr

When I began this blog last October, I published a sermon on this week’s Gospel text (RCL 17A), Matthew 13:31-33.  Here’s a link to that sermon.  Hint: mustard weeds (yes, I said weeds) and heaven leaven are unstoppable.

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Yellow mustard seeds

Image via Wikipedia

The conventional wisdom of the mustard seed says that great things grow from small beginnings.  As for the leaven, the wisdom is that a little something yeasty can go a long way and have a big impact.   While that’s certainly true, I have discovered that there is deeper wisdom still in the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast.  A sermon about them is an appropriate place to begin a blog entitled The Mustard Seed Journal:

“It’s Unstoppable!”

A Sermon on Matthew 13:31-32, with Allusions to Isaiah 55

The parables of the mustard seed and the leaven seem so tame, on first reading at any rate.  Who has not observed the marvelous growth that comes from a tiny seed?  What’s more, many of us can recall the delicious yeasty aroma of rising and baking bread.  Jesus’ point seems clear: great things grow from small beginnings, and so it is with God’s kingdom.

But as I studied these parables, I discovered that when Jesus first told them, in the listener’s ears they had bite.  They were tangy, even a bit offensive.  The people of Jesus’ day were surprised, even shocked to hear him speaking of God’s kingdom that way.

That was especially true with the leaven.  Every other reference to leaven in scripture is negative.  Why?  Because leaven to Bible folk was not the clean, sanitary packaged yeast that our mamas used to make bread.  The way they made leaven was to take a lump of dough or a piece of bread, keep it in a dark, damp place until mold grew on it.  Then they used this moldy lump as the starter for the next batch of bread.

Picturing that, I can see why Bible people thought that leaven was unclean.  And as such, it was a fitting symbol for sin, corruption, creeping rot.  Like leaven, sin creeps through and corrupts everything.  No wonder Paul wrote to the Galatians, who were upset by a certain man’s teaching: “How can you let this troublesome teacher lead you astray?  Deal with him!  Don’t you know that a little leaven permeates the whole lump of dough?”  (Galatians 5:9).

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