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Leaven

It’s a short story – only a verse in the Gospel of Matthew and two in the Gospel of Luke. 

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed [hid] in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Matthew 13:33 (NRSV)

And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Luke 13:20-21 (RSV)

In Matthew, it is prefaced by the parables of the sower and the weed; in Luke, by the call to repent or perish, the story of the barren fig tree, and a nasty confrontation with the Pharisees over the healing of a crippled woman on the Sabbath. In both instances, immediately before this parable is another: the parable of the mustard seed – the smallest of all seeds which, when planted, grows into a large tree that offers shelter to the birds of the field.

In context then, perhaps this story is also about what increases the kingdom – a sense of the nearness of God’s justice and perfect peace – and what might get in the way of that understanding and experience.

As I read Scripture through a woman’s eyes, the first thing that I notice about this story of the kingdom is that it is a woman’s story – probably taking place in her kitchen in her home in among all of the other routine tasks of a woman’s day.

As she bakes bread for the household, she takes a little piece of dough left over from the last batch that has, by now, fermented and mixes it in with the three measures of flour until it is all leavened and begins to produce the gas that makes the loaf rise.

I also notice that the whole process depends completely on leftovers, on just a little bit that she’s been clever enough to keep aside. And I notice that it really is just a little bit in comparison to the rest of the ingredients – but without it the loaf would remain flat, unleavened. I notice that that little bit permeates the whole mixture – changing its nature from unleavened to leavened. I notice that the word used for mixing in is actually the same word for hiding something inside. I notice that in this whole process, there is a a necessary, hands-on action on the part of the woman but, also, a letting go time in which the leaven, once mixed in, does its own work. 

Finally, I note that there is another passage in Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus warned others to be wary of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees – and that, in this particular culture, at this particular time, there were many religious moments that involved unleavened bread, so leaven could be used metaphorically to describe a negative influence – and just a little would ruin the whole lot. 

Yet, in today’s story, a woman’s story, Jesus tells us that we discover what the kingdom of God is like …. I wonder what you notice and how it speaks to you of God’s perfect peace and justice growing in our churches, our households, our society. 

Perhaps the kingdom of God is about nothing going to waste.
About the smallest gift making a significant change. 
Perhaps it’s about how we divide and share our resources.
Perhaps it’s about planning ahead, and holding on to a little now, for something today or tomorrow or the next day.
Perhaps the kingdom of God is about those who normally don’t feature in our stories taking centre stage.
Perhaps it’s about finding God in the ordinary places of our homes and the ordinary routines of our work and our rest.
Perhaps it’s about what we hide away in ourselves that transforms us from the inside out. 
Perhaps it’s about knowing when to act – and when to just be part of an unfolding process that we cannot control.

Perhaps the kingdom of God is working unseen in us in this very moment.
Perhaps it’s about the peace and the justice that we long for contaminating our thoughts, our prayers, our language; 
fermenting in our gatherings, our studies of Scripture, our rituals, our planning; 
changing our mindsets, our prejudices, our grudges, our brokenness, our excuses; 
and rising, through the Spirit of God and not through any power of our own, to become bread for all at an open table …. 

It’s a simple story. A parable of the kingdom. May you break off a piece and hide it in your heart this day and see what increases in your life. 

The Good Samaritan

From Luke 10:25-37

This past Sunday, over Zoom, we took a fresh look at the parable of the Good Samaritan through the “wondering” questions typical of a Godly Play story. Some of the ideas that have been developing in my further reflections this week have been around … 

… how quickly we identify with the people who passed by the man who had been beaten, had everything taken from him, and was left on the side of the road half-dead or with the notion that Christ calls us to be a community who stops and takes care of the wounded and needy; yet how seldom we acknowledge that we can, in fact, be that half-dead person or one of the attackers who took, by force and for reasons that we do not know, that which did not belong to them …

… how gender, race, and age would impact the story in different ways: most of us would be willing to rush to the aid of a child who lay hurt on the side of the road; yet, as a woman, I would feel distinctly vulnerable stopping on my own to approach a man on the street – even if he was clearly in need … 

… how the one who had mercy is identified in Scripture as being the neighbour of the one in need in accordance with what God requires of us – but, in fact, all in the story are in need of mercy, of a neighbour, of the touch of God upon their lives as they journey.

As I wrestle today with what this parable teaches me about the kin-dom of God, I find myself wondering as I enter into prayer: 

  • What have I done to hurt another? To rob them of their joy, their peace, their voice, their confidence, their dream, their energy, their passion? What do I need to apologise for? And what pain am I carrying from others doing the same to me? What do I need to forgive? 
  • Who am I comfortable caring for and reaching out to? Who have I simply walked past – and why? What would it take for me to make myself vulnerable? 
  • What might it mean to be a neighbour to those too busy to stop, to those too fearful to get involved, to those who survive/prosper through violence, to those from a different culture or religion or with a completely foreign perspective on life, to those trying to keep a small business alive at this particular time, to those on a journey, to those stuck in a place of shadow and pain, to those who have been beaten and had everything taken for them and been left lying on the side of the road half-dead? 

Blessings to you in where this day takes you and on all you may meet on the way.

***

This Sunday, we hear the parable of the leaven and share in the sacrament of Holy Communion (with the elements of bread and wine or with empty hands). Feel free to get in touch if you would like more details on how to join our conversation. x Yvonne.

Love letter 1

To the people of God on the way to the promised end, 

Warm greetings to you in this first “love letter” of the new year!

In South Africa, the first Sunday in February was often set aside in Methodist Churches for our annual Covenant services in which each person was encouraged to make a radical declaration of love and loyalty to God. Though its language has been modernised, the words of the covenant prayer penned by John Wesley can still be jarring to 21st century ears (and hearts): “I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will .…”

In this week’s Gospel reading (Luke 2:22-40), we encounter two (very old) characters at the Temple who embody this prayer beautifully – Simeon and Anna: male and female, priest and prophetess; both devout; both longing and waiting and praying for the salvation of God’s people; both filled with wonder and uncontainable joy at seeing God’s promises fulfilled in this Christ child who would grow in wisdom and become strong in God’s grace.

As we seek to be faithful disciples like Anna and Simeon, to proclaim the message of hope and salvation, I wonder:

  • how may we better hold the living God in our arms in this new year? 
  • how may he be born(e) in the midst of both the light and the dark of life, the highs and the lows, the celebrations and the sorrows? 
  • how may he continue, through us, to be touched by the brokenness and sorrow and worry and pain of everyday people and to offer, through us, support and healing and comfort – particularly to the most vulnerable in our society?

As God’s Church, I pray that 2020 will be a time of growth, self-offering, and deeper unity as we walk in the way of the Spirit and use our diverse gifts for the building up of the Body and in expressing God’s all-embracing love in life-giving ways in the world around us.

Yours in Christ
Yvonne