PO Box 609, Wagga Wagga NSW, 2650 (02) 6921 4275 For prayer or care, please get in touch through the Pilgrim page or contact form.

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. 

Wednesday: return

A reflection by Rev. Dr. Roger Webb

Jesus’ earthly ministry had ended, and He then returned to the Father. A new chapter of God’s mission to the world was about to begin, one which placed the responsibility on His followers. The Gospel would flow out from Jerusalem in waves, like ripples on a pond when a stone is dropped into it.

Many people had seen the Risen Christ, but it was possible that some of them still had problems accepting the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, so He took time to once again explain from the Scriptures how He had to die and rise again after 3 days. (What scriptures might He have quoted eg.  Isaiah 53?).

      Why did Jesus have to return to the Father?

  • He had to make it clear that His earthly ministry had ended, and would not be returning again.
  • If He remained on earth, He could only be in one place at a time.
  • He left so that the Holy Spirit could come.

     Having resourced the disciples theologically, Jesus then equipped them with His authority to proclaim the Gospel message throughout the world: the ripples began to flow outwards.

     Before blessing the disciples, Jesus promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit’s power to equip them for their mission. (The Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost, some days after Jesus’ Ascension). Jesus’ Ascension and His blessing of the disciples inspired a time of joyful worship in the Temple.

     How did the disciples experience the gift of the Spirit?  

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8: NRSV).

     (The Greek word for ‘power’ here is dunamis , which is the root of our words such as ‘dynamo’, ‘dynamic’, ‘dynamite’, etc.)

     These events are a pattern for us, who have met the Risen and Ascended Christ and seek to contribute our ripples into the community. 

  • How might we carry out our mission in our community?
  • How might the dunamis of the Spirit be manifested in our daily living and witness? 
  • Does our experience of the Risen an Ascended Christ fill us with joy and inspire us to praise God continually?

 An ancient legend: When Jesus returned to heaven, an angel asked Him: “Lord, now you have completed your earthly ministry, what plans have you made to continue your work?” Jesus replied: “I have Peter, James, and John, and all the other believers to continue my mission”. “But what plans have you made if they fail you?”  Jesus answered, “I have no other plans”.

Tuesday: forgiveness

I have been thinking much lately about the people who have played a significant role in shaping the person that I am today through honest conversation, an openness to my sometimes vastly different background and perspective, their authentic and vulnerable self-offering, and – of course – lots and lots of laughter. 

One of the most incredible gifts of this time of self-isolation and social distancing has been discovering how enduring those connections are and how great the variety is in the age, ethnicity, location, occupation, culture, and faith of those that I call role-models, soul companions, and friends.

I must confess that a fair number of these bonds surprise me because I can recall moments in our history of mistrust, misunderstanding, or even sheer misery! And I am deeply grateful for the shared Spirit of God that has slowly brought healing and reconciliation and understanding and personal growth in situations where I have been wounded and/or wounded another.

Today, I invite you to reflect on the practice of forgiveness – and the place that it may have in your life right now. 

I share below, a reflection by Scott Noon and Herbert Brokering that has made a lasting impression on my own thinking about the challenging work and the enduring gift that this word offers us as Christian community and inhabitants of God’s good earth:

Forgive.

Let’s find it in Webster’s [dictionary].
It comes just after the word forge.
Just after forget-me-not.

Webster’s. Forge: a furnace or hearth
where metals are heated.
Forge: a workshop
where pig iron is transformed into wrought iron.
Forge: to form by heating and hammering into shape.
Forge. 
It’s a good word in Webster’s, just before the word forgive.

Forgive: to excuse for a fault or offence; to pardon.
Forgive: to renounce anger or resentment against.
Forgive: to absolve payment of.
Forgive: to free the offender from consequences.
Forgive: to pass over a mistake or fault
without demanding a punishment.

Herbert Brokering and Scott Noon

May the God who forgets-us-not
forge us into a family 
that forgives.