July 26, 2020

Pentecost 8 - Year A

 

You'll find a video of the entire service at

https://www.facebook.com/StStephensSLO/videos/1621676454674120/

 

Click here for the Worship Booklet  and Hymnal & Psalter for July Sundays after Pentecost

2020 July26FrIan 

Proper 13 - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

The Kingdom of Heaven! Pretty big subject! It’s also known as the Kingdom of God in Mark and Luke, and as Eternal Life in John. What does it mean to you? Is the Kingdom of Heaven something you aspire to? Look forward to? Are waiting for? Do you ever think about the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom of God, or Eternal Life?

 

Both last week and this week, Jesus shares some parables about the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. He compares it to earthly concepts that we might understand, because, as humans, we cannot comprehend Divine things.

 

Last week it was the weeds in the wheat field: Bad people vs. Godly people. But it was more than that. There were 2 sowers of seeds: the Son of Man who sowed the good wheat seed, and the Evil One who sowed the weed seed. But still, there was more. The farmer didn’t plow under his field and sacrifice the good because of the bad. Instead, he hand-picked each stalk of wheat at the harvest. Imagine how much work that was! It would have been easier to plow it under and start over, but God cared so much for the good that would grow. That is love.

 

Today it is mustard seed and yeast, which result in unbelievably disproportionate growth; a treasure and a pearl, for which everything else is given up; and an abundance of fish in a net, and like the wheat and the weeds, there is the good to be saved and the bad to be discarded.

 

So, what we can read on the surface is that the Kingdom has 3 elements:

  • It’s for those who are good, who live their lives for God.
  • We are to actively seek the Kingdom because it is a treasure that is worth the sacrifice of everything else in our lives.
  • It’s immensity and expansiveness are beyond our comprehension.

This brings us back to the question that Jesus is trying to answer: What is the Kingdom of Heaven? Is the Kingdom already here? Is it some divine place that we will enjoy if we live our lives in God? Will it arrive or appear here when Christ returns?

  • If it’s already here, then we have to search for it – like the treasure or the pearl.
  • If it’s a divine place, we have to understand that its magnitude is beyond our comprehension.
  • If it will arrive or appear here when Christ returns, then we better make sure that we are the wheat or the good fish. Like the old bumper sticker: Jesus is coming! Look busy!

These 3 views of the Kingdom of Heaven are what we find in various parts of the Bible and within the wide range of Christian theology.

  • The book we studied a couple of years ago, “Stations of the Cosmic Christ” by the Bishop of California Marc Andrus and Matthew Fox would probably fall into the category of the Kingdom already being here, and would suggest that the point of our prayer life is to continually see the Kingdom of Heaven around us.
  • Our private prayer, weekly confession and absolution, corporate worship and living our Baptismal Covenant would suggest that we are working toward being among those whom Christ takes with Him at the End of the Age.
  • I want to explore the Yeast, though.

Yeast is a common staple that many, if not all of us have used at some point. We have all certainly consumed it. This parable illustrates how such a small thing, hidden among the flour, becomes inordinately large through an organic process.

 

For the past year, I have been working with a very specific yeast. For my radio show, I hooked up with a brewer in Santa Barbara to capture local wild yeast to be used for beer making. We went on a trail into the Los Padres National Forest near Inspiration Point Trail. We set out some jars of sugar water with cheesecloth over the top and left them near bushes and trees for 24 hours. Of the 4 yeast traps that we set out, 1 produced a viable yeast strain. It was isolated, cleaned and propagated for use. Chip used it to make beer; I used it to make bread. We did our processes side-by-side for 4 months until we both had a suitable final product.

 

The process was baffingly amazing to me. I’m not really a bread maker. I occasionally make bread with commercial ingredients, following a trusted recipe. With the local wild yeast, I was guessing what quantities of yeast, liquid and flour to use. All sorts of strange and interesting things happened along the way. The trial run was with a strain of yeast that Chip had already been using in his beer making. When I had a test loaf, I drove down to Santa Barbara for a taste test and to check up on the beer making process. When the yeast strain I helped capture was ready, I took a sample of that and started making bread.

 

It’s true that, even with the wild yeast that came to me in liquid form, a little went a long way. For the beer making, the yeast eats up the sugar as it grows and grows, and as it does that, it produces the desired alcohol and CO2 for the fizz. In both the beer and the bread, the yeast also contributes to the flavor. I don’t think I would be wrong in assuming that the people of the 1C Ancient Near East didn’t have Instant Dry Yeast, and that the yeast Jesus spoke of would have come from a local source. Instant dry yeast, unless you use too much of it, is not going to add any flavor to your bread. But local yeast will. Those of you with decades-old sourdough starters will know that.


So, the yeast simile that Jesus
uses has even more implications
than just the expansiveness of
the Kingdom.


There are also good and useful
by-products of the Kingdom that
we need to be on the lookout for.


The scale and grandeur of the Kingdom are probably not what we should be dreaming of and praying toward; it’s the hidden yeast here on earth, the hidden yeast in our lives, Jesus’ love and teachings that we should be seeking out as we look forward to that Divine place referred to by Matthew as the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Let’s go back to “What is the Kingdom of Heaven” or the Kingdom of God or Eternal Life. Is the Kingdom already here? Is it some divine place that we will enjoy if we live our lives in God? Will it arrive or appear here when Christ returns? Working with the yeast, both literally and figuratively, I think the Kingdom of Heaven has to be all 3!

 

The Kingdom of Heaven will always be beyond our comprehension. Here’s where the Gospel and the Epistle intersect. Paul wrote:

 

And those whom God predestined God also called; and those whom God called God also justified; and those whom God justified God also glorified.

 

Confusing, right? How can we be both predestined and called? That implies that God has figured out our outcome and that we are responsible for that outcome. Perhaps that is the Kingdom of Heaven: It is already among us, it is a Divine place and it will be rushed in at the return of Jesus. How can all 3 of those be true? Well...God is God, not merely an old man with a white beard sitting on a cloud.

 

During our journey toward the
Kingdom, we would be wise to
engage in a variety of
spiritual activities.

 

  • Like with the treasure and the pearl, we need to be actively seeking the Kingdom of Heaven and doing everything to achieve it. We need to do that seeking as part of our present, not some spiritual activity to do in the future, like when we die. There is an aspect of the Kingdom that means it is hidden and can be found. When it is found, we need to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve it; and those sacrifices may be painful. Remember, Matthew is talking to Jewish converts who will likely lose their families, friends and maybe even their livelihoods all for the sake of Jesus Christ. Francis Wright Beare in his commentary on Matthew wrote “Anyone who counts the cost of discipleship has completely failed to grasp the greatness of the reward” (Beare 1981: 315).
  • We also need to be looking for the signs and clues of the Kingdom of Heaven, those by-products that point us toward that Divine place that is beyond our comprehension. What is the mustard seed or the yeast that will help us grow into or toward that Divine place? Is the yeast a path that we follow? Is it something that we find in our lives and is nurtured inside us until we die and go to Heaven?
  • And like with the wheat and the weeds, and the good fish and the bad fish, we need to continually overcome the obstacles to spiritual growth and in our relationships with Jesus. I read article that you can over-proof your dough – meaning that you let it get too big by letting the yeast grow too much – you can over-proof the dough 3 to 5 times without compromising the quality of the outcome. What a good a metaphor for repentance! If we can overcome the obstacles of sin, corruption and unbelief, Christ will take us into the Kingdom when He returns.


We continue our journey toward Jesus, deepening our faith, watching for signs and clues of Jesus. Our Baptismal Covenant gives us the tools to work toward whatever the Kingdom of Heaven may be. Those tools are to:

  • continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers;
  • persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord;
  • proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ;
  • seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as we love ourselves;
  • and strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

And with the help of God, we will.

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