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16 OT A ~ "The Kingdom is like..." ~ Dr. Susan McGurgan



Jesus often spoke

in parables and metaphors,

describing God,

God’s action in the world,

and our own journey of discipleship

in images and words

that engaged and challenged

the imaginations of his listeners...

and us.


A metaphor is a figure of speech—

a word or phrase that describes

one kind of object

in place of another kind of object,

suggesting a likeness;

a connection;

a similarity.


A pretty girl is like a melody.

He has a heart like a stone.

She’s as happy as a clam.

They are as alike as two peas in a pod.


“The Kingdom of heaven

is like a mustard seed

that a person took and sowed in a field.

It is the smallest of all the seeds,

yet when full-grown

it is the largest of plants.

It becomes a large bush,

and the birds of the sky

come and dwell in its branches."

"The kingdom of heaven

is like yeast

that a woman took and mixed

with three measures of wheat flour

until the whole batch was leavened."


The thing about metaphors is...

they always fall short.

No matter how vivid or striking,

they all eventually limp

or lose their impact,

and no single metaphor can capture

the fullness

or the mystery

of God’s Kingdom—

not even one that Jesus offers.


Jesus spoke of casting nets into the sea,

of seeds tossed upon rocky soil,

of shepherds guarding flocks,

of fig trees

and grapes

and vineyards

and wine poured into new wineskins.


These images and metaphors

were powerful to his listeners

because they evoked

scenes and memories of their own lives—

common events,

everyday people,

shared circumstances.

These metaphors invited people

to see their familiar world

through new eyes—

to embrace their lives as

mysterious gifts,

overflowing with grace

and smudged throughout

with the fingerprints of God.


But what about us?

What metaphors of the Kingdom

speak to us?


There are few vineyards

in suburban Cincinnati.

Even fewer shepherds tending flocks.

Sport fishing,

yes,

but I’ll wager that no one makes a living

casting nets into the Ohio River

or selling fish caught in the Mill Creek—

at least no one who wants to live

to tell the tale.

I can’t remember the last time

I saw a mustard tree

outside the pages of an illustrated Bible.

And while bread making

is experiencing a revival,

most of us still buy our bread

in bags

at Kroger’s.

We have heard and read these

Biblical metaphors

so many times,

we glide right over them--

eyes glazed,

ears half-closed,

numb to much of their rich

and evocative meaning.


Maybe

we should explore new metaphors—

metaphors that speak to our own time;

our own culture;

our particular landscape.


“The Kingdom of heaven

is like a woman,

who shared a simple Facebook post,

and awakens to find it has gone viral,

generating 2 million views overnight.


“The Kingdom of heaven

is like a microchip,

smaller than a fingernail,

yet,

filled with a hundred million transistors,

and powerful enough

to navigate a rocket.


Creating metaphors for our shared journey

could be an interesting—

perhaps even transformative exercise.

But what about the metaphor we have today,

in this passage?


The kingdom of heaven

is like yeast.


The Kingdom of heaven

is like something that rises.

The Kingdom is like something

that makes something else…

well…

into something else entirely.


What is yeast,

and what are the properties of yeast

that might evoke

something

of the Kingdom?


I decided to find out.


Yeasts are tiny,

microscopic,

single-celled organisms.

Microorganisms so small

so invisible

that ¼ ounce of dry yeast

contains billions of yeast cells.

Billions.


Yeast is a form of fungus,

making it a close cousin

of the mushroom.


To thrive,

yeast needs food,

water,

a hospitable environment.

Though each single-celled yeast

is too small to see with our eyes,

they are living,

just like plants,

and animals,

and human beings.


And like many other living things,

these cells live together in colonies—

in communities of yeast.  

In a nurturing environment,

yeast cells work together,

growing rapidly,

converting starch in flour

into sugar for food

and releasing carbon dioxide in return.


And for thousands and thousands of years,

humanity has harnessed the power

of these tiny organisms

to make bread rise and beer ferment.


Yeast is our oldest industrial microorganism.

We captured the magic of yeast

long before we developed written language.

In ancient times,

bread was the staple food,

comprising more than half --

sometimes most--

of a person’s daily calories.

It was prepared daily,

and baking bread

was one of the most important activities

of any household, rich or poor.


Yet, as common as breadmaking was,

the biochemical process of yeast

was not fully understood.

It was seen as a mysterious

and perhaps even mystical

transformation.


So,

Jesus is inviting us to see

the Kingdom of heaven as something:

small,

almost hidden.

Something that thrives

in a cooperative community

when it receives life-giving water,

food for its purpose,

and supportive surroundings.


He challenges us to see the Kingdom

as mysterious,

yet powerful,

something capable of the most astonishing

transformation--

transformation that can happen

time and time again,

day in

and day out.

Transformation that turns

common, ordinary ingredients

into something

utterly new and valuable

and capable of sustaining life—

a creation that can

delight the spirit

and feed the body.


Oh,

and here's one more thing

about yeast…

when food supplies are low,

or the environment harsh,

yeast produces special stress-resistant cells

that can remain dormant,

yet alive,

for long periods of time,

germinating,

growing,

becoming active again

when conditions improve.


In other words,

yeast can hunker down in hard times,

surviving

even the most difficult challenges

to grow and rise up another day.


Jesus invites us to consider

that the Kingdom of Heaven

is a little bit like yeast.

I don't know about you,

but this sounds pretty amazing to me!

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