The Kingdom of Heaven is Like Yeast

August 1, 2010

For seven of the eight parables that Jesus began with the line “The Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom of God is like. . .” he used everyday events that were happening around those he was teaching, outside, but in one instance he took them out of the fields and vineyards, away from the sea and market place and returned them to the place they had grown up, their homes and specifically to the kitchen and a task that they had watched countless times throughout their lives.

Matthew 13:33 Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

We are now in week seven of our summer series “The Kingdom of Heaven is Like” and we’ve looked at treasure and fishing nets, mustard seeds and pearls. We’ve talked about faith, salvation, dreams and determination. We began in June with the premise “The Kingdom of Heaven is an Inukshuk” and we looked at how these amazing stone sculptures served the Inuit people in so many important ways, providing landmarks, guiding people in the right directions and warning them of potential dangers. All things that we as the church, the Kingdom of Heaven manifested today, are supposed to do in our world.

And so now Jesus uses an illustration that would have familiar to everyone who had ever watched their mothers or wives make bread. And that would have been an almost daily occurrence. Bread is one of those things that we tend to take for granted in 2010, and we have so much of it and so many different varieties. We have bagels and pita, tortilla’s muffins, rolls and baguettes, white bread, whole wheat bread, multi grain bread, raisin bread. But two thousand years ago in Palestine they would have had bread. And the bread would have been made daily. Remember in the Lord’s Prayer, right after Jesus taught us to pray that his will would be done on earth, do you remember what he taught us to pray. Matthew 6:11 Give us today the food we need. But do you remember the way you memorized the Lord’s prayer? Sure you do Matthew 6:11 Give us this day our daily bread. And in the original language the word used is very simply, bread.

But the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t like bread; it is like the ingredient that makes the bread rise. In the New Living Translation it is translated as Yeast but in the King James Version it is translated as Leaven. The reason is that yeast as we know it is a fairly recent innovation, commercial yeast has only been available for less than 200 years. And long before we were able to go to a store and buy yeast in an envelope or a bottle people have been eating bread that was not flat. And it was this rising agent, this leaven that Jesus uses to describe the Kingdom of Heaven, in the New King James Version it reads this way: Matthew 13:33 Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”

Culturally we are told that bread was a staple in the time of Jesus, it was a very important part of their everyday diet. 2000 years ago they didn’t have the luxury of grocery stores and restaurants. Food was prepared at home and if you were going to be away from home your food was sent with you.

And bread was an essential part of that, when Jesus fed the five thousand with the little boy’s lunch it was fish and some bread. When Jesus instituted the last supper he used bread as a symbol for his body. In the book of Acts when Paul was being shipped to Rome to stand trial and the ship they were on ran aground they ate before they abandoned ship, and what did they eat? Acts 27:35-36 Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. Then everyone was encouraged and began to eat—

Remember when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness he had gone 40 days without food and the Devil appears and says Matthew 4:3 During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” Personally, for me anyway pizza or a burger would have been more tempting, but Satan used the familiar, the everyday for the temptation.

And so just as when Jesus directed their attention to the farmer in the field, or the mustard plant growing on the side of the road or the fishing net being cast into the sea Jesus uses the everyday as a simile for the eternal, he draws from the secular to describe the sacred.

Matthew 13:33 Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

So what is it that we learn from Yeast or Leaven.

Leaven Has a History I had told you earlier that 2000 years ago they didn’t have yeast in packets and so you might be wondering where did this leaven come from? Anyone here ever do the sour dough starter thing? When I was a teenager we kept “Herman” in the fridge, Mom called it monster bread. You fed it and periodically you would split it, make incredible biscuits with it, and keep feeding the remainder.

And it really is quite simple to make, the recipes are everywhere, you start with a tablespoon of water and a table spoon of flour and mix them together in a container, in eight hours you add two tablespoons of water and two table spoons of flour and you wait, and in eight hours you double it again, and you wait. In a couple of days it looks like this. (YouTube clip of sour dough starter.) And that my friend is leaven. You keep it in your fridge in a sealed container and use it to start your sour dough bread, biscuits of pancakes. It is leaven.

2000 years ago it was very similar, when dough was prepared and had risen, before the bread was baked, a piece was torn off and it was wrapped and put aside. And it was that piece that was used in the flour for the next loaf that started the process again. That was leaven.

In my research I discovered that there are bakeries that have been using the same leaven for generations, it is the secret to their breads.

It’s kind of like people. Most of you know that our Grand Daughter was born a little over a month ago and she is part Deborah and part Stefan, but she is also part Denn and part Angela, and part Mark and part Karen and part my parents and part Angela’s parents and on and on it goes. And so there is some American and Canadian and Irish and Estonian, and English and native and Asian all mixed in there. She’s a little bit of a mutt and she has a history.

The Kingdom of Heaven did not just suddenly appear. Throughout the Gospels and the Book of Acts the history of the Kingdom is constantly referenced, they talk about Moses and Abraham, about Isaac and Jacob, stories are told from the Old Testament.

When Peter was preaching at the Day of Pentecost he reminds the Jews of the history of the Kingdom. Acts 3:13 For it is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of all our ancestors—who has brought glory to his servant Jesus by doing this. This is the same Jesus whom you handed over and rejected before Pilate, despite Pilate’s decision to release him.

There is a great statement in Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

There is a trick here, whenever you come across the word therefore in the bible you need to go back and see what it’s therefore. In this case we go back to the beginning of the previous chapter, which has been called the “Faith Hall of Fame” and it starts with these words.

Hebrews 11:1-2 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

And for the next 39 verses the author regales us with story after story of the faith of those who went before and in verse 39 he writes Hebrews 11:39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith.

Which of course leads us to Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. So who is the huge crowd of witnesses? All those who have gone before us.

And we can add to that 2000 more years of history, we don’t stand alone we stand on the shoulders of believers and teachers, theologians and lovers of God. Each generation tears off a little piece of their dough and adds it to the next generation to help them rise and to keep it right.

And that’s why I warn people to beware when all of sudden someone has a new revelation and they want you to ignore the history that we have. They want you to ignore Augustine, and Calvin and Wesley and Tertelluen and thousands of others who have studied and taught the scriptures over the past two millennium. But we have a history, and we can’t be separated from the history any more than you can separate bread from the leaven that made it rise.

And sometimes the media and the world want you to think that our history is something to be ashamed of, they trot out the crusade and the inquisition and residential schools and wag their fingers at us. But they forget that the Crusades began because Christians and Jews were being killed by Muslims and thousands of men volunteered to leave their homes and families to go and defend people they had never met, but shared a common faith with. And yes there were excesses and yes did not end up being our finest moment but understand there is more to the story. And really, nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition.

But our history includes the first hospitals, and the first schools for the blind and the deaf, the first orphanages, the fight to end child labour, and the end of Slavery in western, Christian cultures. The women’s rights movement had its birth in a Wesleyan Church in New York.

We can’t forget our history and we have to understand that we have an obligation to pass on what we have. And that’s why churches have to grow and reach people. Unless we do that we are not leaven we are simply bread, we are prepared and baked and served and then we are gone. And that is not the purpose of the Kingdom; it’s not only to provide a church for today it is to provide a church for tomorrow.

Leaven Has a Purpose The reason that leaven was added to the bread mixture was to make it rise, it wasn’t added to increase the flavour or change the colour. They didn’t add leaven so there would be more fibre in the bread, they added leaven so it would rise and become light and fluffy. And if the leaven functioned the way it was supposed to that’s exactly what it did. And because of that the bread tasted better, and had a nicer texture and was easier to eat.

There are bakers in the sour dough industry who claim their starter not only causes their sour dough to rise but that it adds a distinct flavour to the dough, and that may be the case but the primary function is to make the dough rise, the flavour it adds is a secondary benefit.

The church has a purpose as well and it’s spelled out in Matthew 28:19-20 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The churches purpose is to make disciples. And sometimes people forget that. They try and write grand vision statements about the church impacting their communities and making a difference. And that is not the purpose of the church. Seriously it’s not, you might think it is, you might be wondering if our purpose is not to impact our community and make a difference than what is the use of CIA, Cornerstone in Action? You might be wondering about Christ’s command for us to be salt and light. About all the good that can be accomplished by the local church. After all Bill Hybels the pastor of Willow Creek Community Church reminds us over and over again “The local church is the hope of the world.”

And those things are all wonderful but they really aren’t the purpose of the church. They are the purpose of the disciples that the church is supposed to make. And when the church loses its focus and sets it eyes on doing other things, rather than making disciples, no matter how noble those other things might be they are the wrong things.

Don’t get me wrong I think that the people of Cornerstone are supposed to make a difference in the world. And that happens because Cornerstone has made a difference in their lives.

The purpose of the church is to change society by changing people. I love the change that we see in people when we are doing what we are supposed to be doing.

Paul writes to the believers in Corinth tell them 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Sounds like a bad bunch but listen to what Paul writes next, 1 Corinthians 6:11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

That is our task to see people changed, and then turn them loose to fulfil their purpose and that is to make an impact on the world. Which leads us to our next point.

Leaven has an impact There is a great story in the book of Acts chapter 17. Paul and his friends have arrived at Thessalonica and we read Acts 17:4 Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women.

They were doing what the church is supposed to be doing, making disciples, but it wasn’t long before they were dragged before the authorities and I love the charges that were made against them. In the NKJV it reads this way, Acts 17:6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.”

These who have turned the world upside down. Wow, I would say that Kingdom of Heaven was at work in those believers that they were having an impact on their world.
Wouldn’t it be great if people described the Christ Followers who make up Cornerstone as “These who have turned the world upside down.”

You see the Kingdom of Heaven is not Cornerstone Wesleyan Church, the Kingdom of Heaven is “You” and you are supposed to make an difference, you are to permeate the world. It’s not enough that Christianity made a difference 2000 years ago, it’s not enough that Christianity made a difference 200 year ago or 20 years ago, we need to be making a difference today.

Acts 13:36 . . . for after David had done the will of God in his own generation, he died and was buried with his ancestors, and his body decayed. It’s good that the church has a great history, that the Wesley and Calvin and Mother Theresa did the will of God in their own generation, but they have died, they were buried with their ancestors and they bodies have decayed and that was yesterday and this is today and we still need to be doing the will of God in our generation, still making an impact and still being leaven in our world.

William Barclay wrote in the Daily Study Bible, “The whole point of the parable lies in one thing–the transforming power of the leaven. Leaven changed the character of a whole baking. Unleavened bread is like a water biscuit, hard, dry, unappetizing and uninteresting; bread baked with leaven is soft and porous and spongy, tasty and good to eat. The introduction of the leaven causes a transformation in the dough; and the coming of the Kingdom causes a transformation in life.”

We aren’t just here to take up space, we have been left here to make a difference. Last week we spoke about the impact the Kingdom of Heaven is supposed to have on individuals but now Christ reminds us that we are supposed to change our world as well.

Jesus left his followers here so we can have an impact locally and globally. And we are serving our purpose as Christ Followers when in his name we prepare meals for Ronald McDonald House, and collect food during Harvest for the Hungry, and when we reach out locally through CIA and when Emily ministered in Thailand, and when our teens travel to Guatemala in February and when we were able bless orphanages in Jamaica and Haiti. And all the things that you do that I don’t know about and don’t need to know about.

Leaven Needs Time to Work This is probably the toughest thing for me, waiting. I’m probably the only person here who struggles with patience, who wants things to happen right away. The rest of you probably have buckets of patience, but not me, I’d be a terrible buzzard, I’d be like “Forget waiting let’s go kill something.” But not everything happens right away, some things take time, and that’s tough for me, I want it to happen and I want it to happen now.

That’s why I hate golf, because I want to be good at it but I don’t want to practice, when I was in college I started playing around with guitar, but I wanted to be able to play it right away. I didn’t want to learn to play a G cord, I wanted to learn how to play the minuet in G.

But sometimes it takes time for leaven to work its way through the dough. That was the toughest part about starting Cornerstone was how long it seemed to take to get going, it was like watching bread rise. But if you interrupt bread making in the middle and say I can’t wait any longer and just put the bread in the oven it will be ruined.

In the summer of 2003 I’m not sure that many would have expressed much hope for this Church, we had been around for eight years and we just couldn’t seem to break through, and there were those who were actively lobbying for the church to be closed. And at that point there weren’t a lot of counter arguments. At a district board meeting around that time the district superintendent was heard to comment, “I don’t know if we need to rescue Bedford from Denn or Denn from Bedford.” But what would have happened if we had of pulled the plug back then? Well we would never have known what this church could have accomplished, never have seen the impact that would have been made.

Sometimes we get impatient with those we seek to have an impact on, we want to see the world change tomorrow, but it doesn’t always happen that way, any more than leaven works that way.

So this is probably a good place to bring in the obligatory motorcycle application.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like riding a motorcycle, we get on at the beginning of the journey and we know that at some point we will get off, but while we are on we need to keep moving and stay balanced. And it’s a lot easier to balance when you are moving with a bit of speed but it is even more critical to maintain your balance during those times that you aren’t moving very fast.

If you’ve been with us through this series then you understand that the Kingdom of Heaven is not like one single thing instead it is like a series of things, and the secret is in the balance.

So here is the question and we will ask it again before we finish this morning; How will you change the world?