June 26, 2016 – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Proclaimer: Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
Summer Sermon Series: STORIES TO LIVE BY
Sermon: Search Engine Optimization
Scripture: Matthew 6:25-33 & 13:31-34
Once upon a time, long, long, ago, an honest smuggler traversed the border between two lands. A customs inspector tried to catch the smuggler again and again. Month after month, for numerous years, the smuggler would appear in a long line of travelers with carts, donkeys, goods and oxen. The smuggler always crossed the border with his donkey weighted down with straw. The inspector consistently searched through the smuggler’s bags, inside the donkey’s mouth and meticulously scrutinized the straw. Yet, over the years, all the while suspicioning something was hidden in the straw, he found nothing. Eventually, the inspector retired. A few years later, when they had both retired from their labors, they crossed paths in the city. The retired inspector desired to know how the smuggler had fooled him all that time. So, he asked, “Just between you and me, please tell me what were you smuggling under my very nose?” The old smuggler smiled and said, “Donkeys; I was smuggling donkeys!” 1
You may look and look at what is directly in front of you and still not see what you are seeing. You may look and look at the parables of Jesus and still not see what he is showing to you in plain sight.
Jesus told a story saying, ‘The kingdom of God is like leaven a woman hid inside three measures of flour and mixed it in until it was leavened.’ Let’s inspect what Jesus is smuggling into this parable. Consider four ideas.
FIRST, CONSIDER THE PHRASE, ‘KINGDOM OF GOD:’
Jesus uses the phrase, ‘kingdom of God,’ to describe how life is lived when God is the ruler of – king of – each person and each action in every place. People who heard Jesus knew kingdom language. They knew that ‘kingdom’ meant power. Jesus’ primary message was to reveal the power of the kingdom of God: So he went about forgiving, reconciling, embracing, redeeming and healing. ‘The kingdom of God’ is God’s vision of how life should be on earth for every person and every people. It is the mission of Christ’s Church to co-labor with God so the kingdom of God becomes reality wherever and whenever possible. So, whenever we see persons victimized by persons or society or structures or institutions or systems, we respond with the compassion of God, as revealed in Jesus. This is why you build a Habitat house, scatter mattresses in the gym on cold nights, provide housing for homeless families, make sandwiches for the hungry, walk in CROP Walk, send a thoughtful note or adopt lost boys.
SECOND, CONSIDER THE PHRASE, ‘THREE MEASURES OF FLOUR:’
‘Three measures of flour,’ was called an ‘ephah.’ In stories of Abraham, Gideon and Samuel, an ‘ephah’ of flour was prepared.2 Jesus’ hearers recognized the ‘ephah’ of flour to represent a sacred amount. An ‘ephah’ was 50 to 60 pounds of flour and would make enough bread to fill a modern day bakery truck. In this story, Jesus is speaking of the sacred life, the religious life, the spiritual life that is so prevalent that it seems to be everywhere. Yet, Jesus is saying there is a necessary ingredient that must be added. In other words, the moral majority may be immoral.
THIRD, CONSIDER THE WORD, ‘LEAVEN:’
When Jesus speaks of ‘leaven,’ he is not describing a small packet of Fleischmann’s yeast mixed into your bread recipe. Jesus is teaching how the kingdom of God must be mixed into the sacred life, the religious life, the spiritual life in order for transformation to happen.
AND, HERE IS THE DONKEY JESUS IS SMUGGLING INTO THIS STORY.
Throughout scripture, leaven is a symbol for disruption – some even suggest corruption.3 In the first century, leaven was a chunk of bread kept moist and warm until it was moldy. Here, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a green, grey, blue, purple, fuzzy piece of bread mixed into what people think is sacred and pure.
Jesus is proclaiming: ‘You will not experience the life God desires for you by merely pursuing a spiritual life or participating in a religious tradition unless the kingdom of God is included into the mix.’
You live in the kingdom of God as you allow God to permeate your life and transform you so you become more and more an incarnation of the spirit and character of God. Jesus shows you what the kingdom of God looks like by his life of commitment and obedience. As you live out your commitment and obedience as a learner, a disciple, of Jesus, your life is transformed and you mature in reflecting the kingdom of God in the life of the world and the life of the world become transformed by the kingdom of God.
Jesus is saying that just as leaven is needed to transform the flour, the kingdom of God is essential to transform religious living. Political powers and religious powers often leave out the kingdom of God which is based on servant humility, honesty, vulnerability, authenticity and compassion. Saying ‘yes’ to those in power, acquiescing to those ‘in charge,’ does not mean people are living in the kingdom of God at all. When the kingdom of God is mixed into your life and into the life of the world, the result will be disruption. The kingdom of God will stir things up in you and in the world resulting in transformational change. Jesus said, ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace as the world defines peace.’
Jesus uses ‘leaven’ to describe the kingdom of God as a disturbing influence. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are brought before the rulers of Philippi accused of ‘disturbing the city.’3 And, when they arrived in Thessalonica, the outcry was, “These men who have turned the world upside down have now come here.”5
The kingdom of God does not equate peace with calm or tranquility. Jesus, speaking Aramaic, spoke of ‘shalom’ or ‘wholeness.’ The kingdom of God is what you search for in your life; wholeness. Every person of every culture is searching for wholeness, for shalom: fulfillment, abundant life, purpose, meaning; holistic health. This is why I send you forth each Sunday with my prayer for you – Shalom! I do not pray for you to pursue peace as the world offers peace. I pray for you to pursue shalom!
When you pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” you are asking The Living God to change the status quo in your life; to disturb or stir up in you and in the world what the world powers call ‘sweet bread.’ Friends, the kingdom of God is breaking into the world through your active servant faith and through the small actions you take each day.
NOW – HERE IS THE FOURTH IDEA I ASK YOU TO CONSIDER: WHEN GOD IS KING OF YOUR LIVING, YOU CANNOT STAY THE SAME. YOUR LIFE WILL BE STIRRED UP.
In his parables, Jesus is smuggling the kingdom of God into your life.
One night, a man with a great deal of power and position, came to speak with Jesus searching for the kingdom of God. Jesus told Nicodemus that the only way a person can see the kingdom of God is to be born again. Jesus meant that Nicodemus, the devout religious leader, needed transformation; He needed God to be king of his life. John the baptizer called people to ‘repent, for the kingdom of God was breaking in’ and Jesus used the phrase, ‘born again.’ They are related ideas. Both call you to change.
Friends, Jesus did not teach this way because he was an unrealistic idealist. Jesus taught this way because he was an idealistic realist. Jesus knew you and every other person would search for a spiritual life; for shalom. Yet, Jesus also knew you would be tempted to focus on the headline issues of the 6:00 news or the priorities of the other kingdoms of the world rather than the kingdom of God. Jesus knew you would worry about matters such as a 600 point drop in the DOW due to Great Britain voting to leave the European Union and he expected you to be tempted to give more attention to the election cycle than to the kingdom of God.
So, Jesus offered a 21st century parable. He suggested that you optimize your search engine. He wasn’t speaking of Google, Bing or Yahoo. But, he was saying that you should search first for the kingdom of God – in your life and in the life of the world. He said you should enter some key words to into your search engine: “Search first for the kingdom of God and all of these other searches and issues will find their proper place in your life.” The Living God is providential and greater than all other kingdom powers. The Living God asks you to search first for the kingdom of God – because you were created for the kingdom of God.
And, just in case your search engine gets bogged down, search for a memory of when God changed your heart or your perspective or your attitude. If you still don’t find what you are searching for, search for a time you did a small act for someone because God is king of your life and it changed their life – and yours. Then, if you still cannot seem to find what you are searching for, if you are still filled with worry or fear, type into your search bar one of these phrases: ‘birds of the air’ or ‘lilies of the field.’ Jesus said that would remind you how you are valued in the kingdom of God! Amen and AMEN!
_____________________________ 1 ‘The Honest Smuggler,’ based upon a story of Mulla Nasrudin, as told by Vikram Karve.
2 See Genesis 18:1-6; Judges 6:19; and 1 Samuel 1:24 as examples of an ‘ephah.’
3 See Exodus 12:15-20 and 13:3-7; Leviticus 2:11; Deuteronomy 16:1-8; and 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.
4 Acts 16:20
5 Acts 17:6