SCRIPTURE (THE MESSAGE)  “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of bread – and waits while the dough rises”  Matthew 13:33

MESSAGE  We Are Rising!” (Advice on Baking from Someone Who Doesn’t Know Much About Baking)  Rev. James R. Renfrew

So this morning I am going to talk about baking bread, but let me say this right at the start: I am not someone who knows how to bake. So you might want to be careful with anything I might say about today’s reading from Luke.  The last time I tried baking bread was during a youth event quite a few years ago, and I think put too much oil in the mix because what came out of the oven was an oily bread soup.

So I don’t know a lot about baking.  Will I let that stop me?  No way!  Let me tell you a secret, preachers preach about what they know about, but they will also be happy to preach about things that they know little or nothing about.  How can you tell the difference?  You can’t!

I hope you noticed the simple bread recipe on the back of the bulletin. I picked that recipe for two reasons only, okay maybe three reasons.  One is that it is a “simple” recipe, so even an unskilled baker like me might be able to pull it off.  The second reason is that the recipe for simple bread includes yeast, the subject of Jesus parable.  The third reason is that it includes oil, yeah, the part of the recipe that defeated me the last time I tried.  You know how it works, if the wave knocks you down, go right back into the water.  So the recipe has to have oil in it!

So I looked it up, according to science, yeast is a fungus that interacts with the other ingredients to create a bread that rises. In Jesus’ time there was probably no scientific explanation for the effect of yeast.  It was something magical that worked every time.

So when Jesus offers the Parable of the Yeast it is not meant to be a scientific explanation.  He’s describing something that everyone understood.  Add a little yeast and the dough changes, it expands, it multiplies, it rises.

But as with anything that Jesus talks about, it may seem to be all about yeast and how to bake bread, but it’s really about something else.  What could that something else be? I think it’s about people, it’s about someone just like you!  Think about it.  What, if we added it to your life, would make you rise?  What gets added to PEOPLE to make them rise?  More than that, how is Jesus like that yeast, that makes us rise to become something instead of nothing?  And even more, how are you like yeast in the lives of the people around you?

So what is the yeast?  Technically, it’s a fungus, but we know it could be love, it could be joy, it could be hope, it could be courage?  Whatever it is, it is the magical ingredient, it is the spark, it is the je ne sais quoi that makes a little into a lot, nothing into something, emptiness into fullness, fear or apathy into courage. That’s a good question, what is the opposite of courage, fear? I think it’s apathy, not caring.

So have you ever been courageous?  We thank Doug for sharing his answer to that question, but each person we ask will tell a different story, and that’s what I most love about being a member of a church family, we get to hear all of the stories.

One of my stories about courage is the time I saw a neighbor across the street kicking a boy’s dog.  I had been away at college so I didn’t know the man, the boy or the dog, but I’m sorry, you don’t kick dogs, it’s wrong.  I really liked how I didn’t pause to think about it, wonder if there was a back story, or hesitate to act, I opened the door, ran across the street and confronted the man – “who do you think you are, what do you think you’re doing, kicking a dog?”  In a flash, the man shifted his anger from the dog to me! I can’t remember exactly what he said, something about the dog digging up flowers in his garden, something about minding my own business, something about buzz off, but I held my ground, and the man walked away muttering all kinds of threats and curses. The boy ran home with his dog.  I never saw either of them again.  I told my parents about it that evening and they were upset that I may have offended a neighbor.  I didn’t care, no one should kick a dog.  I never heard anything more about it, because I went back to college, and I never lived with my parents again.

It’s humorous, in a way, that I took a stand to protect a little dog.  Because the truth is that I never liked dogs much  As a paperboy each afternoon, every dog I passed by wanted to kill me.  Yet, wrong is wrong, and my moment of courage could not have been predicted by anyone who knew me.  I’m an easy going person, I hope most of you have noticed, and I can’t remember the last time I got in a shouting match with anyone, but there it is the day when I demonstrated courage.  That’s not my only moment of courage, there have been others, and I’m sure it’s the same with you, many courageous moments, some quiet, some loud, some in front of everyone, some known only to you, some of epic proportion, some barely noticeable.

The Stewardship Committee chose courage as this year’s stewardship theme, not just the sum total of the courageous things different ones of us have done, but the fact that our congregation, our church family as a whole, has been and will be courageous.

What makes a church courageous?  It may be that simply having beliefs at all in an apathetic world is courageous.  Sometimes we take a stand on important issues.  Sometimes we go against the tide of public opinion to stand for what is right.

There’s another kind of courage, simply being.  I have in past served some congregations that no longer had any rationale for existing, too small, too elderly, but by simply existing they were courageous.  I learned this week about one of our Presbyterian churches that barely has enough money to function, even so they offer generous grants to organizations in their community.  Why, because they would rather be courageous than passive, risk-takers, rather than play-it-safers.

One church that I served many years ago was offered a generous gift of $5000 in a time of great financial need.  It was a wonderful gift, but we decided to turn it into a challenge.  We wouldn’t accept the gift until we had a Sunday with seventy five people in attendance, a real challenge for a church that had trouble drawing even twenty five.  Finally, the day came when we reached seventy-five, a day that required us to be courageous in our ministry and not passive, because we had to reach out and invite people to come.  We had to show that coming to our church was an opportunity, not a lost cause.  The day we went over the top was the day that we felt our power and possibility for the first time in a long time. That courage felt real good.

I hope that your time in our church has helped you feel courageous, that we have something to say, something to accomplish in the world, we’re not just going through the motions, that you are a person with convictions about the things that must be done.

   “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of bread – and waits while the dough rises.”

The kingdom of heaven, the time and place when and where God’s vision for humanity is established, something vital out of nothing.  It usually begins in the small, something added, something almost unnoticeable, something like yeast, all you need is a little bit of love, a touch of hope, a few grains of peace, a small taste of justice, and then we rise becoming what God has hoped we will become.

Have we found the kingdom of heaven yet?  Maybe not in the full, but in our courage we are rising!