“A Tale of Yeast”

 “A Tale of Yeast”
Genesis 18:1-8;
Matthew 13:33
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
August 7, 2022 

The story goes that Abraham is sitting under a tree in the heat of the day and three strangers come near and immediately, he goes out to meet them and declares, 

“Let me get you some water. And something to eat that you might be refreshed.” 

“Sounds good,” they say. 

“Quick,” he tells his wife, Sarah, in light of these three guests who’ve arrived, “get three measures of the finest flour, knead it, and bake some bread for these three guests.” 

Three measures… 

As one commentator observes, that amount of bread would feed 40 people three meals a day for several days. It’s an extravagant amount. Maybe even an insultingly extravagant about given the work he is asking of Sarah. 

Professor and theologian Amy-Jill Levine observes about this story: “Were my husband to run out into the street, invite three strangers to lunch, and then tell me to make 60 dozen biscuits, at least one of us would need counseling.” 

Fresh-baked abundance for the weary travelers. 

And many years later, Jesus would pick up on this precise moment and say this: 

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. 

Three measures. Which is to say, whatever Jesus is about, whatever his kingdom is about, whatever his plan for the world’s weary travelers…it’s big. It’s a generous amount of melt-in-your-mouth freshly baked bread. 

But it starts so small. 

“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast…” 

Yeast refers to sourdough starter. This yeast has a little bit a smell to it that’s not terribly inviting. It’s super tiny. 

In fact, some translations read, “the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman, taking, hid in three measure of flour until all was leavened.” 

Can’t even see it when its doing its thing. 

This means the biggest thing contributing to the future overwhelming, bread-for-the-world abundance – it takes place in a smelly, small, hidden place. Like you really cannot visibly see what is going on. 

And actually, I think this is a truth we desperately need to hear in our time. 

Because how often when we read the headlines, when we watch all that is unfolding in our world, sometimes even when we just try to take in all the unknowns and anxieties of our own life and families…it can absolutely floor us. We feel helpless. Maybe hopeless. 

Because we can’t come up with any idea or plan or action big and good and wonderful enough to change all that needs to change. 

But what if we could find our deepest hope in the small? The really small. What if that’s where the Holy Spirit action is most riveting with life? 

I was reading blog article by this guy who is writing about his journey into the Catholic faith, and at one point he writes this as he is trying to put words to his experience of writing about his faith and where he finds that real faith unfolds: 

“I dont know the exact place to start writing about faith, but heres what I wager. Faith works itself out in the actual-factual, real, human stuff of earth—family, the land of your people, the green jello salad with the pecans your grandma served at thanksgiving, the tiny Methodist church of your youth, the Crucifix, the eucharist, the addiction, the FedEx delivery person, your partner, whatever, wherever, whenever. It shows up in the unvarnished, unairbrushed parts of life. The things youd never instagram because theyre simply too ordinary. And so, I think the best faith writing starts in real observations about our very real lives.” 

This writer wants invites us to lean into the things so ordinary as to be otherwise entirely missed, overlooked. Hidden, you might say, in plain sight. 

Which invites the question… 

What if our hope is not in figuring out the biggest, grandest gestures and moments and movements…but that hope is already at work – hidden and unfolding in something as ordinary as someone baking bread? What if Holy Spirit yeast is tucked in all these tiny, ordinary corners – out there, and in here? 

The actor Hugh Jackman has this creativity exercise he does and commends to others. 

He says, “Take a picture of something you look at every day.” Your backyard. Or your kitchen. Or a part of your office or the inside of your refrigerator or…anything. 

Take a picture. Send it to one of those companies that turns photos into puzzles. Make the photo a puzzle. 

When the puzzle arrives, begin putting it back together. And without a doubt, he says, (you’ll be) focusing on the minute details of this building and that building or that tree, this tree…When you go back to that place, your appreciation of the world is so much greater.” 

You see things previously invisible. 

I love that. Like if someone had taken a picture of the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus’ birth and they were putting together the puzzle with remarkable Rome over here and holy Jerusalem over here but…now with these tiny puzzle pieces you all say at some point, “Huh, Bethlehem. Never noticed that tiny little town. Wonder if anything ever happens there?” 

Golgotha. This trash heap where criminals get crucified. Huh? Is yeast tucked in that, too? 

Do we not worship a God who from the impossibly small, impossibly awful, impossibly dark…rose? Do we not believe that even in the thickness of sin and death itself there is a yeast…and a rising? 

How prone we are to look at the grand landscapes of our time – the landscapes of all we see unfolding around us, the landscapes painted by the news or our social media or our own fears about what might happen…tell me about some tiny puzzle pieces. 

And then what if the God whose rose from the grave – what if that God’s Risen, Living, Holy Spirit is still at work there? 

What changes if we know that there is a hope greater than us already at work in the tiny puzzle pieces? 

I was sitting on JC Johnson’s porch this past week. JC is a longtime FPC member, and at 87 very much enjoys long afternoons looking out upon his beautiful front yard and enjoying the people and cars that pass by from time to time. 

And for awhile we talked about learning and growing over the years and all the forms that has taken. And so at one point I asked, “How would you describe what growth has looked like for you these recent years?” 

He said, “You know, that…” And he points to this large bush – some 10 feet high and and quite round. And he said the name I failed to catch it it. But he remarked how that bush or plant – how it was the same age as him. Quite tiny, it was, when JC first arrived to this house as a boy. 

We stared at it together. This fulsome-roundedness to it; a few flowers budding in white. 

And though JC was full of stories our entire visit, there were no more words in response to the growth question of mine. Instead, it was like he invited me to stare at that which had been once been so small. Now this luscious, persisting green. The white flowers showing off. The grand shade it provided. 

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. 

We’re not told how long the leavening process may take…but every taste of fresh bread and every glance at great trees is an ordinary sign reminding us that, yes, God is at work in the hidden places. 

The yeast is there. 

This really is central to all that we proclaim. 

Thanks be to God. Amen. 

About Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert