Sermon: Sunday July 30, 2017

Cantaloupe and the Kingdom of God

The Rev Lisa Smith Fry

Matthew’s parable of the leaven

I’ve always thought that fruit salad looks wonderful. It’s colorful, healthy and sweet. A definite crowd-pleaser.

I have never been able to eat most fruit salads. You see, they have this nasty little orange fruit in it that I can’t even smell without nausea, much less eat. It’s called cantaloupe.

I can’t explain it, though my father shares this quirk: we just can’t eat cantaloupe.  “Well–  just pick them out of the salad,” you may say. I’m afraid I can’t. The smell and taste permeates the rest of the salad, making it all inedible for me.

It’s funny how just a little bit of something can ruin the whole thing.

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.

The kingdom of heaven. By the way– this is not the afterlife which is being talked about here.  Just so you know– when the author of the gospel of Matthew talks about the kingdom of heaven, he is talking about the same thing the authors of Mark and Luke call the Kingdom of God. When Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, he was referring to the place we are right now– as in “the kingdom of God is among you”– THAT kingdom of God.

Jesus was not talking about someplace we go to spend eternity–  he was speaking of something that was being built, daily, all around us, and by us — with the help of the Spirit. The author of Matthew prefer to call it the Kingdom of Heaven. Out of sensitivity to his Jewish readers, he avoids mentioning the sacred name of God, and instead uses the less offensive word, heaven.

So here in the book of Matthew we have Jesus giving several examples of what this kingdom we are building here on Earth is like: like a mustard seed, like leaven, like a treasure, like a pearl.

I’m only going to focus on one today: 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.

So in the life of the Kingdom we have a choice about which leaven we will use.  Bread uses yeast for leaven– but what type of leaven will the kingdom of heaven use?

In Corinthians, Paul tells us of two different types of leaven: the leaven of malice and wickedness, and the leaven of sincerity and truth.

John Hagee, leader of a megachurch in Texas, got a lot of press a few years ago. He’s fond of quoting scripture– usually from the Old Testament, and often out of context.   “I’ll bless those that bless you and I’ll curse those that curse you,” said Hagee, quoting from the book of Genesis. “That’s God’s foreign policy statement, and it has not changed.”

Now I’ve often said that a person can argue for absolutely anything by pulling random quotes from the bible.

Let’s test that. Let’s see what else we might be able to cull from the bible about foreign policy. Hagee quoted the Old Testament, so let’s begin there:

From Leviticus 19: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” Or from Jesus: “Love your enemies and bless those who curse you.”

See what I mean? You can argue either side.

Let’s try it again– this time debating how God asks us to treat one another. From Exodus:

“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Strap on your swords! Go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other, killing even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.”  The Levites obeyed Moses, and about three thousand people died that day.  Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Because of this, he will now give you a great blessing.”  (Exodus 32:26-29 NLT)

I have to say– that’s one I don’t quote often.

But then there is also Matthew 25:

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 3I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”

I am simplifying, I know.  But remember, leaven can work both ways: what we focus on spreads through our church and culture producing delicious, nourishing bread, or – like my example of how I react to cantaloupe in fruit salad, permeating the whole dish and making it inedible.

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

As we build the kingdom of God, which leaven will we use?  Amen.