Lord’s Prayer: Repent

Scripture Reading: Matthew 18:21-34

Praying Together

Anyone who says they don’t believe in speaking in tongues has never prayed the Lord’s Prayer with a group of Christians from diverse backgrounds. 

Over and against each other—and all at once—you’ll hear:

Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us…
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…

And nobody seems to know when the prayer is supposed to stop: 

Some add the doxology; others don’t…

Some mouth along to words they can’t remember because they’re trying to show Christian solidarity but their tradition doesn’t recite that last bit…

Some are “amen-ing” when others are “kinging, powering, and glorying God”…

It’s chaos. But it’s beautiful chaos.

Leaving the end of the prayer for another week’s reflection, I don’t think it’s coincidence that the line about repentance and forgiveness is the one that we most struggle to articulate together.

A Case for Trespassing

Over the years, I’ve had the ability to take a deep look into the ways the bible talks about sin. My own studies and translation work has been aided by those of many others, such as my grad school colleague Joseph Lam, who wrote his dissertation on the concept of sin in the Old Testament. And all of that has led me to begin to think that the old ways might be best here—perhaps we should all be trespassing……in the prayer, I mean; not around town.

But first, a story. And actually, this exact story has played out more than three times in my ministry. In it’s basic form, it goes something like this:

An individual comes to me struggling with what you might call a moral dilemma. There’s something going on—perhaps in their own life, perhaps in that of a family member or among their circle of friends—but it’s something that they were taught was a sin, and they don’t know what to do about it.

At some point, I ask them what sin is. It seems a simple enough question: “What is sin?”

But universally, they each have confessed that they don’t really know. They talk about how they were given a list of things—behaviors and actions, usually—that are deemed “sin.” Sin is defined as what’s on the list. But lists are nearly impossible to use in the real world. 

I believe that part of what has sapped Christianity’s witness in the last century is that we haven’t taught people how to identify sin “in the wild,” so to speak. We don’t really know what sin is, at its core. So when peer pressure, or emotions, or stress, or health issues, or whatever it is that breaks us down does its thing, we simply shake our heads at the checklist of sins and decide that asking forgiveness is easier than asking permission.

Sin = Trespass

From all the research I’ve done, all the reading and translating and praying and everything else that has gone into it, I’ve come to the conclusion that the core sense of “sin” is not too far off from the sense of “trespass.”

As the bible talks about it, we sin “against” someone—and that someone is usually God or one other. For instance, a commonly used prayer of confession defines sin through its confessions that:

We have not loved you [God] with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. (BCP)

Sin against God; sin against each other.

In fact, the context of the parable I read a moment ago is Jesus’ instruction for finding reconciliation with “your brother or sister” who “sins against you” (Matthew 18:15).

But what then does it mean to sin against God or each other?

As I said a moment ago, I’ve come to think of sin through the language of trespass. Here’s what that means:

Sinning against God

God has made us each unique, yet in God’s own image. It matters not our gender, our status, our economics, or our abilities—as human beings we bear the image of God. And part of that image—as seen as early as our very creation in Genesis 1 and 2—is that we are invited to be creators alongside God. 

The task of maintaining creation is a creative one, requiring the full and adaptive abilities that our God-like free-will allows.

God invited the first human into this creative process by having him name the creatures, something that God seems to have taken delight in.

Yet of course, those initial ancestors revealed the shadow-side of free will, in choosing to do the one thing they were forbidden from doing.

In doing so, they trespassed against God—and in a more literal way than you might initially think! Those first people took on themselves the role of God—deciding good and bad for themselves, instead of trusting those things to the God who made all things. They tread onto God’s lawn, so to speak, supposing to make it their own.

This is one way we sin—by taking on the roles and responsibilities that belong to God and God alone. In doing so, we trespass against God……we go where we should not go…where only God should tread.

Sinning against Each Other

In the same way, we sin against others when we trample on their free will or the image of God that they bear. Murder, adultery, theft, deceit, jealousy (to name a few of the Ten Commandments)—all of it destroys the image of God in someone, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

Interestingly enough—and contrary to what we might expect—it is these sins that the God of the bible seems to have the least patience with……they are the ones that send God into a rage at injustice. 

And there are hundreds and maybe even thousands of biblical verses about this. For example:

Deuteronomy 27:19 pronounces a curse on “anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice” (NRSV).

Or: The pithy wisdom of Proverbs never fails to strike a cord. And in Proverb 6 (vv.16–19), the author says 

“There are six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that hurry to run to evil,
a lying witness who testifies falsely,
and one who sows discord in a family.” (NRSV)

Now “hates” is pretty strong language—to be used with caution, especially in regards to God. Yet the author uses it here to describe God’s response to these ways we trespass against each other. Furthermore, in Proverbs 17:15, we read “One who justifies the wicked and one who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.” Both sins are against one another.

And Sodom—you remember the destruction of Sodom from back in Genesis 19?—Sodom, that archetypal bastion of sin, that eternal symbol of God’s consuming judgment. Yet Sodom was not destroyed for they ways they trespassed against God, but for the ways they trespassed against each other……and especially against those on the margins of society. Ezekiel 16:49 tells us “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” (NRSV).

Let us not forget: Jesus himself said that the whole of the law and prophets were fulfilled when we love God and love each other (cf. Matthew 22:36-40). The early church understood this better than we seem to today, and Paul references this teaching of Jesus in virtually every one of his letters. But the specific connection to the way sin is trespassing on each other may be most directly offered in Romans 13:9-10:

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (NRSV)

Sinning against Ourselves

But the more I read the scriptures, and the more that—as a pastor—I am invited to walk with people in the dark seasons and places of their lives, the more I realize there there are ways that we trespass not only against God or against each other, but also against ourselves. There are ways we sin against ourselves by trampling all over our own free will or the image of God that we bear. Things like feeding addictions, gluttony, sexual sins, and so on may have a corporate dimension—which would be sinning against others—but I wonder if they may at their core be sins against ourselves. They do harm to the image of God that we bear. They limit and cramp our ability to express free will. They involve trespassing on and vandalizing the person we were created to be.

But we never lose that divine image that is a core ingredient of our very creation. I was reading this week something written by St. John of Karpathos, a 7th Century Christian leader. He wrote:

“The moon as it waxes and wanes illustrates the condition of humanity. Sometimes he does what is right, sometimes he sins and then through repentance returns to a holy life. The divine image of one who sins is not destroyed (as some of you think), just as the physical size of the moon does not diminish, but only its light. 

Through repentance a person regains her true splendor, just as the moon after the period of waning clothes itself once more in its full light. If a person believes in Christ, ‘Even though he dies, he shall live’ (John 11:25); he shall know that ‘I the Lord have spoken, and will do it’ (Ezekiel 17:24).” 

(For the Encouragement of the Monks in India Who Had Written to Him)

This, then, is a big part of why repentance and forgiveness factor into this model prayer. Despite our sins, we never lose the image of God in which we were created. Despite our trespasses against God, each other, and ourselves, God never loses hope in us. God is always active in hoping for and pursuing reconciliation with us, and between us, and within us.

And we believe and confess this day and every day, that because God has conquered death through Jesus the Christ, we too can hope against hope in the promise of new life that is available now and eternally through the resurrection. 

God awaits us like the father of the prodigal, 

scanning the horizon for our return, 

mobilized and ready to run and greet us, 

eager to extravagantly celebrate the return of even this greatest of sinners.

Repent sisters and brothers, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Prayer (BCP, Penitential Rite 2, p.352)

Let us pray:

Most merciful God,

We confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. 

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

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The Lord’s Prayer: Ask

Scripture Reading: Luke 11:5-13

Intro

As we work through this model prayer of Jesus, we arrive today at the fourth of six petitions. We have already prayed:

Hallowed be thy name…on earth as it is in heaven.

Thy kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven.

Thy will be done…on earth as it is in heaven.

And now we transition from petitions focused on God’s lordship, to petitions emerging from our human need and experiences.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” [REPEAT]

And just as with the previous lines, we discover in these brief words some real challenges for us. Praying the Lord’s Prayer seems simple enough; but the more we delve into it and the more we truly consider what we are praying, the more we discover how this prayer challenges everything about life in this world…… just like all those other teachings of Jesus.

Give: the Challenge of Asking

Much as with the first week of our prayer journey, we are challenged by the very first word of this petition: “give.”

It is hard for us to ask for anything. 

How many times have I scrapped together an inadequate breakfast, because I wouldn’t borrow a couple eggs from a neighbor?

How many times have I skipped a commitment, because I had car troubles but wouldn’t ask for a ride?

How many times have I sat depressed and alone, because I simply wouldn’t call a friend?

I suppose Bob Seger was right: “the answer’s in the question.” 

 

But you know, as hard as asking is, it is even more difficult to receive, even if it is receiving what we ask for.

When I was in seminary in Atlanta, my spouse and I had this one old vehicle. It was already old when we bought it, and we’d put a lot of miles on it since then. But after overheating once, it was never quite the same. I kept tearing apart the top half of the engine, replacing gaskets, planing heads, and flushing and replacing cooling parts; but it seemed these were only expensive bandaids. 

And then it overheated again……for like the sixth time. After some conversation and negotiation, I pledged to fix it again, but swore it would be the last time.

But there was a problem, of course. We were a one-vehicle family, now without a vehicle. I needed parts. And besides: we still had jobs to get to, I had classes to attend, there were church commitments we had made, and we had no way to get to any of it.

It felt like a part of me died inside as I picked up my phone and called our church. I told our pastor what was going on; and I acknowledged that I had no idea what he could do about it, but that we needed help and didn’t know how to proceed. He said he’d call me back later that day.

He did. He had made a couple of phone calls, and he had located two vehicles whose owners were more than happy to loan us for a couple weeks until we got our own truck back up and running.

One was a small, almost new pickup truck.

The other was a Rolls Royce.

Now I have to pause here to say that I have wished over and over that I had picked the Rolls Royce–it would have made a much better story to tell. But the fact is that I was terrified of driving in Atlanta traffic with a vehicle that expensive, and quite sure I didn’t have enough insurance to cover it. (It belonged to a retired politician, by the way; so they’re not all bad, at least once they retire)

In truth, I might have been just as terrified when I accepted the keys to that pickup truck. And that terror didn’t stop until I had returned them to our pastor.

 

One of the early leaders of Christianity, Abba James, once said: “It is more blessed to receive hospitality than to give it” (Sayings of the Desert Fathers, ed. Ward, 104)

“Blessed” is one word for it……and not my first choice.

“Hard” might be better. Maybe even “challenging,” “humbling,” or even “traumatic.”

There is an inherent contradiction between “the great American virtue of self-sufficiency and independence” and “the Christian virtue of acknowledging our dependence and receiving everything that comes to us with a grateful heart” (Bondi, A Place to Pray, 71). And we do not address that contradiction easily or well.

The Parable

Speaking of which: the parable of Jesus we read this morning upsets me for all the right reasons. I mean: 

What kind of friend isn’t going to help out? 

What kind of friend considers their friend an such an inconvenience that he says “leave me alone”?

I know full well the dangers of waking sleeping children, but isn’t that is all the more reason to get up right away and help a buddy out?

But if I’m honest, there are other upsetting dimensions too:

Your friend said “no”; but you keep knocking and asking? Ever hear of boundaries? Ever hear of dignity? Ever hear of….

Oh wait… that was my inner “American” talking again instead of my inner “Christian,” wasn’t it?

 

This is a parable Jesus is using to talk about prayer. If we’re the one asking, then that means God is the one shutting us out. God is the one answering in the affirmative, but only because of our persistence. Jesus did like hard teachings……

This could be a sermon in and of itself, of course. But of this I am sure: Jesus knows it’s hard to ask. And maybe–just maybe–what Jesus is trying to show us is that repeatedly asking is good for our soul…… that since asking costs us so much, we will only repeatedly ask for the things that our hearts most seek. Maybe asking is a way of breaking us down–of deconstructing the facade of strength we each have built–so we can more completely and fully rest in the goodness and love of God our Father.

Us/Our: the Challenge of Community

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

The second challenge should be a bit more familiar to us by now: it’s the reminder that when we pray we do not pray alone or solely for ourselves–“Give US this day OUR daily bread.”

This example of prayer that Jesus offers to the disciples began with this recognition (OUR Father”), and it will be a factor in every single petition to follow.

Framed within the petition for “daily bread,” Jesus reminds us that our individual needs are intrinsically bound together with those of others. We cannot pray for what we need unless we pray for what others need. We cannot believe that “my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 NRSV), without recognizing the “yours” (even there!) is plural. If God has met my need but not yours, then I have a responsibility to share what God has entrusted to me. After all: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (1John 3:17 NRSV).

Daily Bread: the Challenge of the Naked Now

But there might even be a bigger challenge than all of this embedded in this seemingly-simple line of prayer. It lies in Jesus’ model to pray for the things of now–daily things–instead of the things of tomorrow, or next month, or next year, or a few decades from now.

1. Daily bread as necessities for the day

Like so many of Jesus’ teachings, there are layers–and this is the first one as we peel back meaning for this concept “daily bread.” In the 200’s, Saint Cyprian was writing to Christians in North Africa who were enduring terrible persecution on account of their faith. He said that this prayer for daily bread “was only for the bare necessities for the day. This was because they and he worried that to pray for—and receive—those things which would appear to provide them with long-term security would make them unprepared to face the martyrdom that could come at any moment” (Bondi p.84). 

We might not be facing immanent martyrdom in our own context today, but Cyprian’s warning still holds true: if we think we have long-term security, we may be more easily deceived into relying on our own abilities instead of relying on God, into keeping for ourselves what God would have us give to others, and into responding with condemnation instead of grace when others do not measure up to our increasingly impossible standards.

But the challenge to live in the “naked now” of today is also a means of grace. Many of us live with crushing anxiety:

anxiety about what will happen a week, month, year or more from now……

anxiety about those test results that won’t be available for days or weeks or months……

anxiety about the future of our employment with changes in management or ownership……

anxiety about our ability to pay our bills amidst rising expenses and fixed incomes……

Praying for our daily bread gives us the grace to ask God to help us “remember that [we] actually face the future best, most flexibly, with the most integrity, most in accordance with the actual needs of others and [our]self, if [we] can let go of [our] desire to control what [we] cannot control so that [we] can respond appropriately to what actually might happen. For this reason, [we pray] only for our daily bread, for the basic necessities for thriving today” (Bondi, p.84).

2. Daily bread as heart’s longing

But sometimes, the things that are deepest in our hearts–the things that are most consuming in our minds and energies–are not “the basic necessities for thriving today.” Author Roberta Bondi helps us out:

Sometimes my prayer is not so measured or considered, and then this ‘daily bread’ I ask for is that for which my heart longs, that without which I can hardly imagine my life. Such prayer is extravagant, a truthful expression to God of what I really feel without much consideration for whether what I pray for is of the best. I pray this way because if I don’t, I will cut myself off form God or I will burst…” (p.84)

In this way, praying for our daily bread is an beautifully passionate and irrationally glorious appeal for our heart’s longing. These are the times where, like Jeremiah, it feels like there’s a fire inside us that will consume us unless it is let out (Jeremiah 20:9). These are the times, like Paul describes, where we struggle even for the words to express our inner groanings (Romans 8:26). It is the truth of who we are and where we are, even if we know it isn’t where we should be. But without sharing these things with God, we are sabotaging the friendship God wants to kindle with us.

3. Daily bread as daily dose of Jesus

One last “daily bread” reflection to walk us out. I don’t think we can read Jesus reference “bread” in the bible without thinking of two teachings recorded in scripture.

The first, in the temptation story, Jesus is 40 days past due to receive his “daily bread.” He is hungry, tired, alone, and has been battling the temptation to be something other than who God has called him to be. Quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, Jesus reminds us that there is more in play than basic needs: “One does not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4 NRSV). 

As the gospels play out, this provides an ample foundation for many teachings and miracles of Jesus. But in John 6, it all comes to a head with this proclamation of Jesus:

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35 NRSV)

While I do not in the least want to trivialize other kinds of needs, sometimes the “daily bread” we need is our daily dose of Jesus. Some days, what we need more than anything else, is for the Spirit of God–the continued and abiding presence of the Bread of Life–to nurture and sustain us, to encourage our hearts, to pacify our minds and our spirits, to grant us endurance for that day’s road, and to be a loving presence when we feel most alone. 

So we pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

The Lord’s Prayer: Yield

Scripture Reading: Luke 13:20-21

Yielding

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Some years ago, as roundabouts were becoming an increasing fixture of our American infrastructure, I was talking with some friends about the frustrations they caused us. 

One friend had never been out of North America and considered them a useless invention of liberal European society. 

I voiced my thoughts that they would work better if people actually followed the intended rules. 

And then our non-American friend said, “You know why they don’t work, don’t you? It’s because Americans don’t know how to yield.”

I certainly had not thought about that before, but I sure have since. It’s not just driving—we’re at a place in our American culture where we believe yielding demonstrates weakness. Yielding seems counterproductive to getting what you want, what you think you’ve earned, and what you think you deserve. Yielding is not the way to upward mobility, financial success, and accomplishing the American Dream. Yielding in the race of life will get you run over.

There’s so much traffic on the interstate of Americana that hardly anyone can merge—the on-ramps to success are backed up to disastrous proportions. And why? Because no one is willing to yield an inch.

I’m purposely using the world “yield” to talk about this line of the prayer instead of “submit.” Sadly, “submit” is a word that has come to carry some pretty negative connotations. It has been used to support terrible abuses in power—be they in politics, religion, or the family. To submit has come to mean that you are completely subsumed by another—that your own will/desires/intents/or even personality has been replaced by that of the one you submit to.

In contrast, I find “yield” to suggest something far closer to the biblical meaning—here and elsewhere. Yielding to my spouse (for instance) does not mean that my ideas are always terrible and I should never be trusted with myself again. It simply means that in this moment and in this way, my spouse’s desires are the ones we will follow through on.

The language of yielding affirms the individuality of a person, in all their gifts, abilities, and goodness. In contrast, the language of submitting consolidates a person of less worth into one of more.

The Will of God

And as important as all this is when we’re talking about human relationships, it gets far more serious when we start talking about how we respond to God’s will (or God’s desires, as I more often call them). 

I have know folks who force themselves to live lives they hate because they think it is God’s will, and they must submit. 

I have known people who deny themselves (and others) justice because they think the trauma they experienced was God’s will, and they must submit.

Roberta Bondi (an author I introduced you to last week), remarks on this, saying:

“It is surprising how often I hear people…speak of the will of God…to explain every awful thing that happens in life. To hear them speak, you would think that it is God who deliberately causes hurricanes, car accidents, childhood deaths, lost jobs, fires, disappointments in love, cancer, and even rape in order to punish us or teach us valuable lessons” (Roberta Bondi, A Place to Pray, p.56).

This is not the God of scripture. This is not the God revealed to us most fully in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s son and our Savior. Again Roberta Bondi reminds us:

“God’s kingdom, which comes according to God’s will, is a gift, not a nightmare of coercion. God desires our life and not our death. ‘Do you not realize,’ Jesus asks us, ‘that God’s kingdom is where God’s will is done, and that God’s will for you is for your well-being, and for the well-being of all God has created? This is the Kingdom you pray for. If you live in this awareness, then as far as it is possible in this world, you can life now in the Kingdom.’” (Bondi, p.61)

Simple Truths

The Kingdom is a gift.
The Gospel is good news.
God is love.

It’s funny how these simple, core teachings of the Christian faith get so easily lost and distorted. It’s almost like on account of their simplicity, they slip from our pockets into the cracks of the sofa, not likely to be seen again for some time.

Maybe that’s one of the things Jesus meant when he said we had to become like little children. As we pass through life, we complicate sooo much that is simple, and we oversimplify the complicated. Maybe, in offering this prayer to those following him, Jesus hopes to anchor them to the simple hope of God’s kingdom made fully present in the world. After all: “Before anything else, the promise of the kingdom of God was meant to be Good News for those who embraced it. 

Coming upon the Kingdom, says Jesus, is like finding a treasure buried in a field. 

The Kingdom is expansive and inclusive, like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a bush big enough for birds to nest in it. 

It is like a mysteriously growing bowl of bread dough. 

It is the one pearl a pearl dealer might happen upon that is so wonderful he gladly sells everything he owns in order to buy it. 

It is like a wedding, or a banquet of the king to which everyone is invited” (Bondi p.54).

The Kingdom of God is indeed good news.

The End

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

The parable of Jesus that we read a few moments ago is one of the undervalued gems of the gospels, I believe. So many of Jesus’ parables intend to teach us about the Kingdom of God, and this one speaks to the reality underneath Jesus’ model prayer and the hope we have to come. 

In Revelation 21-22, a man named John catches a vision of where the whole story of God and humanity is heading. He aims, using symbolism and whatever language he can cobble together, to depict God’s intended future—what God wills, if you’d rather. And the language that he settles into as best describing what he sees is that of marriage.

To appreciate this though, we have to realize that in the New Testament era, they divided everything in existence into spheres or realms. That phrase in Philippians 2 (for example), that anticipates how “every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (v.10), speaks to three realms:

heaven—which is the realm of God

the earth—which is the realm of life, which we inhabit

under the earth—which is the realm of the dead (Paul is using the imagery of the Greek underworld Hades here, which would have been familiar to his audience)

When Revelation 21 begins, the dead (those in the “under the earth” realm) have been brought into another realm where they are “judged according to their works, as recorded in the books” (Revelation 20:12; cf. v.13). That leaves us with people in two realms: the God realm (heaven) and the realm of life (earth). These two realms are then united in Revelation 21, as in marriage. They become “one flesh,” so to speak; and “what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6/Mark 10:9). This means, that at that point in the future:

The way things are in heaven and earth is the now the same.

There is no longer a disparity between the way things should be and the way they are.

The earth realm has so completely become the Kingdom of God (that began with Jesus) that it is no longer distinct from—or separable from—heaven itself.

In his book Surprised by Hope, scholar Tom Wright points out that “[Revelation 21-22] is the final answer to the Lord’s Prayer, that God’s kingdom will come and his will be done on earth as in heaven” (p.104). He continues:

“Heaven and earth, it seems, are not after all poles apart… They are different, radically different, but they are made for each other in the same way (Revelation is suggesting) as male and female. And when they finally come together, that will be cause for rejoicing in the same way that a wedding is: 

a creational sign that God’s project is going forward; 

that opposite poles within creation are made for union, not competition; 

that love and not hate have the last word in the universe; 

that fruitfulness and not sterility is God’s will for creation” (Surprised by Hope, p.105)

A Little Leaven…

So here comes the big question: how do we get from here to there?

Well, as Paul reminds us in 1Corinthians & Galatians “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9; 1Corinthains 5:6).

 

And that’s our parable, really.

I don’t know how many of you have made bread from scratch before, let alone a sourdough bread or other older type that doesn’t actually use yeast. But I suppose for Jesus’ point, even store-bought yeast is effective.

If I’m making a couple loaves of bread, I might use 4 or 6 or more cups of flour. But it only takes a couple-few teaspoons of yeast for the dough to do what it needs to do. This is a tiny amount. An old recipe book of ours prescribes a teaspoon of yeast per cup of flour…that’s a 1:48 ratio!!

When worked through the dough, the yeast does its subversive, insidious, infectious thing. It transforms the rest of the dough chemically, changing its very nature from the inside out. What power is exerted by this fraction! this minority! this remnant!

This is what the Kingdom of God is like, Jesus says. When the subversive love of God is worked through the world by the people who are yeasty like Jesus, all of creation will be transformed.

When we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we invite the leaven of Jesus to bubble up in us, no matter how many times we punch it down. But we also invite God to knead us into a needy world, that the salvation made available to all may be experienced by all.

Charge

You know, it’s nearly impossible for me to hear “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” without remembering another adage that I often heard alongside it: “One bad apple spoils the barrel.” 

It’s got the same meaning, right? It only takes one to infect the whole. 

I’m sure Jesus knew about apples. After all, they came out of central Asia and were pretty significant to Greek mythology. I don’t know if he ever ate one, but I do know that Jesus liked to turn contemporary proverbs and cultural expectations on their head. 

So instead of urging you to be less crusty and more yeasty, I though I’d suggest you be the bad apple for God’s kingdom. (NOT “be the bad apple IN God’s kingdom.”) But if the world thinks Christianity is effectively a blight, let’s own it. Let’s spoil the whole barrel, smearing God’s love all over the place so completely that they’ll never be able to wash it off.

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”