Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Sermon video can be found here.
Do you ever look at a plant and wonder to yourself, “How did people learn this was safe to eat?” Or, have you ever made something in the kitchen – like homemade yogurt, or cheese, or bread – and wondered how people learned to ferment things or make dough rise? Though no one knows entirely for certain, it is thought that the people of ancient Egypt were the first to find a way to leaven their bread – at least on a consistent basis. Their process was very similar to the process of making sourdough we use today. I made a video demonstrating how this is done, if you’d like to see it in action.
You would make a paste of water and whatever grain you were using and allow it to capture the natural yeasts in the air. Each day, you would take a little bit of the old mixture and add it to a new mixture of grains and water until the mixture was powerful enough to bubble and rise. Some people also discovered that by adding a little bit of pressed grape juice, bread would rise better because of the natural yeasts on the skins of the grapes. Of course, things are a little different now that we have the gift of refrigeration to help us keep our starters alive and going without as much daily effort, but the basic process remains the same. If you do not have commercial yeast, but you do have flour and water, you have everything you need to make a loaf of bread rise – as long as you are willing to give it enough time.
In this series of parables Jesus tells in our lesson from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus uses earthy, everyday examples the people around him would’ve connected with right away. He talks about seeds growing, and bread rising, and about fish. The parables that seem to have the most sticking power are the ones we can relate to from our daily lives. Often, as I thought about these stories Jesus told, I focused on the new thing God was doing – the great shrub grown from the mustard seed, the risen loaf from the leavened dough, or the big catch of fish. The miracle of new things always took my breath away. Maybe God could make something new out of me, too! I always focused on the end result of these parables because the end result was inspiring. I wanted to be made into a great mustard tree, a fresh baked loaf of bread, a tremendous catch of fish – spiritually-speaking of course.
But, this week, as I have allowed these stories to stay with me, something amazed me that I hadn’t seen before. Yes, God is in the business of making new things. But, God’s method is important. God doesn’t make new things by throwing out the old things. God doesn’t make all things new by scrapping what’s there and starting over. Instead, God makes something new out of us – people who mess up a lot, are ingrained in our bad habits, and are rough around the edges. In a way, wouldn’t it be easier for God to start over? But, way back in the Garden of Eden, when God made the world, and made human beings, God said that “indeed, it was very good.” And God hasn’t forgotten that, even when we have.
Seeds are what form at the end of a growing season. Plants flower, make seeds or seed pods, and the seeds dry out. The old, dried remnants of last year’s growth is what is planted in the hopes of growing something new. Just like a new growing season comes from the leftovers of last year’s harvest and a new loaf of bread is leavened with what was left from the bread made the day before, God makes all things new – beginning with what’s old. Oh yes, God is making all things new, and God has chosen to work with us to make those new things possible, in our own lives and in the world.
Verses 51-52 say this: “‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’” I always have to laugh when Jesus asks the people if they understand and they respond with a hearty “of course we do!” These new things God is doing are so mysterious and they are beyond anything we can understand, but so often we think we’ve got it all figured out. But, let’s go back to those verses. In verse 52, Jesus talks about the scribes trained for the kingdom. He compares them to the master of the house who brings out a treasure both of what is new and what is old. I have puzzled over this verse all week, and I believe what Jesus is saying is that the scribes who are trained for the kingdom – us, the people who are training up in God’s ways – have treasures both new and old.
For many of us, we first learned about Jesus when we learned about our sinfulness and our need for a Savior. We learned that God was angry with us, and we were destined for punishment if we didn’t change our wicked ways. I know I heard this message about God a lot. And, the thing is, we are sinful. We do need a Savior. Our lives are in need of changing. These things are true and real. But, I know for me, I already have no problem seeing what’s wrong in me. When I look in the mirror, I can see the mistakes I’ve made, the people I’ve hurt, the choices I wish I could go back and do differently. I’m a master at looking at myself and seeing all the things that need work. This week, the good news that God has for me – and for all of us – is that God looks at us and sees our treasures, both what is old and what is new. God looks at us and sees that “indeed it was very good,” albeit in need of a bit of TLC. As scribes trained for the kingdom, we are like the owner of the house who steps inside and says, “Yes, this place needs a lot of work, but it has good bones.”
Where in your life, are you already seeing good things? What gifts has God given you? What goodness do you see? I promise, it’s in there. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, or how many mistakes you’ve made, or how far you’ve strayed. The image of God is still stamped on your heart, and you are beautiful and beloved. What treasures do you have in you that are old?
What new thing is God doing in you? How has God been working in your heart and in your life to produce the good and beautiful things of the kingdom of God? Where have you seen God working? I promise God has been working, even now with all of the troubles of the world. Take some time to reflect on what God has been doing in your heart during this season.
What new thing is God calling you to do in this world? I don’t know what God is calling you to do right now, but I do know this: our world is sorely in need of something new. Every day, everywhere I turn, I see conflict, division, fear, and anger. I see relationships torn apart. I see people worrying how they will make it one more day. I see families filled with anxiety and uncertainty. I see so much struggle. You may even wonder if it is possible for God to make all things new right now. Sometimes I wonder, too. But, I believe this wilderness is the precise location where God intends to make all things new. Why? Because God makes new things from old things, and usually in the most unlikely of places.
As God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” God makes a way where there is no way, and God’s rivers flow through the arid desert. God doesn’t abandon the desert; God makes the desert bloom.
This week, God is challenging us to look inside ourselves. What areas of our lives feel like wilderness places? Where do things seem old and lifeless? Take a moment to look at those places, and then let’s ask God to make those places grow. Deep down, beneath all of it, you are God’s beloved child, made in the image of God, and no matter what you’ve been through, what you’ve seen, or what you’ve done, you have within you the seed that is ready to grow and bear fruit. You might just need a little cultivating and a little TLC, but the beginning of something new is already there.
Next, take a look at your little corner of the world – the people you interact with (in person or online or long distance), the routines and habits you have, and the needs you see around you. Ask God to inspire you to bring new life and new growth to your little corner of the world – whatever that might look like. It doesn’t have to be anything big. Remember, just a little bit of leaven can be enough for the whole batch of dough to rise.
I only ever attended one Girl Scout meeting when I was growing up, but I have found myself leading my daughter’s troop. The song Make New Friends, which was very common in girl scouting at one time, says a lot as we think about treasures old and new:
Make new friends, but keep the old.
One is silver, the other is gold.
A circle is round, it has no end.
That’s how long, I will be your friend.
A fire burns bright, it warms the heart.
We’ve been friends, from the very start.
You have one hand, I have the other.
Put them together, we have each other.
Silver is precious, gold is too.
I am precious, and so are you.
You help me and I’ll help you
and together we will see it through.
The sky is blue. The Earth is green
I can help to keep it clean
Across the land, Across the sea
Friends forever we will always be
Sometimes the old friend we need to keep is ourselves, even as we embrace the new things God is doing. God is doing a new thing in each of us, and in our church, and in our community. We are invited to be part of this wild and surprising journey. Let’s be kind to ourselves and to each other. Let’s remember to celebrate the good things that are already in us, even as we work toward a new future with promise. And, let’s work together. Like the song says: You have one hand, I have the other. So, let’s dig deep and bring forth the treasures God has given us – the old ones and the new ones. And let’s get busy with the small stuff, because it only takes a little leaven to leaven the whole dough.