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9th Sunday after Pentecost

God’s grace and peace be with all of you.

When I was growing up, I would sometimes help my mom with baking projects. There were always lots of cookies at Christmas-time and pie for Thanksgiving, but also sometimes we’d bake bread.

Those of you who bake know the basic steps. We’d start with the yeast, putting it in some lukewarm water with a bit of sugar. Before long, that mixture was foamy and fragrant and had grown as if by magic. Then, we’d mix the rest of the dough and add in that activated yeast. We’d cover up the bowl and put it in a warm place. Forty-five minutes or an hour later, we would uncover the bowl and find—the dough had doubled in size!

As a kid, the dough rising was basically magic. Taking the clean towel off the bowl to reveal the risen dough was like a magician revealing his lovely assistant had disappeared. Those tiny little creatures called “yeast” were too small to see, but somehow a small spoonful of them was enough to make the whole batch of dough double in size.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like yeast: “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 might be small, even invisible to the naked eye—but it can transform the whole batch of dough.

Along with this parable, we also get the famous parable of the mustard seed. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

A tiny little seed is able to grow into a plant big enough for birds to make their nests in its branches. The kingdom of heaven is like that seed. The kingdom of heaven is like that yeast.

Perhaps the kingdom of heaven is also a bit like our first reading today, from 1 Kings. Solomon has just become king. God appears to Solomon in a dream and asks Solomon what he wants from God. Solomon responds, “O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in… Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.”

Solomon asks for wisdom, for good judgment. He doesn’t ask for wealth or fame or to triumph over his enemies. Instead, he says, “I am only a little child,” and he asks for an understanding mind.

A little child asking for wisdom is kind of like a seed that grows into a great shrub, or yeast that can leaven a loaf of bread. The small, the unremarkable, the unexpected, can have a dramatic impact.

This image is someone ruined by the fact that Solomon was most likely a young adult when he made this request. He wasn’t exactly what we would think of as “a little child.” But we can probably all think of examples of little children who surprise us with incredible insight.

I asked some colleagues for their favorite “from the mouths of babes” stories, and I want to share a couple with you, because I couldn’t pick just one.

A pastor shared a story from Vacation Bible School, when a kindergartener from the neighborhood asked, “Who is this God person you keep talking about? Before the adult teacher could respond, a first grader piped up, “God’s the one who created you and me and everything and loves you no matter what.” To which the kindergartener responded, “Oh, okay. Can I have the blue crayon?”

Another colleague shared a story from teaching first communion class, when a young girl realized out loud in front of the group: “So this means Jesus goes home with us?”

Another shared a story of helping preschoolers plant seeds for a science lesson. One little boy was getting about as many seeds in his cup as he was dropping them on the pavement. The grown-up said, “Be careful, the seeds won’t grow there.” In the classic refrain of all young children, he asked, “Why?” “Well, the squirrels will come and eat them.” He thought about that for a moment, smiled, and said, “I like feeding the squirrels. They might be hungry.”

And lastly, an exchange between a mother and her young son. He asked, “Mommy, do you love God?” She replied, “Yes, I do.” Then he put his hand on her cheek and said, “He loves you back too, Mommy, and he loves me. I think that’s pretty special.”

From small things come great results. A little seed can become a home for birds. A spoonful of yeast can become a delicious, fluffy loaf of bread. A young child can speak profound wisdom.

The kingdom of heaven is like this: like a little seed, like a spoonful of yeast, like a young child. Compared to the problems in this world, is the kingdom big enough? Is the kingdom mighty enough to stand up against pandemics and wars and divisions and racism and suffering?

Paul wrote to the Romans, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?… Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through God who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, or life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The kingdom of heaven is like this. A small seed that grows into a great shrub. A spoonful of yeast that can double the batch of dough. A little child who can speak eternal truths.

And the kingdom of heaven has come near. That’s the proclamation throughout the gospel of Matthew. It’s John the Baptist’s message, the reason for his call to repentance. It’s the message Jesus gives to his disciples to proclaim as they go out in his name. The kingdom of heaven has come near.

The kingdom of heaven isn’t some faraway place we go to when we die, to sit on a cloud with a harp and a halo or to enjoy our own personal paradise. The kingdom of heaven has come near, it is arriving, it is breaking in to the here and now. Like a tiny mustard seed, it may not be noticeable at first, but it grows into something massive. Like yeast mixed into the dough, it’s doing its transformative work even if you can’t see it. Like a treasure or a pearl, it’s worth losing everything else in order to acquire it. Like a fishing net, it’s bringing in an abundant catch.

Who will separate us from the love of God? Who will separate us from God’s kingdom? The problems of this world may seem overwhelming, insurmountable. And yet we have the promise of Matthew: the kingdom of heaven has come near. We have the confidence of Paul: nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God. Nothing can prevail against God’s kingdom. There is nothing, big or small, that is greater than the kingdom of heaven. Even when it seems like a small seed, it contains the power that created the universe.

Nothing can separate us from God’s love. God’s the one who created you, and me, and everything else, and God loves us no matter what. This is the kingdom of heaven. Amen.

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