Sermon Text: Just One Line
Here's a line I'll never forget: "Mommy, you be the idiot, and I'll be the crocodile."
It was January, 1988. My daughter Marie was four years old. We had found out she had special needs and cognitive disabilities year before. Although her behavior became very difficult, she often said funny things.
One day in 1988, she said, "Mommy, let's play." My wife said, "Okay." And that's when Marie said, "You be the idiot, and I'll be the crocodile." That's a line I'll never forget.
There have been others! One day she was obviously ver happy, and I said to her, "Marie, you are in a good mood today!" She said, "I've sucked the lemon out of life."
Then there was the time I shaved off my beard and mustache. She said, "Daddy, I like your mustache without it."
My sweet, wounded, brilliant girl is a master of the one-liner. Like Jesus.
Jesus was a great rabbi, a brilliant teacher of wit and wisdom. Sometimes he told stories. They are called parables, and we remember them well.
Sometimes he would speak just one memorable line. "Whoever is without sin may throw the first stone." "Why do you look at the speck in your neighbor's eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye?" "It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
These great one-liners are called aphorisms by the scholars. Whatever you call them, they are easy to remember.
Today I want to back up three weeks. In the reading from Matthew's Gospel three weeks ago, there was a great one-liner I didn't get to talk about, because I was talking about other stuff. So I want to pay attention to it today.
Jesus said "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." It's a one-liner. Once you understand this line, it's both unexpected and memorable.
Number one: the amount of flour is unexpected. Three measures of flour is a lot of flour. In Hebrew, this is an "ephah" of flour, about a bushel! That's a lot of flour. It would make a whole lot of bread. So Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is not a little snack. It's a feast. It's generous. It's a lavish sharing of bread.
Number two: the yeast is unexpected, too. Yeast, of course, makes bread dough rise. But it's a little edgy the way Jesus uses it. You see, in the Hebrew Bible, yeast was a sign of wickedness or uncleanness. That's why unleavened bread is such a big deal in Jewish tradition. You might remember that Jesus warned against "the yeast of the Pharisees." Jesus uses the image of yeast, which is a little out of bounds, a little questionable, to show how God works. It's unexpected.
Number three: while Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven, his image of God is pretty unexpected, too. In this one-liner, God is a baker, and a woman baker, at that! That's unexpected. God is a baker who mixes up a lavish amount of wonderful bread. Sure Jesus called God "Abba," or "Father," but he also pictures God as a baker who knows what she's doing!
I think of this when I watch my wife bake her wonderful bread. I think of this every week as our faithful bakers make us delicious loaves for our Sunday Eucharist.
I'm glad to be part of a Christian church which recognizes the power of both males and females. I am glad that the girls of our church are growing up with women who are leaders and deacons and priests and bishops. For that matter, I'm glad the boys are growing up with it, too. I want my granddaughters and my grandson to grow up seeing female bishops. In fact, I can already tell you which of my twin granddaughters will end up as the bishop.
Women were leaders in the Jesus movement from the beginning. Women were part of the inner circle of Jesus from the start. The earliest churches started as house churches, and we think some of them were led by women.
Sadly but predictably, within a hundred years, the men took over all the leadership jobs in the church. It has taken us almost two thousand years to recover from this hijacking. It has taken us almost two thousand years to get to the point we can say, "Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them." It has taken us almost two thousand years to get back to the spirit of this parable of the woman baker.
"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 woman is unexpected. She is a sign that God works in more than one gender. The yeast is unexpected. It is a sign that God works with things and people once considered out of bounds. The huge amount of flour is unexpected. It is a sign that God's table is lavish, generous, and open. Jesus said all this with just one line.
In one sentence, Jesus says that our God is bigger than we realized. In one sentence, Jesus says that God colors outside the lines we've created. In one sentence, Jesus says we are invited to a generous feast with food for everybody.
Not bad for just one line!