Sometimes you have to choose among the readings. Jacob and the Girls? Or Jesus and the Parables? That’s easy. But today you have to choose among the parables, too. The Leaven or the Mustard Seed? And what about the merchant, the field, and the net?
Years ago, teaching Sunday School, I had one student show up for class. Only one: a seven year old girl named Mariah. She was an only child at home, too; and being the only child who came that day, she seemed even only-er.
The story for that day was the Parable of the Leaven, and I was prepared to tell it with the words of Godly Play, a children’s curriculum. So rather than begin the way Matthew begins, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like yeast or leaven, I began this way, The kingdom of heaven is like a woman. And then looking at the little girl before me, I said, The Kingdom of Heaven is like a girl. A girl who took three measures of flour and mixed it altogether, and then added leaven. It all puffed up. It rose and puffed up and grew.
As often happens when you first hear a story, Mariah heard the parable as a story about her. A happy story about making bread. Wonder bread. And later when we ate puffy bread together, she asked me, Is this communion bread? And I answered, Let’s just say it’s the bread you and I share, so it must be communion.
Of course, technically speaking, it wasn’t “communion bread.” It was common home-style bread. In the Western Tradition of the Church, Communion Bread is unleavened, and leaven is yeast, and yeast is a corrupting influence, as you may know. It decays what it enters. It’s part of the Fungus Kingdom, an odd ingredient, when you think about it, to work into the kingdom of God.
Yeasts work in the making of alcohol and the spread of infection. They’re found in baker’s yeast and brewer’s fermentation. A source of delight and danger. Present in both bread and wine, though not in the wafers we consecrate here, where the Body of Christ made Bread of Heaven recalls how Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion not with the common puffy bread but with the unleavened bread of the Jewish Passover.
We consecrate unleavened bread to be the incorruptible Body of Christ.
I’m told in Roman Catholic practice, leavened bread is permissible only when unleavened bread is unavailable, and even then the priest is advised to let the people know the bread he uses is a lesser bread, that is, a corruptible yeasty puffed-up kind of bread.
The history of the world and the history of the Church is rife with division and separation, with naming things holy and unholy. The Parable of the Leaven, though, aims us toward something more complicated than the purity of sacramental uses. It aims us toward common things mixed up with holy things, rife with risk, in danger of contamination. It’s a reality present in the Eucharist, one we’re in danger of forgetting. Sacrifice on the Cross aims us toward risk.
Typically we mark things as holy by setting them apart, dividing the sacred from the secular. In the church I grew up in, and in churches long ago and very near, men stood here while women were better off in the pews or in the balcony. Men were blessed to read the scriptures. And women were blessed to hear those holy spoken words. Ancient minds believed women were made of weaker more corruptible stuff. And whatever was corruptible was also dangerous, something to avoid. Like rot.
Fifty years ago our part of the world drank from separate water fountains, marking one race from another, as if we didn’t all share the same germs in the air we breathe. Human beings have a long history of fearing people who live and move and find their being in ways unlike our own. We assign corruption and danger to people who aren’t like us. We imagine it’s risky to mix with them, imagine theirs is a corrupting influence. We do this around race, gender, money, sexuality, nationality, and religion.
Trouble is death itself marks every life with corruption. It’s the danger we’re made for, all of us together. Eternal life doesn’t mean we’re not corruptible. It means death is not our enemy, so that whether we live or die — and when we live and die — we are the Lord’s possession. Church is where we come to remember both our corruptible selves and our saving life in Christ.
Notably, the Church has an open font, there for any and all who come to it. By and in and through those holy waters, you are set aside in Christ, your corruptible self buried in his incorruptible life, so completely and so thoroughly, that in the words of one theologian, “Nothing [in your life will ever be] lost that represents suffering confronted and overcome in Christ.”
Or as Paul says in his letter today, Nothing will ever separate you from the love of Christ. Not even death. And you must remember, Paul always wrote his letters with the Urgency of Everybody In.
Our manifold sins and suffering are confronted and overcome in the Body of Christ. It’s not that those things are separated out or discarded. Not all.
Instead they are named and suffered before God, marked as the yeast of our lives. What delights us and hurts us, what grows us and destroys us, what is most wondrous and most unbearalbe, what is life and death: marked as the yeast of your life, and through Christ worked into the Body of Christ, and made holy. Not by separation, but by union.
As our collect today puts it: Without God, nothing is strong, nothing is holy.
You can choose what this means to you. Either none of us is holy or all of us is holy, because the kingdom of heaven is like a girl who mixed things together, and then for good measure threw in a cup of corruption. And it all began to puff up. It rose till it was all leavened together.
Jesus means us to know he’s like the woman, the girl, in this parable.
And then again, he means us to imagine the kingdom of heaven really is like an ordinary common girl. An ordinary common person. Like us, blessing each other with our own two corruptible hands. In Christ we’re all one, mixed together and rising together in the hope of salvation.
So take this parable to heart, and let it shape your living and loving. And since Godly Play always ends with wondering what the Word of God means, I invite you to wonder with me.
I wonder if Jesus is telling you something about communion today. And I wonder what you believe this story means.
 Sarah Coakley, “The Eschatalogical Body: Gender, Transformation, and God,” 70.