18 November 2007

Mustard Seed & Leaven

The following is an excerpt from the sermon preached today at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church. Using the propers for Gregorian Use parishes in the Western Rite Vicariate, the sermon is based on the Gospel reading for the Twenty-fifh Sunday after Pentecost.

We tend to believe that all that matters in life, all that makes our life worthwhile, all that brings meaning and joy to our lives are the things we experience, the things we reach for, and the things we attain for in this world. And so that is too often where our focus is—on whatever excites, titillates or amuses our senses. Yet our senses simply take in the sights, sounds, aroma, texture and flavor of this decaying world. Our soul, however, urges us to reach beyond activity for activity’s sake; beyond trying to have it all, experience it all, and take it all in. Our soul urges us to reach beyond decaying and corrupting instances and occurrences, beyond whatever this world offers, beyond all these things that turn to powder in our hands. The soul urges us to strain for the sights, sounds, aroma, flavor and texture of the kingdom of heaven—that “world” where reckless activity is exceeded by resting forever in the loving embrace of Our Lord God.

But to strain and strive for this kingdom is not easy. Not only because there is much that distracts or gets in our way, but also because this kingdom which we seek is rarely perceptible to our senses. For what does Our Lord say? Not that the kingdom of heaven is like mustard seed, but that it is like a mustard seed which has already been planted in a field. And He does not say that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast, but rather that it is like yeast that has already been kneaded into dough, and so has begun leavening.

Yet what does this mean? Among other things, it means that the kingdom of heaven is not readily apparent to our senses. And it means that the kingdom of heaven is hidden deeply within the things we know. It also means that the kingdom of heaven gives meaning to what we think matters; that it should be our true focus; and that the kingdom of heaven is what matters most. For what good is dough without yeast? Will not leaven-less dough produce flat, bland bread? And what good is a field without seeds? Does not a field achieve its true purpose and final end only when seed is planted, decays, takes root, and grows?

The first lesson we learn, then, is that we too often focus on the field, not seeing the life that is hidden in the seeds that have been planted. And too often we focus on the dough, not remembering that leaven gives life to the dough, and makes the dough into flavorful bread.

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