My family is a family of movie watchers. Actually, to be more correct, we are a family of movie quoters. We can have entire conversations consisting merely of movie quotes. One movie that gets quoted on a more than regular basis is O Brother Where Art Thou. This retelling of the Odyssey, set in the Great Depression has quite a few quotable lines—but the one that gets used the most is “a dab will do Ya”. In the movie it is an often repeated phrase of Ulysses Everett McGill, our protagonist, about his favorite hair pomade–a product that he is always looking for, but can rarely find on his journey–but my family has used this phrase for everything from salsa to sunscreen.
This quote can also be applied to today’s gospel. In the first part of today’s Gospel, Jesus presents a number of parables describing the Kingdom of God. In each case, the item representing the Kingdom of God is relatively small—a mustard seed, yeast, a pearl.
“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.”
This is a packet of yeast. This envelope is at most a quarter full. When you mix it into 3 cups of flour to make a loaf of bread, you can barely tell it is even there. And yet these little specks have enough power to rise a loaf of bread and make it come out 2 or 3 times its original size. A dab will do.
Now, nice, pre-measured packets of yeast are a fairly recent invention—only about 100 or so years old. Before that, the yeast, or leaven, a baker would use would be wild yeast that floated in the air and a home cook would catch with something like a sourdough starter. These leavenings would be carefully nursed through good times and bad, though moves and marriages. A good leavening would only take a pinch to make the whole batch of baking rise.
And, just like a San Francisco sourdough tastes different than one make here in Grand Island because of the different locations and types of yeast present, so too would each baker’s leavening make the their bread taste different—it was made to fit into those specific circumstances. So too is the Kingdom of God–it appears in each person’s life to fit their world.
But finding the Kingdom of God in the world is not always easy. When theologians talk about trying to find the Kingdom of God in the world today, they often talk about Proleptic Eschatology or the “already but not yet”. This language of “already but not yet” can come across as very heady, but it can be explained in an easier way. The best way I have heard this described actually involved pancakes, but any two flat items can be used. You have two pancakes, and they are moving back and forth towards each other and away from each other. And every so often, they meet and overlap. Because there isn’t any set pattern to their movement, you don’t know when they will overlap, or how long they will stay overlapped, but you know that they will overlap at points.
The times when the pancakes overlap is like times we find the Kingdom of God in our world. We know it has happened in the past, we know that it will happen in the future, but we don’t know when exactly we will find it.
With all that happens in our lives, it can be hard to tell when our pancake and the Kingdom of God’s pancake are running into each other. Much like our main character in O Brother Where Art Thou looking for his hair pomade, often times it can feel as though we are looking and looking for the Kingdom of God and just cannot find it no matter how hard we try. It is times like this that the Holy Spirit comes to our aid. As we heard at the beginning of our lesson from Romans,
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
When we can’t see the Kingdom of God’s pancake for all the other pancakes in our lives—when we can’t figure out God’s work in the world—the Holy Spirit intercedes.
Every week when we gather together here, we pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God when we pray the Our Father:
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
When we pray this, we are praying in the hope of seeing the Kingdom of God in the world and in our lives. We are looking forward to the day when the Kingdom of God is fully present in our broken world.
But sometimes our world seems so broken that it can be hard to pray in hope of seeing the Kingdom of God. But we are not alone in our hopelessness. We have been sent help–the Holy Spirit is our advocate, pleading on our behalf when we just can’t figure out what to say, turning our very sighs into an essential part of our communication with God. Because God knows what it is like to live in a broken world and is there for us not just in our joys but also our challenges and sorrows.