16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Jesus presents us today in our gospel reading with parables for how we should understand the Kingdom of God.
I’d like, if I may, to concentrate on just one of them from our otherwise quite long Gospel. The parable of the leaven in the lump. It consists of just one sentence:
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.”
When we reflect on what it means to be a Christian I find this image very helpful. It’s quite an honest parable for our present times. We don’t live in a world in which large numbers of people share our perspective. There is no given religious outlook in 21st Century London, and many people have lost the outer observance of Christian faith. Sometimes it even feels as though the Christian perspective or understanding of life is completely absent from public debate or the forming of political policy.
This parable gives us hope. Our job, though perhaps not numerous or powerful, is to be like the yeast in a batch of dough. Through our life and witness, we can still make a difference to the society in which we live. We can be the yeast that reminds people human life does have a purpose, that insists love is the undergirding principal of our universe and not money or greed. We can insist that the weak and voiceless in our society are protected, and through that witness, we can help the dough rise in a way that without us it would not.
But there’s another way in which this parable is seen around us, which has become more and more important to me over the past four months. For it is also something that is played out through the witness we give to our local community through physical things like our church building. Our city scape is dotted with signs and reminders of the Christian faith: churches; statues; street names. They all show that like the leaven in the dough, our Christian faith is woven into the fabric of our society.
When the churches were closed, I felt a very deep sense of impotence and sorrow that these beautiful buildings were not open for people to worship in. St Benet’s stood empty and locked, unable to welcome anyone, or be a place for worship and fellowship.
As we move out of lock down, one of the things we need to think about is the worth and value of our church building as a way of communicating the Christian faith.
First of all, I have had it brought home to me just how important worshipping together is. It is an important obligation that all Christians should take seriously to attend the Mass each Sunday if they are able, so that God can touch us and strengthen us in our faith. When we couldn’t worship together, I really missed it.
And celebrating that Mass isn’t something we should do just anywhere. We have been bequeathed this beautiful building in order to be able to worship in beauty and holiness. Just as you do car repairs in a garage, and you cook in a kitchen, and you sleep in a bedroom, it is natural that humans should have space – sacred space – set aside for worship and encounter with God. A place where it is easy to feel God present, and which he can use to communicate his power and his love.
As we move forward, I wonder, for example, whether there will be a renewed thirst for perhaps having our church open more during the day in future so people can come. I wonder whether we should value our church more, and think harder about how we can use this space in the service of our local community. I wonder whether our having been starved of worship might prompt people to renew their commitment to coming regularly to Mass Sunday by Sunday here at St Benet’s.
All these are questions which arise in my mind as I reflect on that short tiny parable of the yeast in the dough. How we and the resources we’ve been given can be the yeast that helps the dough of our community rise in ways that are good and healthy and loving. For if we do enable that, Jesus tells us we are witnessing nothing less that the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven.