Wedding Feast at Bates Memorial Presbyterian Church
Genesis 29:15-28 (NIV) 15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.” 16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak[a] eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. 21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.” 22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant. 25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” 26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.” 28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife.
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” 33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds[a] of flour until it worked all through the dough.” 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
What is this love of Jacob’s that makes seven years seem like seven days–such a love is a promise of God’s love. The journey though is not easy. There is work to be done. Hard work. Seven years of labor for love seems like a few days to Jacob, and then there is a connubial night with his new wife in a darkened tent, but something doesn’t seem right. In the light of day, Jacob soon realizes he’s been fooled. Just like he cheated his brother Esau out of the rightful blessing of the inheritance from their blind father, now he is blinded, cheated out of the blessing of his life, the love of his life, the one person he wants the most to be his wife, Rachel. She is so beautiful. So fresh, so perfect, so desirable.
Have you ever gone through West Huntington and smelled the Heineman’s bread baking? To us fresh baked bread makes our mouths water. But leaven, yeast was considered undesirable to the people of Israel. They ate unleavened bread. Yet Jesus tells them the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about 60 pounds of flour. Jesus was telling these people something they didn’t understand, to them yeast bread was nasty. They were used to flat bread.
Yet Jesus uses yeast to symbolize God’s realm–something unfathomable, something growthful, something not normal, something wayward, something marvelously contradictory, something new.
Heaven is not about power and the might of men, nor is it about the good baking of women.
Yet it is a woman who demonstrates the kingdom of heaven–she represents the ordinary, the comfortable, the good aromas in the kitchen.
Perhaps Jesus intends to balance masculine power with feminine care.
The woman, Jesus says, is baking something new, and it is important. She is making yeast-bread, a food unlike the flat bread they were accustomed to.
For people who’ve never eaten yeast bread, it would probably confuse them–why do they need to eat different bread? Why do we? Change shakes us up. We don’t like it.
My husband cooks a Brazilian dish called Feshada. It’s a dish of black beans with a few select spices. It was made by slaves who used to throw in leftover meat, and serve it over rice. It looks like tar. Nasty. But it tastes like, well, like heaven. –legumes and rice combined are considered one of the best food groups. And very good for health.
What’s good for our spiritual health? How do we grown in faith? – Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, a man who abandoned a life of luxury for a life devoted to Christianity prayed: Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
We must all seek to be instruments of peace. It begins in the ordinary moments of our lives, at home, at work, in church.
How are we to be transformed from ordinary flour into both ordinary and extraordinary yeasty bread? Who here has smelled bread baking in the kitchen?
What is the yeast in our lives that grows us into better, stronger, more selfless people? Flour tastes like sawdust, but add water, yeast, a little salt, knead it and bake it, and you have an entirely different product.
Accepting and allowing the spirit of God to flourish within us does the same thing to us as people. We don’t become half-baked, but whole, nourished, and nourishing to others.
The spiritual life, the life of faith is a rising of selflessness. (Selflessness, by the way, is not the same as being a door mat or a martyr. Selflessness is acting out of freedom for the greater good of others. Selflessness arises from inner strength, God’s spiritual strength within).
But we must prepare the mix. We must do the work.
We cannot expect immediate results but must work through our problems, trusting God to expand our abilities. The temperature of the hot water has to be just right too, or the yeast will die. So we must prepare the mix, we must prepare ourselves. We must become the holy temple of God’s spirit.
In the church, we do that through spiritual disciplines of worship, of prayer, of study of Scripture, by loving our neighbors, through our witness of Christian love in the world. In daily life, we grow by caring for children, caring for spouses, caring for others, offering a helping hand
God is love. We are love.
How come we don’t see it and act it all the time?
The Biblical story portrays a universe that is going somewhere, so says theologian Harvey Cox. (one of the preeminent theologians in the United States and was Research Professor of Divinity at the Harvard Divinity School until his retirement). The Bible opens poetically with a world rising out of chaos(the earth was a timeless void and darkness covered the face of the deep Gen 1: 2) and ends, also poetically, with a world in which “there are no more tears: (Rev 21:4)
The Christian journey is a process of becoming,. Look back at your lives–are you being transformed from fear to love? Are you more caring than you used to be? Are you able to persist in difficult tasks for other people.
Mother Teresa in Calcutta spent years helping the poor. She has been criticized for journaling about her struggles with belief in God. But the proof is in the life she led–she persisted–she was empowered by the power of the Spirit of God within.
God’s yeast grows us from the inside out.
God is going to transform us from Jacobs into new people. Jacob is still Jacob but God eventually calls him Israel, a new flesh–a fountain of abundance. The blessing Jacob wrongfully received from his father carried with it a requirement to leave his home to find a bride. This separation from his immediate family must have been difficult. It certainly was not an easy journey. After his 7 years of hard work, he was outraged when he didn’t get what he’d been promised, Rachel. Yet he’d caused outrage and division in his family.
Something new is emerging. This time when he wants something, Jacob does not use trickery or manipulation. He has grown: he is able to assert himself honestly, demanding what he’d been promised. God has through those seven years of his effort strengthened him. Jacob gets the girl of his dreams but his work is not over. In fact, it has only just begun.
We have to work hard too within our church and on ourselves through prayer and meditation, study and service to others. These are like the yeast of the spirit.
Jacob’s bride, Rachel, the blessing he really wanted, did not come for free.
Yes. God’s love is free.
Jesus comes to save us not because we are good, but because God is good.
Ezekiel the prophet says “A new heart also will I give you,” 36:26. God loves us so much he sent his child, Jesus, who transforms the world, and us, into better versions of ourselves. Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount says only the “pure in heart shall see God” (Matt. 5:8)
Heaven is about growing, becoming a rich food for others through our development. We become bigger people not in size but in what matters most. We are Jacobs who through God’s grace will become Israels–
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, it is like yeast, it is like hidden treasure in a field, it is like a merchant looking for pearls. What might we call these things in our day and time? Mustard seeds, yeast, hidden treasure, pearls. What are they in our lives? What is your yeast?
Jesus asks the Apostles and he says to us too, people of the church, you who are disciples in the kingdom of heaven are like the owners of the house. How will you bring out new and old treasures from your storeroom, the storeroom of your personal experiences and wisdom, the storeroom of scripture, and church community? How will you give rise to peace and love at home?
God is always calling us into newness–perhaps not as radically as a St Francis who gave up all his wealth, who could talk to the animals, who founded a Christian monastic order and began preaching.
Our newness, our call from God, might well be a gentle flow, into deeper love of ourselves, into acceptance of help from others as we age, or into becoming the care givers.
We are in the season of Pentecost, the season of the spirit. Yeast to bread is like the breath of life within us. Such a sprinkling of a potent life force will have awesome results. This is the power of spirit within our lives. God’s yeast, God’s spirit increases our bounty, the gifts of love, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, joy, and peace.
We in the church are considered the bride of Christ–desirable and fragrant souls. Imagine how much we are loved. You are loved.
Trust God’s process within your lives.
Listen, Sing, Call in the Spirit
Be Thou My Vision (Irish: Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile) is a traditional hymn from Ireland, which is commonly attributed to Dallán Forgaill. It is popular among English-speaking churches around the world. It was published in 1905.
Christian Hymns – Be Thou My Vision
Be Thou My Vision Ascend the Hill Guitar and Vocal with Lyrics