Rev. Capt. Dr. John Niles
Sermon Preached at Stouffville United Church
Sermon Series: Sometimes you Win,
Sometimes you Learn
Parables of Jesus
Sometimes You Win, Sometimes you Learn: Sermon Series- Pt. 4
The parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven are linked. The Mustard seed was about how the Lord uses little things and that little things we do can make a big difference – That it is the small acts of kindness and love that keep the darkness at bay as Gandalf the Gray said in the Hobbit And just as little things can make a big difference, so too they can be of great influence. We all unintentionally influence people and we can also all intentionally influence people.
A mother took her young son shopping. After shopping in one store, a clerk handed the little boy a lollipop. “What do you say?” the mother said to the boy, to which he replied, “Charge it!” Parents do influence their children. The parable of the leaven is about influence; the influence that we all have and are affected by. The Parables are called parables because they cause you to think. However, it seems on the surface – for anyone who has made bread or seen it made – the Parable of the Leaven or yeast doesn’t have any surprises in it. And that is the surprise. Leaven or yeast to a Jew at that time was considered a negative thing. And why would Jesus tell a positive parable about a negative thing? When leaven was mentioned in scripture for example “the leaven of the Pharisees – it was speaking of hypocrisy (Luke 12:1), the leaven of the Sadducees – rationalism (Matt 16:6), the Leaven of Herod – sensualism (Mark 8:15). Whenever leaven was mentioned it was always negative. The surprise for the Jewish believers at the time was that a negative thing could be in fact positive and the surprise for us is that the positive thing can in fact be negative. A young pastor once tried to use an object lesson from the pulpit. He brought a jar of dirt to the pulpit in which he said were half a dozen earthworms. He then pulled a bottle from behind the pulpit and proceeded to pour some whiskey into the jar. Within a few minutes, the worms had wiggled to the top to escape the alcohol, but it was too strong. They soon died, floating at the top of the jar. Thinking he had made his graphic, yet vivid point against alcohol clear, he asked the congregation, “Now, what have you learned about drinking alcohol?” To which an elderly lady quickly replied, “Drink a lot, so you don’t get worms!” NO!
Communicating at the best of times can be difficult.
The leaven teaches us that there is power in influence. 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.”
There is no way to escape it. There is a conspiracy of influence taking place all over the world. You turn on your computer, smartphone, television and there are those popping up on the screen to do their best to influence your buying habits, mold your thinking, shape your beliefs, and change your mind. Fifth Ave may be nothing more than a street in New York City, but there is a group of people there trying their best to influence you and impact society and spend every day trying to come up with new ways to influence you and me. Politicians are on television every day trying to win you and me over to their side. They tell sordid stories about their opponents, shine a spotlight on how they will better our nation, and pull every trick in the book to try and win our vote. We are being shaped, swayed, and seduced each and every day whether we are aware of it or not. I saw a report on how social media – Facebook, twitter, Pinterest Instagram – have morphed from a place of social interaction to social influence with their incredible algorithms. The simple fact that when 20% of 500 people on your Facebook, Instagram or twitter buy the same thing and post pictures of that thing that you didn’t know was available causes you to want to buy it, which then influence the others to do so as well with just the click of a mouse. Those things we see on our computer screen, televisions and smartphones all influence us. And of course there are the “influencers” who are paid to influence you into buying a type of product because they support it. Amazon.com has stated that because they have the ability to monitor keystrokes, viewing habits and buying habits of those that visit their sites they already know what you want to buy and what you will buy and have already boxed up and sent it to a storage area near you under your name. And if you don’t actually buy it in the next six months they will be sending you emails with it discounted to influence you to buy it sooner.
There is power in influence, and secondly, we live under the influence. Ephesian 5 says, “Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing songs and spiritual songs…giving thanks to God the Father.” We all live under the influence of something whether we know it or not. The question is, is it positive or negative?
The late Pat Summerall had a fine career as a football player, but became a household name as a football broadcaster. Few knew of his behind-the-scenes battle with alcohol, and fewer knew of his influence on another sports legend, Mickey Mantle. There were several connections between Summerall and Mantle. Summerall used the same locker during football season that Mantle used during baseball season. They had played some minor league baseball together and had golfed together several times. Something else they had in common was their troubles with alcohol. Summerall went into the Betty Ford Center in the 1990s. While there, Summerall committed himself fully to Jesus Christ and was baptized. Mickey Mantle later inquired about going to the Betty Ford Center himself, and Summerall encouraged him to do so. In the last days of Mantle’s life, Summerall opened his Dallas home to him, and ministered to him physically and spiritually. In 1995, both Summerall and former teammate, Bobby Richardson reached out to Mantle while he was seriously ill. Both were happy that he had renewed his interest in Jesus Christ, and both attended his funeral. Richardson gave the eulogy. So much of life pushes us down and we live under its negative influence, but we aren’t to live under, but like the women in the parable of the leaven making the down be filled with that which lifts us up. Some of you may know that the etymology of the word enthusiasm is traced back to the Greek word entheos, which is a compound of en (meaning in) and theos (meaning God). So to have enthusiasm means that we are filled with God. Enthusiasm is about how someone who is filled with God behaves. To be filled with God is to be filled with life, to be filled with love, to be filled with joy, to be filled with hope, to be filled with faith, to be filled with peace, to be filled with power. So when Paul is saying “…be filled with the Holy Spirit.” He is literally saying be enthusiastic. Be enthusiastic about life and in life. One day a driver approached a toll booth. He was startled to hear music coming from it, and to see the attendant dancing. When he asked the toll-taker, “How come you are so happy?” The man replied, “When you approach this bridge everyday behind all those other cars, what do you?” The driver said, “Just a row of toll booths where cars pass through.” “Man”, said the toll-taker, “You’ve no imagination. Do you know what I see? Vertical coffins! That’s right, for eight hours the people in those booths just stand there, brains on hold, going through the motions. That’s death and it’s not for me. You see, I’m going to be a great dancer some day. In the meantime, I have the best job in the world. I’ve a private office with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, in a place where half the western world comes to vacation. Every morning I just come here, put on my music and dance.”
The parable teaches us that there is power in influence, and too often we live under the influence but we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit – leaven – that so each of us can be a person of influence. We are to be the leaven in the dough. That is the surprise in the text. We are to be the one to raise people up, and influence them for the better.
In 1983 John Sculley quite his position at the Pepsi Corporation to become the president of Apple Computer. He took a big risk leaving his prestigious position with a well-established firm to join ranks with a unproven little outfit that offered no guarantees, on the excitement of one man’s transforming vision. Sculley says he made the risky move after Apple Co-founder Steve Jobs goaded him with the question, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water or do you want a chance to change the world.” Sculley decided that the risk was worth it. He knew he wanted more then to settle for just selling sugar water. He wanted to change the world – to be a person of influence.
Like the leaven in the lump of dough, it doesn’t take much to make a difference and to be a person of influence.
In other words, you can be the leaven in the lump or just the lump. The choice is ours. You think about that.