“Today Let's Picture the World as an ungainly, promising mass of dough.” O.K. That’s different, I thought, as the Rev. John started off his Reflection/Sermon on Sunday 26th July.
I have been living in the world for more decades than I envisaged I may have survived and I have never once in all that time imagined something as amazing, mysterious and wonderful as God’s world; in such a colourless and heartless way. The world is sometimes a scary place, sometimes a difficult place, and sometimes a sad place. I marvel at the miracles and the intricacy of every plant, animal, element and design of God’s amazing creations – every single day!
Often my life is enriched by small unexpected moments of secret joy - moments to be hoarded like a miser’s secret treasure - to be quietly relived and enjoyed later, or to be hugged to my heart to bring warmth to the day.
I am not referring to those spectacular life changing and important moments like leaving home to join my fiancé in church to marry; or like holding each of our daughters in my arms shortly after the miracle of their birth; or even the look of joy on my husband’s face as he held his first grandson in his arms. I am writing and thinking of those almost unnoticed moments when small acts of love, thoughtfulness or kindness; or moments of overwhelming and unexpected beauty creep into my heart and enrich my life.
These are magical moments; often known only to me and appreciated only by me. Do you remember such magical secret moments?
I remember such a moment as I secretly observed the look of love on a new mother’s face as she watched her Dad lean tenderly over her new son’s cot and quietly study the miracle of six hour old grandson number three, oblivious to a roomful of excited, noisy and unthinking relatives and friends who all seemed to be talking at once with little regard for the tiredness of the new mother. I am certain the baby, now a young man, could never imagine just how much he was welcomed and loved at that moment or how the three generations were secretly and momentarily linked. I am sure God saw that moment - and I saw it too – just a secret moment in time!
The Rev John, in speaking of what he called “the one liner parable of the yeast in the flour” reminded us; “We need to be patient and to exercise discernment (try judgement shrewdness or sensitivity) if a lump of dough is ever to be bread for the world. He continued; “And we must exercise this same patience and discernment about the universe. Life is something other than a pile of flour and a bit of yeast. Life is an ungainly, promising mass of dough, on its way to becoming abundant bread. Just as yeast permeates the entire lump, so the kingdom is present everywhere, and everywhere it becomes manifest for those with eyes to see.”
At first I was surprised by the much repeated use of the word manifest in this sermon. It is a word which is not used as often as it might be; so I wondered why the Rev. John liked it so much - and I looked it up in several dictionaries. There are so many other words with a similar meaning – he must have had a reason, I thought. Synonyms given were; obvious, clear, plain, apparent, evident, patent, palpable, distinct, definite, blatant, overt, glaring, barefaced, explicit, transparent, conspicuous, undisguised, unmistakable, unquestionable, undeniable, noticeable, perceptible, visible, recognizable, observable. All good words. I discovered the dictionary said; “A manifestation is the public display of emotion or feeling, or something theoretical made real. Manifestation's origins are in religion and spirituality because if something spiritual becomes real, it is said to be a manifestation.”
“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 … Jesus wants us to glimpse the kingdom of heaven, that realm where God’s sovereignty is recognised.”
Sometimes in the noise and clamour of a busy shopping centre or street a moment of God’s magic is seen; everyone knows that young people who are in love walk hand in hand through the streets and the shopping centres, but how much more beautiful is the sight of an ancient Chinese man and his shuffling bandy legged wife holding hands as they walk at a snail’s pace along the street? And why did the glimpse of an old man driving carefully through the shopping centre in his electric wheelchair, with his wife holding his hand as it rested on the armrest of his chair, bring tears of happiness to my eyes? Because it is easy to love when you are young - and it is easy to stay in love for a short time when life is good; however, love that endures through time and life’s struggles is much harder, and in the end much more worthwhile and beautiful. Yet it is a beauty not always noticed or appreciated, especially by the starry eyed young lovers.
At times music and coincidence have also brought magic into my day. I remember sitting with my husband in a small hotel in France in 1964 and eating our first ever Continental breakfast of dry bread rolls and coffee. It all seemed foreign and unfriendly as the radio played in the background in the dining room, and it was strangely unnerving to feel for the first time in our lives we were unable to communicate – then suddenly Waltzing Matilda was being played on the radio, and we heard and loved every single note as never before or since.
Sometimes outside influences intervene to spoil breathtaking natural beauty. In a huge city like Sydney the cumulative luminous effect of endless electrically lit suburbs, streets and houses diminishes the rich velvet blackness of the night skies. How I gasped with wonder when we stopped outside the small town of Benalla near the Victorian border to appreciate the dark velvety sky splashed extravagantly with countless millions of stars not visible anywhere near large cities. It was a breathtakingly magical moment. How can such nightly beauty be lost to untold millions every night? What a sad thing that is.
As a student and lover of history and architecture I should probably have appreciated the grandeur and classical style of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome more closely when I visited. However, instead I was overcome with the magical effects of the light that shone through the famous dome onto the high alter over the tomb of St. Peter. The lighting seemed symbolic and I could visualize the Pope standing at the alter bathed in heavenly light - the true earthly leader of his people. It was not until much later that I discovered that the Pope is the only one who is allowed to speak from the high alter. You can see from my photo that I was not the only tourist to be enthralled by the divine light that day.
I am grateful for the unexpected joys of daily life, and I hope I always remember to take the time to appreciate all the magical moments that come my way. I will continue to find it difficult to actually follow the Rev. John’s suggestion to “Picture the world as an ungainly, promising mass of dough.” But yes; “The parable about the yeast in the flour does help us see something of the kingdom of heaven, that realm where God’s sovereignty is recognized.”
“And when you find the kingdom among the realities of your life, nothing prevents you from finding this same kingdom present as well in the circumstances around you, in the lives of other people, and everywhere you choose to look.”
“As it takes faith to believe that bread will rise, so too, faith is necessary to see the kingdom manifest in the everyday and the ordinary. We must exercise patience and discernment wherever God places us. Then we will see that what seems like a dead lump is in fact bubbling with divine life.”
“So may each of us go forth this week, and encounter places and people and circumstances, and look there for the kingdom: not as distant, but near at hand; not as obvious, but hidden; not as static, but alive and becoming manifest; a kingdom making room for all of us.”
“When we look for the kingdom, then we find it present, abundantly present. And when we do, then we have more reasons to give thanks than we ever expected.”