Will Rogers had this to say about life: “Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know “why” I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way and some of the roads weren’t paved.”
And yet there he was, the singing cowboy on everyone’s radio and then the movies. It’s easy to get knocked down; not as easy to rise up.
Isaiah 60:1 says, “Rise up and shine, for your light has come.” And Ephesians 5:14 says, “Awake, sleeper. Arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.”
We all know what it’s like to be discouraged, but we need to let God encourage us. We know the world has a way of making us feel less than we ought to but we need to let the Lord make us brave again. So many have given up on being compassionate, but empathy is what saves us.
Rise up in your faith. Don’t let others take away from you what the Lord has given. God isn’t leaving you to fend for yourself. Fill yourself up with the Holy Spirit’s love for you. A balloon filled with helium rises far, and nobody rises farther than a soul filled with God’s love.
Now I’m not saying you can’t take a moment to catch your breath. If you’re under a whole bunch of weight, it’s better to gather yourself and get your strength about you, before you try rising. God loves the one who needs a nap. The Lord looks after the one who needs some time to decompress. See yourself not as weak but as wise. Be patient with yourself, but then stand up. It’s time to get going.
A woman in her forties was driving a bus full of special needs children. It was her normal route, and things were going in the normal manner until a strange man forced his way onto the bus and took the passengers hostage. The driver remained calm and talked this man out of using the gun he was waving around. When reporters later asked her how she could do what she did, she replied, “I pray a lot.”
Not “I prayed a lot.” Not a big dose of God in the moment. But “I pray a lot.” She didn’t pray one big prayer. She prayed a lot of little prayers, day in, day out, connecting, grounding herself in God’s love. All together they lifted her up so she could be ready. That’s how she did it.
We know when we’re down and having a tough time. We find other ways to buoy ourselves back up. Oreo cookies work for a little while. So do
sports or working out. Read a good book. Talk to a friend. Do something for others who can’t do for themselves.
There are so many ways of being blessed and being filled. What’s important is that you find yourself filled with meaning. You need to see that your life has purpose and it produces something, that it has the power to change even one other person’s life just a little. With this, you have the ability to rise above all giants and challenges and fears.
We don’t need to be bigger than we are. I don’t mean we should be pumped up with pride or with arrogance. We don’t need to have big heads and puffed up chests. We don’t need to more than we truly. Christ doesn’t ask us to change the whole world. The Lord told story after story that said the kingdom comes in small ways but ends up having big consequences.
In our parable, Jesus compares God’s kingdom to a small lump of yeasty dough that is kneaded into a large amount of flour until the leaven is throughout all of it. We can purchase sealed packets of dry yeast for baking but in Jesus’ day, they would save a little bit of one day’s dough, and keep it moist until the next morning when they would mix it into the dough for next day’s bread.
In this story, we’re talking about a lot of flour to be baked. In the ancient dry measures, a measure was about three omers. Ten omers made up an ephah, which means that our “three measures” were approximately an ephah. In modern terms, we’re approaching a bushel. This is not a mom baking a little kiddie loaf. This woman is a serious baker. The large quantity of flour may hint at a planned festive occasion, since the bread produced could feed about a hundred people.
Jesus fed the 5,000 with bread; in his model of prayer he says give us today our daily bread; bread is referenced in many festivals, or ceremonies in Jewish culture. Bread shows up in the Last Supper and we use it in communion services to this day. Bread was a staple food, made each day.
They would use wheat if they could afford it or more commonly barley to make their bread. It would be ground by hand in a mortar and pestle. There were mills that could do the job, but it cost money. For the common person it was a daily task of collecting, crushing and preparing and baking the bread.
If you’ve never baked a loaf of bread, you may not understand the radical difference that yeast makes. You take flour, water, a bit of oil and salt
and knead it together with some softened yeast. It’s compact at this point, and if you were to bake it now, the bread would be heavy and hard.
As the yeast begins to metabolize the sugars in the dough, it forms carbon dioxide that puffs into tiny gas pockets all throughout the dough. The gas can’t escape because of the elastic gluten in the flour, so these pockets of gas stay in the loaf. When the loaf finally goes into the oven, the gas expands even more as the temperature rises, until the dough finally bakes, holding the shape of those tiny gas pockets, now filled with air.
All it takes is lots of little air pockets to leaven bread, and to give it flavor, and to make it soft, and to give enjoyment and life. Just a lot of little bubbles.
God’s kingdom may have small beginnings, but it will increase. Yeast is microscopic in size, and only a little is kneaded into the dough. Yet, given time, the yeast will spread through all the dough. In the same way, Jesus’ domain started with twelve in an obscure corner of Galilee, but it has spread throughout the world. A little goodness goes a long way. A little extra love changes lives.
One of the toughest things to figure out is how much you have to do in life. Many people think it’s not enough to do enough. They think they have to make a big contribution to make a big contribution but since they believe that’s never going to happen they end up doing nothing. Of course, they’re not just hurting others by not doing what’s theirs to do; they’re hurting themselves. A little leaven raises a lot of bread.
Be brave. Show up. Don’t back out. Make your contribution. Bring joy to others, and bring gladness to your heart. What makes us happy is being encouraged and showing up. What gives your life purpose is being courageous for one second longer and doing your bit.
We may be a small church in the grand scheme of the Christian world. We may not have the budget or the programs or the people, but God can use what we do to make the impact. Every time we do something in the community, every Sunday we share God’s love it’s like a little bit of leaven going out. Eventually that little bit can make a big difference.
Some folks talk about what happens when they encounter a little leaven in their lives. Stacy Lee of Columbia, Maryland recalls how a gesture of kindness lifted her up. “I saw a dress in a consignment shop that I knew my granddaughter would love. But money was tight, so I asked the store owner
if she could hold it for me. “May I buy the dress for you?” asked another customer.
“Thank you, but I can’t accept such a gracious gift,” I said. Then she told me why it was so important for her to help me. She’d been homeless for three years, she said, and had it not been for the kindness of strangers, she would not have been able to survive.
“I’m no longer homeless, and my situation has improved,” she said. “I promised myself that I would repay the kindness so many had shown me.” She paid for the dress, and the only payment she would accept in return was a heartfelt hug.”
Clarence W. Stephens of Kentucky remembers when a little leaven came into his life. “Leaving a store, I returned to my car only to find that I’d locked my keys and cell phone inside. A teenager riding his bike saw me kick a tire and say a few choice words. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
I explained my situation. “But even if I could call my wife,” I said, “she can’t bring me her car key, since this is our only car.” He handed me his cell phone. “Call your wife and tell her I’m coming to get her key.”
“That’s seven miles round trip.” “Don’t worry about it.” An hour later, he returned with the key. I offered him some money, but he refused. “Let’s just say I needed the exercise,” he said. Then, like a cowboy in the movies, he rode off into the sunset.”
There really are just two ways of being leaven in the world: either you see how much someone needs you or you see how much you have to give.
Most of the time when we see someone else in need we think if we do something for them then they’re the one who’s getting the help. We don’t understand that if we don’t respond to them, if we continue to ignore how we might be Christ’s yeast for the kingdom, then we’re the ones who suffer.
When we help someone else, we’re not just saving them. We’re rescuing ourselves. When you’ve got enough empathy in you to show compassion to someone in need, you haven’t just give them a gift, you’ve flooded your own world with empathy.
Don’t ever doubt that you need to have a purpose in life. Without purpose, we fall into discouragement. Accept the idea that you need to be saved and find ways to be leaven for God’s kingdom. Stop settling for life as how it’s been given. Instead, create your own kingdom of compassion.
We always have more to give if we stay encouraged.
A man is sitting on his porch in Kentucky. He’s only recently retired from the post office, and he’s sitting there when his first Social Security check is delivered. He’s very, very discouraged. He thinks to himself, is this what life is going to be from now on—sitting on the porch waiting for my check to arrive?
He decided he wouldn’t settle for that, and so he made a list of all of the things he had going for him, all the blessings and the capacities, the unique things that were in him. The list was long because he listed everything he could think of, and in the list was the fact that he was the only person on earth who knew his mother’s recipe for fried chicken. It used eleven different herbs and spices.
He went to a nearby restaurant and asked if he could cook the chicken, and they said yes. It soon became the most popular item on the menu. He opened his own restaurant, and then others, and a string of restaurants. Eventually Harland Sanders sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise across all of America.
He finally retired a second time (all this happened, you remember, after he had retired from the postal service), and he continued in the service of the company as a public relations representative for a year till his death.
All he started with was a recipe for baked chicken. It was a little that turned into a lot.
You may not have a recipe that’s going to turn into a restaurant franchise worth million but you’ve got something that’s going to make a difference. Put your faith into action. Rise up. Be leaven for the kingdom. Put compassion to work for others and put yourself in God’s kingdom of love and light.
Can the church say Amen?