Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Smallest Thing

Mustard Seed
No domestic goddess here.  Never stood a chance.  My mom set an outstanding example of reading or playing cards or United Methodist Women or even visiting older adults at the nursing home. Cooking happened at our house but primarily, like in my own home, for survival rather than enjoyment! Given the choice, I will gladly do dishes so that I don't have to cook.  Any day of the week, give me dish duty.

Fully Grown Mustard Bush
This morning I was reading from Matthew and came across the parable---all one verse of it in 13:33--of the yeast in the dough.  To understand it better, one must consider the neighboring verses. Prior to the yeast, Jesus was teaching first sowing seeds, followed by another story about weeds being sown by the enemy amongst the choicest seed available in an attempt to sabotage the harvest. Continuing on with the gardening idea, Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. In Biblical Palestine, mustard was the very smallest of all the seeds known to man, but it would sprout and grow to bushy tree, some 10' tall;  big enough that birds could rest there.  Possibly the same birds Jesus spoke of when He told us not to worry about what we would eat or drink or what we would wear.  That's another story BUT note that the mustard seed is SMALL, nearly microscopic grows to become HUGE.

Then the yeast parable.  Some versions say the woman used about 60lbs of flour.  Keep in mind she did not pour this glutenous mixture into her Kitchenaid Industrial stand mixer.  When I thought about making dough is such large proportions I had to consult with my dear friends who make dough in 150 lb. batches for their business multiple times each week.  Having never ever made one loaf, I paid close attention in an attempt to wrap my mind around the whole yeast thing.  Yeast is so small that you need a microscope to see this fungi.  The yeast that comes out of one packet are actually billions of molecules that cling together to form what the naked eye can see.

Because this is an important part of their livelyhood, they are pretty particular about making their dough. Ticky is what we call it in the south. They go so far as to take the temperature of the bowl and the temperature of the flour so as to calculate the best temperature for the water they will add to the yeast.  Water that is too hot will kill the yeast; too cold and it will not reactivate the yeast. The dough is mixed for a specific amount of time so that the temperature doesn't rise too much in the dough and so that the dough will remain tender.  Did you know that, like humans, yeast likes sugar?  As it consumes the sugar in the dough, it puts out (also like humans!) carbon dioxide.  In the bowl to the right, the CO2 from this interaction is what makes air pockets and helpts the dough rise.  If you want to know more about such things, check out this cool website.

The rising and gastuous arrogance remind us that this parable is the only time the term yeast was used in a favorable light in the Bible.  Yeast most often referred to bad influences or corruption (as in Jesus talking about the Pharisees).  In the Old Testament Passover celebrations, houses were cleansed of all yeast and bread was made "unleavened" to remember that their ancestors made it to be taken with them in their flight from Egypt to the Promised Land.  If Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven growing like a mustard bush to become huge and noticeable, the yeast would have more or less an opposite effect.  In fact, Matthew records Jesus saying the woman mixed or "hid" the yeast inside the dough. Too much yeast will ruin the bread's taste.  Too little yeast and it will not rise sufficiently. The purpose of the yeast is be a supporting, behind the scenes character.  Dough often rises slowly.  In a world of "I-want-it-now" where we can get our next meal in a matter of seconds at a drive-thru window, waiting for bread to rise or mustard bushes to grow takes time and patience.  So does our relationship with God, so that we can see and know the kingdom of heaven.

Once the dough has risen, my friend said it is "punched down" and kneaded to eliminate unnecessary air.  In the picture at left, the dough is starting to look good because I can envision the finished product.  There have been times in my life when I felt "punched down" whether it was because a friend or family member let me down; I was sitting at home sick when I had better/more important things to do; or any other number of things I perceive as unfair.  How could God allow my sails to be deflated when there are so many things I should be doing or saying to help Him look good?  By the same token, I've gotten in trouble for saying and doing because often I don't know when to stop.  Oooooo wheeee, I have made some BIG messes and trying to take back things I shouldn't have touched in the first place....yep, I deserved to be punched down.  Kneaded so as to remove unnecessary hot air......but a good baker knows that some of the best breads are the ones that rise, are kneaded, punched and the cycle starts over again of rising, then kneading.

So today, Lord, I ask that you punch me down. Deflate me.  I want the yeast of Your Holy Spirit to bring life giving power to rise out of the messes I sometimes find myself in.  I know that the truth of the matter is that I learn and grow best in the kneading and punching of life.  They are not situations I would choose but please use them to help me be the woman You dream for me to be. A place where You can put Your mark on me because You were kneaded and punched down by those You can to save.  Knead me, Lord, with hands of love.  Proof me like bread dough, so that the world will see You instead of me.

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