Being Leaven

September 6, 2015 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz

Text:  1 Chronicles 22: 13- 16 & Matthew 25: 31 – 40

Labor Day weekend, a weekend some dread and others adore!  Summer draws to a close ….and we move either gleefully or reluctantly into a new season.  Brand new back packs filled with blank notebooks and sharp new pencils awaiting wisdom and creativity….Fall programming and already the anticipation of glorious Autumn foliage, Mums and pumpkins, Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Autumn in New England is a beautiful time of the year.  It is expected that the work force will be back in the workplace, vacations concluded and the lazy , hazy, crazy days of summer laid to rest for another year.

On Labor Day we celebrate the benefits and opportunities of Labor….of having meaningful work to do. Sophocles said, “Without labor, nothing prospers.”

But, at the same time, appreciate your day without labor. Take note from Ovid: “Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”

Whether retired, a volunteer,  a student or engaged in  the daily work a day world, we all have work to do.  We plan our lives to have meaningful activities to keep us busy… to stimulate our minds and keep us active and engaged.  Frequently, we overdo it!!

In the wonderful blog Brain Pickings, I came upon this article written by Maria Popova who is first quoting Alan Watts who says:

We get such a kick out of looking forward to pleasures and rushing ahead to meet them that we can’t slow down enough to enjoy them when they come.” Alan Watts, in 1970, aptly declared us “a civilization which suffers from chronic disappointment.”

Popova continues to comment on German philosopher Josef Pieper’s, book Leisure, the Basis of Culture ,  a magnificent manifesto for reclaiming human dignity in a culture of compulsive workaholism, triply timely today, in an age when we have commodified our aliveness so much as to mistake making a living for having a life.

Today, in our culture of productivity-fetishism, we have succumbed to the tyrannical notion of “work/life balance” and have come to see the very notion of “leisure” not as essential to the human spirit but as self-indulgent luxury reserved for the privileged or deplorable idleness reserved for the lazy. And yet the most significant human achievements between Aristotle’s time and our own – our greatest art, the most enduring ideas of philosophy, the spark for every technological breakthrough – originated in leisure, in moments of unburdened contemplation, of absolute presence with the universe within one’s own mind and absolute attentiveness to life without, be it Galileo inventing modern timekeeping after watching a pendulum swing in a cathedral or Oliver Sacks illuminating music’s incredible effects on the mind while hiking in a Norwegian fjord.

Given these conflicting observations, it seems that we need the always desirable and usually more healthy position of BALANCE between productive labor and fruitful leisure.  Let’s add this to our “to do” list for this year!

On this first Sunday of September, we begin a new program year at Union Church, and I want to challenge us to consider what our labors of love will look like in the seasons ahead.  I hope we will find a healthy balance of compassionate work and energizing playfulness. ….that we will joyfully celebrate what is and thoughtfully consider what can be.

In Keeping Pace, author and pastor Ernest Fitzgerald relayed the true story of a magazine company, which several years ago purchased a new computer. Its function was to compile data and send out subscription notices to customers whose subscriptions had lapsed. One day something went wrong with the machine, and before the error was discovered (about a month later), a certain rancher in Colorado had received 9,374 notices that his subscription had expired. Someone in the magazine office posted the letter the company received from him. Inside was a check for one year’s subscription along with a handwritten note saying: “I give up! Send me the magazine.”

I share that story, because I often feel like I am harping from the pulpit on same themes of social justice, compassion and loving God and all of God’s children …. using different words and illustrations to bring home the same point…..the bottom line of our religious practice.  The books I read, the scripture passages which inspire me, the news stories that break my heart, the thoughts that come to me in times of reflection, all have a common theme…. how do we advance God’s kingdom of love and peace?  How do we expand our circle of compassion and understanding?  How do we respond to Jesus’ call to love and serve our neighbors and love even our enemies?

You may be ready to shout out:  “ OK, Jan we get it!”


Generations of preachers at Princeton Seminary were schooled in their homiletical skills by Dr. Donald Macleod. Among the points Dr. Macleod would make during the semester was the importance of choosing a compelling sermon title. In fact, he asked students to give their sermon title before beginning each sermon.

He used to tell of Mrs. O’Leary who would hop on the Fifth Avenue bus on Sunday morning in Manhattan and pass the great churches along that thoroughfare. As the bus would approach each church, she would eye the sign in front with the sermon title and decided, on the basis of what she read, whether to get off the bus and attend that church. Dr. Macleod’s constant refrain was, “Pick a title that will make Mrs. O’Leary get off the bus.”

Mindful of that instruction, one of his aspiring preachers mounted the pulpit one morning for his first student sermon. Per protocol before beginning his message, he announced: “The title of my sermon is…`There’s a Bomb on the Bus.'”

Love that!  It’s difficult coming up with a sermon title that suggests the message to follow and peaks the interest of those about to endure it!

Here’s an illustration to peak your interest!!

Did you know, that if you put a buzzard in a pen that is 6 feet by 8 feet and is entirely open at the top, the bird, in spite of its ability to fly, will be an absolute prisoner. The reason is that a buzzard always begins a flight from the ground with a run of 10 to 12 feet. Without space to run, as is its habit, it will not even attempt to fly, but will remain a prisoner for life in a small jail with no top.

The ordinary bat that flies around at night, a remarkable nimble creature in the air, cannot take off from a level place. If it is placed on the floor or flat ground, all it can do is shuffle about helplessly and, no doubt, painfully, until it reaches some slight elevation from which it can throw itself into the air. Then, at once, it takes off like a flash.

In many ways, we are like the buzzard and  the bat.  We have habitual ways of being and doing that produce the same results …which don’t resolve the conflicts, which don’t bring us closer to peace. Perhaps we feel that many of  our political leaders are buzzards and bats!!    How do we find new ways of doing and being that will bring about transformation in ourselves and in the universe?


According to the parable from the gospel of Matthew that Eve just read, on the last day, the nations of the world will be separated into sheep on one side and the goats on the other. The sheep are to feast forevermore on the pastures of glory. But the goats, the poor goats are to experience eternal punishment.  It was those on the sheep side of the pasture who, according to the parable, fed the hungry, clothed the naked and visited the sick and those in prison.  Those on the goat side, ignored the hurting ones and were not involved in compassionate work.   This is a parable told by the gospel writers to inflict guilt, and motivate a change of heart…to warn about eternal judgment and everlasting life in Hell.


I love this cute poem that Nancy Bancroft shared with me some time ago about judgment:

I was shocked, confused, bewildered

As I entered Heaven’s door,

Not by the beauty of it all,

Nor the lights or its decor.

But it was the folks in Heaven

Who made me sputter and gasp–

The thieves, the liars, the sinners,

The addicts and the trash.


There stood the kid from seventh grade

Who swiped my lunch money twice.

Next to him was my old neighbor

Who never said anything nice.


Bob, who I always thought

Was rotting away in hell,

Was sitting pretty on cloud nine,

Looking incredibly well.


I nudged Jesus, ‘What’s the deal?

I would love to hear Your take.

How’d all these sinners get up here?

God must’ve made a mistake.


‘And why is everyone so quiet,

So somber – give me a clue.’

‘Hush, child,’ He said,

‘they’re all in shock.

No one thought they’d be seeing you. ‘

 ( Unknown author)


As you probably know by now…..  I don’t do judgment…. in my preaching or in my theological understanding.   God is a God of love, not a God of judgment.  From my understanding, you and I will be infinitely rewarded when we “do good”….when we are inspired to compassionate action….to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned.  We will be rewarded by the inner peace and love we feel…. by our sense of connection with the Divine Spirit which calls us forth to action on behalf of all wounded souls. …to be a positive force for good and God in the universe.  It is this that leads us to a vital and lasting relationship with the Divine Creator and with our brothers and sisters on this planet.    If we choose to ignore the needs and wounds in our society, our “punishment” will be in the knowledge of our failure to make a difference, to heal a heart or ignite a spark or light the way of another. There is absolutely no doubt, that a deed of generous, loving kindness brightens the heart of the doer, as well as that of the receiver and expands the energy of goodness in the universe.  Remember that quote:  Those who are healed, heal…those who are hurt, hurt. 

I believe we are called to ask ourselves frequently:  What is the work we are doing or plan to do ?  Are we being leaven…. enabling love to rise in the universe?

Love Kitchen founders Helen Ashe, Director, and twin sister Ellen Turner, Manager, now in their 80’s,  are delighted to still be serving up food and love at the Love Kitchen after 25 years.

The breakfast Helen and Ellen is for the dozens of needy Knoxville, Tennessee folks who come to this special kitchen on the east side of the city—the Love Kitchen—twice a week for a free meal, for delivery to the hundreds of people in need who have no way to get to Love Kitchen, and for the hundreds more who come by and pick up much-needed emergency food bags.  They serve about 2,200 meals a week!!

Helen and Ellen grew up poor in Abbeville, South Carolina. Their parents, John and Alice Liddell, were sharecroppers, and the twins came to know what work was very early. At the age of 8, they were washing dishes in the home of an area home builder, a chore they actually enjoyed because they didn’t have running water at their own home. The work didn’t end there, though. They also helped tend their own family’s garden, raised the chickens, and milked the cow.

“We had the best parents that have ever been born on Earth!” exclaims Helen. “We didn’t have much money but we never went hungry. We worked for what we got and we shared what we did get. Daddy taught us to work.”

That’s not all their father taught his daughters. He also taught them what he considered the three most important truths in life: There is but one Father, our Heavenly Father; there is but one race, the human race; and never take the last piece of bread from the table because a stranger may come by and have need of it.

These delightful, dedicated African American twins…. are being leaven of love for the whole community of Knoxville and beyond.  What a blessing their lives have been and continue to be…..feeding the hungry and doing so with great love. They have been richly rewarded …filled with joy and satisfaction…. living lives of service and compassion.

Their resources were often slim, and the Love Kitchen was almost forced to close because of lack of funds several times.    However, Brian Williams at NBC got wind of it and money poured in after their story aired. Leaven.

The brief passage that I extracted from the 22nd chapter of 1 Chronicles describes the resources that God has provided in this amazing creation to do the work we all want to do.  In this case, the author is describing King David’s charge to Solomon about the building of the Temple.    You have gold and silver, bronze and iron, timber and stone…all you need is at your disposal.  You have an abundance of skilled  workers…., now go and do the work!  Inspire the people for the task that awaits them ….and the Lord God will be with you. The Love Kitchen twins, worked with the resources they had and made their dream come true.  They did the work and never quit …they are living their dream…. living the life they want to live…..and they have inspired a whole community to work beside them.  Leaven.

Do we have within us….an unlived life… an unfulfilled dream?

Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips in Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life wrote:

We are always haunted by the myth of our potential, of what we might have it in ourselves to be or do… We share our lives with the people we have failed to be.

Our lives become an elegy to needs unmet and desires sacrificed, to possibilities refused, to roads not taken. The myth of our potential can make of our lives a perpetual falling-short, a continual and continuing loss, a sustained and sometimes sustaining rage.

Wow…. I read that a number of times and it struck me as being profoundly true and very sad.  Is there a something we have as yet failed to do or be?  Work we still need to accomplish to feel fulfilled and at peace?   Perhaps that is something to contemplate and pray about … to add to our spiritual “to do” list for this new season.

As poet, author Joyce Rupp beautifully said in our Litany of Bread that we read for our Call to Worship this morning.

“ We are called to be leaven so that faith may rise in the hearts of another.”

It is the work of the Eucharist to unite us as a community of love and faith….as the Body of Christ. Every time we gather at this sacred table of remembrance we honor and celebrate the sacrificial love of Jesus and the unconditional love and grace of God.  We accept the gift of grace …the bread of life, and recommit our lives to being leaven of love.