A Little Bit of Difference

The Rev. Paul Nancarrow. This sermon is based on Matthew 13:31-33,44-52.

Jesus said, “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.”

Sometimes a little bit of difference makes all the difference.

I think that is the point Jesus is making about the Reign of God here. It only takes a little bit of yeast to start the fermentation that turns a mess of mere ingredients into a nice batch of bread dough. Yeast, of course, is a living organism – I’m not sure they knew that in Jesus’ time, but we know it now – and because it’s living, the yeast is the center of a process, it’s a dynamic of transformation. And once that process gets started, just a little bit of change eventually changes everything.

In just that same way, the presence of God is a living reality. God is not just some ideal toward which we strive; God is a living love who reaches out to us. The breathing of the Holy Spirit, the activity of God’s reigning power, the real presence of Jesus’ Body and Blood in this very Eucharist – they’re all ways of talking about the living God, who shares even the smallest bit of eternal life with us, and in doing so begins a process that transforms us and everything.

By the grace of God, just a little bit of difference can make all the difference.

There is a parish I heard of in East Tennessee, that is part of the Living Local: Joining God mission initiative I’ve been working with in our diocese – and this parish had been trying to change their relationship with their neighborhood. They were getting to know their neighbors, studying demographics and census data, but more importantly talking to their neighbors, creating opportunities for conversation, getting to know them as people. They were reading scripture, and praying, and listening, to discern what God might be calling them to do to make a difference in their neighborhood.

Then one day one of their neighbors crashed his car into their church sign. Smashed right into it. The sign was demolished. The car was damaged. The driver was injured. And the investigation revealed that he crashed his car because he was high on prescription opioids. As they learned more about it, they learned a lot of their neighbors were struggling with opioids. In fact, their church butted up against a whole neighborhood that was pretty deep in the opioid crisis.

This church had been looking for what God might be calling them to do in their neighborhood – and God had sent them a pretty clear message. So their whole mission discernment changed direction, and now they’ve started looking into what they can do to work with their neighbors to offer some health and healing alternatives for opioid addiction.

Sometimes a little bit of difference makes all the difference.

One day not too long ago I was out for a bicycle ride. (Now you knew you weren’t going to get through the summer without at least one bicycle story in a sermon, right?) It happened that I had woken up that morning in a sour mood. I don’t know if I’d had a bad dream that had stayed in my unconscious after I woke up. I don’t know if I had morning indigestion. I don’t know what it was – but something soured my mood as soon as I woke up.

So I thought a little physical activity, a little muscular exertion, a little open road before me, might lift my mood and make me a little more pastoral and shut up the voice in my head that just kept going “rff rff rff” about everything. So I got on my bike and off I went. And soon I was out on Miller Farm Road, climbing up a hill, head down, legs pumping, just going.

And I came up to the top of the rise, to this one spot where, for a moment, you can see the Blue Ridge mountains off on one horizon, and the Alleghany ridge off on the other. You may not know this, but there aren’t that many spots on roads around here where you can clearly see both of the ridges that define this valley. But out on Miller Farm Road is one of them, and as I came up the rise and lifted my head and saw both ridges the voice in my head going “rff rff rff” just stopped, just went silent, and was replaced with the single thought “Thank you God.” Thank you God for this moment, thank you God for those mountains, thank you God for these muscles – thank you God. In one moment, sheer gratitude changed everything.

And then a truck was coming in the other direction, and I had to tuck in to a turn, and I passed the spot and couldn’t see both ridges anymore, and everything got normal again. But the sour mood was broken, and my inner voice started saying much more cheerful things for the rest of the day.

Sometimes a little bit of difference makes all the difference.

Last Sunday, several of you from Trinity participated in our “Know Your Neighbor” picnic, where people came together from Trinity, Emmanuel, Allen Chapel, Temple House of Israel, and the Shenandoah Islamic Center to share a meal and have some fun and, well, get to know each other. As part of our evening we got into small groups with people we weren’t all that familiar with and answered some simple questions that led into telling some personal stories.

One person shared with me a story she’d heard in her group. A woman in that group had grown up in what she identified as a very racially biased family. Her parents, she’d said, were very prejudiced. When she herself had grown up and become a college teacher, she got a job in a historically African-American women’s college – and her parents weren’t too happy about that. But when she became pregnant, and there were some complications, her mother came to stay with her, to help prepare for the birth; and it happened that her mother came to several of the classes she was teaching.

Now this was the first time the mother had ever encountered young African-American women in this kind of setting. This was the first time she was seeing and hearing them, not just as stereotypes, not just as objects of distrust or alienation, but as people, as young women with ideas and abilities and hopes and dreams not all that different from her daughter’s or her own. After a few days, the mother told her daughter that she’d really come to respect the young women in the college. And that was language this woman had never expected to hear her mother use.

It didn’t end her racial prejudice overnight, of course. But it was a beginning, it started a process that eventually changed her life.

Sometimes a little bit of difference begins to make all the difference.

What difference can you make, that will make all the difference around you? What bit of God’s grace can be made manifest in you? What sign of God’s reigning love can show forth in the way you love? What one little thing can you do this very week that will make God’s difference in your soul? in your church? in your community?

Jesus said, “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.” May we be Jesus’ yeast to raise up Jesus’ bread of life for all the world. Amen.



  1. Shirley Ruedy says:

    Great sermon. Wish I had been there at the get-together!