Before we get started, I’ve got a quote for you. It’s from Ulrich Luz, the Swiss theologian, the renowned New Testament scholar. Ulrich Luz has a great quote about Matthew’s version of the good news: “Gospel is for the evangelist nothing else than the kingdom proclamation of the earthly Jesus….” [Ulrich Luz, Matthew 1-7, trans. Wilhelm C. Linss (Minneapolis: 1989), page 197.]
In other words, the good news for Matthew is simply Jesus sharing the good news about this kingdom, about this kin*dom. The good news for Matthew is just Jesus telling some of those good family stories that invite us in.
And today, in Matthew’s gospel, we’ve got Jesus sharing the good news in five of those stories. So, my plan is I’ll share his stories with you - and a few of my own along the way.
Grandma Betty makes the best cinnamon rolls. That’s a fact! Now, you might disagree with that, but if you do… you’re wrong. Because Grandma Betty makes the best cinnamon rolls. I’d give anything for one of her cinnamon rolls… just one. But let me back up a bit.
Now, Grandma Betty is not my biological grandmother. I had to marry into the family in order to get my Grandma Betty. But I claim her and she claims me, so we are family. Technically, she’s my Grandma-in-law, but we don’t really do that in-law stuff. So, she’s just my Grandma, my Grandma Betty. And she’s a Great Grandma at that. My Meg and I helped with that by giving her some great-grandchildren, our Annabel and our Paige. And so, she is known also as Great-Grandma Betty, Grandma Betty the Great.
Now back to the fact that Grandma Betty makes the best cinnamon rolls. I’d give anything for one of those cinnamon rolls… just one. She makes them from scratch, and when they’re fresh out of the oven, that ooey-gooey goodness just melts in your mouth. I’ve literally licked the countertops clean when some has dripped out in the past, and I’d do it again. They are that good! Grandma Betty makes them from scratch, and the recipe is written down in the Chancellor family cookbook.
And to me and my Meg and our girls, these are Grandma Betty’s cinnamon rolls. But she actually gives credit to one of her in-laws, one who welcomed her into her family, Grandma Hester. And Grandma Hester, well that’s another story altogether. Grandma Hester’s the one who was at the church, standing in the bridal room about to get married. It was an arranged marriage. Hester’s folks were getting some land in Oklahoma in exchange for this marriage. I guess that’s how those things happened back then, I don’t know. How many acres do you suppose you’re worth? How ‘bout your spouse? Don’t answer that. I don’t know. I don’t know how this all works, but that’s a slippery slope, so don’t go down it.
But anyway, Grandma Hester was at the church in the bridal suite, in her wedding gown, minutes away from getting married when this boy named Alonzo Chancellor came rolling up in a borrowed car. He borrowed it from his cousin because he didn’t have one. This boy named Alonzo Chancellor came rolling up in a borrowed car. He didn’t have any acreage, let alone he didn’t have a car. But he sprung her. That’s how the story’s told. That’s how we tell the story. He sprung her. Sprung her from that church, sprung her from that arranged marriage, sprung her from that life. And in return, she gave him 14 kids and the best cinnamon rolls that the Oklahoma panhandle has ever seen. True story. That’s a fact.
Isn’t it funny how stories like these take shape within a family over time? Isn’t it funny how stories like these shape the family over time? They make a family a family in a sense.
Well, Grandma Betty was taught by Grandma Hester how to make the best cinnamon rolls ever. And Grandma Betty put it in the family cookbook to teach the rest of us how to make the best cinnamon rolls ever. But every time we make these, following the pattern, someone has to take the lead, take the initiative. Someone has to get in the mix, so to say. Someone is responsible for rolling with it, in a manner of speaking. And it’s usually just one person in each household participating in the cinnamon-roll-continuity-continuance program. Just one.
Because some of those 14 kids had another 14 kids. And families grow pretty quick when you go by multiples of 14. And nobody needs that many cinnamon rolls. Not even the best cinnamon rolls ever. That’s just too many darn cinnamon rolls.
But someone has to be the cinnamon roller. Someone has to take action to make it all happen. In my Meg’s family growing up, it was the “Royce Chancellor,” her dad. In Uncle Larry’s family it was Uncle Larry. I’m assuming Uncle Rick makes these… he definitely eats them, so I’m assuming he’s the maker-of-the-swirl sometimes.
But then I enter the story, and my story merges with their story. It’s kind of funny how stories do that, right? They blend and they merge and they grow big enough to include others. So, then I enter the story, and a new (yet familiar) story begins to unfold.
I met my soon-to-be-Meg, and I too sprung her from a church. She wasn’t getting hitched that day or anything. No. We were leading a lock-in. We were leading the Senior High lock-in together. We probably had about 14 kids in that youth group but those 14 kids brought about 14 friends each, and that’s just too many kids. I don’t care how good of youth sponsors we were, that’s just too many darn kids.
But somewhere in this midst of that locked-in chaos that night, I decided that I would arrange our marriage. My Meg didn’t know it yet, but I did. And wouldn’t you know it – it worked out! By the by, she’s worth a lot more acreage than we have. I just wanted that to be on the record.
But isn’t it funny how stories like these shape, over time, shape family? They make a family a family in a sense, even if you’re not initially a part of it. Their stories begin to shape our stories. The stories we inherit affect the stories that we tell. It’s like they help us learn who we are, giving us a sense of identity, connecting us to something larger than ourselves, developing this sense of belonging.
Now, Grandma Betty is my Meg’s paternal grandmother, and Grandma Sara is my Meg’s maternal grandmother, and she was married to Grandpa Chuck. He didn’t steal her out of a church or anything, but he did propose that idea of marriage to her at Theta Pond on the library lawn of the campus of Oklahoma State University – the official stat university of Oklahoma.
So, when the time came for me to get down on one knee and pull out a ring and offer my Meg as much acreage as I could muster, I asked her to marry me at Theta Pond on O.S.U. library lawn. I wanted our story to intertwine with their story. That’s when you know you’ve got a good story, when you want to be a part of that story. And wouldn’t you know it – it worked out!
You know, the hardest thing about making those cinnamon rolls is the dry yeast. Have you ever dealt with yeast like that before? It’s a living thing, a fungus. Even though it comes in those little square packets in the grocery store, it’s alive.
But I wanted to become a cinnamon-swirler. I wanted to join the story - join the family story. So, our little Annabel had to teach me about it. She did her third-grade science fair project on dry yeast after I said: “Don’t do your project on that… it’s boring… you’ll never win.” (And I don’t mean to brag, but I know a thing or two about science fairs. I’m a second-generation third-grade science fair winner. Just saying.) But then she did it on yeast anyway – and she won first prize anyway, despite me.
Well, our little Annabel had to teach me about yeast the first time I attempted to make Grandma Betty’s cinnamon rolls. She said: “When you take that dry yeast and you mix it in the right way it activates, it instigates, it comes alive.” And I said, “That’s kind of like a good story. And as that yeast gets mixed in, the whole batch – it grows, it reacts, it transforms. Kind of like we do when we hear a good story.”
You know, Jesus has a pretty good story about yeast. Honestly, Jesus has a pretty good story for just about everything. But the one about yeast is especially fun! There was a woman who took some yeast and mixed it in some flour. We don’t know how old the woman was; she was probably older than the typical third grader. And I don’t know who taught her about yeasting, but she seemed to know what she was doing. She took the yeast, she mixed in the yeast, she leavened it up.
Notice, though, she took action. She took the initiative. There was no passive yeasting here. She chose to participate in this story. She took, she mixed, she did. She was in the story, and she was working towards something wonderful. And they say the amount of flour she used, three measures of flour – they say the amount of flour she used would have been a celebratory amount. [Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Matthew (Collegeville, Minnesota: 2007), page 205.] Enough for a feast. That amount would have been used if you were baking bread for a celebration or a festival of some sort.
Think about taking and mixing, and all of it growing and building towards a celebration, in which all was leavened and all would rejoice, in which all would be transformed. Now, that’s a good story! Right? It makes you want to be a part of the party. Makes you want to jump in. Right?
I told you Jesus has some pretty good stories. Come to think of it, all his stories are good! He’s got another one about a mustard seed. This story almost blends into the yeast one though. It’s funny how stories do that, right? They blend, they interweave, they grow together.
But with the mustard seed, someone took, someone sowed, someone acted, and that seed grew and grew and grew and grew. And when it had grown, it was shown to be the greatest of shrubs. The seed that the bird could have eaten became the tree in which the bird could make its home. Another good story. A little similar: someone acts, something little, something happens, something big – a surprising result: one story begins to shape the next. But that’s what good stories do, right?
And each of these stories start out with the same line: “The kingdom of heaven is like….” It doesn’t say “once upon a time,” putting it in the category of just nostalgia. It doesn’t say “in a galaxy far, far away,” trying to get you to travel somewhere else to escape. No, it simply says the kingdom of heaven is like. This is what it is, here are the facts, which kind of sets the scene in another way, doesn’t it?
A while back, some folks started calling kingdom “kin*dom” to get away from the overwhelming masculinity in our scriptural verbiage but also to express the familial connection the word contains. “Kin” meaning kin-folk, kins-people, your kin, your family.
The kingdom of heaven is like…
The family of God contains…
Your brothers and sisters in Christ be like…
Jesus sets the scene very clearly with both these stories. These are kingdom stories. These are kin*dom stories. Isn’t it funny how stories like these take shape within a family over time? Isn’t it funny how stories like these shape the family over time? They make a family a family in a sense, even if you’re not initially a part of it. Jesus sets the scene very clearly by saying these are our family stories, and they’re as good and wild as we are.
The next story he tells: the kingdom of heaven is like that cousin when he found that treasure out in that field. He went home, sold everything he had, came back, and bought it all. Can you believe it? He didn’t tell the owner what he had found in the ground. Some people say it’s like he stole it in a sense, but he always said he just sprung it. So that’s how we tell it. He sprung it from the one who didn’t know how precious it was. That’s our kin*dom, that’s our kin-folk, that’s another one of our family stories (and it’s worth all the acreage!).
It's also like when our niece Natalie the merchant found that pearl. She too, she sold it all in order to buy that one. She said, “I’d give anything for that one… just one.” And she did!
Stories help us learn who we are, giving us this sense of identity, connecting us to something larger than ourselves, developing this sense of belonging. And we are connected to a wild, but good family. This is our family, even though we tend to be a little extreme, a little over the top, a little backwards even sometimes. Just like our fishy uncle Drew who drew up his net that one time and claims he had fish of every kind, any kind, all kinds, even your kind.
Even you… you’re invited into this family. You’re invited into this kingdom.
Good stories do that. They pull you in. They draw you close. They make you want to be a part of it. Like the un-arrangement of an arranged marriage, despite the acreage. Like a third generation third grader who won the science fair, despite her old man’s doubt. Like the grandmother and granddaughter who both said “yes” at Theta Pond. Like the best cinnamon roll ever.
Jesus does that with his stories. They invite. They welcome. It’s almost like we can taste it at times. And they shape us over time. They connect us to something larger than ourselves. And when you hear a good story, you want to be a part of that good story.
Good stories do that to you, and all his stories are good. Like the merchant who got the pearl. Like the seeker who finally found the treasure. Like the seed that grew into a home, the net that caught it all, the yeast that transformed the whole batch.
Jesus is inviting you into the story, into the kingdom, into the family, into the gospel. Because “Gospel is for the evangelist nothing else than the kingdom proclamation of the earthly Jesus…”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.