Elephant Toothpaste: Catalysts of the Kingdom


After the online Patronal Eucharist last month, when we gave you the sight if not the smell of incense, we looked at the thurible – the incense burner. It has got very clogged with soot and tar residue, so we decided it needed a really good clean. I thought I’d consult the combined wisdom of Twitter and Facebook to see how friends clean theirs. Clergy social media is a weird place at the best of times, but it can come up with gems. I’ve soaked things like this in Coke-Cola before and it does shift grime.

One friend suggested Hydrogen Peroxide, which turns out to be a cleaning agent used with organic veg as well as sorting out your highlights. There are various strengths of it, depending on its concentration in a water solution. This friend then added, ‘of course if you add another ingredient you can make ‘elephant toothpaste’’. Well that was it, my attention was grabbed.

So here it is. The other ingredient is yeast, so see what happens when you add it along with soap and food colouring for a bit more interest.

If you want the science, the yeast acts as a catalyst to break down the hydrogen peroxide into oxygen and water. Soap will then mix with the oxygen and water, which turn into foam. The colouring is just to make it pretty. And it is pretty awesome. There is a much more dramatic version, but I couldn’t source the chemicals for that one.

Jesus used a baking image for yeast in the gospel reading (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52). He talked about adding it to the flour but the affect is the same – it causes the mass to expand and multiply in size. The yeast makes the dough rise: great for pizzas, great for bread. As a symbol of the Kingdom of God both show how it acts as a catalyst to make a difference. What you end up with is far greater than what you started with, but it works on the ingredients that you have.

This is not a magic solution that will create something out of nothing. Rather it takes what you give it and helps it work so that it transforms and changes. The mustard seed is the same image – a small seed turns into a giant tree, providing shelter for the birds.

What needs releasing in us to help us transform the world around us into a place where God’s kingdom is let loose and visible? What catalyst is needed to change us into people who bring Christ’s peace? Jesus tells us the missing ingredient, catalyst, is being open to the Kingdom of God, accessed and released through prayer.

We are in a time of great anxiety and speaking words of peace can be the catalyst that is needed. We might need more than that, to challenge injustice and events in London with the police officer kneeling on the neck of someone under arrest sparked a silent protest in Cathedral Square yesterday for the Black Lives Matter movement.

I saw a prayer yesterday, written by Caroline Beckett, a priest in Essex. It’s a prayer for putting on a face mask and to use it as a symbol of the kingdom, how we can be a catalyst for good. It prays that we guard the words that come out, are shielded from those which come to us that may assault, are mindful of the prejudice, judgement and thoughtlessness of which we are all capable. And prays for grace to mask my mouth and pin my ears forward for listening. I end with this prayer – may it help use this small act we are now all encouraged to do as a catalyst for God’s kingdom breaking loose among us and in our communities.

Lord as I put on my mask,

let it be a filter for my words to pass through as well as my breathing.

Let through only those words which are helpful breathings of love

and stop those things in my speech that will be harmful to others.

Protect me also, O Lord,

from the harmful things others may say to me.

Help me to realise that I may be a carrier of bitterness,

thoughtlessness, judgement and prejudice without realising,

and that some people are more word-vulnerable than others.

Give me grace to love those who cannot or will not filter to protect others

and special grace to them, because they go through the world unprotected.

Help me to be prepared to adapt and be brave and transparent

so that all may have chance to hear.

Lord, be a mask to my mouth

and pin my ears forward for listening. Amen.

Sermon for Trinity 7, live-streamed from Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 26th July 2020


About Revd Canon Ian Black

Ian is Vicar of Peterborough and Canon Residentiary of Peterborough Cathedral in the Church of England Diocese of Peterborough. He served as Rural Dean of Peterborough for 5 years. Prior to moving to Peterborough, Ian was in Leeds for 10 years in Leeds, as Vicar of Whitkirk and as a member of the Chapter of Ripon Cathedral. He has also worked in Kent in Maidstone and as priest-in-charge of a group of parishes 10 miles north west of Canterbury. He was a Minor Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, a prison chaplain and Assistant Director of Post-Ordination Training for the Diocese of Canterbury. Prior to ordination Ian had a career in tax, both with the Inland Revenue as a PAYE Auditor and a firm of Chartered Accountants as a Tax Accountant. Ian was born and grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon and is a former head chorister at Shakespeare's Church - Holy Trinity. He studied in Canterbury, Lincoln Theological College and has a Master of Divinity degree from Nottingham University. He is married with two sons. Publications include three books of prayers: Prayers for all occasions (SPCK 2011), Intercessions for Years A, B & C (SPCK 2009) and Intercessions for the Calendar of Saints and Holy Days (SPCK 2005). His most recent book, 'Follow me: living the sayings of Jesus', was published by Sacristy Press in 2017. There is a hymn based on this 'Christ the Saviour'. He has been writing online since the mid 1990s. Ian is a keen photographer and these frequently appear in his posts and on social media.
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