The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss
“Oh, The Place You Will Go!”
Call to Worship
People of God, today is your day!
We are off to Great Places, the Lord leads the way!
You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes,
And together we journey bearing God’s Good News.
Sure, there will be Bang-ups and Hang-ups and maybe a Lurch or two…
But together in Christ, we will make it through.
People of God, today is your day!
We are off to Great Places, the Lord leads the way!
In our Summer Sermon Series we are taking the stories of the popular children’s author, Dr. Seuss, and drawing out the biblical truths in them. Theodore Seuss Geisel, the man who wrote these beloved classics, had a rare gift of sharing rather deep insights with children using humor, endless imagination and intrigue… all without being condescending.
Perhaps you, as a parent/ grandparent/ or as a teacher/ or just a caring adult… perhaps you have ended up with a child on your lap holding one of Dr. Seuss’s books in hand looking to be read to. In those pages, amongst the swirling landscape and fanciful characters, through the rhyme and cadence lives tales of ecology, appreciating differences, forgiveness, overcoming greed… lessons that are not lost on adult readers.
While he was battling cancer, Ted Geisel wrote his last book, “Oh, the places you’ll go!” It was published in 1990, one year before his death. Immediately it became a best seller, of course. And many a graduate has received this book as a gift. In fact, the book that Cathy was reading from during our children’s time is my mother’s copy of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” and in the front cover is a message from a good friend of hers congratulating her on graduating from Michigan State.
Written as an allegorical walk through life, this book was Dr. Seuss’ parting gift to us all- so it is fitting that we should begin here.
Let us pray as we begin our time of message:
Great God above all compare!
Hear us now as we declare:
Thank you Lord for giving us this great time,
A time for stillness, and learning, and a little holy rhyme. Lord, You have shown us how to love,
As You have sent your Son from heaven high above.
Be with us here in this worship space,
as we rest in You from the worldly race.
In Jesus’ most precious name,
The One who is our heart’s only aim.
In the story a young man finds himself on the brink of freedom!
And with those brains in his head and with feet in his shoes, he sets off in his hot air balloon looking for adventure and meaning in his life. Again and again he is confronted with choices. Where to go? What to avoid? Which mountain to climb? Which roads to explore? And in this upwards journey, he inevitably finds himself with a deflated hot-air balloon hung up in the trees. And so… again, choices. Will he choose to
be overcome, or will he choose to rise again? Pick himself up, dust himself off and set on his way? And on and on the adventure goes. Mountains and valleys and times of great waiting.
As I sat down to prepare for this message this week and read through the story, I found something a little troubling about this book- this little guy with brains in his head and feet in his shoes takes off for the adventure of a lifetime alone! He’s all on his lonesome in that hot-air balloon! Left to pursue achievement/ left to encounter failure and to face the unending decisions of life, all on his own.
And perhaps this is why we gift this book so frequently to high school graduates. It’s kind of an American Tale… We live in a culture that uplifts individualism! Sort of that, “You only go around once, better enjoy it while you can!” attitude. YOLO! We’ve been taught to “look out for number one” and that “the one who dies with the most toys wins.”
The individualism of this tale, on the surface, is stark.
But then, I read it a little closer… it seems to me that the Narrator and the young man have an interesting connection. The Narrator doesn’t just observe and tell us what the young man is doing or will do… but the Narrator takes on the role of encourager and mentor at times.
The Narrator stands back and observes when the young man is floating along making good choices, The Narrator cheers at accomplishments… but when the young man experiences the unavoidable woes of life, the occasional Hang-up and Bang-up and Lurch or two… it is him or her that seems to reach into the story and remind the young man that while it was his choices that got him into this mess… it is his choices once again
that will get him out of it.
And that is such a Dr. Seuss move, his goal wasn’t just to help children to read, but it was to help children to think… and through the role of the Narrator, he pulls the child and the reader into the story to bring encouragement to this young man with brains in his head and feet in his shoes.
This is a message not just about individualism and just finding joy in “the great adventure” alone… it’s about community after all.
And so we turn to the Gospel!
In our passage today, following a time of teaching and building up his disciples. Jesus turns to his followers, not just the twelve disciples, but the whole crowd and he send them out to be bearers of Good News. Jesus, at this point, has told his disciples that he will soon die and that their time together is short. And now he needs help spreading the news that the Kingdom of God is here. Jesus needs help healing and blessing… and all in all just getting as much divine work done as possible before he is given into the hands of the authorities. And so Jesus says, “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Don’t bother packing a bag, don’t bother putting on your shoes or stopping to say your good byes… just Go!” Jesus goes on to say, as he kicks them out the door, that they will need to rely on the hospitality of others- just after he had called them each a lamb among wolves. “Trust that you will be provided for,” He says, “despite the wolves. In spite of the resistance that you will face. In spite of the dangers that you encounter preaching to and healing those whom society has cast aside. In spite of traversing an empire that worships Caesar as Lord. Trust that you will have everything that you need… just let the people know that God is with them. Here and now.” And off they go!
Most of us, I think, if we were to put ourselves into the shoes of these disciples, would find this kind of dependence really uncomfortable. It would make us feel like we are not prepared, or unsafe, it would make us feel vulnerable…
In knowing this… Jesus at least sent them out in pairs! As David Lose says, so that when one falters, the other can help. When one is lost, the other can seek the way. When one is discouraged, the other can hold faith for both for a while. That’s what a company of believers does- we hold each other, console each other, encourage and embolden each other, and even believe for each other when the way is challenging.
Jesus tells them to take nothing with them. They must completely depend on the generosity and steadfast presence of others.
That leads me to wonder… if this is the point of the whole exercise…
Did Jesus truly just need for the Good News to be spread to as many people as possible before his arrest, for time was of the essence? Maybe so.
Or did Jesus need his followers to know what it was to be utterly vulnerable and dependent on God? Maybe that too.
We forget sometimes that, even today, we are vulnerable beings. We go to great lengths to create the illusion of control and independence and invincibility in our lives. But at any moment, illness, loss, death, disappointment, tragedy… it all reminds us that we are vulnerable beings.
The Bang-up and Hang-up and Lurches… they get us. …
And so Jesus sends them out to experience what it is to be in community with one another. Relying on the kindness, hospitality and love of others. Why? Because this is what we were made for!!! When the Bang-ups and Hang-up and Lurches of life come our way we need community in order to recover. We are relational creations, reflections of a community (triune) God. This is our natural state: we are stronger together. “No man is an island” As Jon Donne wrote. The loss of any one, the struggle of any one… diminishes each. Or, as Benjamin Franklin said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “We must hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.”
Think of our brothers and sisters in Kalamazoo. They have had it rough these past few months haven’t they? From the mass shooting in February- to the group of cyclist being killed this past week. And what happened in the wake of these tragedies. Candlelight vigils, prayer services, a silent community wide bike ride. They came together in order to mourn… they came together in search of a way, somehow, to recover…
Children of God, not only are we more safe, more whole, more provided for in community… we are more able to thrive (and able to thrive again) in community with one another.
In teamwork, when we see that our hopes are inextricably linked to those of our neighbors… then we are able to accomplish so much more than we ever possibly though that we could.
We are even able to recover from things that crush our spirits.
For the disciples, this meant that they were able to heal the ill and broken, and proclaim the good news even in dangerous and troubled areas.
What does that look like for us now? What are we set to accomplish together?
Maybe it’s working towards discerning God’s will for a clear understanding of marriage… and bringing some dignity back into our conversation on how our LGBT brothers and sister fit into the rites of the church. Many of you are bravely taking part in that work together- in study and prayer! Thank you!
Maybe it’s working together to be ambassadors for tending to God’s Creation. We’ll be taking about that more next week.
Maybe it’s something else entirely.
I ask you to consider, if we recall Jesus’ teaching and urging to work together and dream together of a still more vibrant witness to the Christian faith? What might that look like for us?
On Pentecost I asked you something similar. I asked you what you dream for the church. I got dozens on slips of paper back with dreams about growing the church, about being community leaders, about seeking to be more welcoming to those that may be different from us… beautiful dreams.
Dreams that will be shared with our leadership.
It is so important to keep dreaming and encouraging and pursuing these things together.
This is the gift that Jesus gave the disciples by shoving them out the door and on down the road. They learned that, even without Jesus standing directly at their side, they could still rely on the Holy Sprit and rely on each other to accomplish all that they set out to do.
Let’s keep dreaming and working together for there are mountain waiting to be climbed.
And we “will succeed 98 and 3/4% guaranteed!”