The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss
Galatians 3: 19-29 & Luke 6: 27-38
Call to Worship
How good it is when God’s people live in unity!
Coming together to form blessed covenant community!
Today, family of God, our task is to think and consider our differences.
In Jesus we know that love alone can close distances.
May we look to the Lord of All, as we listen, explore, understand and see…
All that there is to celebrate and that draws us closer to Thee!
Theodore Geisel, the man millions know simply as Dr. Seuss, was not a particularly religious man. But, that doesn’t mean that his work didn’t have deeply religious themes. This summer we’ve been taking Dr. Seuss’ stories – his moral parables- and exploring the biblical principles that they point to. So far we have looked at “Oh, the Places You Will Go!”, “The Lorax”, and last week the kids experienced “Horton Hears a Who”. Today we have one of Dr. Seuss’ slightly less known works… The Sneetches.
Let’s pray as we begin our time of message:
Great God above all compare!
Hear us now as we declare:
Thank you Lord for the warm sun and the blue skies above
And inspire us now, as we seek to be more unified in your love.
Lord, You have shown us that we are truly of one flesh
Through your Son, that is how we best mesh
Be with us here in this grand 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.
“Believers are never told to become one: we already are one and are expected to act like it.”
– Joni Eareckson Tada
Our sermon today is a familiar one, I’m sure. How many times in our faith journey have we heard the Golden Rule expanded upon? How many times have we been reminded of the need/ the requirement for us to love our neighbors? And yet, somehow, it is always relevant, always urgent, always challenging to hear.
In our society today, we are regularly reminded of our human tendency to divide. To categorize. To band together in smaller/ more easily understood boxes. Watch the news, look around our neighborhoods and worship spaces… It would seem, that we find some kind of security or inner calm when we are surrounded by people who look like ourselves, believe like ourselves, act and behave like ourselves. Once we find our socio-culture sub-group comfort blanket, the distances that come from our differences… perhaps they don’t seem as daunting. Somehow much easier to overcome or appreciate… or ignore completely.
But as always, it is the Gospel that chips away at those comfortable boxes- turning the world on its head.
I had a seminary professor who was a charismatic at heart, and in our studies of Scripture together when we would encounter the surprising deconstructing powers of God she would say, “Well now, that is one Sneaky Jesus!”
Jesus says in Luke 6, “… to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Is Jesus telling us to be passive doormats in the face of wrongdoing and injustice? Of course not.
Jesus is telling us that love, real bold brave love- love that can see a person beyond their actions/ love that multiplies self-giving and mercy and vulnerability… THAT KIND OF LOVE IS SNEAKY.
Now, let’s talk about a community in which sneaky love struggled. Galatia.
Do any of you know how Paul’s letter to the Galatians begins?…. After a thorough telling off- Paul say, “O, you foolish Galatians!”
Freedom and unity are the two main themes of this letter. Paul’s letter addresses a group of people who are absolutely preoccupied with keeping the Law, so much so that it was splitting their church along racial lines. Separating Jews and Gentiles. And as Paul says, such splits cannot be tolerated because, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” And this new unity, which transcends all constructed social or religious barriers, is based upon the radical reorientation of the Gospel. Paul tells this church that the false barriers constructed around them are all coming down so that they can receive the Holy Spirit. For it is the Spirit, not the law, that now gives them the identity of the People of God.
So, what was it exactly that caused them to get in so much trouble?
It was the practice of the Jewish culture to mark yourself as a person of the faith, you were circumcised. It was the law! It distinguished you and set you apart. Then, and only then, were you eligible to be justified before God – only then could you be called a part of God’s family.
And the church of Galatia, was clinging to this practice. In order to become a Christian, one must first become a Jew, be circumcised, and then they could be a follower of Christ… They were doing everything they could to cling to this tangible action that gave them some semblance of control over their grace/ over their belonging to God.
BUT… as Paul reminds them, they were done with this practice/ free from it. They were no longer saved, set apart, divided or justified by this law. At one time there was a need for this sign of setting apart and being different, but now, there is only unity in the Holy Spirit.
They had turned this ancient practice into an idol.
I think we could all sympathize with the Galatians this desire to have something tangible to cling to that offered them identity- that marked them as one of God’s people/ an act that set them apart. An act through which they declared their faith. Yet, again as Paul teaches us that to be slaves to the law… stifles the Sprit’s work in their midst.
They had to trust in God, not in what set them apart. They had to trust in the unity of the Body of Christ and let go of this idol before God.
The Gospel reoriented them. The new law they were under, and the law we are under today, is the same. It is simply, profoundly, and most difficultly a law of LOVE… To love God. To love on another.
Now, ponder with me for a moment, I could not image a law more demanding of my whole heart, soul and mind. I could not imagine a law more challenging to my struggles with greed, self-idolatry, earned grace, and whatever other sins de jour. I don’t know about you, but I find the black and white, tangible law of the ancient Jews enviable at times: eat like this, dress like that, behave as such… and you are God’s own.
But the law of God’s love challenges me with its vast and convicting freedom. Again and again, I am asked to work towards deconstruct those comforting walls that I create around me.
Under this new law, I am free to follow where the Sprit leads (and this is something that we celebrate especially as Congregationalist- it’s one of our founding pillars: Faith, Freedom, and Fellowship) and yet in this freedom I often find myself wanting to stay behind. Because if I set out into this increasingly pluralistic world… I might just discover the unimaginable height, width, and breadth of the Kingdom of God.
For if we are all unified in the Holy Spirit what does that mean? Who am I asked to love? Perhaps it means that:
– My brothers and sister may worship differently than I do.
– My brothers and sisters may look, act, behave differently than I do.
– My brothers and sister may call God by different names.
– They might express their faith and devotion differently than I do.
Am I ready to surrender my understanding of the Kingdom of God? Am I ready to open my heart and mind to the expanse that God’s Kingdom really is? Am I ready for God’s truth to close the distances of our differences?
As we ponder this… know that we can explore these ideas two ways: in the fear of being diminished and challenges or in celebration at an opportunity to understand our faith and our God more fully and in a stronger clearer way!
God’s love is sneaky, and challenging, vast and so very creative. And God’s love is always challenging us to deconstruct those walls!
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” And that… is a little intimidating.
It would be easier to dismiss the Sneetches as silly little yellow Seuss critters if we didn’t see ourselves so clearly in their actions.
The star-bellied Sneetches believe that they are “the best Sneetches on the beaches!” They enjoy the typical privilege of any “in-crowd” – frankfurter roast, fun on the beeches, and the ability to look down on all of those who don’t have stars upon thars.
They box themselves into their privilege, shutting out the plain-bellied Sneetches. And, the “outsider” Sneetches are consumed with envy, left reaching for the security of an empty status…
And then naturally, someone comes along looking to exploit this division- and those reaching for more. Sylvester McMonkey McBean. A con man selling a “get rich quick” scheme.
And it’s only when the Sneetches has spent all their money (having lined Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s pockets pretty thoroughly…) and been thoroughly confused…that they are forced to actually interact. They have lost track of who has the power and the standing- they have lost track of what is trendy and “in” – they have been taken advantage of… and only then are they left to look at/ and consider each other that they realize that Sneetches, I guess, are really just Sneetches at the end of the day.
The categories that divide us today are different than in Paul’s day. Mostly. But divisions persist, do they not? In society/ in our congregations- divisions of ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, ideology, political affiliations… and any other absurd thing that we can think of.
These efforts to divide… are incredibly diminishing. But they certainly distract us from the holy work of considering the “other.” They distract us from the brave work of looking at our brothers and sisters in Christ, and seeing that they too bear the image of God and that we are truly one and the same.
Sneetches are Sneetches after all.
As Elizabeth Johnson said, “Paul reminds us that whatever human categories may describe us, they do not define us, “for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” All human categories are subordinate and ultimately irrelevant to our primary identity as members of the body of Christ.” We are no longer enslaved to what divides. We are justified solely by what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
So, what does all of this mean for us? What does this call to disassemble our boxes and open our minds to the Kingdom of God mean for us today?
For the Galatians it meant that they were challenged to let go of old factions and embrace the unity of the Body of Christ.
For us, now, thousands of years later… I suppose it means that we are to go a step further. In our freedom to follow the Holy Spirit, perhaps we are called to go and seek out those who are still bound/captive to old understandings. To seek out those that have their nose pressed to the glass wondering when they will have access to the grace of God- and call them brother and sister- reminding them that they have been free all along. This is love.
Brothers and sister, I close this message in Dr. Seuss fashion… not with concrete answerers… but with a nicely vague open endings… So I ask you these broad questions:
Ponder with me. What does it mean to love our neighbor? What does it mean to love our enemy? What does it mean to love our God? And finally, when you think of the unified Body of Christ, who is included in that unity?
Might these question, might this bold law of love that we are under… challenge you and convict you. AMEN.