Sermon based on Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss (Matthew 23)

sermon series dr seuss 1110 x 624

Sermon Series: The Gospel of Dr. Seuss
Message 4 of 6: Yertle the Turtle

Scripture: Matthew 23:1-12
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 2/10/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

How do you define power?

  • I can do anything I want whenever I want with whoever I want with no consequences. No, this isn’t even possible.
  • Our actions and words are always tied to others. They ripple.
  • Power is Influence

Everyone has some power and influence. We’re all interconnected and it all ripples. It might be massive or small or somewhere in-between

  • Imagine the power and influence of a world leader next to a teacher
  • an inventor
  • a farmer
  • a parent/grandparent
  • an author
  • a police officer
  • a child

Who influenced you?

  • A family member, a teacher, a coach
  • Maybe someone you never met. Someone you read about in a book or they wrote a book or created a piece of art which influenced you.

Power is influence. Others are using their power which is flowing towards us and we are using our power which is flowing towards others.

How will you use your power and influence?

Reading of Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Suess  

yertle the turtle collage

How will you use your power?

  • Think about how one person has the power to bring goodness, healing, and change
    • Like little Mack’s burp
    • Sometimes we think “I don’t have the power of the leader of a company or city or nation.” You have power. Often it’s the little things done with great love which change the world.
    • Example: Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus because it was an injustice and how it rippled through an entire system of injustice
    • Examples: Mr. Rogers, Gandi, Dr. Seuss
  • Think about how one person has the power to bring pain, injustice, oppression, and harm. How one person’s actions can ripple through a family, a school, a community, or even the world.
    • Yertle is modeled after Hitler

Yertle the Turtle is such a simple story and yet it beautifully contrasts the power of one. The power of one to do good in Mack using his voice, in doing a small thing which ends an injustice. Yertle using his power and twisting it something it was never meant to be.

Power is a good gift of God. It is neither good nor bad. It is a gift. How will you use the gift? Will you use it for good, healing, grace, and hope or will you twist it into something it was never meant to be.

Jesus had a great deal to say about this. We’ll read one the times he spoke about it.

Matthew 23:1-7 
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.

  • Jesus had many encounters with the scribes (lawyers), Pharisees and rabbis (teachers), and priests (clergy)
  • One way to twist the gift of power is to twist it with hypocrisy. You lay down the rules but you are above them and don’t have to practice them yourself. How frustrating and unjust.

4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

  • Power misused brings burdens on others.

5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.

  • Practicing faith in order to be seen, to show off
  • Self-centered, prideful, arrogant
  • Demanding respect, demanding the place of honor

C.S. Lewis Quote from Mere Christianity
As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.

Proverbs 16:18
Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Jesus is saying there is another way to wield the good gift of power. Look at the way Jesus wielded power himself. Look at the humility of Jesus, the grace, the welcome.

Jesus wielding his power to heal. Jesus wielding his power to give voice to those who have no voice. Wielding his power to be in solidarity with people others had labeled outcast, insignificant, and other.

Jesus wielding his power as a servant, never demanding title or position. Jesus wielding his power to the point of death, the point of blood and torture and sacrifice and generosity and wielding his power to take up his life again in resurrection.

This is the other way to use the good gift of power and influence.

Matthew 23:8-12 
Jesus said: 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Jesus said, “I have not come to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

How will you use your gift of power and influence? 
Will you let go of your ego? Will you let go of your willfulness and surrender wholly to God’s self-giving passion for the love and salvation of the world?

Will you take up your cross for the oppressed, the outcast, those yet to follow Christ?

Will you carry in your heart and prayers the sorrow of another?

Will you speak truth? Will you stand alongside those the world labels do not count and have no voice?

Will you mentor?

Will you welcome?

Will you use your power and influence for good and for the glory of God?

Little things can make a huge difference if they are done with love and grace. If they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Worship Resources
An Invitation to Christ by Dimitri of Rostov
Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness.
Come, my Life, and revive me from death.
Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds.
Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins
kindling my heart with the flame of thy love.
Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there.
For you alone are my King and my Lord.

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Yertle the Turtle Sermon © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Jesus, the Coming Messiah- Son of God and King (Psalm 2, Luke 1)

Jesus, The Coming Messiah
Jesus, The Coming Messiah: Advent Readings from Old Testament to New
December 7: The Messiah as Son of God and King
Readings: Psalm 2; Luke 1:35

Psalm 2:10-12a The Voice
So leaders, kings, and judges,
be wise, and be warned.
There is only one God, the Eternal;
worship Him with respect and awe;
take delight in Him and tremble.
Bow down before God’s son.

Luke 1:35, The Voice
The angel Gabriel to Mary
The Holy Spirit will come upon you. The Most High will overshadow you. That’s why this holy child will be known, as not just your son, but also as the Son of God.

Prayer
Hallelujah to Jesus!
You are the Son
Beloved
Wanted
Offered
Vulnerable
Long awaited child of promise

Hallelujah to Jesus!
You are the Son of David
Born to a specific people
A specific culture
A specific time and place
A long awaited covenant fulfilled
For them and for all

Hallelujah to Jesus!
You are the Son of God
Eternal Word made flesh
Fully Human, Fully Divine
Humble servant, King of Kings
The most marvelous mystery of God’s
Unending, Ultimate, Unconditional Love

Come, Lord Jesus, Come

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Thank you for setting aside times this Holy Season to seek the One we celebrate.

Jesus, The Coming Messiah is an Advent Bible Reading Plan highlighting the Old Testament prophesies and passages which Christians see fulfilled in Jesus.

As you read each passage, consider how this description of Jesus the Messiah reveals his character, motivation, and purpose. How does this description inspire you to trust Jesus and his promises? How will you apply and share what you have discovered? I look forward to your comments.

If you’re in Sarasota, please drop by Trinity United Methodist Church for one of our seasonal events or services or just to say, “Hi.” You’re always welcome and wanted.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas! – Lisa <

The Messiah as Son of God and King © 2017 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in devotional settings with proper attribution.
Please leave a comment for information/permission to publish this work in any form.

Prayer for Holy Resistance

true-love-requires-actionBreak our hearts Jesus
That we may weep as You weep
Love as You love

Break our hearts Jesus and raise our voices
that we may speak and act so all may be safe
so all may have opportunity
so all may know belonging

Lord Jesus
take away our fear, our apathy, our silence
Grant us
Your courage, Your strength, Your perseverance, Your Word

That we may be Your sanctuary
Your safe and sanctified place of presence

That we may live Your justice
and use Your power with wisdom and humility

That we may be Your whole and holy people
people of integrity

That we may speak and act and love
again and again and again
till every dividing wall of hate, fear, and mistrust
comes crashing down in Your Powerful Name

Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, Savior of the Nations,
teach us to pray and teach us to live Your prayer…
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer

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Click here for Comfort Ye based on Isaiah 40 by Steve Garnaas Holmes, a word of encouragement to those experiencing horror and abuse, and those striving to bring justice and healing.

Prayer for Holy Resistance © 2017 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please leave a comment for information/permission to publish this work in any form.

Script: If Jesus selected disciples the way we select our Presidents (Luke 9:46)

debate argument
An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. – Luke 9:46

MODERATOR: Good evening, and welcome to tonight’s debate. I’m coming to you from the Grand Amphitheater in beautiful downtown Capernaum. Tonight’s event is sponsored by the Commission on Messianic Debates, and the rules for the evening have been agreed upon by representatives from each of the candidate’s campaigns. Without further introduction, let’s welcome tonight’s candidates.

[APPLAUSE]

Our first question goes to James, son of Zebedee. James, in a few short days, Jesus of Nazareth will be traveling down to Jerusalem. There is widespread speculation about why he is going there. What makes you qualified to join him?

JAMES: Thank you for that question. First, let me say what an honor it is to be here tonight, and to have this chance to set the record straight with the Israelite people. I think what the Kingdom needs is an outsider, not a career disciple, but someone who has the perspective of outside the beltway. If Jesus selects me to be at his right hand, I will be the greatest disciple ever.

MODERATOR: John, same question.

JOHN: Okay, look. We all know why Jesus is going to Jerusalem. And when he goes in to overthrow the Roman empire and establish a new political regime, ask yourself: “Who do you want to be representing you when the Kingdom comes?” Look, I’ve been there. I’m one of you. I’m just a lowly fisherman who can identify with the real needs of ordinary people like you. And if Jesus picks me to be the greatest, I promise I won’t let you down.

[“THUNDEROUS” APPLAUSE]

MODERATOR: Next, we have Andrew. You’ve been critical of James and John. What makes you think you are the greatest?

ANDREW: What James and John forget to tell you is that they’re not outsiders at all. If anything, they have been part of the inner circle since the beginning. Who got to spend time on the mountain with Jesus during the transfiguration? They did. Who were the first to be called by Jesus? They were. And what happened after Jesus called them? They left their father in the boat. Poor Zebedee, abandoned by his own flesh and blood. If I’m chosen to be the greatest, I can promise you, I won’t leave anybody behind.

[APPLAUSE]

MODERATOR: Our next question goes to Matthew. There’s been a lot said about your former career as a tax collector. Some say that it is a mistake for Jesus to hang out with people like you. So what makes you think you’re the greatest?

MATTHEW: That’s easy. I’ve worked in the tax system, I know how corrupt it is, and what it’s done to people. And I’m the only one on this stage tonight who has the skills and expertise to reform our tax code. I believe our nation’s tax structure is far too complex, with too many loopholes. I believe in a simpler, fairer flat tax. And I’m the only one who can make that happen.

MODERATOR: Next we have Judas Iscariot. Mr. Iscariot, you are the surprise front-runner so far. Polls show that people respect the fact that you speak your mind, and others say that your background in handling the finances of the group make you a formidable candidate. But others say that you aren’t trustworthy, and question your loyalty to the party. What is your response?

JUDAS: Well, the first thing I’d say is that I’m rich. Okay? I’ve made lots and lots of shekels. I’m a successful businessman. I don’t apologize for that. I’m rich, okay? And I know how to make deals. The deals that my opponents have made are garbage. I know how to negotiate and make good deals with people. I make deals with the Pharisees all the time. And I know how to solve the problem with the Romans. A wall. A big, beautiful wall. And how will I build that wall? Management.

[“HUGE” APPLAUSE]

MODERATOR: Finally, let’s bring in Simon Peter, our next candidate and current front-runner. Mr. Peter, you are making waves for your zealous, no-nonsense ways. You’ve also been under great scrutiny for some of your impetuous decisions, like walking on water before sinking. If Jesus selects you to be the greatest, what can the Kingdom expect from you?

PETER: Look, I’m a zealot. Alright? I don’t make any apologies for that. That means that I’m not the puppet of any special interests, but I am my own person! I believe that this nation is the greatest nation in the world, and I’m prepared to make it even better. And other countries would be foolish to take us on, because God is clearly on our side.

[LOUD CHEERS, CROWING ROOSTERS]

MODERATOR: Okay, candidates. Our next question comes to us from one of our callers, who wishes to remain anonymous. Go ahead, caller.

CALLER: The one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.

[CRICKETS ….]

MODERATOR: Thank you, caller, but do you have a question?

CALLER: The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

[CANDIDATES SHRUG THEIR SHOULDERS]

CALLER: The first will be last, and the last will be first.

[CANDIDATES LOOK PUZZLED.]

MODERATOR: Well, that was awkward. Candidates, let’s go to our closing statements.

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A huge thank you to The Rev. Magrey deVega, Senior Pastor of Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida for permission to share this powerful and timely script. It was originally published 9/17/15 as his midweek message and entitled Debating Who is Greatest.

Consider subscribing to receive Magrey’s midweek messages electronically. You’ll benefit from his faithful, thought provoking and action provoking reflections. If you don’t have a church home in Tampa, consider checking Hyde Park UMC out in person. This is a congregation making God’s love real.

Quotes: God’s Power Made Perfect in Weakness (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

bible-verse-2-corinthians-my-grace-is-sufficient-for-you-for-my-power-is-made-perfect-in-weakness1

2 Corinthians 12:8-10 NRSV
Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

God’s power is made perfect in weakness. When we finally surrender to the truth of our weakness, to our primal need for God and others, we open ourselves to the full presence and movement of God in our lives. The weak walls of pride and self sufficiency crumble so that something new and better may rise from the dust of that death. God reminds us of this in Jesus, who in his vulnerability and poverty most perfectly revealed the strength of God’s love and power. – Lisa Degrenia <><

Poverty is not just a life of simplicity, humility, restraint, or even lack. Poverty is when we recognize that myself—by itself—is largely powerless and ineffective. John’s Gospel puts it quite strongly when it says that a branch that does not abide in Jesus “is withered and useless” (John 15:6). The transformed self, living in union, no longer lives in shame or denial of its weakness, but even rejoices because it does not need to pretend that it is any more than it actually is—which is now more than enough! -Richard Rohr

Extended quote from Journey: The Divine Reversal by Steve Harper
We do not go far into the biblical narrative before we run into an essential truth–one that if missed will skew everything else: God does not operate on our terms. When the fallen world is in charge, the rich, famous, and powerful are the heroes . When God is in charge, the “weaker ones” are most often people God chooses to use.

I put “weaker ones” in quotes only to make it clear that we are the ones who categorize, hierarchialize, and stigmatize. When God looks at the world everyone is a beloved son or daughter–a human being made in the image of God, just a little lower than the angels (Gen 1:26, Ps 8:5). With this identity, every person is precious and contributive to God.

But it takes a new set of eyes and ears to recognize this. If we want to go with God’s flow, we must repent (look at life in a new way) and convert (make a 180° turn). In this way we participate in the divine reversal rather than work against it.

Extended quote from The View from the Bottom by Richard Rohr
Most of us in the Northern Hemisphere have a view from the top even though we are nowhere near the top ourselves. The mass of people can normally be bought off by just giving them “bread and circuses,” as the Romans said. Many Americans can afford to be politically illiterate, hardly vote, and terribly naïve about money, war, and power. One wonders how soon this is going to catch up with us.

Only by solidarity with other people’s suffering can comfortable people be converted. Otherwise we are disconnected from the cross—of the world, of others, of Jesus, and finally of our own necessary participation in the great mystery of dying and rising. In the early Christian Scriptures, or the “New” Testament, we clearly see that it’s mostly the lame, the poor, the blind, the prostitutes, the drunkards, the tax collectors, the sinners—those on the bottom and the outside—that really hear Jesus’ teaching and get the point and respond to him. It’s the leaders and insiders (the priests, scribes, Pharisees, teachers of the law, and Roman leaders) who crucify him. That is evident in the text.

How did we miss such a core point about how power coalesces and corrupts, no matter who has it?

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Advent Photo-A-Day: Day 16, Strong

cross of peopleThe thought behind the photo:
Jesus loves me this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong.
We are weak but he is strong.

Jesus loves me still today,
Walking with me on my way,
Wanting as a friend to give
Light and love to all who live.
– Anna B. Warner and David Rutherford McGuire

SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 40:28-31 NIV
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

The December 16, 2013 devotion from http://umrethinkchurch.tumblr.com 
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 35:4-7, The Message
Tell fearful souls,
“Courage! [Be strong!] Take heart!
God is here, right here,
on his way to put things right
And redress all wrongs.
He’s on his way! He’ll save you!”
Blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped,
Lame men and women will leap like deer,
the voiceless break into song.
Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness,
streams flow in the desert.
Hot sands will become a cool oasis,
thirsty ground a splashing fountain.
Even lowly jackals will have water to drink,
and barren grasslands flourish richly.

Good preaching and interpretation is able to take old texts for new situations and helps us see things in scripture we may have missed before.

In this season of Advent, how are you seeing this poem of invitation?

How are these promises and call to action to “Be strong!” and “Take heart!” resonating with you this Advent?

There are a number of longings we hear in this text: changes in ability, the flourishing of dry land, songs for the voiceless.

What are your prayers and longings this Advent?

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Thank you Rethink Church for a great way to make preparing for Christmas more meaningful. Join me and thousands more in setting aside time to reflect, focus, and literally picture the deep themes of Jesus’ birth.

Click here for more information on Advent Photo-A-Day from Rethink Church.

Click here for a master list of links to my submissions. Lisa <><

Prayer: The Strength of a Cry

children worshipSCRIPTURE: Psalm 8:2 NAS
From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength because of Your adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease.

OBSERVATION
It goes against everything we are taught. The strong are strong. The weak are weak. The strong overcome even if they are wicked. But with God things are different. God establishes strength through our dependence and vulnerability. What is weaker than an infant- young, helpless, little voice, no education, no skills, no strength …

APPLICATION
In our weakest moments, we are heard by God. Our cries of prayer and praise are used by God. God is greater. Grace is greater. Evil is brought to an end.

PRAYER
Abba, you end the evil
Not through our strength, but our weakness
Our whimpers and gurgles and sighs
Our trembling cries
Our silent tears
In the midst of all who would do harm
You hear your beloved little ones
You defend
You protect
We are safe, always safe
Blessed be your Name

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This devotion is based on the SOAP Method for keeping a spiritual journal, as taught at New Hope Christian Fellowship in Hawaii. For more information on this simple and powerful way of engaging the Word of God, please click here

Prayer: The Strength of a Cry © 2013 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia.
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

For more information on the art, scripture translation and the use of this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.