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.

Growing in Resilience: Soften and Save, based on Isaiah 48.4-6

pottery wheelGrowing in Resilience
Day 9, Read Isaiah 48
Reflection: Soften and Save, based on Isaiah 48:4-6

Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from long ago, before they came to pass I announced them to you, so that you would not say, “My idol did them, my carved image and my cast image commanded them.” You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it?

Merciful One, soften and save us
We are hardheaded
Obstinate
Obstructive

Merciful One, soften and save us
We are stubborn
Self-willed
Stiff-necked
Bearing the iron yoke of unhealthy pride and false idols

You alone can liberate us
Turn and return us
Metal to flesh
Ears to hear
Eyes to see
Minds supple in your truth
Lips open, declaring your saving power
A whole body rejoicing in our deliverance

Merciful One, soften and save us

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Click Here for more on the Growing in Resilience Reading Plan sponsored by Bishop Ken Carter and the Cabinet of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

Soften and Save © 2018 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Growing in Resilience: The Too Proud Faces of Death, based on Isaiah 47.10-11

mourn sorrow

If you know the name of this work or its creator, please let me know so I may give proper credit.

Growing in Resilience
Day 8, Read Isaiah 47
Reflection: The Too Proud Faces of Death, based on Isaiah 47:10-11

You felt secure in your wickedness; you said, “No one sees me.” Your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me.” But evil shall come upon you, which you cannot charm away; disaster shall fall upon you, which you will not be able to ward off; and ruin shall come on you suddenly, of which you know nothing.

Will wickedness always remain?
Will violence and war continue to claim their prey?
Will daily needs go unmet forever?
daily bread undiscovered
daily water contaminated
daily shelter out of reach
Will oppression and poverty and captivity shriek their horrid victory?
Will isolation entomb us?

It’s all death
The too proud faces of death
death of goodness
death of peace
death of provision
death of dignity
death of relationship

O Lord, will it always be this way?
Your answer?
No!

Oh, how we need this reminder!
This promise!
This truth!
This hope!
Oh, how we need this now!

Hear our cry, One True Living God
Wield your resurrection love
Yours is the power and strength
Yours is the victory
Reveal it now! Grant it now!
Your people coming before you and coming together and overcoming

Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:54b-58 (NRSV)

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Click Here for more on the Growing in Resilience Reading Plan sponsored by Bishop Ken Carter and the Cabinet of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

The Too Proud Faces of Death© 2018 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Christ Have Mercy, a prayer of confession based on Matthew 9.9-13

christe eleisonBased on Matthew 9:9-13

Mercy is not merely feeling sympathy. Mercy is extended by one who has the power to condemn or punish but chooses not to. We choose not to criticize, not to say, “I told you so,” not to exact our “pound of flesh” — not to avenge. As Jesus shows us in his interaction with the woman caught in adultery, mercy does not look back at what the person has done but forward to what the person can do in the future. – Mary Lou Redding. The Power of a Focused Heart: 8 Life Lessons from the Beatitudes

Christ have mercy on me,
a sinner.

I have failed to love as You Love
I have treated others as objects and obstacles
– less than human
– less than made in the image of God

I have elevated goals, persons, and things to the throne of my heart
I have procrastinated
I have wasted your precious gifts of time and talent and money

I am proud in unhealthy ways
I am apathetic
I have raised myself too high… hid myself too low

Trusting in you and your promises
I call on your Mighty Name for mercy
I ask your forgiveness, Gracious Savior
I surrender to your healing, Great Physician
I claim your resurrection power, Risen One

You are already here
Calling me from the old to the new
Speaking my name
Welcoming me to table
Hallelujah! I will follow…

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Christ Have Mercy, a prayer of confession © 2017 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Leave a comment for information and 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.