Sermon based on The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss (James 2, Galatians 3)

sermon series dr seuss 1110 x 624

Sermon Series: The Gospel of Dr. Seuss
Message 5 of 6: The Sneetches

Scripture: James 2:1-4, 8 and Galatians 3:23-29
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 2/24/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

sneetches 1Reading of James 2:1-4, 8 NRSV

Reading of The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss

What extent are you willing to go to in order to belong?
For me:

  • Staying on the track team in Middle School even though I came to realize I hated running
  • Buying the latest- saving for a pair of Candie’s shoes in middle school and now the latest face cream
  • Yoyoing in weight since I was age 7
  • Staying silent in a conversation even though I disagreed or had a different idea to solve the problem

What extent are you willing to go to in order to belong?

  • Go into debt to keep up appearances
  • Keep a crazy busy schedule because busy people are wanted people
  • Or the kids have to be well rounded to get into college
  • Keep on going to the bar even though you know you have a drinking problem and shouldn’t be there but the bar where everybody knows your name
  • Stay in the abusive relationship
  • Hide who you really are or at least try to

Sneetches collageThe evil one loves to keep up distracted and divided
McBean is the real enemy of the Sneetches. The real villain. He delights in exploiting the Sneetches’ lack of trust in one another. He has a heart of war. The Sneetches are a means to his greedy end. McBean perpetuates and manipulates the waste of time, energy, and money in order to prove who is in and who is out when there’s really no such thing.

Jesus invites us to turn all this waste and destruction and division on its head. It is so important to Jesus that he dies for it. 

Galatians 3:23-29 talks about clothing ourselves with Christ. Imagine all the stuff we put on in order to belong. How others label us. The things advertisers say will make us belong. Things we believe we have to do in order to belong. We put it all on and cover up who we really are.

Taken to an extreme, it’s the stars the Nazi’s made the Jews wear in order to label them other.  It’s why Dr. Seuss picked stars for this story.

In Christ, we’re invited to take it all off. Take off all the things that hide us and label us because now we’ve put on Christ. Here we stand. This is how God now sees us and how we now see each other, through putting on Christ.

Reading of Galatians 3:23-29 (NRSV)

And so the question we asked at first- What extent are you willing to go to in order to belong – is turned on its head because Christ went to the extent of death on the cross so we could belong. Just as we are.

The new question is this: What extent are you willing to go to in order to ensure everyone knows belonging in Christ? So that you know it and the person sitting next to you and the person you see in the grocery store and the person at the bank and your neighbors and your kids know it. So the folks who are very very different from you know it.

General Conference: The decision-making body of the United Methodist Church, the General Conference, has gathered to discern God’s call regarding sexuality, inclusion, and the unity of the Body of Christ. Hold in your prayers the delegates, the whole church, the millions of people in the LGBTQ+ community who feel the heat of the spotlight, and the world that may learn something about God.

The following prayer is by Steve Garnaas Holmes. It contains some small adaptations.

God of love,
may we approach one another with the intent to love,
first and last,
and submit all our intentions to love.

May our intent be to heal, not to win,
to bless, not to curse,
to join, not to divide.
Help us do your will, not ours.

May we listen humbly, speak honestly and discern obediently.

Save us from justice without mercy,
righteousness without humility, victory without love.
As your word says,
If we do not have love we are nothing. —1 Corinthians 13.2

May we examine our own righteousness more vigorously than others’.
May we demonstrate your goodness, not our own.

May we honestly examine our norms and expectations,
our judgments of those who are different,
our exclusion of those who threaten our superiority
and our comfort.

May we be mindful of every person’s wounded need
to be loved, to be included, to be honored,
every person’s desperation to be good enough to belong.

May we remember your justice is love,
your command is mercy,
your judgment is grace.

God of love, give us wisdom that is love,
fill us with courage that is love,
empower us for victory that is love alone.

By your Spirit help us to do no harm,
to do all the good we can,
and to stay in love with you.

We pray in the love and the company of Jesus,
who served in love, who died for love,
and who rises in us with victorious love
and who clothes us with belonging and love
Amen.

If you have never known a place of belonging, you can know it here in God’s family. This is where I found it. You can find it, too. Think about all the folks in your life searching for belonging, for someone who understands and listens, for unconditional love, searching for God. Remember them as well.

***********
The Sneetches Sermon © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

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.

***********
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: Reign and Rain Down, based on Isaiah 45.8

Rain-Room-REUTERS-Lucy-Nicholson-courtesy-of-n1-865x577Growing in Resilience
Day 6, Read Isaiah 45
Reflection: Reign and Rain Down, based on Isaiah 45:8

Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may spring up, and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also; I the LORD have created it.

Reign and Rain down, Glorious One
You alone are God
There is no other

Reign and Rain down, Glorious One
Let all the earth open to your gifts
New life and right relationship springing up
Budding and blooming in our wasteland

Life comes to our mortality
to our frail clay
to our dust
You hold us and wash us and form us
You flood us and fill us
That we may carry this great grace as it carries us

O, the glory of your grace
Grace extending more and more
More and more to us and more and more through us to others
Redeeming and Reconciling
Salvation and Solidarity
The fullness of your unfailing love

Reign and Rain down, Glorious One
Creating power flows from you
Save us
For you alone are God
There is no other

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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. 

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

Prayer: Making Room (Luke 2:1-7)

change sheets
Reading: Luke 2:1-7

She gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.
– Luke 2:7

Prayer: Making Room
No room in the inn
I can understand this
There’s only so much space
And it’s already taken
It’s simple
Factual

But your blessed Word says more
No room for them in the inn

Them
Joseph and Mary are them
Unlike me and mine
Suspicious strangers
With complicated needs

I can’t bring them in
No time
No room

I won’t bring them in
Give them access to all I have
All I’ve worked for
All I love

It isn’t wise
It isn’t safe

The stable is for them
Stay there
Over there
that hidden place
that place in the back
that place for animals
away from where I live
not here with me and mine

But
I want Jesus
and
Jesus is them

There’s no room for him
if there’s no room for them

That’s who Jesus is
That’s what Jesus does
He makes room

Born in a stable
making room
for the humble and the homeless

King of kings
making room
for the rich and the royal

An outsider
making room
for those who’ve been
turned away
left out
rejected

An insider
making room
for the distinguished and established

A laborer
making room

Well educated
making room

A migrant, a refugee
making room

making room
making room
always making room

That’s who you are Jesus
That’s what you do
You make room

You’ve even made room for me

Now make room in me
Forgive me
Change me
Teach me
To do what you do
To make room

***********
Prayer: Making Room  © 2014 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.

Jesus, The Hen: when it’s time to weep

Detail from Descent from the Cross by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden

Detail from Descent from the Cross by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden

Matthew 23:27; Luke 13:34 NRSV
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Extended quote by Barbara Brown Taylor from The Christian Century (2/25/86)
If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world –wings spread, breast exposed –but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand. …

… Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first; which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter.

She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her — wings spread, breast exposed — without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart . . . but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.

Extended quote by Jim Harnish from It’s Enough to Make You Cry
Take a good look; a look that penetrates the self-protective shields of social acceptability; a look that goes deeply into the heart; a look that is a finite expression of the infinite love with which God looks out on our world, and it’s enough to make anyone with a heart cry.

It’s what the prophet Jeremiah felt when he looked at his world and wrote, “If only my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the wounds of my people.” (Jeremiah 9:1)

Read the headlines or watch the evening news and we know why Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying, “If they only knew the things that make for peace.” (Luke 19:42)

We weep for residents of Tel Aviv fleeing to bomb shelters and for Palestinians who have nowhere to hide from the attacks that are destroying their homes in Gaza.

We weep for thousands of children making their way across our border only to be caught up in our hopelessly confused and politicized immigration system.

We weep for millions of people who are homeless refugees because of the conflicts in Ukraine, in parts of Africa, and as a result of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We weep for the lives that have been lost in jets that have been blown out of the sky.

And we weep — the way Jesus wept beside the grave of his friend, Lazarus – for the deeply personal wounds, hurts, disappointments that sooner or late come crashing in on every one of us.

With Jeremiah, we ask, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” (Jeremiah 8:22)

I also know how Jeremiah felt when he said: “If only I could flee for shelter in the desert/to leave my people and forget them.” (Jeremiah 9:2)

I’d probably not choose the desert. I might take a house on the beach or a cabin in the mountains. I might just turn off the television, cancel the newspaper, go to a movie and stop paying attention to the pain and suffering around me. Sometimes we’d all like to flee.

Weep or flee? Which will it be? The truth is that there are times for both. There are times when I need to weep for the wounds of the world around me. And there are times when I need to accept Jesus’ invitation, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

So, where is God in all of this? It may be when Jeremiah hears God say, “I am going to refine them, for what else can I do with my people?” (Jeremiah 9:7)

I’m not suggesting that God causes the terrible things that happen in order to teach us a lesson. I’m a Wesleyan, not a Calvinist. Most of the things that make us weep are a direct result of human decisions that are an outright contradiction of the will of God. Our sinful choices are enough to make God cry.

Although God does not cause everything that happens, God is able to use anything that happens to refine us, the way gold and silver are refined. Instead of making us bitter, it can make us better.

The Spirit of God is present in our tears to break our hearts with the things that break the heart of God, to show us the ways in which we contribute to the pain of the world, to form us more fully into the likeness of Christ, and to enable us to participate in God’s healing work in this world. If there is a “balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul” it will be found in the hearts, lives, and actions of faithful people who become the agents of God’s love in the lives of others.

Perhaps the Christ-shaped alternative is not just to weep or to flee, but to become God’s healing presence in the world. At least it’s worth praying for.

Click here for a deep reflection and call to lament by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled For the Hurt of my People.

In Christian symbolism, Jerusalem is everyplace and the ultimate place. Jerusalem is the conflicted city within our hearts and the hoped-for heavenly city of promise. Jerusalem is Earth herself. We lament over the world and our continual warfare and our ongoing destruction of land and seas and air. We are the holy place that kills prophets, healers, sages, and innocents in the complex chaos of our passions.
– Suzanne Guthrie, Lament Over Jerusalem

The tears which flow from our eyes from time to time are illustrations of the tears which Jesus shed as he looked down upon Jerusalem and lamented, “How often I would have gathered you to myself as a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not”. They are signs of the pain in God’s heart when even one sheep goes astray. Tears are an acknowledgment of the Fall, but as they flow from a truly-repentant heart, they are also the first signs of hope. The dam of sinful resistance has collapsed and the Water of Life can now flow. – Steve Harper, The Water of Repentance

Prayer: End the Madness by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Hear our cry!
Head our plea!
Hate compounds
Death surrounds
Evil abounds

Relief supplies rotting on docks
Vaccines waiting on shelves
The unsuspecting shot down
Abortions of convenience
The faithful persecuted
Riots in the streets
Human trafficking
Suicide bombers
Genocide
War

End our madness
Deliver us from bloodshed
Deliver us from us

Come quickly
Come in power
Your power, not ours
Rescue your beloved
Lord, where else can we go?

End Our Madness: a prayer for peace, justice and unity

PrejudicePrayer: End Our Madness
Hear our cry!
Head our plea!
End our madness!

Relief supplies rotting on docks
The faithful murdered at prayer
Vaccines waiting on shelves
Abortions of convenience
Riots in the streets
Millions of refugees
Human trafficking
Suicide bombers
Genocide
War

Hear our cry!
Head our plea!
End our madness!

Deliver us from bloodshed
Deliver us from us

Come quickly
Come in power
Your power, not ours
Your peace
Your unity
Your justice
Your hope
Your way, truth and life

Hear our cry!
Head our plea!
End our madness!

Extended quote by Jim Harnish from It’s Enough to Make You Cry
Take a good look; a look that penetrates the self-protective shields of social acceptability; a look that goes deeply into the heart; a look that is a finite expression of the infinite love with which God looks out on our world, and it’s enough to make anyone with a heart cry.

It’s what the prophet Jeremiah felt when he looked at his world and wrote, “If only my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the wounds of my people.” (Jeremiah 9:1)

Read the headlines or watch the evening news and we know why Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying, “If they only knew the things that make for peace.” (Luke 19:42)

We weep for residents of Tel Aviv fleeing to bomb shelters and for Palestinians who have nowhere to hide from the attacks that are destroying their homes in Gaza.

We weep for thousands of children making their way across our border only to be caught up in our hopelessly confused and politicized immigration system.

We weep for millions of people who are homeless refugees because of the conflicts in Ukraine, in parts of Africa, and as a result of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We weep for the lives that have been lost in jets that have been blown out of the sky.

And we weep — the way Jesus wept beside the grave of his friend, Lazarus – for the deeply personal wounds, hurts, disappointments that sooner or late come crashing in on every one of us.

With Jeremiah, we ask, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” (Jeremiah 8:22)

I also know how Jeremiah felt when he said: “If only I could flee for shelter in the desert/to leave my people and forget them.” (Jeremiah 9:2)

I’d probably not choose the desert. I might take a house on the beach or a cabin in the mountains. I might just turn off the television, cancel the newspaper, go to a movie and stop paying attention to the pain and suffering around me. Sometimes we’d all like to flee.

Weep or flee? Which will it be? The truth is that there are times for both. There are times when I need to weep for the wounds of the world around me. And there are times when I need to accept Jesus’ invitation, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

So, where is God in all of this? It may be when Jeremiah hears God say, “I am going to refine them, for what else can I do with my people?” (Jeremiah 9:7)

I’m not suggesting that God causes the terrible things that happen in order to teach us a lesson. I’m a Wesleyan, not a Calvinist. Most of the things that make us weep are a direct result of human decisions that are an outright contradiction of the will of God. Our sinful choices are enough to make God cry.

Although God does not cause everything that happens, God is able to use anything that happens to refine us, the way gold and silver are refined. Instead of making us bitter, it can make us better.

The Spirit of God is present in our tears to break our hearts with the things that break the heart of God, to show us the ways in which we contribute to the pain of the world, to form us more fully into the likeness of Christ, and to enable us to participate in God’s healing work in this world. If there is a “balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul” it will be found in the hearts, lives and actions of faithful people who become the agents of God’s love in the lives of others.

Perhaps the Christ-shaped alternative is not just to weep or to flee, but to become God’s healing presence in the world. At least it’s worth praying for.

************
Prayer: End Our Madness © 2015 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.

Prayer: Making Room (Luke 2:1-7)

change sheets2014 Bible Reading Plan for Christmas
Day 12 Reading: Luke 2:1-7
No Room

She gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.
– Luke 2:7

Prayer: Making Room
No room in the inn
I can understand this
There’s only so much space
And it’s already taken
It’s simple
Factual

But your blessed Word says more
No room for them in the inn

Them
Joseph and Mary are them
Unlike me and mine
Suspicious strangers
With complicated needs

I can’t bring them in
No time
No room

I won’t bring them in
Give them access to all I have
All I’ve worked for
All I love

It isn’t wise
It isn’t safe

The stable is for them
Stay there
Over there
that hidden place
that place in the back
that place for animals
away from where I live
not here with me and mine

But
I want Jesus
and
Jesus is them

There’s no room for him
if there’s no room for them

That’s who Jesus is
That’s what Jesus does
He makes room

Born in a stable
making room
for the humble and the homeless

King of kings
making room
for the rich and the royal

An outsider
making room
for those who’ve been
turned away
left out
rejected

An insider
making room
for the distinguished and established

A laborer
making room

Well educated
making room

A migrant and refugee
making room

making room
making room
always making room

That’s who Jesus is
That’s what Jesus does
He makes room

You’ve even made room for me

Now make room in me
Forgive me
Change me
Teach me
To do what you do
To make room

***********
Days 13 and 14 are set aside for worship and rest.

This post is part of the 2014 Bible Reading Plan for Christmas. Click here for more information, including a list of all the readings.

Prayer: Making Room  © 2014 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 and the use of this post in other settings,
please refer to the copyright information page.