A series on Dr. Seuss. Who knows where this one is going? I sure don?t. But when we met to plan, some said, "go for it, man.? And so we did, we flipped open the lid. And right off the bat read The Cat in the Hat. It?s a great book, I say, a very good book for a cold winter?s day. It?s a great book, I say, a very great book I can?t put away. And now I?m done rhyming, I?m done rhyming for sure, I?m done rhyming because I can?t take it no more.
Dr. Seuss ? a source of messages about Jesus? Hardly likely. He wasn?t a preacher and certainly didn?t try to spread the message of Jesus in any writings that I could find. However he was raised a Lutheran and remained one all his life ? but being Lutheran doesn?t really guarantee much ? the only thing it really means is that you can?t sit in the front three rows of worship. Except in Room211.
So let?s be clear about this as we begin ? we?re not having a series on Dr. Seuss because he was a great Christian who imbedded messages about Jesus in his children?s books. There?s not some sort of subliminal messaging going on here. In fact, I would venture to say that there is nothing in Dr. Seuss about Jesus at all.
Hmmm. So why are we doing a series on Dr. Seuss then? Well, just this ? as Jesus walked along the road in the springtime and saw a field full of lilies, they were not Christian lilies or non-Christian lilies. There was no writing from God on the lilies. God wasn?t sitting in the midst of the lilies waiting to talk to people. No one else in fact saw anything about God in the lilies. They were just there. Part of the scenery. But Jesus used them to teach truth about God. And that?s the key. Jesus turned this neutral thing, lilies, into a teaching tool. He told stories about the lilies.
NIV Matthew 6:28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
And so we?re going to use Dr. Seuss like Jesus used the lilies. As a teaching tool. As a springboard to consider truths about God. As a parable. An earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
The Cat in the Hat begins with Sally and I ? cause the guy doesn?t have a name ? with Sally and I sitting by the window watching the rain. Life?s not going well. It?s not going terribly either ? it?s not like the rain is coming in through the ceiling or something. But it?s raining and it?s too wet to play, and so they sit in the house all that cold cold wet day.
The good doctor is painting a picture for us as he begins; he?s giving us the setting for the arrival of the Cat, and the confrontations with the Fish. And the setting is not a day that?s going all that well. It?s not a bright sunny day; it?s a cold wet rainy day. I know. Mr. Obvious. It?s not a bright sunny time of life; it?s a cold wet rainy time of life. You know the kind of time ? perhaps it?s a time when friends are hard to find. Or perhaps it?s a time when troubles mount up. Or maybe it?s a time when sickness overwhelms. When loneliness is your only friend. Whatever the situation, it?s a cold wet rainy day.
And then comes the Cat. And the fish says, "No! No! make that cat go away! Tell that Cat in the Hat you do NOT want to play. He should not be here. He should not be about. He should not be here when your mother is out!?
One of the first questions I have as I took at look at The Cat in the Hat is, ?where is Jesus?? Is Jesus the Cat? The fish? The mom? Sally and I? Thing One and Thing Two? Which one of these is most like Jesus? And I asked a few people this past week, and it was unanimous. The Fish is like Jesus. I mean, Thing One and Thing Two? Forget it ? they?re a mess! And the Cat, well, he should not be here when your mother is out! So it?s got to be the Fish, right? And the Fish sort of feels like Jesus, doesn?t he? He keeps you on the straight and narrow. Don?t do this. Don?t do that. Stop sinning. He brings order.
And what?s more, although no one mentioned this, it?s sort of obvious if you know your history - from the earliest days of Christianity, the fish was a symbol for Jesus and for Christians. The Fish is Jesus.
And to all that I say, Whoa! Stop right there! Stop right there; don?t say more. Stop right there; that?s all wrong, I?m sure!
NIV 1 Corinthians 14:33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
Oh, yes, it is true that Jesus does bring order. He?s not a God of chaos. He?s not a God of disorder and confusion, that?s for sure.
NIV Matthew 5:18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law
And it is also true that Jesus upholds the law. There is sin and there is righteousness. There is a right way to live and a wrong way to live. OK, I?ll admit it. There is a sense in which Jesus is like the Fish, or rather, that the Fish is like Jesus. But!
Is this our picture of Jesus? Angry? Finger pointed? Is this our picture of Jesus? Indeed it?s the picture of God that many of us grew up with. God as this mean guy in the sky who is looking down with pointed finger, ready to pounce on us. God, out to get us.
God, the Fish, jumping up and down and pointing his finger, menacing us. "I do not like it, not one little bit!? "Now look what you did, said the fish to the cat? ? and as the Fish says this I sense God pointing His finger at me ? "now look what you did, said the fish to the cat. Now look at this house. Look at this! Look at that! Get out of this house!? And somewhere in my psyche I hear God saying the same thing to me ? "Get out of this house!?
That?s not Jesus. I?m sorry. Actually I?m not sorry. I?m glad. I?m glad to tell you that my pre-conception of Jesus is wrong; your pre-conceived notion of Jesus is skewed. The Fish with that pointy accusing finger, that Fish yelling "Get out of this house? is not Jesus.
No ? actually Jesus is more like the Cat. Surprise you?
NIV John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I [read: "the Cat?] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Jesus spent three years upsetting the applecart. This guy was Fun with a capital F!
NIV Mark 1:23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are-- the Holy One of God!" 25 "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. 27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching-- and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
NIV Mark 1:32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
NIV Mark 2:1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." 6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves[read: he should not be here when our mother is out], 7 "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." He said to the paralytic,11 "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"
Folks we?re only in Mark chapter 2! And this guy has already caused more chaos and brought more fun to the house than the Cat ever did!
NIV Mark 2:14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. 15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they [read: pointed their fingers just like the Fish] asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" 17 [read: He should not be here when our mother is out!] On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." [read: Party on, dudes! ? oh wait, wrong movie]
NIV Mark 2:18 Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, "How is it that John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?"
In other words, Jesus, stop laughing! Why are you partying??? We thought God was like the Fish? Why are you acting like the Cat, Jesus? Why are you laughing? Why are you hanging around with people who sin? Why are you not more uptight, like the Fish? I thought you were holy - wipe that smile off your face!
NIV Mark 2:23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees [read: doing their best Fish imitation] said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?" 25 He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions." 27 Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
Well, like I said, we?re still not out of Mark chapter 2. If I read the whole book to you up here it would take up the rest of the service. So go home and read it for yourself. See if Jesus isn?t very much like the Cat in the Hat. See if Jesus doesn?t just walk in to their house and completely upset the applecart. Just start tossing things this way and that. Start playing games like up up up with the Fish ? only a lot more fun. The Cat in the Hat messed with the Fish?s mind ? and Jesus most certainly messed with the Pharisees? minds as well.
ON LINE ONLY Years ago Tony Campolo wrote a book called "The Kingdom of God is a Party?. And he begins the book with a story ? and it?s unclear to me if the story is true, but if it isn?t, it should be. He tells of how he was on a speaking trip to Hawaii, and because of the time change from Philadelphia, where he?s from, he wound up awake at 3:00 AM and hungry for some breakfast. And so he went out on the street and found this greasy spoon dive of a diner that was open, and he sat down at the bar and got a cup of coffee and a donut. And he writes:
"As I sat there munching on my donut and sipping my coffee at 3:30 in the morning, the door of the diner suddenly swung open and, to my discomfort, in marched 8 or 9 provocative and boisterous prostitutes. It was a small place and they sat on either side of me. They were loud and crude. I felt completely out of place and was just about to make my getaway when the woman beside me said, ?Tomorrow?s my birthday. I?m going to be 39.? Her friend responded in a nasty tone, ?So what do you want from me? A party? What do you want?? ?Come on!?, said the birthday girl. ?Why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that?s all. I don?t want anything. I mean, why should you give me a birthday party? I?ve never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now??
Of course, if you know Tony Campolo, you know what happened next. Tony plotted with the owner of the diner to throw Agnes a party the next night. And sure enough, they decorated the diner, got the word out on the street, and by 3:15 the next morning, he writes, "it was wall to wall prostitutes ? and me!?
At 3:30 on the dot the door of the diner swung open and in came Agnes and her friends. There was the typical screaming of Happy Birthday! Her friends sat her down and everyone sang Happy Birthday to Agnes and she started crying and then out came the birthday cake with all the candles and she just lost it.
And when it came time to cut the cake, Agnes refused. She asked whether she could take it home and just keep it because she had never had a birthday cake before. And with that she got up from her stool and took the cake a couple doors down to her home, promising that she?d be right back.
Campolo writes, "When the door closed there was a stunned silence in the place. Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, ?What do you say we pray?? Looking back on it now, it seems more than strange for a sociologist to be leading a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes in a diner in Honolulu at 3:30 in the morning. But then it just felt like the right thing to do. I prayed for Agnes. I prayed for her salvation. I prayed that her life would be changed and that God would be good to her.
And when I finished the owner of the diner leaned over the counter and, with a trace of hostility in his voice, he said, ?Hey! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?? And in one of those moments when just the right words came, I answered, ?I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning.?
And the guy waited for a moment and then almost sneered as he answered, ?No you don?t. There?s no church like that. If there was, I?d join it. I?d join a church like that!?
Campolo concludes, "Well, that?s the kind of church that Jesus came to create! Anybody who reads the New Testament will discover a Jesus who loved to party with whores and with all kinds of left-out people. The publicans and sinners loved Him because He partied with them. The lepers of society found in Him someone who would eat and drink with them. Our Jesus was and is the Lord of the party.? Or as we have been saying this morning, Jesus is, in many ways, just like The Cat in the Hat.
I got this story from Rebecca Fisher after I was done writing this sermon ? and it just seemed like it made the point so well. And it was doubly confirmed because, probably 20 years ago when she first read it, she wrote, "John 10:10? in the margin ? the theme verse that I had already chosen for this message.
Ya know, at the end of the story there?s this great scene where the Cat comes back in riding this sweet machine. "I always pick up all my playthings and so ?. I will show you another good trick that I know!? And then he proceeds to pick up and straighten up and put everything back together neat and tidy and ? and ? if I had known he was going to pick everything up in the end, I could have enjoyed the mess and the fun along the way a lot more. How about you?
And so what?s all this mean for us today? For our relationship with this Jesus, this Cat in the Hat? First off, we?ve got to battle against the Fish. No matter what the devil may try to convince you of, no matter how much he points his bony finger at you ? it?s the devil doing that, and not Jesus. In the Scriptures, it?s the devil who is called "the accuser?, not Jesus. So get that image of Jesus as the Fish out of your minds. Jesus is not your accuser. He is your Savior.
Second, Jesus comes to give us life, that we might have it to the full. The Cat came to play some great games on a cold cold wet day. And Jesus comes to our lives, on our most cold cold wet day, on that very day when we are stuck inside with nothing to do, when we are all alone and life is dull and dreary, when things perhaps couldn?t get any worse ? Jesus comes to our lives and desires to give us life. Real life. To give us life that is filled with meaning and purpose. Full and abundant.
Third, the life which Jesus gives involves rules for living. But the rules are not those of the Fish. The rules are not designed to make sure that we have no fun on this cold cold wet day. God?s law is designed to bring our life into fullness. God?s law is not designed to ruin our life, but to enhance our life. God designed us, and knows how we function best. The Scripture says NIVJames 1:25 the one who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-- he will be blessed in what he does.
And finally, it?s all going to turn out OK in the end. In the end the Cat has this clean up machine. Jesus is going to work everything out. In fact, by the time He?s done with your life, nothing will be out of place. And so therefore you can trust Him along the way. When things get messy ? and they will ? you can rest assured. He?s got this great clean up machine just waiting to arrive. When things look chaotic; when it feels like Thing One and Thing Two have been released into your life and are causing chaos galore; when your job is lost and your health is gone and your family?s in crisis ? you can be calm and at peace ? because I assure you, and not only do I assure you, but Scriptures assure you, Jesus is the Cat ? and His great clean up machine is on the way.
Sermon Topics: Parable Preaching