The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss: Holy Spirit Moves in the Seen & Unseen
Pastor Leta Arndt Behrens
Sermon Scripture: LUKE 14: 25-33
25Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
We began this Dr. Suess and the Gospel series with the story of creation and the beauty of the diversity of being made in the image of God. As we moved through gospel stories and rhyming stories we were reminded of God with us in new faces and places, Jesus accompanying us in impossible situations and we heard the stories from our high school youth of their experiences with this call to see and know God with neighbors close and at the border. Today as we culminate our series, we are given a pretty big call to action as we are told by Jesus that all should hear and listen to God’s voice that tells us to let go of those things that are most precious to us, take up a cross, and follow.
I wonder if when Jesus told this to the crowds that were following him if they got much smaller…
Jesus had reached what we could imagine to be ‘rock star status’ by this point as he now had large crowds travelling with him. They may been attracted to his message or his willingness to stand up to the Pharisees. They may have been following to see his healing or hear more about a different kingdom, one of God where the class divisions and social statuses fall away to include everyone. At this point in his ministry, Jesus tells them to pay attention to what they are really getting into. Jesus wants them to know that being loyal to him will mean that there could be division from those that they love in their families and communities. It will mean that they will give up the life they have known because this following of Jesus is going to mean listening and speaking in a new way that is not easy and no matter what station they are in life, will not leave them in the place they have known.
So maybe when the people were told to count the cost, they did and Maybe some turned and decided that this had been an interesting ride but it’s not that good. Maybe some took to taunting or trying to get others to stop following with them, calling this group crazy just as Horton’s friends did when they could not hear or understand the one voice he kept searching out.
And yet there were those that carried on as we carry on. For 2000 years Christians have often had to count the cost, suffer division and misunderstanding, be drawn into situations that they could not have imagined or sought out on their own. Many in other countries still count the cost daily – how will their children be treated, will they have a job, will they be safe. And we do too, being a Christian in the our world today is not easy. It is not popular, it is not all the same and it is difficult to articulate what ‘kind of Christian’ we are in a way that does not diminish anyone else. We have 15 youth who will affirm their baptisms next week. They all had questions to answer about each of the promises that were made for them in baptism and they now will take on themselves. One of those promises is to proclaim the word of God — to hear it, to speak it, tell it, and let it be, as Jeremiah says, written on our hearts. Every single one of them said this was a difficult promise because in this one they did not want to offend or be thought of as someone who can’t hold different ideas in love. I do not think that middle and high school students are alone in this. This proclamation, hearing and speaking up, is a challenge for us all and yet it is a part of the discipleship we are called to as we take up our cross and follow Jesus.
Horton, this crazy elephant that hear voices no one else hears, focused in, followed and spoke up for them. He followed the voices when they were lost, he sat with the voices to keep them from being silenced, he carried the voices and asked others to hear over and over again until they were heard. This was not easy or convenient. Horton had to count the cost of his time, his energy, his focus, where his own life would lead. Horton had to let go of control, let go of what he had always known and follow the spirit inside him that led him to know the call of where he should go and how he could bring sound to the unheard voices.
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, says in his book the Universal Christ, “God comes to you disguised as your life.” Which is another way of saying what Jesus says in our gospel. Your life in God will call you to let go of things, to pay attention to the holy spirit, to know that the mystery of the Holy Spirit will not remain silent.
So how do we let go? How do we bring voice to the voiceless? How do we hear the Holy Spirit among us? How do we know for sure when it is the voice of God? St Bonaventure, another Franciscan who lived in the 13th century taught that we start by loving the very simplest and humblest things and then move up from there. Horton began with loving and hearing just the smallest thing he could not see on a clover leaf. So we begin with what we know and we move from there. Once we can hear a voice in our hearts, in our homes, in our families, in our work, in our friendships we can then hear the voices in our community and in our state and in our country and in the world. We cannot control all the things that we encounter in life, but we can know that God is in them and God is asking us to bend our hears, listen, and then speak into the world. This giving up of control is the following Jesus is asking from us and for us. Loving is giving up control, loving is not trying to make God look like us, loving is the other way around, where we seek to pick up a cross and follow Jesus.
We may do this in simple ways like joining the World Council of Churches who us education on violence awareness and inviting Christians and other faith traditions to wear black on Thursdays as a way to raise awareness and give voice to those who are victims of violence. We may take action in our church by joining in contributing to the food bank and school supplies that Outside our Walls helps us to do or helping the sunday school kids with donations to the food kits for Homeward Alliance. We do this by sitting with the lonely kid at lunch or inviting a new person to join us at the movies. We may do this by responding with donations to Lutheran Disaster Response who is working to help those in Hurricane Dorian right now. We may go further in writing letters to tobacco companies who are targeting our children with vaping drugs, or writing our senators on supporting or not supporting policies that harm others or harm the earth, or volunteering in any place that serves those who need a place and and voice in this world. We can also do this by simply by listening and telling the stories of others–when we were in El Paso this summer and heard the stories of refugees, we asked what we could do from Colorado and they said, just tell our story so we know people are hearing our hearts. All these things and more we accomplish through the spirit, by bending an ear and listening well and showing up in our own lives.
And then we trust. We trust the promise of God that as we are called we are also given what we need through God’s grace and love moving in us. We trust that we were made in God’s image, all of us and we were created good and for good. We trust that the Holy spirit will show us the next step, the next voice to hear, the next words to say, the next actions to take on behalf of those who are not yet in a place to be heard on their own. Father Rohr gives us a guide on how to know the voice of God when he says, “If something comes toward you with grace and can pass through you and toward others with grace, you can trust it as the voice of God.” This promise is given to us in our memory verse for this series from Romans 8-the spirit helps us in our weakness and the very spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. Amen and may it be so.