Lessons Every Child Should Learn & No Adult Should Forget
Sunday, September 15, 2013
It is hard to find anyone—adult, teen or child—who doesn’t love and appreciate the writings of Theodore Giesel, better known to the world as Dr. Seuss. We all have our favorites among his books: The Cat in the Hat, The Foot Book, Horton Hears a Who, Oh The Places You Will Go, Yertle the Turtle, Green Eggs and Ham, Fox in Sox and on and on the list goes. Personally, one of my favorites happens to be a lesser known book in the Dr. Seuss collection. My favorite Dr. Seuss book is Gerald McBoing Boing.
Gerald McBoing Boing is the story of little Gerald McCloy and as Dr. Seuss begins, “the strange thing that happened to that little boy. It all started where Gerald was two, that’s when kids start talking—least most of them do. But, when Gerald was two, he didn’t say words, he went boing, boing instead.” In other words, the little boy Gerald never uttered normal words, he only made sounds. Now, as you can imagine—this was a problem for Gerald, for his parents and for the people who made up his world. He was a misfit in school, he struggled to be accepted or to have friends and the older he became the more his parents wondered what to do with him.
The story of little Gerald reaches its apex when as a complete outcast, he decides to run away from home. After all, he doesn’t seem to matter. Instead, he is more a problem that a help to anyone in his life. But, just as Gerald is about to board a train to whisk him away from everyone and everything he knows, he meets a man who claims to have been searching for him—him, for a long, long time. The man is the owner of a radio station who has been looking for someone to come and to make all of the sounds for the various programs that would have been broadcast over the airways during the 1950s when the book was written. Gerald, is the perfect candidate. His impediment of making sounds rather than speaking words is not a problem to the station manager. Instead it is a wonderful, tremendous asset. In the end, rather than an outcast with no use, Gerald McCloy becomes one of the most famous and well compensated radio figures in the country.
What I love about this book is that it articulates what we find at the heart of a number of Dr. Seuss works. Gerald was important. He had a unique contribution to make to the world. He mattered. You find this over and over again in Dr. Seuss’ writings and most pointedly in Horton Hears a Who, Oh The Places You Will Go and Gerald McBoing Boing to name a few. We do matter—all of us. All of us, as unique individuals, have value, worth and significance if we will only recognize it and live our lives in light of this truth.
Without question, this is an incredibly important word to communicate to our children and this is a critical truth to never forget no matter how old we become. Yet, from the sometime hateful words of peers when we are young to the struggles and failures we sometimes endure as adults, we all struggle to varying degrees and at different points in our lives with the belief that we have worth, that we are significant and that we matter.
This idea of the worth of human beings is a subtle yet underlying theme of our text for today. What I mean is that this idea permeates the story from Acts at the heart of our worship this morning but you have to work just a bit to see it. The basic context of this occasion in the books of Acts is Jesus’ remaining eleven disciples and his other closest followers in the early days after Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension.
One of the issues they dealt with was what to do with the vacancy left among the twelve disciples in light of Judas’ betrayal and suicide. As they discussed and debated, one of the first things that we notice is that they did decide to replace him and ultimately there were two individuals presented as worthy candidates for his vacant chair at the table.
On the surface, what we have here is the historical record of the very first election for a church office. But, under the surface something else is afoot. Now, on the one hand, Biblical experts will point out that the disciples likely felt bound to replace Judas. After all, the guidelines for small Jewish synagogues at the time suggested 12 leaders and thus as a small body of believers, they may have simply felt that they needed to find a replacement for Judas now that they were down to 11 disciples so that they could get back to the magic number 12 leaders.
But, what their decision also shows is that they remained confident that God still wanted human beings to be the primary communicators and carriers of God’s word and love to the world. Think about this for a minute. The disciples as a whole had been abysmal failures in recent months. They had abandoned Jesus, coward in the shadows and failed to live out their new found faith in the most critical moment—at the point of Jesus’ death. Further, Judas as Jesus’ betrayer, was the ultimate poster boy of these failures. He had clearly and emphatically communicated to everyone what we as human beings are capable of doing. In turn, who could have or who would have blamed the disciples for deciding that in light of recent actions, why even risk choosing a successor? Why not just leave Judas’ chair empty? Why not just cut their losses and not risk more failure by entrusting the gospel to another set of human hands?
Apparently, part of their rational was that in spite of our frailties and humanness, they believed that God continued to love human beings and that God still wanted to use them and their peers for his work.
Simply said, We remain God’s crowning achievement and creation. We do matter and God continues to want to work with and through us—even though we often mess up. From the time we are born until the day we die, we continue to matter to God and to God’s work. In turn, their affirmation and invitation to Matthias was the disciples’ way of communication this truth to Matthias and to remind themselves of this same reality.
As believers today, we must do the same for one another. Through our words, actions and support, we must collectively and continually remind each other that we matter, that we are important, that we have worth value and significance in this world. As Donald Miller says, “we are all here on purpose and for a purpose.” Even though we sin, mess up and often show our humanities and our frailties, we continue to matter to each other and to God and we should never grow weary of teaching this lesson to our children or whispering this truth in the ears of each other as adults.
Hal Warlick was for many years the Chaplain at High Point University in North Carolina. Warlick was a gifted storyteller and I have shared one of his life experiences before with you and you can be certain that I will likely mention him at some point in the future. One of my favorite stories from Warlick comes from his time at Harvard University where he was a student. While there, he campus job was as a Resident Assistant in one of the male dormitories. One year at Christmastime, Warlick was left alone in the dorm on the afternoon that classes had ended for the semester and most all of the students had packed up to go home for the holiday break. That is to say that he thought that he was alone until one student emerged in the hallway who had finished a final class on the very end of that final day of the semester. As the student came down the hall, Warlick observed that he was extremely happy and that he was waving a test or paper that he had just received back that carried a very high grade on it. What struck Warlick is that this student, was going dorm room to dorm room looking for someone with whom to share he excitement but with everyone gone home for the term, there was no one left to affirm him or congratulate him.
Too often our lives are like this. From the time that we are very young until our last moments when we are very old, we all yearn for people in our lives to affirm us, to celebrate with us and to tell us that we matter and are important. We really never grow too old to benefit from hearing this truth. This is a way that we communicate God’s love and hopes for our lives and this is the way that we communicate our love for each other. In turn, we must never underestimate how significant or important our affirmation of one another’s worth is to all of us.
There is something else to note in this story too. Quite frankly, biblical scholars don’t really know if it is an important point or not but it is well worth recognizing. That point is that we have no idea what Matthias did with his choice as Judas’ replacement. What I mean is that we never hear of him again—he never appears on the pages of the New Testament after this moment. In turn, the question arises as to whether he ever really did anything with this responsibility to which he had been called. He may certainly have, or, in a church that was still young, small and whose future was very uncertain, Matthias may have never fully taken seriously this opportunity that he was given. We just don’t know which he did.
Here is my point. The need to affirm one another and to remind each other that we matter and that we are important to God is not just so that we will all feel warm and fuzzy and good about ourselves. Yes, that is a benefit of having worth and self-esteem. But, the end game is to realize that since we are unique and since we do have value, we also need to remember that God has unique things he wants to do with our lives. In turn, our responsibility is to avail ourselves to this good work that God wants to do through us.
Do you remember our puzzle last year of First Baptist? Do you remember how we gave everyone a piece of that puzzle and that this act was a way of describing our unique individual contributions? And, do you remember that we said that if we fail to offer our piece, the puzzle is never fully complete and that God is thus not able to do all that God wants to do through us as a body? That is the point here again today. We all matter. But, we don’t just end there. Rather, now that we realize that we matter, we commit ourselves to playing our role and to calling others to play their roles in God’s kingdom work. When we do, we mature into recognizing that our worth both comes from God and ultimately is ours for the benefit of offering right back to the one who uniquely created all of us in the first place. Amen.