Bible Text: Ezekiel 37:1-11, Psalm 130 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: Sermons with Seuss | This morning we are continuing in our February sermon series, “Sermons with Seuss”. In this series we are looking at some of the most classic stories by Dr. Seuss from his children’s books and connecting them with Scripture and our world today. Now last week we used the story of “The Cat and the Hat Comes Back” along with a passage from Isaiah, and we talked about being active in accepting salvation and turning our lives over to God.
Today we will be using the Dr. Seuss classic tale, “Green Eggs and Ham”, along with our reading from the book of Ezekiel as we continue on. Now an interesting and kind of funny note about “Green Eggs and Ham”, it was written on a bet. That’s right, in 1960 the co-founder of Random House Publishing, who published Dr. Seuss’s works, bet Seuss $50, or almost $400 in today’s world, that he couldn’t write a book with fifty or fewer distinct words.
What I find even funnier is that even though Dr. Seuss won the bet in producing his most popular work as Green Eggs and Ham, using exactly 50 unique words, the co-founder never paid up on the bet. But given that Green Eggs and Ham went on to be Seuss’s bestselling work, he kind of made out okay in the end.
“Do you like green eggs and ham? I do not like them, Sam-I-Am. I do not like green eggs and ham… Would you like them in a house? Would you like them with a mouse?… Would you eat them in a box? Would you eat them with a fox?… Would you? Could you? In a car? Eat them! Eat them! Here they are!”
As many of you already know, “Green Eggs and Ham” features a rather odd, but extremely persistent, character we come to know as Sam-I-Am. And it seems that Sam-I-Am’s sole mission in this story is to try and persuade, or relentlessly badger and hound, another character to eat a very strange and unusual dish – green eggs and ham. Interestingly, we are never told the name of this other character. But this individual, even though he has never tried this odd meal, continues to claim that he does not like green eggs and ham.
But can you really blame the guy? I mean would you really be excited to eat green eggs or a green piece of ham? I think we would probably assume that a piece of green ham was spoiled or even toxic. And green eggs? Unless they are dyed for Easter, I am pretty sure eggs are not supposed to be green, at least not if you want to eat them.
Now I know I probably seem a bit biased here. Some of you may know that I tend to be a picky eater. Sarah and I used to joke when we were first married that I was helping prepare her for children because I am such a picky eater. I like to think I have expanded my culinary horizons since we have been together, but I know that put in a group of people it is probably still at least 90-95% sure that I am the pickiest eater there. And I definitely would not be trying green eggs and ham…
But our unnamed character proves to have a stronger resolve than yours truly as at the end of the story, Sam-I-Am gets his wish. Exhausted and worn out from this constant persistence from Sam-I-Am, this character gives in and finally has a taste of the infamous green eggs and ham. And lo and behold, he actually likes green eggs and ham! Not only does he like them, but he even thanks Sam-I-Am for introducing him to this wonderful new dish.
Now strange meals aside, there are many times in our lives that, just like this unnamed character, we initially resist something that we ultimately might actually like or enjoy. Or it might even be something that we even ultimately need, regardless of whether or not we may like it or want to admit it. I mean if we are being honest, we are all at some point hesitant to try new things or are resistant to hearing new ideas or perspectives. And that is especially true when those new ideas or perspectives make us feel uncomfortable.
When I was reading over our Scripture lesson for today, the prophet Ezekiel kind of reminds me of Sam-I-Am. You see in the case of Ezekiel; he gets stuck with his own plate of green eggs and ham in the form of a scroll “with words of lamentation and mourning and woe.” This scroll symbolizes the entrée, if you will, that he has been called by God to give to the children of Israel. Now Ezekiel has sampled the entrée and he seems to think that the message is “sweet as honey.”
But it’s not really all that surprising that the children of Israel do not agree with Ezekiel’s particular culinary tastes. Many probably refused to hear what he had to say and rather told him he could keep his green eggs and ham full of lamentation, mourning, and woe. I mean he actually says “these bones are the entire house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely finished.’” Not a super happy sounding message huh?
So yes, Ezekiel has this unappetizing, this unpopular sounding message for the people of Israel, but it was a necessary one for them to hear. Israel was in the midst of some very hard and challenging times. We are looking at around 587 B.C.E. and the nation of Israel had been essentially destroyed. And we have to remember that this group of people, this nation of Israel, believed that it had been uniquely chosen by God. And not only that, but because of this belief they also thought themselves to be somehow invincible.
Unfortunately for them, Babylonian warriors, people who did not even believe in this God of Israel, attacked and conquered the Israelites. The Israelites were now living in exile, made to be refugees from their beloved homeland and were waiting and wanting a message from their God. But I am pretty sure they were not wanting anything like this plate of green eggs and ham that Ezekiel brought them. The Israelites were looking for words of comfort, words of assurance, words that would lift their spirits and make them feel better during this time of despair. But few, if any, of Ezekiel’s words were seen by them as offering this.
To be honest, the message that Ezekiel had received and was compelled to proclaim to the Israelites included words that seemed more about judgement and warning of future destruction. In fact, a lot of the people around Ezekiel were hoping and praying for a return to the “good old days.” But a part of Ezekiel’s message to the people was pointing out that those “good old days” that they were pining after were not really that good after all.
Ezekiel observes that Israel has been acting unfaithful, pursuing one center of power after another, making alliances with anyone and anything, and doing all of this when these kinds of actions and activity would compromise their devotion to the Lord.
The children of Israel had become a rebellious people who continued to confuse, or in some cases outright ignore, their priorities and the covenant made with God. They began to essentially replace their covenants with God with covenants made with their neighbor states. They replaced their devotion to God with the devotion to self.
So, Ezekiel told the people that those who were living in Jerusalem had become like the wood of a wild vine, wood that was only fit to be destroyed and used to fuel a fire. And part of what made Ezekiel’s message challenging for the people was the fact that he wasn’t one to keep things vague or generalized. Rather than just place the blame and the problems on the entire nation, he instead brought his message closer to home by focusing on the responsibility of the individual. According to Ezekiel, each man, woman, and child of the nation of Israel was responsible for the state they found themselves in.
And unfortunately, I think we can all too easily relate to this kind of dynamic in our world today. When we talk about big issues and problems, we tend to blame these vague entities like the economy, or the government, or big business, or simply “them”. When we do that it relieves us from any personal responsibility to the issues and problems. It makes it so that we don’t need to focus in on our own attitudes and behaviors. Let’s be honest here, we are much better at placing blame on our government than we are at accepting any individual responsibility.
We don’t like to think about how the ways we spend our money, or how our own wasteful patterns of consumption might have a negative impact on our environment or create situations of injustice for people in other parts of our world. It’s much easier to push back and say we don’t like green eggs and ham, rather than try to look at things in new ways. And this is especially true if these new ways show us that the things, we have been doing have negative and harmful ramifications.
Ezekiel went so far as to devote an entire chapter, number 18 in his book, to this problem of individual guilt and responsibility. In Ezekiel 18:30 he writes, “Therefore, I will judge each of you according to your ways, house of Israel. This is what the Lord God says. Turn, turn away from all your sins. Don’t let them be sinful obstacles for you.” Ezekiel saw that many of the problems faced by the Israelites were only magnified by the utter failure of individuals to assume any responsibility.
While they were in exile, the Judean refugees neglected worshiping God, they failed to build proper homes for their families, and they sat around mourning their losses while the final remnants of their culture and their faith continued to deteriorate. They sat around in self-pity, placing blame on “those people” and never stopping to look internally at any failure on their own part.
And I have to wonder, as I did while I wrote this message, in what ways are contemporary Americans very much like the Israelites of the Biblical times? How seriously do we regard the individual responsibilities that we have towards our neighbors, our church, our family, our country? Many of us have lamented about how challenging it has become to find people to help teach Sunday school, or to serve on a church committee, or help out with an event. But as we lament on this apparent reality, are we looking at our own individual responsibility in the matter?
The message that Ezekiel brought to the children of Israel so very long ago is just as strong a message for us today. We have the right to look after our own personal needs and desires. I fully believe that God wants us to be happy and to enjoy the life God has blessed us with. But we have to balance our desires for personal comfort and prosperity with the responsibilities we have to other people and institutions, especially if we want to see those institutions to not just endure but also thrive.
That means that we have to stop acting in the hopes or expectations of some immediate personal reward, and instead act for the long-term best interest of everyone, including ourselves. That also means that sometimes we have to become Ezekiel in our own lives. We sometimes have to take a stand and share messages that may be rejected, even among our friends and loved ones, just like Sam-I-Am’s green eggs and ham.
And when we have to deliver those messages, we can find encouragement in what Ezekiel has already said. His message is colored by the vision of a majestic chariot carried high by winged cherubim. This vision proclaimed that God was not confined to some temple or even to Israel itself. It proclaimed that God was, and always would be, present wherever God’s people were. In all parts of our lives from work or school or leisure, our lives are always lived in the presence of God.
And this is where the message Ezekiel brings can be found to be as sweet as honey. We cannot be cut off from God. God does not forget God’s people. Even the darkest places we may find ourselves, God is still there. Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones that some may see as a sign of death and decay, included the bones rattling and rising up. Ezekiel knew that God could bring new life even in times where there may seem to be no hope at all. We can always rise again through the renewing power of the Spirit of the living God.
So, we need to go out and proclaim Ezekiel’s message. Regardless of how it is received, it is the message that God is the judge of all nations and all lives. We are all called to stand accountable and God’s presence reaches into every single corner of our existence. And while judgement is coming, so too is the forgiving grace that calls us back to God like lost sheep who have gone astray. The forgiving grace that renews our lives and breathes a new spirit into our dry bones.
Ezekiel 18:31-32 says, “Abandon all of your repeated sins. Make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, house of Israel? I most certainly don’t want anyone to die! This is what the Lord God says. Change your ways, and live!” God is our great shepherd. And I hope that we are all able and willing to accept the challenge to heed God’s word for us. Whether it be a word of challenge that are might be prone to ignore, or a word of comfort and inspiration that we need.
I pray that we might be bold to accept our responsibilities, to take up our crosses, to turn to our loving and almighty God. And I pray that we might be willing, and not resistant, to hear God’s call on our lives so that God can lead us, so that God can create new hearts within us, and so that God can bring our dry bones back to life. Amen.