Horton Hears a Who!

Bible Text: Romans 8:18-25, Psalm 24:1-2 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: Sermons with Seuss | Today we are closing out our February sermon series, “Sermons with Seuss”. These past few weeks we have been looking at some of Dr. Seuss’s most classic and famous stories, alongside some specific sections of Scripture, where we find some commonalities in the morals and lessons offered in both. While I cannot speak with any certainty that Dr. Seuss was influenced by faith or Scripture in his writings, there are very clear parallels that can be drawn.

Last Sunday we utilized the story of the Sneetches along with readings from James and Galatians to talk about how we are all equal in the church, and in the world, as brothers and sisters in Christ and that no one is better than another. The week before we used the story of “Green Eggs and Ham” paired with a reading from the book of Ezekiel to talk about our need to proclaim to the world the teachings and messages of Christ, even when they may not be easy to hear. The week before that we had the story of “The Cat in The Hat Comes Back” along with a passage from Isaiah and talked how we need to be active in accepting salvation and turning our lives over to God.

Now today we will be using our readings from the books of Psalms and Romans, along with another very popular Dr. Seuss tale, “Horton Hears a Who!”. “On the fifteenth of May, in the Jungle of Nool, In the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool, He was splashing…enjoying the jungle’s great joys…When Horton the elephant heard a small noise. So Horton stopped splashing. He looked toward the sound, ‘That’s funny,’ thought Horton. ‘There is no one around.’ Then he heard it again! Just a very faint yelp, As if some tiny person were calling for help. ‘I’ll help you,’ said Horton. ‘But who are? Where?'”

Now “Horton Hears a Who!” is another Dr. Seuss story that features that large, loving, and lovable elephant named Horton. In this story, Horton, who always seems to function as a sort of God figure, he hears a sound that none of the other animals seem to be able to hear. Their ears are not sensitive enough to hear the cries of the Whos in Whoville.

The Whos’ entire world-replete with Whos of all ages, with houses, and streets, and churches, and grocery stores exists on a teeny, tiny speck of dust too small for the elephant to even see. But Horton can hear them loud and clear, and he makes it his personal mission to protect his tiny friends. After all, Horton says that a person is a person, no matter how small.

So, Horton carefully places the speck of dust that houses the Whos’ entire world onto a clover for safekeeping. The other animals, however, are convinced that Horton is off his rocker! They decide not only to make fun of poor Horton, but also to take the clover away. An eagle swoops in and carries off the clover and ultimately drops it into a field with millions of other clovers, leaving Horton to search for the only one that houses the Whos. And thirteen million clovers later, Horton FINALLY find the one he is looking for. The Whos are a bit out of sorts, but they are okay.

By now, the other animals have all grown tired of Horton’s antics. So, they set out to put Horton in a cage and to boil the tiny speck of dust in a kettle of Beezle-Nut oil. Nice group huh? Well, now as you can imagine, Horton is desperate. He pleads with the Whos to make the loudest noise they can so that everyone can hear them and believe Horton. The Whos try, but its not enough. Only Horton’s ears are sensitive enough to hear. But finally, the mayor of Whoville discovers that there is one small Who, in fact the smallest one of all, who was not making a sound. When this one joins the chorus, the rest of the animals are able to hear, and the town of Whoville is saved.

Now in reading this story, we may find it easy to identify with the Whos. So much of the world is desperately trying to make a sound, but sometimes it seems that no one is listening or hearing. Indeed, in Romans we read about how all of creation is groaning and moaning for redemption. The Bible’s most important message is that God came into this world through Jesus Christ in order to redeem humankind and, indeed, all creation. We can live with the confidence that although on earth our cries fall on many a deaf ear, the God who knows even the tiniest sparrow hears, Horton-like, the cries of the world.

But then, at other times, we may identify more with Horton in our efforts to hear the cries of a groaning world and come to its aid. Sometimes we must work at interpreting and understanding the world’s cries. Those of us who have pets have come to distinguish between particular kinds of barks or meows or whines. And many a mother or father can sleep through a myriad of noises during the night-rumbling traffic, a whirring air conditioner, howling wind or splashing rain – only to be instantly awakened by the faintest sound from their newborn child.

An important truth to remember is that humanity IS unique in God’s creation. But it is another important truth that the Bible tells us that all creation is important to God, and that human beings are to be faithful stewards of that creation. When I think about and consider the passage from Romans about the whole creation groaning, I am reminded of that very difficult theological question, posed almost always, it seems, by a young child, that almost all pastors at some point must answer: “Will my dog/cat/hamster/hermit crab/etc. go to heaven?”

And when faced with an especially challenging theological question that I cannot maybe so easily work out, I might do something that many preachers will do: I will quote someone else. Someone I believe to be smarter or cleverer than myself usually, but not always. Here is how one preacher wades through this particular quagmire, a pastor Kel Groseclose, former minister of congregational care at First United Methodist Church, Wenatchee, Washington and many more things:

Having built such deep and lasting bonds it’s natural for children to ask what happens when pets die. I)o they go to heaven? Or as one girl inquired, “I)o they have their very own heaven?” Another child experienced the loss of both her grandfather and her favorite pet within days of each other. She expressed her wonder in concrete terms. “Did Pasha go to heaven with Grandpa?” The best response to questions Such as this that have no definite answers is to honestly share one’s own feeling: “I loved Pasha just as you did and if the decision were mine, she would be curled up at Grandpa’s feet right now. Jesus told the disciples, “About that day or hour no one knows” (Mark 13:32). We do not have sufficient information to make official pronouncements concerning eternity.

Yet, there’s no harm in speculating, as long as we remain humble and draw from what we already know about God’s nature. Personally, I think heaven would be rather bland and boring if life in all its varieties weren’t present. Every earthly expression of life is sacred to the Creator. We know that not even a tiny sparrow falls from the sky without God’s awareness. God’s love reaches out to the lost sheep. God picks up and holds the little lambs.

It seems logical and fair that cats and dogs, goldfish and horses should have a place somewhere in everlasting life. God, who yearns for us to be caring and kind to all living creatures, also feels compassion for them. The God who makes baby animals so appealing and pets so loyal and faithful, surely has a warm spot for each and every one.

Now I will be honest, I really like this response because it reaffirms something that we so often forget: the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. God’s compassion extends to all of creation, and human beings, as God’s stewards, we bear an obligation to respond to creation’s cries.

For those who would like to consider this topic on a more sophisticated level than Dr. Seuss’s writings or a pastor’s musings with a young child, there is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a scientist and Roman Catholic priest in the first part of the twentieth century. He was a paleontologist – someone who studies fossil remains. But in his roles as a priest, one day in the Gobi Desert on a excavation, he found that when time came to celebrate the Mass, he had no bread or wine, then essential elements needed.

This priest looked at the world around him, and the realization come to him on that day that although he had no bread or wine, all creation possessed a certain sacredness or holiness because of the essential mystery of the Christian faith proclaimed in John’s Gospel: “The Word become flesh.” In other words, God not only created this universe in which we live, replete with grandeur, but God also entered into it in Jesus Christ. God offered up the whole creation by Jesus coming and being present with us, thus leaving an eternal, indelible stamp on this world.

So, let me encourage you all to care for this world. We must not submit to greet, lust, and other forces that tend to destroy the wholeness of the creation of God in this world. The bottom line for us remains, just as stated in Psalm 24, “The earth is the LORD’S and all that is in it.” We do not own the world, despite what we may often think. But as God’s stewards, and as participants in God’s plan of redemption, we must hear and respond to the world’s cries.

And this responsibility includes the obligation to care for the earth. I am reminded of a story about a boy who wanted to be an usher in a small-town movie theatre. During the interview, the manager of the theatre asked him an important question: “Son, what would you do if we have a crowded theatre and a fire broke out?” The boy thought for a minute and then replied, “Well, you don’t have to worry about me. You don’t have to worry about me at all. If it’s a crowded theatre and a fire breaks out, I would get out safely.”

Now obviously, that wasn’t the answer the manager was looking for, but it reflects the spirit of many of our answers to such questions. We think instinctively only about ourselves; it doesn’t matter what happens to anyone else as long as I get out safely. That’s no the answer Horton would give, nor should it be an answer for faithful Christians and children of a loving and merciful God.

Among our responsibilities is that of preserving and protecting our planet. For too long, care for our environment has lacked an appropriate position on the church’s agenda. Usually, concerns for economic growth win out over concerns for protecting and preserving the environment. But if the earth is the Lord’s, we have no right to trash it. In fact, we have a responsibility to hear its groans and to respond.

You know sometimes I am kind of concerned about the message that is advanced when we sing in church. “This earth is not my home; I am moving on to a better place.” Many of our hymns have this kind of imagery. And though it is important to affirm our belief in immortality, we need not and should not do so at the expense of the earth, which is a gift from God to be treasured and passed on to future generations.

There are so many little things the church can do to display sensitivity for hearing the earth’s cries. I once ran across a church that put up a little cup rack so that heavy-duty coffee drinkers have mugs on hand. I was impressed when I was told about how much it cut down on the need for disposable cups. Many churches have stopped using disposable plates and cutlery, and instead use and then wash regular dishes. We all need to do more and more of this, not because it’s right, but because the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. We must hear its cries.

And we must, just like Horton, hear the cries of other people, no matter how small or insignificant they may be in the eyes of the world. If anything, Scripture instructs us to take special care of those people – especially widows, orphans, and prisoners – who are downtrodden and have been marginalized from the spheres of influence in our society.

This includes people who cannot afford to wear the clothes or drive the cars that are considered essential to being successful in our society. It means making more room for people from ethic, socioeconomic, or sexual orientation minority groups who are denied their rights to full humanity in both overt and subtle ways. It means that no child should ever be labeled a “dummy” or a “nerd.” And certainly, no child or spouse should ever be subjected to the trashing of physical or emotional abuse. All of these are among the Whos whose cries we need to listen for with greater sensitivity and respond to with a greater sense of urgency and concern.

Let us all, like the Whos, remember that no matter how weak our cries may be, God is listening. Let us also, just like the Whos, always be listening for cries that others are not able to hear. And most importantly, let us step in and make a difference. Amen.