Bible Text: Isaiah 1:15-20, Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: Sermons with Seuss | Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known to most people as Dr. Seuss to most of the world, was born March 2, 1904, and passed away on September 24, 1991. Dr. Seuss is not only one of the most well-known American writers and illustrators, but his children’s books have sold over 600 million copies and have been translated into more than 20 languages. During World War II, Seuss worked in the animation department of the United States Army, producing several short films.
So, this morning we are beginning our new three-week sermon series, “Sermons with Seuss,” where we will be using some of Dr. Seuss’s most classic stories and tying them together with some important lessons we find in Scripture. Now I will be honest, I had considered trying to write this entire sermon in the rhyming pattern that Dr. Seuss is so well known for. But after some thought, I realized two things.
First, I might have some trouble finding some rhymes for some of the names in the Bible. And second, given that my sermons tend to be around 15 minutes long, we all might get REALLY tired of rhymes by the end of that. So instead, I will stay with my normal style of preaching, but I may try to throw a few short rhymes in every so often – we will have to see.
So, today we will be tying together our Scripture from the book of Isaiah with the classic Dr. Seuss story, “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.” “This was no time for play. This was no time for fun. This was no time for games. There was work to be done. All that deep, deep, deep snow, all that snow had to go… We were working like that. And then who should come up but the CAT IN THE HAT!”
Now for those of you who are familiar with the character of The Cat in the Hat, you know that he always seems to make a good first impression. He seems rather innocent when you first encounter him. But as we well know from the first introduction to The Cat in the Hat in his first story, he always gets himself into trouble, making messes, and maybe, more importantly, getting others into trouble…
And it can be hard to truly determine if this Cat in the Hat is an agent of good or evil. I find it hard to claim his as evil as he seems to only want to have fun and a good time. But on the other hand, he always does what he wants regardless of how others may feel or think or be impacted. Then again, in the end, he always seems to save the day as he cleans up the messes that he has created along the way.
You might even know someone like this in your own life. Someone who reminds you of The Cat in the Hat in that you don’t always like them, but you can’t hate them. Someone who makes you nervous because they won’t listen to sound advice. Someone who still somehow comes out of these stressful situations unscathed, but still leaving a trail of stress behind them in the chaos that they created. Someone who probably doesn’t deserve to be locked up…but you would rather not hang around with either…
You probably also can identify with some of the messes that The Cat in the Hat creates and gets into. In this story, he starts with taking a bath that leaves a pink bathtub ring that escalates to getting that pink residue on the children’s mother’s white wedding dress and then the wall and a rug. They eventually get it out of the house but end up with pink spots all over the snow outside.
And I think we can all relate to this at some level. We all have our own messes to deal with on a day-to-day basis. We probably all have some well-intentioned people in our lives who end up creating more problems than they solve. And let’s be honest, sometimes we are probably the well-intentioned person who creates problems for others. As imperfect beings, this is who we are. We can try our best to be better, but, inevitably, we will all fall and fail during our lifetime.
Now in our Scripture reading, Isaiah tells the people that this does not have to be the way of our lives. We have to remember that Isaiah was talking to people who were surrounded by constant destruction in their world, one that was crumbling from the outside and the inside. But he speaks words of hope. Starting in verse 18, Isaiah says, “Come now, and let’s settle this, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow. If they are red as crimson, they will become like wool.”
Here God is promising to take away our sins, the messes that we create, and let us start clean again. But there is more to the passage. Verse 20 states, “But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. The Lord has said this.” So, salvation is there, but the people must be active in accepting this salvation and following God. Sounds a lot like some of the things we have heard from John Wesley, doesn’t it?
Now, as we go back to close out our Dr. Seuss story, we do find a happy ending. The Cat in the Hat has 26 smaller cats come to help clean up the messes, Cat A through Cat Z, and it ends up being that Cat Z, the smallest of the cats, that helps to finally bring a solution to this silly pink-colored mess. He brings the power to clean up the entire mess once and for all. Cat Z brings a “Voom.” This “Voom” is small, but it has the power to clean up the entire house and the snow outside and bring everything back to the way it was – just like new!
And as Christians, we have a “Voom” too! But in our case, the “Voom” is the restoring power that is made available to us through Jesus Christ. Jesus brings joy to our world and to our lives. He is the Savior of the world, the one who came into our world to save it, the world we have made a mess of, to take away all of the sins that mess up and clutters our world. Jesus soaks up the tears that have been shed and the blood that has been spilled. He took all of the messes and the garbage and took them all to the trash heap, to the hill that we call Calvary and he disposed of all of that mess and garbage – all of the sins for the whole world.
And I think that is one of the most important takeaways for this morning. We have to remember that we worship a God for whom no mess is too messy or too big to be cleaned up. No matter how unconquerable our messes might seem, they are never too much for God. When we put our faith in God and in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our sins are taken away and erased. We are washed and made clean again. The apostle Paul even points this out in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he writes, “So then if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!”
Our God takes our brokenness and makes us whole again. Our God takes our stains and washes them away. Our God takes our heartache and relieves the pain. Our God can fix anything in our lives and in ourselves. There is nothing that God will ever take a step back and say, “No, no, you are on your own with this one.” Our God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and most importantly – all-loving and all-merciful.
And when I think about our world today, I think about garbage pickup day. Back at our house in Illinois before I went to seminary, it was Friday mornings. But across this nation, people drag their garbage out to the curb or the edge of their property, or maybe to a dumpster nearby, and leave it there for it to be hauled away. Probably not giving it much of a second thought too. And why would you? I am guessing more often than not by the time you return home from work or go back outside again; it has been taken away and is no longer a worry for you.
And you know what? Jesus invites us to do the same thing with the messes and garbage in our lives that are our sins, our stresses, our pain, all of those things. Christ invites us to drag out to the curb of our lives the trash that has found its way into our lives and is building up, making a mess, holding us back. We can drag it out there, leave in on that curb, all the while knowing that the Lord will soon come by and take it away. And once he has done that, we can begin to be reshaped by him, made clean again by him, to become the people that God has intended us to be.
That right there, my friends, is grace. That is salvation. That is the Good News of the Gospel for ALL THE WORLD! But we have to be active in this. Isaiah told the people, and we are reminded with his words when he says, “Wash! Be clean! Remove your ugly deeds from my sight. Put an end to such evil; learn to do good. Seek justice: help the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow.” Claiming the Christian faith requires action and activity.
But it also requires that we submit ourselves and our lives over to God. Isaiah also wrote, “Come now, and let’s settle this, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow. If they are red as crimson, they will become like wool. If you agree and obey, you will eat the best food of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” God continues to call us into God’s own ministry in the world.
We must answer that call with a resounding yes! As Christians, we know the Good News, we know that God will clean up the messes in our lives and wash us clean again from our sins. But there are many in the world who do not yet know of this amazing gift from God! There are people not just in countries that seem so far away in places we think of as desolate and forgotten. There are people right here in our own community, in our own towns and neighborhoods who do not yet know the Good News!
And there are people all around us who have heard the Good News, but they are not seeing it in their daily lives. They are not finding the salvific love of Jesus and saving grace of God as they go about their day. They needed to be reached just as much as those who have never heard the Good News. God has called us into mission to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
So, what are we waiting for? Are we still stuck in the messes and garbage piling up in our own lives? Why haven’t we dragged it all out to the curb for Jesus to come and take it all away? He has already done the work; he is just waiting for us now. He is waiting for us to drag the garbage out and then go to our neighbors and help them to do the same. If we work together, with God leading us, we can help others to rid their lives of the messes and garbage piling up in their lives. We can help them come to know the Good News and they can be washed clean. God has called us. It is time for us to go to work. Amen.