Bible Text: James 2:1-4, Galatians 3:23-29 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: Sermons with Seuss | This morning we are continuing our February sermon series, “Sermons with Seuss”. Last week we used the story of “Green Eggs and Ham” along with a reading from the book of Ezekiel to talk about our need to proclaim to the world that God brings new life, even in times when there seems to be no hope. The week before that we used the story of “The Cat in The Hat Comes Back” along with a passage from Isaiah and how we need to be active in accepting salvation and turning our lives over to God.
Today we will be using our readings from the books of Galatians and James, along with one of my all-time favorite Dr. Seuss tales, “The Sneetches”. Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars… When the Star-Belly children went out to play ball, could a Plain-Belly get in the game? Not at all. You only could play if your bellies had stars, and the Plain-Belly children had none upon thars.
Now even if you have not read or heard the story of The Sneetches before, I am sure you can tell from the section I just read that The Sneetches were something of a divided society. The Sneetches who had stars on their bellies thought themselves to be better than The Sneetches who did not have stars on their bellies. But what might have been worse in all honesty, is that it seems that The Sneetches with no stars on their bellies also thought themselves as less than those with stars.
And while they might not have liked the way that they were being treated, at some level they seem to accept this alleged inferiority instead of standing up and rejecting the second-rate label that The Sneetches with stars on their bellies had placed on them. Even though The Sneetches without stars were completely despised by those with stars, the ones without still wanted to become the ones who had stars.
Now one day along comes a man by the name of Sylvester McMonkey McBean and he somehow has heard all about this conflict of The Sneetches. And he comes bearing a solution…at least for The Sneetches who are without stars on their bellies. He brings with him a machine that The Sneetches without stars can simply walk through, after paying a small fee of course, and it places a star on their bellies. They will look just like one of the original Star-Bellied Sneetches. They will finally be equal!
Well the machine works much to the joy of The Sneetches who did not have stars, but much to dismay of those who originally did. You see those who started with stars on their bellies liked things the way that they were before Mr. McMonkey McBean showed up with his machine. They liked their perceived sense of privilege and power.
But Mr. McMonkey McBean has a solution for them, again for a small fee. He has another machine that will remove the stars from the bellies of the original star-bellied group. And they go through and they are now plain and once again see themselves as being the better than their contemporaries. So, of course, the original plain Sneetches who now have stars now want them removed so they can match the now plain Sneetches who were originally the star-bellied ones.
And so, a ridiculous cycle begins to take place of Sneetches running back and forth between these two machines, all the while paying that small fee each time, trying to stay with the “in group” and either claim acceptance or retain it. And in the end, pretty much everyone is unhappy with the strange results. Except of course of Mr. Sylvester McMonkey McBean, who leaves town with a ton of money, his two machines, and a sly, victorious smile upon his mug.
Now this story is absolutely dripping with social commentary about how as humans we seem to continue to search for ways to make divisions among ourselves. It also tells a story about those who have a vested interest in keeping people divided and against each other by profiting from it.
We see very clearly that there is nothing better about having a star or not. If there was, would the original Star-Bellies have been so willing to have their stars removed? It wasn’t about the stars, but about being different than the others. The perception that one appearance is somehow better than the other is simply that: perception, not reality.
And unfortunately, I think our world has a whole lot to learn from the story of The Sneetches. I find that we are much more likely to focus on our differences than we might be to celebrate our common humanity. We stereotype people who look certain ways, we think certain ways, who act certain ways, or believe certain ways. We worry about things like gender, race, religion, financial standing, physical ability, mental ability, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. We have formed prejudices and made jokes about other people based on the clothes that they wear or what neighborhood they grew up in.
What might be an even sadder commentary on humanity is how our prejudices around race linger still today. And this is despite the fact that there is clear scientific evidence that people of every ethnic background are so overwhelmingly similar genetically, that it makes no sense to even use the term race in describing our differences. Simply put, humankind is made up of just one, single race – humans.
And the church has a real opportunity to model true unity for the rest of world, but the truth is that there are those in the church that are actually part of the problem. But this is of course nothing new. This has been a problem all the way back to when Paul was writing his letters to the churches. Our reading from Galatians is a perfect example of this. He gets to the point that he has to spell it out for them in the simplest words, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
There is a song from the late seventies that many of you might know called “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, and there might be something there that the church can learn. We are a family – we are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. There are no Star-Belly or Plain-Belly Christians. The church is made up of people of different ethnic backgrounds, different economic classes, different age groups, and many other different groups. But our challenge here, and also our opportunity, is to use those differences to build up and enrich the church, not use them to further divide us.
Throughout my faith journey, whether as a child or adult or a lay person or as a clergy person, I have witnessed divisions in the church. One of the most common is between longtime members and newcomers. It is not uncommon for longtime members to be suspicious of newcomers until they have somehow proven themselves. During college football and basketball seasons I worry about divisions in the pews between the Michigan and Michigan State fans.
And, unfortunately, in some of these situations, especially the more serious ones, the words we read in James 2 that talk about favoritism seem so foreign. “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there,’ or, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
John Wesley was even quoted as saying, “If your heart is with my heart, give me your hand,” when speaking on the catholic spirit. And that is the kind of attitude that we in the church must lead with and begin to accept each other just as God accepts each of us. We are family, we are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. We may all have different gifts, but we all need each other, just like the human body depends on each of the other parts in order that the entire body can function and operate at its best.
And to be completely honest, so often the things that seem to divide us are really rather trivial things – kind of like stars on bellies. As Christians we need to more fully appreciate and recognize the family traits that unite us instead of dividing us, including creation, calling, sin, and Christ.
For creation, we are all created by God. We might have differences and similarities, but God called the entirety of creation good. For calling, there is purpose in the life of all people. We have to remember just like God called the prophets that we read about in the Old Testament and the disciples who Jesus called to follow him, we too are all called for a purpose.
For sin, every single one of us has fallen short of the perfection that God requires. We are fooling ourselves if we think for one second that we have not sinned. And we can accept this reality, without accepting it as the final word on our lives. And then for Christ, we all share in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. God loves us all despite our failings and fallings. This is without question the most crucial and important basis for our unity, not just as Christians, but as humanity.
By proclaiming and also celebrating unity in the church means that we learn from our differences instead of allowing them to divide us apart. It also means that we encourage others and do not boast about our own accomplishments or achievements. It means that we live with and show the world a spirit of gratitude instead of one of pride. And maybe most importantly, it means that we cannot attempt to separate our love for God from love for one another.
Now the story of The Sneetches does have a happy ending. Even though they have lost all of their money, they finally begin to realize something important. And it may have at least partially been them losing their money to be what it took for them to come to realization. But they finally realize that a Sneetch was a Sneetch. Stars or not. They finally come to understand that they are more the same as Sneetches, as they ever were different as Star-Bellied or Plain-Bellied.
And there is a truth that we need to remember about being Christian. There is no kind of Christian that is the best Christian in the church. That goes for everyone across the board. I am not a better Christian because I a pastor. The people who are here every single week are not better Christians than those who attend less often. Those who give the most money are not better Christians than those who give the least. The people who sing the best are not better Christians than those who struggle to keep in tune.
There are absolutely no Star-Belly Christians. Period. The end. We are a family. Maybe dysfunctional at times when we fail to listen to God and follow the examples of Jesus Christ, but a family none the less. We are all one in Jesus Christ. We are the body of Christ. And as the body we are called to go out into the world and be the body of Christ for the world. But if we cannot come together as that body, as a family, as brothers and sisters…then the body cannot function.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I take our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world very seriously. And to be able to engage in that mission we need every part of the body to be ready to go, fully functional. We cannot let the body be divided. We cannot let humanity to continue to be divided. If we have any hope of finding peace in this world, any hope of making a real difference in the lives of others, we must stop worry about the differences we have and instead build upon and live into the things that make us a family. Amen.