God is good! [All the time!] All the time! [God is good!] That was the focus for Vacation Bible School this week – God is good! We ‘traveled’ to Norway to allow our kids to experience another culture and to realize that God loves us all. Even when times are scary or sad or uncertain or good – God is good. I wanted to personally thank all the teachers and helpers – the village known as Mayo UMC – that worked tirelessly to help raise up the next generation of believers in Jesus Christ here in our community. You are helping our children develop a firm foundation built on the love of God and the caring for one another.
So today we make the shift to begin a sermon series based on the study by James Kemp, The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss. We will be looking at several Dr. Seuss stories as we progress through these next 5 weeks. Today we are review the story, Yertle the Turtle. If you are not familiar with Yertle, he looks like this. The story is told about Yertle who was king of all he could see, but was not satisfied with what he felt was too small a kingdom. Similar to what was read for us from the gospel of Mark concerning the brothers James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Yertle was captured by the force of greed and was not satisfied with his status. James and John wanted to be placed in the highest seats of honor, on Jesus’ right and left sides, in order to show the world they were Jesus’ most important disciples. They got hung up on status, just as Yertle did.
[Read from story – page 8 of study] Quite literally on the backs of his subjects, Yertle built his throne so he could rule a greater kingdom. One would think that as he was raised higher and higher he would be more content because he would be ruling a greater kingdom. Yet we see that Yertle was never satisfied, always striving to have greater status and a bigger realm of subjects, of course keeping himself as king and ruler of all.
Dr. Seuss has an interesting back story. During World War II, he held a very racial and prejudicial line concerning Japanese and Japanese-Americans, supporting the internment of between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry who had lived on the Pacific coast. 62% of these detainees were United States citizens. It was only after he visited Hiroshima post-war, and noted the destruction and despair left in the wake of the war, did he write another book we will be looking at in this series, Horton Hears a Who!, which includes that famous quote, “A person is a person, no matter how small.” Seuss had a change of heart. It seems “his heart grew three sizes that day” as he began to see the world and those of different backgrounds in a whole new way. (Quote from How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
Yertle the Turtle is a story about oppression and about building a life and a kingdom based on greed and self-centeredness. Yertle was never satisfied – when he was raised to a higher kingdom on the backs of his subjects, it was never enough. He needed more and more and more and yet became less and less satisfied.
Jesus was trying to steer James and John away from this focus as well. Jesus was reminding them that the road of a follower of Jesus as a disciple was not of fame and self-importance, but of meekness and humbleness before God. It is a path that leads to caring for others, not building on the backs of others. It is a life of peace among the chaos. Jesus summed it up pretty well with what are now known as The Beatitudes from the gospel of Matthew 5:1-12:
5 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Are we showing meekness? Do we hunger and thirst for righteousness – becoming more like Christ? Are we merciful? Are we pure in heart? Can we call ourselves peacemakers? Yertle was not interested in peace. Yertle was not interested in mercy. Yertle was most certainly not humble or meek. Yertle’s kingdom was a kingdom of one – just himself and no one else mattered.
As the story goes, Yertle kept becoming more and more dissatisfied with his kingdom and called more turtles to be the foundation of his throne with no regard for their welfare. Finally, one turtle did an ordinary thing and as the walls of Jericho, Yertle’s kingdom came tumbling down. [Read story from study – page 9] Down came Yertle the Turtle, and the story notes all the other turtles swam away, free as all turtles should be. Perhaps today is a day to examine the foundation on which our service to Jesus the Christ is built. I saw firsthand the incredible outpouring of love and devotion this week as we actually had a surplus of volunteers willing to create an incredible experience for our children. It was hot this week! Yet what I saw was patience, kindness, dedication, and an over-abundance of love and service to others as followers of Jesus Christ. In a dark world of hatred and fear, love truly shined through during our VBS experience. What I saw was not a focus on Mayo United Methodist Church, but a focus on Jesus Christ – savior of the world.
When Yertle’s kingdom came crashing down, he became known as the “King of the Mud.” Yertle did not build his kingdom on a solid foundation but chose instead to build on greed and selfishness at the expense of others. Yertle became like the foolish man whom Jesus referred to in Matthew 7:24-27:
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Are we Kingdom-focused? Are we seeking the will of God through prayer? Are we gaining insight into God’s word through scripture reading and study? Are we putting our faith into action by showing kindness and caring to others? I was so grateful to hear of those who are looking out for your neighbors during this past week when temperatures soared to almost unbearable levels. Our VBS families collected school supplies throughout the week so that children in our neighborhood are able to attend school with all the tools they need to be successful. People gave of their time, energy, talent, and effort to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to our young children. Our teens really stepped up to serve as leaders and helpers. In a small way, our community experienced hope and a whole lot of fun, learning about the stories of Daniel and Jesus, and feeling cared-for by a great group of volunteers.
Yertle the turtle king shows us an example of how not to act. In the ‘it’s all about me’ understanding of the world, there is no room for Jesus. There is no room for anything or anyone else except ourselves. I encourage each of you to go back to your childhood, hit the library or find an old copy of Yertle the Turtle and reread it with an eye for ways to build others up rather than tear them down. Our kids are hearing this story in Godly Play today so you can have some good discussions on ways to care for one another. Let us build our houses on the rock of Jesus Christ, who gave his all for us. Amen.