The Gospel in Children’s Stories: Green Eggs and Ham
2 Cor. 5:11-17; John 6:60-69
Before we dive into our sermon for this morning, here are a few Dr. Seuss trivia questions. What was Dr. Seuss’ real name? Theodor (Ted) Seuss Geisel. Was he really a doctor? No, but his father wanted him to be one, so he borrowed the title when he began to write. What was the first Dr. Seuss book to be published? And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. It was rejected 28 times before it was finally published in 1937. Can anyone finish the title of this book? One Fish, Two Fish (Red Fish, Blue Fish). How many children did Dr. Seuss have? Zero. How many books did he write? 45 (the first in 1937 and the last in 1990 – over 50 years). What are the top 5 bestselling Dr. Seuss books? Well, according to my scientific survey (AKA Google search):
- #5 Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (1990)
- #4 Dr. Seuss’s ABC (1963)
- #3 The Cat in the Hat (1957)
- #2 One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (1960)
The #1 best-selling book is the one that is the basis for the sermon today.
- #1 Green Eggs and Ham (1960) – with over 17 million copies sold, it’s the third bestselling children’s book of all time.
According to what I read on the internet, it must be true, Bennett Cerf, Dr. Seuss’s editor, bet him $50 that he couldn’t write a book using 50 different words or less (in The Cat in the Hat he used 237). Seuss won the bet. Green Eggs and Ham uses exactly 50 different words. Sometimes when you have nothing else to do, you can count them and verify. I didn’t – I took Google’s word for it!
For most of the book, we can be sure of one thing: Sam-I-Am, or Sam we’ll call him, is persistently trying to convince another person (or thing) to try green eggs and ham. Sam offers all kinds of options, but the unnamed narrator is adamant. Not only does he not like Sam, but he also doesn’t want to try green eggs and ham – not anywhere, with anything, or under any conditions. He would starve to death before eating green eggs and ham, and he’s not quiet about how he feels. Exclamation marks in the book make the point. Not in a car or in a tree, not on a train or in the rain. Not in a box or with a fox, not in a house or with a mouse. Not here or there, not anywhere! As convinced as the narrator is that he doesn’t like green eggs and ham, Sam is even more convinced, persistent, and vocal that they would be liked, if only tried. So … Sam finally pesters to the point where the narrator agrees to try them, if for no other reason than to shut him up and make him go away. “If you will let me be, I will try them. You will see.” Fine, I’ll try them, not that it’s going to make any difference. Nothing like having an open mind, is there? Well, you know the rest of the story. At the book's end, Sam and his new friend are singing the praises of green eggs and ham. Sam’s persistence has won the day – when it comes to green eggs and ham and to turning someone who didn’t like him into a friend.
Who, by the way, is the one who needs the convincing? Who is the unknown character who doesn’t like Sam and who won’t try anything new? The answer is the reader: “I do not like them … I will not eat them.” The words are in the first person. The stubborn, opinionated, close-minded one is me – and you. We are the ones who know we won’t like something even before we try it. The ones who resist change for all sorts of reasons. It seems strange. We’ve never done it that way before. No one else is doing it that way. It’s out of my comfort zone. And, while Dr. Seuss wasn’t writing a book based on the Bible, Sam has some wisdom to offer.
First, God is constantly calling us to new things. At some time in our lives, most of us settle in and settle for … we get comfortable or at least familiar with our discomfort. It was no different in the prophet Isaiah’s time. The people of Israel were not necessarily living their best life, but they were living. Did it matter if they were under the rule of a foreign nation that taxed them and required them to adopt new customs and a new language? Did it matter if they were required to worship other gods? They were allowed to keep some of what they made, they could still speak their own language at home, and they could worship the God of their ancestors at least in private. In the midst of their settled, if not entirely comfortable lives, God speaks: “I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior. I am the one who declared and saved and proclaimed, not some strange god among you. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? From this time forward I will tell you new things … Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come and my deliverance be revealed. For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.”
God not only created in Genesis; God continued to do new things throughout the Old Testament, then into the New Testament with the coming of Christ. Today God continues to invite us to do new things through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, but the action takes place through us as the Church. It’s kind of funny that Christians have a reputation for being the people least interested in trying something new because when it comes to being a Christian, it’s about having a new birth, a new life, a new heart, and a new spirit. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5, as Harry read for us: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; look, new things have come into being.” Isaiah was prophesying about the coming kingdom of God … the kingdom Jesus spoke about during his ministry. The kingdom that should shape how we live. But if I’m being honest, there’s a lot about the kingdom that makes me uncomfortable.
- Love your enemies
- Turn the other cheek
- Forgive others as you have been forgiven
- Deny yourself, take up the cross and follow me
- Where your treasure is, there your heart is also
- The last shall be first and the first shall be last
- Whoever cares for the least cares for me
- Don’t worry about your life, but put God first
- The world will hate you as it hated me
These require me to adapt to my circumstances and those around me. They require me to think of others and do for others. So, what is the result? I try to live “kind of” in the kingdom. I convince myself that I’m doing pretty good, better than other people I know at least and that that’s okay.
This brings me to the second point. Jesus doesn’t leave us middle ground. We either hate green eggs and ham or love them. We either love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – or we don’t. We either follow Jesus – or we don’t. In John 6, Jesus has been teaching his disciples, and crowds of people who come to see him, about who he is and what it means to follow him. The Jews had been raised to believe that loving God meant following a long list of rules that had been handed down from the time of Moses. Jesus is telling them that the law isn’t the answer – it’s about where they place their trust and who they follow. By the time we get to John 6, v. 60, the people who have been listening to Jesus look at one another and say, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” By v. 66, most of them have left and gone home. There was a crowd, and now there are only twelve. Jesus says to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Peter then answers: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
If we believe in Christ, what choice do we have but to live for him? In John 6, Jesus hadn’t yet gone to the cross, but the disciples recognized he was the truth to live by and the only way to God. When Paul wrote the words in 2 Corinthians 5, Jesus had died and risen from the grave. Paul says in vv. 14-15: “For the love of Christ urges us on because we are convinced that one has died for all … And he died for all so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” Living in the kingdom should come from a place of love.
If living in the kingdom makes me uncomfortable at times, there’s another thing that makes me even more uncomfortable and that brings me to my third point. We are called to not only live in this new kingdom of God; we are commanded to bring other people into the kingdom. In today’s world, we might ask if it’s fair that Sam kept pestering the narrator to try green eggs and ham. Shouldn’t Sam have left him alone after the first time he heard the response: “I do not like green eggs and ham.” After all, “no” means “no”, right? Sam would’ve gone on his way content with the fact that he had tried, and he would’ve lost out on a new friend who, as it turns out, is positively crazy about green eggs and ham. But Sam wasn't content to take no for an answer. He wasn't worried about offending someone or driving them away. If a character in a Dr. Seuss story knows the importance of being persistent when trying to convince someone to try something new, how come we don't?
As Paul wrote, Christ died for all so that all might live. This is our message for the world and if we don’t speak it, it will not live beyond us. Paul says we are called to be ambassadors for Christ and that God is making his appeal through us. Those are, honestly, frightening words. We are God’s ambassadors and God makes his appeal to the world through us. If we don’t speak, God’s message will not be heard. Sam is a passionate and persistent ambassador for green eggs and ham. What if all followers of Christ were as joyfully persistent in sharing their faith and inviting people to church? What holds us back?
Dr. Robert Schuller once asked his congregation, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Ted Geisel was rejected numerous times before he succeeded. He could’ve given up, but he was driven to write stories he thought might make a difference in the lives of children. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? Fear holds us back, but here’s the good news. We don’t serve a God of failure. God always has the last word and God’s words are words of promise and victory. From the last chapter of the last book of the Bible. Revelation 21:1-4: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” New things are coming. Are we, as the church, preparing ourselves and others?