given on Sunday, March 23, 2014–the third Sunday of Lent and the third in a series of sermons based on Rev. James Kemp’s The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss.
Spring officially arrived this week. Did you notice it? Just in case you missed it, spring arrived about noon on Thursday. It was delightful! The sun was out, the temperatures soared and everybody poured out of their houses to soak it up.
No one was complaining, the displays began focusing on gardening, flowers, summer clothing styles, and the weather forecasting teams were smiling and proudly sharing all the delightful temperatures and sunny skies.
Yet, with spring comes spring cleaning. As winter winds down and the March winds blow away the fall leaves (or swirls them around the porches and decks again), the urge is to purge the house, the yards, and just about anything of the mess that winter seems to have deposited all around our homes. Everything seems to be in a mess.
Everything is a mess! This phrase pops up in casual conversation, overheard in restaurants, standing in line at the store, or just about anywhere you find a group of people gathered. The phrase can refer to the state of our homes as well as the world, the global environment, much less the nation’s economic and political state. There always seems to be a mess swirling around each one of us.
Dr. Kemp, author of The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss, identified how much of a mess The Cat in the Hat could create. In fact, the mess just seemed to grow and grow even as he tries to clean up the mess:
. . . the Cat invites himself into the house of a couple of small children whose parents are not home. He decides to take a bath, and ends up leaving behind a horrendous-looking pink bathtub ring. The ring comes off the tub okay—right onto the mother’s new white dress, and then onto the wall, the rug, and so on. [One thing leads to another] . . . The cat needs help. And he gets it from twenty-six other, smaller cats. . .
Dr. Kemp compares the mess the Cat creates to the messes we make in our own lives. We are so good at making messes not only in our homes, but in our jobs, in our relationships, or anywhere we try to control. And when it comes times to clean things up, we run into more problems. A small mess develops into a mess of nightmare proportion.
Sounds familiar does it not? We get into a mess and when we try to clean it up, it just gets worse. Even when we do things with the best intentions, something inevitably creates a mess. Dr. Kemp feels this is the story of The Fall of Man/Humanity. The Old Testament shares story after story of humanity’s fall. Each fall has only one solution—God,
Where does that bring us today? Well, now is the time for spring cleaning! Lent is a time to reflect upon our relationship with God, to clean up the messes created over the past year. Spring-cleaning is a tradition of cleaning a home from the top to the bottom, from the inside to the outside. The clutter is thrown out, the dusting is done, the carpets are shampooed, the windows washed, and the spring air blows the winter trapped air. When all is done, everything sparkles and shines. The outdoor air fills the inside spaces and all is good for another year.
Spring cleaning takes work. Dr. Kemp notes this as he reads the story of the Cat in the Hat. He shares that the first problem of the pink ring in the tub gets more and more complicated as he tries to clean up the mess. He keeps bringing in other cats—stored under his hat—to help with the cleaning. The job just gets bigger and bigger, and once it looks like the pink mess is finally cleaned out of the house, they discover that all the snow piled up outside is now pink. The mess is clearly seen by any and everybody who goes past the house. Cat after cat keeps coming out from under the hats until Cat Z appears with a special feature, VOOM:
. . . This Voom, though small, has the power to put the whole house in order—to clean up the snow and restore everything to the way it is meant to be.
For Christians, this Voom is the restoring power that came in Jesus Christ. Jesus brings glad tiding of great joy. He is our Savior, our God, who came into the world we trashed to collect all the garbage, all the sin that clutters our world and makes our lives so full of messes. Christ soaked up the tears, the blood we have spilled. And carrying these, he climbed to a dumping ground for humans who were considered to have no worth. On a cross, on a hill called Calvary, he disposed of the trash, all the sins of the world. (pp. 25-26)
Jesus was the cleaning agent that God used to do spring cleaning. This is the good news. This is what Lent is—a time to clean up our lives. We have Voom, we just need to use it.
Regardless of what type of mess we make in our lives, God is beside us. He knows our weaknesses just as much as our strengths. He allows us free will; but when we make mistakes and create a mess, he is there to clean things up. Our responsibility is to make sure that we have stocked Voom in our homes. If we step away from God, it is all too easy to try cleaning up our messes by all types of inadequate methods. If we rely on God, messes have a way of cleaning up themselves.
Lent is almost half over and even though spring showed up this week, we are reminded almost overnight how easy it is to fall back into winter. The same thing is true of our relationship with God. Just when we feel we have it all cleaned up, we get a little too cocky, self-righteous and the mess flares up around us again.
Call on God. Let him take control and you will enter spring in full bloom. The words of John, in Revelations 21, provided Dr. Kemp the proof of how Voom works:
And the one who was seated on the throne said,
“See, I am making all things new.” Also he said,
“Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
The Apostle Paul also knew how God chose to send Jesus to serve as the strongest cleaning agent possible. He shared this in the second letter to Corinthians in chapter 5: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” That is good news!
Thank you for the delights of spring once again.
Thank you for the grace you provide us year after year
even when we repeatedly make messes of our world.
Thank you for selecting only the very best, your own Son,
to send as the cleaning agent for our sins.
Thank you for the patience you extend to us
all summer, fall and winter as you wait for us to learn.
As we continue the spring cleaning of our lives this Lent,
guide us in learning how to trust that you will take care of us.
As we open the windows for spring cleaning,
open the windows of our hearts, too.
Let the spring days reveal to us the glory
of the good news that we are made new, too. –Amen