Archive for May 2013

Let’s Go Exploring!

May 18, 2013

Here’s my last sermon from my Performance & Preaching class. It’s another fun one on some more controversial scripture. Good times had by all.

1 Timothy 2:9-15

            What are we supposed to think of this Scripture in the 21st century?  How am I supposed to make sense of this when some of my very best friends in the Presbytery of Arkansas are women who adorn their vestments and preach the Word of God every week? If this letter is actually written by Paul – and that’s debatable – then he’s saying not only that women have no authority over men, but that they cannot teach men – at all.

So let’s take a more concentrated look at this letter to Timothy. If you read it all the way through, you can pretty much figure out that this letter is focused on societal and church structure. There’s a lot of talk about how everyone should be behaving as well as how the polity of the church and society should be set up. And the major thing about this society is its patriarchal formation. The author of this text had to create rules and structures based on societal norms.

At least verse nine has some merit to it. When the author writes that women – and I would have put in everyone, not just women – shouldn’t be wearing gold, braided hair, or other expensive items, this was an attempt to bring the focus to the point of church, so that the early church wouldn’t become some social club. The church has more meaning than just gathering in your nicest clothes to show off – not that anyone would ever do that in today’s society.

Moving on, we get the author telling women that they should only be performing “good deeds.” Take that as you will, but many commentaries think this advice was for women to be focused on living their lives and keeping God at the forefront of their mind. Remember that society in those days put women in the crosshairs of blame for most, if not all, immoral actions – a viewpoint we find laughable today. If you go about your daily life and can’t see God in all the actions you do, you’re doing it wrong.

And in verses 13 and 14, this Paul completely redacts his argument about original sin made in Romans 5:15-19 and 7:11. Why would the original sin all of a sudden be solely blamed on Eve when Paul said it was Adam’s fault earlier? Did he forget what he wrote to someone else? How does that make sense? And looking at the whole “atonement through giving birth” argument probably makes a good deal of us unhappy or squeamish. “The only way women can be saved is by living good, virtuous lives and by suffering through the pain of childbirth!” Shut the front door!

Now let’s look at this from the context of their society. Remember, this is the first century, CE; churches are meeting in people’s homes. There are no sanctuaries or fellowship halls or youth rooms. There are only kitchens and living rooms at this point. People who were choosing to worship Jesus as the savior had to meet in a person’s home where paterfamilias was still rule of the day. The man was still the head of the household and there was no swaying that.

And none of that makes it OK to say any of this. Women shouldn’t have to be submissive to men. Women should be able to teach whenever and whomever they want. But keep this in mind: when did we allow women to vote, a hair over 100 years ago? This was the first century! What about domestic violence? When did it become the norm for that to be reported as a crime? Whether Paul is the author or not, don’t be too quick to shut the door on this text. It’s not awesome, by any means, but did you expect the early church, just getting on its feet, to really break the chains of conformity that much? In all likelihood, we wouldn’t be here if they had.

This week, I’m going to tell you about the very last Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. And thinking back, maybe I should have made last week’s sermon the very first in my series and this one the last, because they had to do with the very first Calvin and Hobbes and the very last Calvin and Hobbes, respectively.

The last published Calvin and Hobbes comic strip appeared in newspapers around the country on December 31st, 1995. I’ve told you before that in a winter strip, Calvin and Hobbes are doing one of three things: throwing snowballs, building snowpersons, or sledding. This strip focuses on sledding. As the scene opens, it has Calvin and Hobbes talking about how much snow had fallen the night before. “Wow, it really snowed last night! Isn’t it wonderful?” Calvin remarks. “Everything familiar has disappeared! The world looks brand new!” marvels Hobbes.

“A new year… A fresh, clean start!”

“It’s like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on!”

“A day full of possibilities! It’s a magical world, ol’ buddy… Let’s go exploring!” And the two of them race off down the hill into the woods on their toboggan.

What a great way to end this comic strip. Bill Watterson simply left it up to the readers to decide what Calvin and Hobbes would be doing next. There they go off the hill, into the distance, to explore what they can in the world.  There’s something new to be found every day, because every day is a new beginning. It is an affirmation of the possibilities in the world as well as a call to never lose that part of our childhood that draws us to the unknown.

Earlier I mentioned that it’s debatable as to whether Paul even wrote this text. A part of what scholars call the Pastoral Epistles, 1 Timothy has a completely different feel than what most scholars believe are the authentic letters of Paul. Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon, all present a Paul that has some sort of radical sense that’s blunted by the ecclesiastical orthodoxy found in these Pastoral Epistles. In other words, the whole sense of Paul’s theology found in the real epistles is stunted here by focusing too much on the organization of the church. If they were actually written by Paul, why would the structure of the church be so important? The Pastoral Epistles are more focused on preserving faith than preaching faith.

So how do we reconcile this text to the rest of our idea of Paul? In a sense, it’s our turn to go exploring. If we go through the rest of the Bible, we can see that Paul had many interactions with women. He was just fine evangelizing with Priscilla in Acts 18. In Romans 16, Paul tells the Romans to accept Phoebe as his equal and even mentions Priscilla in his support for that idea. And what about Colossians 4:15 where Paul acknowledges the church that is meeting in Nympha’s house? Nympha’s house being the house of a woman, not the house of a man. These are all solid canonical examples of Paul affirming women in ministry during his time. But that’s not all the evidence we have of Paul’s interactions with women in ministry.

When I went home to Arkansas for Spring Break, my dad gave me a book called A New New Testament. This book is an attempt to take the traditional canonical books of the New Testament and combine them with texts of a variety of backgrounds. Some of these “new” texts were familiar to scholars, because they were mentioned in other places. Some had been repressed in the history of the church for whatever reason. Some were just discovered in the past century. All of these added texts, however, seem to be authentic documents from the early church. The contributors and editor of this book made sure to not add anything that appeared after the 3rd century CE. These books include texts like the Gospel of Thomas, the Odes of Solomon, The Gospel of Mary, and The Acts of Paul and Thecla.

That last book I mentioned, that’s another account of Paul’s evangelism, but instead of Paul being the main character, this account focuses on Thecla, a first-century woman from the city of Iconium. This story is a narrative of how Thecla comes to be an early evangelist and even gains Paul’s blessing to spread the word of Christ. In the early chapters, Paul inspires Thecla when he visits her city. She sits in the window as he speaks to a crowded room and wouldn’t move for days, even when her husband-to-be comes calling. She is determined to abandon her arranged marriage, because of Paul’s teachings. And not only does this happen to her, but other women all over the city feel the same way! Because of this, Paul is arrested and placed in prison in the city. Thecla hears of this and sneaks into his cell and learns of the Gospel from him in a one-on-one setting.

Soon after this, she’s found out and both Paul and Thecla are put on trial. He manages to be set free, but Thecla is to be burned at the stake. During the process in which they pyre is being prepared, God sends rain to save Thecla and she escapes to join Paul in the mountains, where he had been mourning for six days, thinking that Thecla was dead. Once she finds Paul again, they set out on the road together, ending up in Antioch, setting up another trial for Thecla.

In Antioch, Thecla’s beauty catches the eye of Alexander. He is determined to have her for himself, but Paul insists he does not know Thecla when asked about her – an effort to protect Thecla from Alexander. This inspires Alexander to approach Thecla himself, but when he does, she enthusiastically denies him in public, causing him much shame. Of course, he’s a powerful man, so he has the town on his side, and Thecla is to be put to death by wild beasts. Long story short, Thecla is entrusted to the local queen for the time before her sentencing, and this queen views her as a daughter sent by God because of the early death of a different daughter. When Thecla is saved time and time again from the beasts and then baptizes herself in front of the whole city, the queen convinces the city to set her free. The queen then joins Thecla to find Paul again, who had disappeared for whatever reason. And when they do find him, in chapter 41, Thecla tells Paul she is returning to Iconium to spread the Gospel and Paul replies, “Go and teach the word of God.” Again, Paul affirms a woman to spread the Good News, to teach the good news.

The point of the whole matter, mixing 1 Timothy, Calvin and Hobbes, and The Acts of Paul and Thecla is this: We shut the door on things we don’t like to hear. We simply close our hearts and minds and say, “I’m not listening to that any more.” But then something else happens. God presents something to us that gives us a new slate for our brain. A blanket of snow will fall overnight and the new day will be a brand new world, full of possibility and promise! At this point, everything new lies in front of us, and if we embrace our childhood nature that calls us out into it, we realize that it is a wonderful world, despite things that have closed us off! And we can go exploring! And we can find things that open up our hearts and minds again!

 

And the notes I received in class

  • Maybe Calvin and Hobbes narrative would have worked better in the beginning of the sermon this time. Would have given more ability to march through the other points.
  • There was more surprise about how Thecla was the hero, and not Paul.
  • This is a bit of a teaching sermon, but that’s not a bad thing.
  • “This doesn’t make it OK” was perhaps strongest point. Needs more here.
  • Thecla narrative was a bit long. What’s the reason for all those stories?
  • Again, be wary of the congregation. Maybe not as much freedom to approach such topics in a middle-of-the-road setting.
  • Lastly, but most importantly to me was this note, brought forward by a classmate, because I fouled up big time here.: Who was my audience? There were two African-American women in our class. So, when I say women gained the right to vote 100 years ago, I clearly wasn’t mindful of who I was preaching to this time.

Tuna Fish Sandwiches

May 15, 2013

This is probably my favorite sermon from this semester. I think it was the best-reviewed as well.

Romans 1: 26 -32

            In this particular section of his letter to the Romans, Paul is explaining a particular example, as stated in verse 18, of a, “revelation from heaven of the divine wrath against every form of ungodliness and wickedness on the part of those people, who, by their wicked lives are stifling the truth.” In other words, Paul is listing a specific example of how people were punished, by God, for covering up the truth of God with their impure actions. Many scholars believe that Paul is talking about Sodom and Gomorrah here, when God destroyed the city because of their prevalent wickedness.

These verses, particularly 26 and 27, have become a staple for the more conservative side of the church in regards to that position of homosexuality. And yes, Paul does mention how the wicked people did unnatural things with each other. “26 … the women among them perverted the natural use of their bodies to the unnatural; 27 while the men, disregarding that for which women were intended by nature, were consumed with passion for one another…” Whether or not that’s your belief, it’s important that we remember Paul’s description of the evil things people were doing doesn’t end there. He goes on to talk about how the people were also gossiping, slandering, murdering, disobeying parents; they were untrustworthy, undiscerning, and without natural affection or pity. The lustful acts, which Paul said were wrong, are only some in the list of many things Paul condemns.

As several of you probably know, Facebook can be a hotbed for discussion of all kinds. Sometimes it can be helpful and discerning. Other times, it seems that everyone involved would rather just be standing in the same room, screaming at each other. This past month, the conversations on my timeline got a little more than heated a few times.

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you know that the United States Supreme Court heard arguments recently about the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 (Prop 8) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – both of which make same-sex marriage illegal. As the arguments started, Facebook became awash with people posting links, pictures, and articles supporting one position over the other. At one point, people started changing their profile pictures to a picture that had a red background with a white equal sign standing out; the LGBT advocate group, the Human Rights Campaign, advocated this. I learned that week that while most of the posts and profile pictures in my timeline supported marriage equality and the overturning of both Prop 8 and DOMA, I still had a few friends who felt very different.

At one point, I posted this neat little flowchart that was an attempt to defend the right to marry for the LGBT community. It was titled “So You Still Think Homosexuality is Sinful?” and had several discussion topics under the “Yes” bubble to illustrate things said and not said in the Bible; it had sub-subtopics to clarify what the authors of particular books meant when that section was written or how it should be applied today. The whole point of the flowchart was supposed to debunk the idea that the Bible can be used effectively in modern society to define marriage as one man and one woman. And pretty much as soon as I posted that picture, I received a comment from a friend of mine who is much more conservative than myself.

This friend, who is a fraternity brother of mine and someone whom I do still call a friend and brother, simply posted the comment, “Romans 1:26-32.” Of course I knew why he was posting this particular verse. Of course I responded. Of course the discussion went on for hours with many, many posts and both of us claiming “victory” at the end of the discussion. I wish I could say this was the first time this happened. I wish I could say that every person I disagree with never picked a fight using Scripture. I wish I could say I never picked a fight using Scripture. I wish that these discussions didn’t lead to back and forth volleys that end with both sides upset and disappointed in the other.

This use of Scripture, when we use it to prove our points or to prove that we know more about the Bible than the other person, is a trap. It’s the same kind of trap that Calvin’s stuffed tiger finds himself in when the characters are introduced in the very first Calvin and Hobbes comic strip to ever be published. This comic appeared in newspapers on November 18th, 1985. In this strip, Calvin approaches his dad while his dad is cleaning the car and says, “So long, pop! I’m off to check my tiger trap! I rigged a tuna fish sandwich yesterday, so I’m sure to have a tiger by now!” His dad replies, “They like tuna fish, huh?” Calvin replies, “Tigers will do anything for a tuna fish sandwich.” The last panel has the stuffed tiger Hobbes hanging upside down from a tree, a rope around his ankle, and munching on a sandwich, and he says, “We’re kind of stupid that way.”

Hobbes gets stuck in a tree because of his want for that sandwich. Calvin says that tigers will do anything or a tuna fish sandwich, even proceed into an obvious trap and get stuck in a tree. It’s not that Hobbes actually needs that tuna fish sandwich, but rather he perceives his want for it as a need. He thinks he needs that snack and therefore gets stuck in a tree. He doesn’t see the greater outcome of that sandwich lying in the trap and ends up swinging from the tree by his ankle.

If we go back to my argument with my friend, we see an argument that’s been going on for quite some time. That discussion was a perfect illustration of how people who disagree with each other use the Bible to “beat” the other side. Scripture has become the tuna fish sandwich. Our use of the Scripture has become our want, our need, for that particular Scripture to validate our opinions. The end result of the bait and that want to be correct is us hanging upside down from a tree saying, “We’re kind of stupid that way.”

Paul revealed to us what the whole point of the Scripture is in verse 18, which I mentioned earlier. In that verse, Paul says God’s wrath came against those who used wickedness to suppress truth. The point of Scripture is to reveal God’s truth. The truth to Paul was revealed in a stunning revelation that left him blind for days and changed his whole life. The truth was revealed to the disciples in their interaction with Jesus and how he taught them to live and act. Balaam was knocked off his ass. Jacob wrestled with someone perceived to be an angel or even God. The truth is pushed at us in any number of ways, and they’re all very different in nature. But they all have a theme.

The challenging part for us is to not be blinded by one set of verses in Scripture. If we do that, we can’t see the forest for the trees. If we focus on one verse only, one small part of this very large collection of books, we end up missing the bigger picture. But if we take challenging verses like these ones, and put them into the greater context and flow of the Bible, we get to see it a bit more clearly. Because then we see how Paul is urging us to spread forth the truth of God instead of covering it up. That truth of love and justice and mercy that spills out of the pages of these books is what we should be exemplifying.

This is why we don’t get to stop at verses 26 and 27. If we do, we don’t get to read verse 1 of chapter 2, which says, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” We are all sinners. We all do things that are just as bad as Paul’s list in verses 26-32. But if we try not to focus on the judging of other people and instead try to focus on what we can do to make ourselves better, we become better people! We get to try and do what Jesus did! And that was spill over the truth of love and justice and mercy!

When we find the truth of God in the real world, it changes our lives. When we find the truth of God in the real world, we find out that it’s more than just a couple of verses. We don’t experience God’s love, justice, and mercy by picking and choosing what we want to believe in the Bible. Instead, it’s when we take central themes that we find everywhere in the text, and in the world, and enact those in our lives. Those same recurring themes in the Bible that keep making themselves known over and over and over are the same themes that make us feel good in the real world. They’re the same themes that make a positive difference in someone’s life. Those themes that are undeniable in both the Old and New Testaments bring positive change into our lives every day. Those themes are God’s truth, and they prevent us from getting caught in a trap.

By living out the themes of the Bible, we have the opportunity to not get our foot caught in a trap and hung from a tree. Instead of being stuck in one spot, we can enable ourselves to keep moving forward.

 

And, here are the notes I received:

  • Good form for a 12-minute sermon (5 minutes, 2.5 minutes, 5 minutes)
  • The “trap” needed more pop to it. Link between text, real world, and illustration wasn’t as strong as it could have been.
  • Be careful on a divisive idea/text. Sure, safe to do it at SFTS, but what about a congregation?

 

The Spirit of Compromise

May 8, 2013

This is my second sermon for Performance & Preaching. Unfortunately, I think I threw away my notes that I received in class by accident, so they are not posted along with this one. If I find them, I’ll add them in later.

 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

 

 Today’s Calvin and Hobbes illustration is a Sunday comic again, published on January 29th, 1995. In this comic, Calvin and Hobbes are building snowmen. Calvin’s idea is to build two snowmen shaking hands in a gesture that shows “The Spirit of Compromise,” which is also Calvin’s title of the sculpture. They have the grandiose idea their effort will be so inspirational, “People will weep to see two snowmen overcoming their differences and cooperating!” These ideas weren’t expanded on, because Calvin and Hobbes quickly descended into an all-out fight.

            As they’re building the snowmen, Hobbes asks Calvin to make his snowman’s arm longer, because his couldn’t reach. Calvin starts to shout that he shouldn’t have to do that because it would be more work for him and that Hobbes should just have to make his snowman’s arm longer. “Then it will look like my snowman had to reach farther than yours did. They should be equal,” Hobbes replies. Calvin takes this as an affront and escalates the argument quickly by demanding that Hobbes move his snowman closer. Hobbes shouts back, “I’m not going to start all over! Just make your arm longer!” This leads to Calvin becoming more defiant.

            The two start describing how their snowmen are actually going to treat each other because of their lack of ability to compromise, “In that case, my snowman refuses to shake with your snowman!”

            “So what! My snowman won’t even talk to yours! I’m turning his head the other way!”

            “Ha! While he’s looking over there, my snowman will kick your snowman in his big white butt!”

Soon, they are destroying each other’s snowmen and end up in a physical altercation themselves. The strip ends with the two lying on the ground with little symbols over their heads to denote exhaustion and Hobbes saying, “I don’t think this sculpture is very good.” Calvin replies, “It’s a compromise.”

For a good number of us, we probably hear those verses from 1 Corinthians and think of wedding bells. It’s a piece of Scripture that a lot of couples choose to have read at their wedding, with the understanding that Paul is describing what love in a marriage is supposed to entail. And, on the surface, this is a pretty good description of marriage. With your spouse, ideally one would be patient, kind, not envious, boastful, or rude. If you’re spending your life with someone else, you shouldn’t insist on your own way, be irritable or resentful. Your heart should not rejoice in any wrongdoing in your relationship and always strive to be truthful. You will have to bear all things with that person, hope for the best, and endure through everything.

            So yes, those are great qualities for a partnership and marriage, but the wrench in the machine is that Paul wasn’t writing this just about marriage or love in the sense of spending your life with another. Paul was describing how, in the image of Christ, all people should be treating each other. It’s a love that sits outside of smaller relationships and instead is supposed to encompass all humanity. This is Paul telling the church in Corinth that they are messing up and not treating each other as true Christians should. This is not, “Love is patient; love is kind…” Instead, this is Paul saying, “Love is PATIENT; love is KIND! You are not exemplifying any of these traits. Love is the emotion of true Christians. Let’s stop being children (see verse 11) and start acting like adults. Grow up and start acting like adults.”

            Calvin and Hobbes in this comic are the crowning example of the Church in Corinth. They start their snowmen, “church,” with the right idea in mind. They want their snow sculpture to be inspirational and moving. The idea is for people to come from all over to see their creation. They will weep because it will be inspiring! But as soon as that initial, inspiring idea is there, it is gone. As soon as the vision of this snow sculpture is realized, it is doomed to fail. There’s a clear reason for that, too.

In the same sentence where Calvin says how people will come from all over to see “The Spirit of Compromise” and weep upon first sight, he also says that this will lead to public commissions. Calvin and Hobbes aren’t building this snow sculpture because of love for fellow man and the hopes that their statue will inspire others to act in love; rather, they’re building it so they can be famous and get paid.

I can only imagine Paul’s reaction if he were privy to this scene with Calvin and Hobbes. I would assume that Paul’s opinion of the sculpture, upon hearing the beginning conversation, would be one of approval. He’d probably start smiling once Calvin started talking about the inspiration he’s hoping to instill in others, but that same reaction would go south as soon as Calvin started the talk about money. That’s about the point where Paul would put his hand over his face and breathe a deep sigh of frustration. Then, witnessing the fight, Paul would probably get a little more frustrated. When Calvin and Hobbes are lying on the ground exhausted, Paul would be standing over them and scold them, “What are you doing? You started this thing for all the wrong reasons! You’re not supposed to be doing it for the money! You’re supposed to be making this sculpture because of love! Love is PATIENT! Love is KIND! You’re acting like children and that’s the reason you are both on the ground exhausted and depleted!”

You see, Paul wasn’t writing this text to necessarily give guidelines for marriage, even though they are excellent guidelines for any marriage. Paul was writing to correct the Corinthians. Paul was setting folks straight. He was opening a can of “You’re about to get what’s coming to you!” And that’s what makes this passage so great, because we all need that now and again. We all forget what love means. We all forget the qualities in which we are supposed to treat each other. We’re all members of the Church in Corinth. We’re all Calvin and Hobbes. And, because of that, we all need to know what love is and does. That’s the real reason Paul writes these words. He writes them so that the Grace of Christ can encompass us in the true meaning of love.

Interpreting Paul through Calvin and Hobbes: The Journey Begins

May 7, 2013

This semester, for my advanced preaching class, Performance and Preaching, I decided to do a sermon series. With the text of the sermon, I’m going to post all the critiques I received from my professor, Rev. Dr. Jana Childers, as well as my classmates. I’ll be posting the sermon text first, as I preached it, and follow it with all the comments I received. 

So here is the first sermon I preached on March 4th:

Corinthians 10: 1- 13

 

            As a kid, there were very few things that influenced me more than the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. I remember getting the paper from my mom every morning before school so I could read the comics. If I was ever running late for school and didn’t have time to read that section of the paper before leaving, my Mom would save them for me. Calvin and Hobbes was by far my favorite of all the comic strips. I would always wait to read Calvin and Hobbes last, just in case all of the other comics were bad that day. I was sucked into those scenes every time! Every adventure Calvin and Hobbes had, I felt like I was there with them! Every time Calvin made a snow sculpture, got bored in class and pretended he was Spaceman Spiff on a distant planet, or got into a skirmish with his neighbor Susie, I was in that same situation with him! I was one with Calvin!

            These feelings haven’t changed much. For Christmas a few years ago, the Christmas before coming to seminary, my dad got me something that had been on my wish list for a very long time: the leather-bound set of books, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. This was and still is one of my favorite gifts I have received for any occasion. The reasons that I love Calvin and Hobbes have developed a little bit more, especially since I’m in seminary now. In case you don’t know Calvin and Hobbes were named for particular historic figures: John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes. Now, creator Bill Watterson has not officially said that Calvin was named after this theological idol, but he has said that Calvin was named after a 16th century theologian that favored pre-destination. Yeah, I like Calvin and Hobbes. A lot.

            But this isn’t the only reason I continue to love this comic. It’s still so relatable. Watterson created these comic strips for both adults and children. This isn’t a strip that’s sole purpose is to make one laugh, though it does accomplish that objective quite often. It’s a strip that makes you think. It’s a comic that was and still is unrivaled in its artistic drawings and messages of morality in every day life. Many critics and lovers of the strip have said that there has been a huge gap left in the comics since December 31st, 1995. Bill Watterson felt he had done all he could with the comic strip when he stopped publication on that day. The rest of us felt that he could have done more and a gaping hole appeared in the funnies and our lives.

            When I sit down and read Calvin and Hobbes today, I use a note card to keep my place. On this note card, I have written a title. It says, “C & H Sermon Inspirations.” Under this heading, I have subtitles “Book I, II, and III” written. That’s where I mark the page and strip number of each entry in the collection that I think I could use in a sermon. One of the first entries from Book number three comes from page 10. It’s the strip for May 3rd, 1992, which fell on a Sunday, so it’s in color and takes up the whole page. It’s one of my favorites and one that I always remember, no matter how much time passes in between my reading of Calvin and Hobbes.

            In this strip, Calvin is outside enjoying his day. All of a sudden it starts to rain. Instead of reacting like a levelheaded person might and do something like go inside to play, Calvin decides that he should challenge the heavens. He yells to the sky for the rain to stop and when a thunderous boom comes from above he says, “Oh HO! You want to play rough, do you? FINE!” He continues to go on about this being man against the elements and even goes so far as to take off his clothes and start splashing and playing in a puddle. And then, it starts to hail. “OW! OW! WHAT’S WITH THE HAIL?! THAT’S FIGHTING DIRTY! NO FAIR!”

Calvin then runs inside with his mom holding the door open for him with a confused, squinting look, “I bet there’s an explanation for this, and I’ll bet I don’t want to hear it.” Calvin screams in mid-run, “The universe has an attitude, mom!”

Sometimes I wonder if Bill Watterson read Scripture before drawing out Calvin and Hobbes, Because, this is part of 1 Corinthians 10: 1 – 13. Verse 9 says, “9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents.” Don’t get mad and challenge the heavens because the universe will send hail to shut you up. Maybe if you had been patient and just let the rain be, the next day would have been sunny, because the universe would have rewarded you.

This strip only really covers verses 6 through 10 in the 13 we just read. It’s a good chunk of the text, but it isn’t a complete example. And, I have to admit, this chunk of the text isn’t very appealing to me. “Don’t challenge God, because you’ll be punished!” The preceding text isn’t any better: “You saw what happened to the Israelites with Moses! They all followed the rituals they were instructed to and did everything right and God still killed off most of them!” I wish I could have been Paul’s scribe, so I could have turned to him while writing this down and say, “Dammit Paul, stop being a jerk. Just… stop it…”

Listening to Paul’s beginning message reminds me of Calvin when he’s trying to do homework. In the strip from May 22nd, 1992, Calvin is sitting at his desk, in a bad mood, his arms crossed, lying on the desk, with his chin resting upon his forearms. He says, “If you ask me, these assignments don’t teach you how to write. They teach you how to hate to write.” If you ask me, Paul’s attitude doesn’t always teach you how to love the Word, but, at times, more about how to disagree with the Word. “Deadlines, rules how to do it, grades… how can you be creative when someone’s breathing down your neck?” Calvin asks.

“I guess you should try not to think about the end result too much and just have fun with the process of creating,” Hobbes advises him.

“Every time I do that, I end up in the school psychologist’s office.”

“Well, maybe not that much fun.”

I fee the same way interpreting Paul’s negative messages. I try to make them positive for me, and focus on the over arching theme of the Bible, but Paul drives me crazy. And don’t misunderstand me; Paul has good messages in his writings. In fact, just after these negative statements, Paul redeems himself. Verses 11 through 13 serve as a strong message as to why Paul is delivering these negative directives to his audience. Sure, those things that happened were bad, but they happened so that we wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes. They were recorded so we might be able to follow God more closely and with more passion. But do remember that everyone faces challenges. And also remember that God is faithful to you. In God’s universe, you won’t receive more than you can handle, and God will always ensure that you can find your way out of that trouble.

Bad things have happened and will continue to happen. But instead of yelling at the heavens when it starts to rain, focus on a more constructive path with God to tackle your problems. You can handle your rough times and God has made sure of that. That’s the whole point behind the human spirit and endurance! We’re tough, because God made us that way! Everyone goes through something, but the point is to know that God will never let you take on more than you can handle. 

Now, the notes I received:

  • The Calvin and Hobbes was probably too long. 5 minutes is a long time to ask a congregation to love you.
  • The bottom-line of this sermon wasn’t clear enough.
  • Need to show respect to Paul up front: It’s dangerous for young preachers to show their hand so early with such strong feelings about something in the Bible.
  • Tough ending to sell: Needed text to really collaborate message.
  • Had horrible eye contact this go around.