Interpreting Paul through Calvin and Hobbes: The Journey Begins

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.
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