Sermon
February 27, 2000
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Mark 2:13-22     Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14 As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him.

    15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples -- for there were many who followed him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."

    18 Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" 19 Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.

    21 "No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins." (NRSV)

 1 Corinthians 1:18-31      For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

    "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

        and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.

    26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." (NRSV)

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Sermon

Charlie Brown, Saint or Sinner???? (A Tribute to Charles M. Schultz 1922 - 2000)

 Wisdom and foolishness, strength and weakness, how they get mixed up in the drama of life.  Just when you think you know what you know, something comes along to remind you of the great unknown.   Just when you think you’re strong for the task, it’s your weakness that is revealed.  How incomplete is our wisdom, how inadequate is our strength.  And yet the God who is wisdom works the divine will in us; the God who is strength seeks to transform creation through us.

 

Take, for example, the case of Charlie Brown, the little boy whose trials and tribulations were a source of joy and comfort to millions of people for over 50 years.   Take for example the case of Charles M. Schulz, Charlie Brown’s creator, whose death two weeks ago prompted an unprecedented outpouring of fond recollection and warm affection.  What endeared Mr. Schulz and his cast of characters to so many readers?  What made that human connection so deeply felt?  Was it strength or weakness, wisdom or foolishness?  Is Charlie Brown close to our hearts because he is a saint, or because he is a sinner?

 

I doubt that there was a minister’s library in the 1960’s that didn’t have the book “The Gospel According to Peanuts” on the shelf.  In that book the Rev. Robert Short talked about the Peanuts gang in terms of original sin: children who are unable to produce any radical change for the better in themselves or in each other.  They are unable to rise above their temperament, their shortcomings, their condition.   Perhaps this is most clear in Snoopy.   As one author wrote: “Snoopy is a bon vivant, he participates in history, he as an incredible imagination, he is witty, he expresses himself with virtuosity in any number of ways, he strives with persistence and unyielding courage to overcome what seems to be his fate” - but fate always catches up with him, he is living a dog’s life in a dog’s house eating from the dog’s bowl because he is, in fact, a dog.

 

Poor Snoopy.  Lucy comes home wearing a new coat and Snoopy rushes out to greet her.  But Lucy yells: Get away from me Snoopy. This is a new coat!  Get away I said!  You’ve got dog hair all over you!  To which Snoopy can only reply in his mind: What in the world does she expect, Feathers?

 

Or another time Snoopy is thinking this dialogue in his head: (Sitting up with furrowed brow): I wish I could bite somebody….  I need a release from my inner tensions..   (Now lying down) Of course, if I ever did bite somebody, I can just imagine what would happen…  There’d be yelling and screaming and people chasing me, and throwing things… I don’t think I could stand that… (Now closing his eyes to sleep) I guess I’d be better off just learning to live with my inner tensions.

 

As seems to be the case with most humorists, Charles Schulz was a man of unresolved inner tensions.  Although his Peanuts cartoon and spin-offs generated over a billion dollars a year in revenue, he liked best to stay close to home and in a dependable daily routine.  He was a Sunday School teacher and an ice skating enthusiast.   He ended up divorced from his wife of 23 years and the mother of their five children saying: “I don’t think she liked me anymore and I just got up and left one day.”

 

Friends and family described Charles Schulz as a melancholy man who worried and was often lonely, depressed and plagued by panic attacks.  In one strip Sally, Charlie Brown’s sister, is given these lines: “Daytime is so you can see where you’re going.  Nighttime is so you can lie in bed worrying.”

 

About himself Charles Schulz wrote: You can’t create humor out of happiness.   I’m astonished at the number of people who write to me saying “Why can’t you create happy stories for us?  Why does Charlie Brown always have to lose?  Why can’t you let him kick the football?”  Well, there is nothing funny about the person who gets to kick the football.

 

It was from the soil of unhappiness, hurt, rejection, loneliness and anxiety that the wisdom, sympathy and strength of Peanuts grew. 

 

All this was said in a much more poetic way than I can say by William Blake:

What is the price of Experience   Do men buy it for a song?

Or wisdom for a dance in the Streets  No, it is bought with the price

Of all that a man hath, his house, his wife, his children

Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy

And in the withered field where the farmer plows for bread in vain

 

Or in the playground where the baseball team never wins, where kites always get stuck in trees, and where the football is snatched away again and again and again from the foot of the kicker.

 

In writing of the ways of God, as we read this morning, St. Paul puts this before us: God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.

 

Charlie Brown might have been more Sinner than Saint, but it was precisely his weakness that made him useful to his creator; it was precisely his foolishness that allowed him to be an instrument of joy, insight, comfort, and consolation to the one who shaped him and controlled his destiny.

 

I think in the end what we see in Peanuts is a profound sense of human flaws and vanity - pointed out not in the lives of others, but discovered in the self through insight and relentless reflection.  Do you recall how Jesus said: Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Charles Schulz seemed quite aware of the log in his own eye, and out of that awareness he gave us a clear eyed picture of ourselves.

 

That picture would not have been palatable had it been delivered with a heavy handed dose of self righteousness or guilt.  But it wasn’t.  It was put before us with a mild seasoning of humor, compassion, acceptance and forgiveness.  In this, I think, we see the Sunday School teacher in Schulz.   He was a communicator of the Gospel, for God’s strength is compassion and God’s wisdom is forgiveness. 

 

Schulz was the creator of a small band of players.  The story he told, as one scholar said, may well have been the longest story every told by a single human being.  18,250 episodes - longer than any novel, epic poem, or opera. It was a creation full of foibles and forgiveness, indignities and insight, frustrations and possibilities.  He did a good work; he spread a good word.

 

Perhaps our creator is seeking to spread a good word and do a good work with our lives.  Perhaps on God’s drawing board each of us has been designed to be just who we are, fashioned with abilities and flaws, know-how and ignorance, drawn together for God’s own purposes with a mix of comedy and tragedy, a touch of wit and bit of gloom. 

 

What about us will be most useful to God and to our neighbor?  Will it be our wisdom or our foolishness, our strength or our weakness, our joy or our sorrow, our triumphs or our suffering?  How can we know? We must simply be clear eyed and kind hearted, and keep always in mind the words of, Charlie Brown, who when asked by Lucy, “Why do you think we’re put here on earth?” said simply, “To make others happy.”

 

If that was Schulz’s answer, he succeeded. 

 

Of course Lucy had an answer too, and said back to Charlie Brown:

I don’t think I’m making anyone very happy.

Of course, nobody’s making me very happy either

Somebody’s not doing their job!!!!

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Let us pray:

 We offer thanks, O God, for the life we are privileged to share and the love that enriches and sustains us in joy and sorrow.  We thank you also for the moments of humor and insight that allow us to take a step back from ourselves and lighten the load of lunacy and absurdity which just as easily could be the cause of tears as of laughter.  May we be blessed with clear eyes and kind hearts, never turning from our own faults or thinking ourselves better than others, but developing rather a spirit of forgiveness and hope, remembering that you came to call sinners into your fellowship and bless them with the abundance of life.

 

We offer thanks, O God, that we have this beautiful house of prayer in which to gather, that we have the support of this Christian fellowship, that we have many blessings of family, friends, and a free society.  May the richness of our life never blind us to the needs of others nor make us callous to those who suffer.  May we grow as disciples through our willingness to pray for and serve those who are lonely, those who are ill, those who mourn, those who are oppressed, those who are discouraged, and those who are in need of the basic necessities of life.

 

We lift up before a prayer for comfort for the family and friends of:

 

We ask for healing for:

 

And those we name in the quiet of our hearts.

 

Remind us in the week ahead, O Lord, to daily pray for ourselves, for one another, for our church, and for all people.  Help us to remember that you listen more to our hearts than to our words, and simply bring to you an offering of repentance, love, and openness.  

 

Let the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart

        be acceptable to you,

        O LORD, our rock and our redeemer. Amen

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