This one was another one that was a lot of fun to write. I got to take a little trip into my philosophy background and try to relate a discussion about determinism into a message of hope and meaning. The textual connection here is a little less defined but it turns out I would've needed to preach for about an hour to say everything I wanted to say so I couldn't take the time to really explain out that connection.
The text is Matthew 4:12-23
Today is a very special day. Well to be quite truthful every day is special in some way so specialness is not just reserved for today, but nevertheless today is special. Today is special because today a certain character gets introduced into our Gospel story. Any guesses about who I’m talking about.? It’s a character that you’re very familiar with; one who I trust you know quite well. You have probably had a few conversations with this character, maybe you’ve given them a pat on the back… maybe you’ve argued with them… Maybe you’ve been just beside yourself struggling to understand why this person did certain things…. but no matter how frustrated you get every night you make your Peace with this person.
Any ideas yet?
Okay everybody on three point to who you think it is …. 1…. 2…. 3….. Point!
Who are you pointing at? If you know where I’m going with this, which I can’t imagine that you would already… but I’m not going to rule it out… then you’re finger is pointing right back at it’s owner… Yep… you should be pointing at yourself…
Why? You may ask…. Well…. Today’s Gospel is the part where you come into the story. Now of course you know that these Gospels are always ABOUT you… the life and times of Jesus Christ is the story of God’s relationship with you… but today is a little different than the usual story where Jesus does something and then we talk about what it means for us. Today you’re in the story. Today you’re a lead character. Because today Jesus walks down to the water and calls you. You may have heard me read that Gospel the first time and think that Jesus was only talking to a couple of fisherman but, well let me just tell you, that he wasn’t. He was talking to every one of you, and me. Jesus acknowledged that you are a beloved child of God and he gave you something that only really special people get….. he gave you a calling.
Now I COULD stand up here and tell you what that calling is… and what you should do about it when you walk out of this building today, but I think I’ll save that for the next time this text come around (which means you’ll all have to come track me down in three years if you want to hear that… sorry) Instead I think that it’s important that we spend sometime today talking about what it means for Jesus to be giving you this call…. Why it’s so important…. And why you should be deeply honored and proud that he’s done it. So I’m going to do this… but the thing is I’m going to need some help…. So I’m going to enlist some additional illustrational support… and for that support I’m going to turn to Mr. Wile E Coyote…. That’s right Wile E Coyote of Looney Tunes Fame, the one that chases the roadrunner all through the desert encountering frustration and calamity at every turn.
I would like to pause right now and just say that I’m tremendously curious to know what is going through your minds right now…. I’m guessing it’s something to the effect of… “How’s he going to pull this one off?” Let me tell you, I’m kind of asking that one myself.
Well… let me start by saying that I got the idea of this by listening to a radio program. Now I’m not normally one to give any plugs up here but I do want to give credit where credit is due. So… if you’re an NPR listener you may have heard, or at least heard of ‘Radiolab’ This is a show where the producers put together different stories that all speak to one particular theme and each show gets a different theme. This is a fairly common practice in radio today so this isn’t the only program that is structured this way… but it is a good one. The producers do a fantastic job of putting together entertaining and inspiring audio shows. So I was listening to one of their internet-only ‘Shorts’ this week and they were talking about a persons’ individual relationship with the universe… and they brought up Wile E Coyote.
So Wile E Coyote is one of two characters in one of Looney Tunes’ most famous recurring cartoons. These cartoons depict the Coyote chasing a Road Runner up and down desert highways trying to catch him… I presume as a snack… The problem for the Coyote is that he is hopelessly slower than the Roadrunner, who could move so fast as to be just a blur of blue feathers streaking down the highway. In hopes of accounting for this vast difference in footspeed the Coyote turns to his mind in one attempt after another to somehow outsmart, outmaneuver, trick, or trap the roadrunner and finally claim his prize. The rest… as they say is history, and many years of entertaining cartoons were borne out of this formula.
I should say that this is not the only example of a ‘chase’ cartoon. The other famous example is Tom and Jerry and there are others as well where one character endlessly chases the other, it turns out that this chase formula was quite common. But the Coyote and the Roadrunner are different. They don’t quite follow the formula. If you watch an episode of Tom and Jerry you see that Jerry is always faster or smarter or cleverer than Tom and so always escapes his grasp and runs into the hole in the wall to live another day. But Wile E. Coyote is never outsmarted by the roadrunner… if we think of this as a competition he’s never really beat by the Roadrunner at all. The Coyote is beat by something else entirely…. And that something is more like the universe itself.
Every time Coyote comes up with some brilliant plan to trap the roadrunner something always goes wrong. Sometimes it’s something as simple a mechanical malfunction that causes the net to fail to spring until the Coyote is stomping in frustration on the bullseye, or it might be the rocket powered roller skates that work great until the road turns and the coyote doesn’t, and then there is perhaps the definitive disaster for the Coyote. He has the brilliant plan to put a painting of a road going off into the horizon in front of a giant cliff so that the Road Runner will run through the painting and fall to the desert floor below where the Coyote will surely be able to scoop him up. So he gets the painting in place, goes off to hide behind a rock and waits. It isn’t too long before the Roadrunner comes screaming by, down the road, up to the painting AND….. straight on INTO the painting… continuing on towards the horizon as if the painting had become the reality…. The poor Coyote then takes off to chase him only to break the through the painting and fly out over the cliff face and hang in the air for a brief moment before plummeting to the desert floor some 2…3…4…hundred feet below.
It some of these disasters some mechanical malfunction or other ruins the Coyote’s plan but in a lot of these situations just like this last one I’ve described, it seems that the very laws of physics have turned against him, the universe itself is foiling his plan and spoiling his day.
And what is particularly interesting about that is that it makes the coyote somebody we can relate to. It makes him seem more human because even though he walks up on two legs and has such human features and facial expressions… it is his terrible luck and the feeling that everything is conspiring against him that we can all relate to. How often do we feel as though we just can’t catch a break and sometimes it gets so bad that we feel like the very nature of the whole universe is such that things will never just go smoothly our way. And so we watch the Coyote and we feel sympathy for him… and empathy for him because we know what that feels like….
But we don’t JUST feel sorry for him…. I think there’s something else that we feel in those times when the whole world seems against us…. And I think that that thing that we feel is…. Kind of Flattered….. I know it may sound crazy but Yeah… flattered
Flattered, because even though things aren’t going so well for him…. Those things are paying attention to him…. The laws of physics, it seems, are paying special attention to Coyote… and even though they are mischievously making his life that much more difficult…. In the whole universe, all of creation they’re paying special to him…. And it is the same for us…. Coyote looks up to the heavens and thinks why are you doing this to me? He may be tremendously frustrated but that frustration is directed toward the universe…. How much worse would it be if he had no direction for that frustration… if he just felt alone and things still weren’t going his way.
So…. That’s the story of Wile E. Coyote… I want to be very clear that I’m not going to try to convince you that the whole universe is out to get you the way it’s out to get him or even that you should be grateful for bad things happening because at least some thing is happening to you…. All I’m trying to do is show you an example of one character who is special because the whole universe is paying special attention to him…. Even something as fundamental as gravity is operating according to how it will individually affect this one particular furry little guy.
Ok… think of it like this…. Imagine that everything that has ever happened in the world, from the beginning of time up until this very moment… and everything that ever will happen on until the end of time… happens because something, or some things, cause it to happen. So… if I drop this pen… The pen drops because my hand opens, and my hand opens because my brain tells it to, and my brain tells it to because it wants to make an illustration for you… This is how the world works… nothing just happens on it’s own… Everything is the result of something else… it’s very simple cause and effect… Now what’s really cool about this is that what that means for the Coyote and for you is that the wholeness of time is arranged in such a way that a whole chain of events leads from creation down to that one curve in the road…
And what’s REALLY cool about all of this is that that whole chain of events leading down through history from the beginning of time leads to YOU… At the very beginning of time God sat down at looked at the world that was to be created and God could see You and he could see everything you would ever be and everything you would ever do… and God chose to create… God chose to create every single one of you.
and so today… When we sit on that beach and Jesus comes up to us and says “Follow me” when God says: “I choose you”… “ I CALL YOU” All of time and the universe conspired to make that happen. The whole of the universe pays special attention to you because you were created and Jesus came to earth… and you were called….
And when God could look back on all of time and see YOU, all that you’ve ever been and all that you ever will be… and God not only created you but then looked back at you and said…. “This is Good”
How could you not feel special? How could you not feel valuable, How could you not feel important when you are a part of all of creation and all of time?
Because first the universe was created, then God said it was good, then God walked on the earth, and God said I am well pleased, and then that incarnate God who knows every bit of you, looks at you and calls you good, and says… come with me… for we have work to do….
What are we waiting for?