Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pentecost 14-C Sermon: The wisdom of Pooh

Lectionary: Proverbs 25:6-7; Psalm 112;Hebrews 13:1-8,15-16; Luke 14:1,7-14

Our readings today raise up two important concepts for us to consider: humility and friendship in community. The reading from Proverbs and today’s Gospel point out how different the concepts of honor and humility are when examined from a heavenly perspective. And the letter to the Hebrews contains one of the simplest, most beautiful bits of advice ever given to followers of Jesus:

Let mutual love continue. (13:1)

As I did my research for this sermon, I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading what some of the greatest thinkers and theologians have said about humility and friendship – Aristotle, Aquinas, St. Benedict, Rahner, C. S. Lewis, Vacek, Hauerwas (to name a few). In fact, it was Aristotle who once described friendship as “a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” (Ethics) Beautiful!

In the end, however, I found the best description and living out of these important concepts from a less well-known source of wisdom who said this about friendship: “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.” And… “It isn't much good having anything exciting, if you can't share it with somebody.”

He also said this about living humbly in community: “When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.” (House at Pooh Corner) So true!

Yes – the wise one of whom I speak is none other than Winnie the Pooh. And the story that articulates these concepts so well is the story of Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. In this story, Pooh wakes up hungry one day only to find he is out of honey. He spies some honey bees flying nearby, and though he is admittedly a bear of very little brain, he concludes that there must be a hive nearby which would have the honey he needed to satisfy his hunger.

Sure enough, he’s right. Pooh finds the tree where the bees had built their hive and he climbs up to get some of their honey. He didn’t ask the bees first, though – he was not being a very considerate bear.

For whatever reason, the bees didn’t want to share their heavenly honey with Pooh so they swarmed him and chased him away. The bees clearly didn’t know what it says in the letter to the Hebrews:

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers… Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have. (Heb 13:2, 16)

Not willing to give up on finding a way to satisfy his hunger, Pooh remembers his friend Rabbit who almost always has honey. Showing up at his house unannounced, Pooh imposes upon his friend Rabbit for lunch, eats too much honey, and proceeds to get stuck in the entrance to Rabbit’s house.

No amount of pushing or pulling could get Pooh un-wedged from “the great tightness” as Owl called it. All they could do was wait until Pooh got thin again.

As they waited, the friends all took their turns keeping watch with Pooh: “Day after day and night after night… the friends tried to cheer him up. Christopher Robin read stories to Pooh. Owl taught him long words. Kanga and Roo brought Pooh a bright blue scarf to keep him warm. Even gloomy Eeyore tried to make Pooh feel better.” (Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree)

It’s important to notice that no one got mad at Pooh. No one made him feel ashamed like he ought to leave the Hundred Acre Wood. They stood by him and loved him as he suffered through the difficult consequences his selfishness and weakness had brought him.

Sometimes, when someone we love sins, all we can do is wait while God acts to redeem. But true friends wait together - in friendship.

…the righteous are merciful and full of compassion. (Ps 112:4)

When he was finally thin again, the friends all gathered up and pulled Pooh free. Do you remember what happened next? “Pooh shot out of the hole! Like a big bear-bird, Pooh soared through the air and whump! ...landed right in the honey tree scattering the bees and helping himself to “handfuls of heavenly honey.”

It’s true that Pooh learned a lot while he was stuck, but when it was all said and done, he hadn’t changed much. He still didn’t have much sense when it came to eating honey. But he did know he had friends – true friends – who loved him anyway. Friends like Rabbit, who didn’t want to invite Pooh to lunch but did because they are neighbors in the Hundred Acre Wood. He knew that Pooh was a bear of little brain and he invited him anyway.

Sure enough, when Pooh got stuck, his “pudgy posterior” interfered with Rabbit’s comfy home and routine. “Why, oh why did I ever invite that bear to lunch?” Rabbit lamented.

Jesus would answer him – because it was the right thing to do as a friend and as a host.

…when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. (Lk 14:13-14)

There is much more wisdom to be had from the bear with very little brain. For example, though he wasn’t speaking specifically about evangelism, Pooh says this very wise thing:

“You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

Pooh also seems to share Julian of Norwich’s perspective on truth: Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known. (Pooh's Little Instruction Book, inspired by A. A. Milne)

Finally, here’s a word from Pooh about friendship. I share this one because it is so reflective of Jesus’ words to us about our friendship with him:

If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.

Living humbly as friends in community… if a bear of very little brain can do it, so can we.

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