500 Hats

March 27, 2011

Read from Book.
Now let’s be honest today; how many people here had actually heard of “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins” let alone read it before this morning?  I had actually read this book as a child and apparently it stayed with me because the day that I decided to preach this series it was one of the first books to come to mind.
One of the more obscure books by Dr. Seuss it was written very early in his career, it was actually the second children’s book that Theodor Giesel wrote as Dr. Seuss, the first one being “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.”  Actually as obscure as “The 500 Hats is” it is probably better known this this one, “The Seven Lady Godivas” 
The 500 Hats was published in 1938 and unlike most of Dr. Seuss’ books it was written in prose rather than the rhymes which he later became famous for.  Seuss claimed he got the idea when riding on a commuter train and sitting behind a business man who was wearing a hat.   
For those who are curious Seuss began drawing cartoons for magazines in the 1920’s and 30’s  wrote over 60 books in a career that spanned more than 55 years, the first one was published in 1937 and the last one was published in 1998, seven years after his death.  
During the Second World War he worked for the US army producing animated films to be used by the defence department. 
So, back to the book.  The story of course involves the main protagonists Bartholomew Cubbins a young farm boy  in the kingdom of Didd and King Derwin.   We read a little bit of it and you can probably figure out the rest, Bartholomew keeps on taking off his hat and a new one takes its place.  Bartholomew keeps getting more confused and the king keeps getting more frustrated. 
The story takes an interesting twist when starting with the 451st hat they become increasingly more beautiful or ornate, until finally the five hundredth and last hat appears and it is a beautiful bejewelled hat, well let’s pick the story up at that point.  (read last two pages) 
So what do we learn from the story?  Well, it’s so obvious I shouldn’t have to tell you, but I will.
When we first begin our journey as a Christ Follower and meet our King we take off our hat, it is a sign of respect and we recognize our place and His place.  But as we mature in our Christian walk, and we are supposed to mature in our Christian walk, just listen to what Paul tells us in Hebrews 6:1-3 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.
As we mature in our Christian walk a new hat appears to replace the one that we just took off, and we are faced with a dilemma, will we remove that hat as well or will we simply brace our feet and maintain that we’ve already taken off our hat.  And that’s what some people do, they never grow up in their Christian faith, they never mature, they never move beyond John 3:3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”   They are confident they are a child of God but they have no interest in growing up.  But what is cute in a new born in disturbing in a child who is a year old, and at two years old we expect more of them and as a child ages chronologically we expect their behaviour to change and if it doesn’t we become worried and they are referred to as “developmentally challenged”. 
In the scripture that was read earlier the author of Hebrews warns of the consequences of not growing in our Christian faith of becoming “developmentally challenged” but he finished with this statement Hebrews 6:9 Dear friends, even though we are talking this way, we really don’t believe it applies to you. We are confident that you are meant for better things, things that come with salvation.
Those better things happen as we are confronted with our behaviours and attitudes, the hats we are wearing.  And then we make a decision to either remove the hat or leave it in place.
I’ve mentioned this before and here it is again.  A number of years ago back I developed the Guptill principle of spiritual growth, and it’s based on the Peter Principle a principle first expounded in 1969 by Canadian-born University of Southern California education professor Laurence J. Peter, in a book of the same name, Peter stated: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”  Right?  So the part time sales man is good at his job and so he is given a full time sales position.  And he does an excellent job in sales so he is made a store manager and he excels there and he’s made an area manager and he is really terrible at that job, he just can’t seem to get the hang of it, and so there he stays.  He doesn’t get promoted, but because of his seniority they can’t fire him.  He hates his job, it gives him ulcers and grey hairs but he has a family to support and so he can’t really quit and if he asked to be demoted to his previous position he’d lose face, and so there he stays, miserable, unhappy, discontent and stuck.
Under the Guptill Principal of spiritual growth each of us grows in our spiritual walk to our own personal level of disobedience.  So we get saved, we are obedient to the spirit of God in our life, and we begin to grow and God shows us this and we deal with this and he shows us that and we deal with that, and we continue to grow.  And then one day God says, “Hey sport what about this area?” and it might be anger, or our language or habits, or immoral behaviour or attitudes or an unforgiving spirit.  It’s a hat we are still wearing, and we say “Uh-huh, you leave that alone.”  And our spiritual growth stops dead in its tracks.  And because we know that we are disobedient we are grumpy and miserable and unhappy.  And at that point we have three options, one is that we just stay there, miserable and stuck.  God won’t take us any further in our Christian walk then that point of disobedience.  Or we say “forget this” and we backslide, we just walk away from God.” or we surrender to His will in our life, take off the hat and become obedient and move on in our Christian life and continue to grow.
What is your point of personal disobedience?  Where are you stuck?  Or maybe you’ve come to the place where you have sold out to God and you continue to grow and he continues to show you areas in your life that need to be dealt with and you deal with them, no ifs ands or buts.
The Apostle Peter’s Story is a great illustration of this.
Matthew 4:18-20 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him.
Peter Took His Hat off to Jesus the Man  When Jesus first came into Peter’s life he liked him, he liked what he had to say and he like who he assumed Jesus was, but he really didn’t know him.  At that point Peter didn’t really understand Jesus teachings, who he really was or what he would demand of him.   But he was willing to at least give him a hearing.  There are all kinds of people like that in churches today and I’d be willing to wager some of you are sitting in these chairs today. 
You like Jesus, or at least what you know about him.   He seems comfy and cozy and not too threatening.  A local pastor was quoted in the paper a few years ago as saying that Jesus wasn’t really the son of God but that he was a spiritual genius in the same way that Mozart was a musical genius or Picasso was an artistic genius.  And I’ve talked to that pastor and he likes Jesus the way he has defined him, as a good man, a moral teacher, a spiritual genius.
And it’s easy to take our hats off to a Jesus that we have defined in our own terms.  And there are lots of people outside the church like that.  A few years ago we started hearing and reading that there was a whole generation of people who said “They liked Jesus but didn’t like the church.”  
But that isn’t really true, what they like is their view of Jesus the man, they are quite willing to take off their hats to him.  Mikhail Gorbachev “Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind.”  And Mahatma Gandhi wrote this about Jesus “A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.”
But many of those people who simply like Jesus as a man don’t really take the time to find out what Jesus was like, the Jesus who warned people about hell being the consequence of their behaviour, the Jesus who required obedience to his commands, the Jesus who spoke about daily taking up your cross, and they have never heard his words when he said in  John 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. And when they hear that then isn’t nearly as much fun and accepting and inclusive as the Jesus they thought they knew
C.S Lewis wrote in “Mere Christianity” “‘I’m ready to accept Jesus, as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God’.  This is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic on a level with a man who says He’s a poached egg, or else He would be the devil of Hell.  You must make the choice.  Either this man was and is the Son of God or else a Madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us, He did not intend to.”
And maybe that is where you are at today, quite happy to take your hat off to Jesus the man.  But now you have come to the place that he is asking why you haven’t removed your hat for him?
Let’s continue in Peter’s story, Matthew 16:13-16 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Peter Took His Hat off to Jesus the Messiah  You will come to the place that it is not enough for you to simply like the man Jesus without accepting and removing your hat to the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
This is when you come to the place that you understand that Jesus wasn’t just a man, he wasn’t just a good moral teacher, or a prophet or a spiritual genius that he is the Son of God and he has more to offer than just good teaching and moral platitudes.  That through his life and death and resurrection that he offers us forgiveness and eternal life through his grace.  And he couldn’t do that as a man. 
It is when we come to that point of acknowledging that Jesus is the Christ, that he has something to offer us and we accept that offer that we have taken our hat off to our Saviour.  That is what Peter wrote about in 1 Peter 1:3-4 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And what Paul echoed in Ephesians 2:4-5 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)
And that is a wonderful time in a person’s life, the scriptures tell us that they Angels rejoice when that happens.    And the word of God calls it being born again, or having a new beginning, and there are promises of forgiveness and eternal life that go along with the experience.   But it doesn’t stop there.  That is merely the beginning of the quest to follow Christ, not the end of the journey, it is a comma not a period. 
Unfortunately too many people think this is the place to stop, “the hallelujah I have made it” point in their lives.  But the bible speaks about growing up, moving on, finishing the race.
It was at this point that Peter acknowledged Christ not just as a good man and a moral teacher and guide but as the Son of God and as his Saviour.  But over the next couple of years there came times that it was apparent that another hat had replaced the one that Peter had taken off.    Times that he realized that he was once again wearing a hat in the presence of his King.
It wasn’t long after Peter had come to that life changing conclusion about who Christ was that Jesus told his disciples about what lay ahead for him, that he would be put to death and rise again, and what was the response of Peter?  Matthew 16:22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” He reprimanded Jesus!  Or during the Last Supper when Jesus prepared to wash the disciple’s feet and we read in John 13:8 “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
And then there was the scene in the Garden when they came to arrest Jesus and the old impetuous Peter grabbed a sword and hacked off a servant’s ear.  And then only hours later Peter is cowering when a servant girl asks him if he was one of Jesus’ followers and he denies him three times.   And yet each time he stumbled Jesus was there to offer his hand and his grace and Peter removed his hat and grew a little more in his faith.
There is really only one way to keep from stumbling and that is by not moving, but that really isn’t an option, not in our life and not in our Christian life. It’s like when you were learning to walk as a baby, if you stopped the first time you fell down you would never have learned how to walk. 
 Understand that failure is never fatal as long as failure is never final.  As long as you are willing to get back up, and embrace the grace that He offers you, learn from your experience and move on things are going to be all right.
It’s taking off the hat once when you realize that you have it on.
And you would think that after the resurrection that Peter would have it figured out.  You know, the entire being crucified, buried and raised from the dead thing should have finalized it for Peter.  But apparently not.
Peter is standing on the threshold of the greatest adventure of his life, and what does he do?  The story is told at the end of John’s gospel.  John 21:3 Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”   And he does.  He’s still not sure about the entire “follow me” thing.  Earlier in the story when Jesus was teaching about people’s priorities in life Peter makes the bold statement Matthew 19:27 Then Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?”
But obviously he hadn’t given up everything.  The boat was still there, the nets were still there but more importantly his desire to be in control of his own life was still there.  Jesus may very well have been an important spiritual teacher to Peter, and he may even have been Peter’s Saviour, but his actions demonstrated that Jesus wasn’t Peter’s Lord.  Peter hadn’t given up everything to follow Jesus he had only given up what he wanted to, he had only given up what was convenient. 
And this would be the deciding point in Peter’s life, and I think he knew that, I think he went down to the beach and then he went out in the boat to make a decision.  And that decision was about who was really in control of Peter’s life.  Would it be Peter or would it be Jesus?  That particular night I think Peter went more for the fishing than for the fish, if you know what I mean.
If you know the story then you know that after a fruitless night of fishing Jesus appears on the shore and tells them to throw their nets on the other side, they do and fill their nets with fish.  When they finally get them in and arrive back on the shore they discover that Jesus has prepared breakfast for them and that’s where we will pick up the story.
John 21:13-17 Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead. After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”  
This was the five hundredth hat because it was here that Peter Took His Hat off to Jesus His Lord
There will come that point in each of our lives if we have allowed ourselves to grow in our Christian walk, it often comes after multiple little surrenders where God wants it all and we have to decide if we will give it all.  And I really don’t know what that will mean for you, I know what it meant for me and you will know what it means for you.  For some it means acknowledging a call on their life to do something radical for God, a new career perhaps.  
When Barry and Beth Gould were here in the fall we saw an example of that, a professional couple in their fifties and God says “I want you to move to Haiti and serve me there.”  Wow!  Maybe it won’t be that dramatic in your life, maybe it will be allowing your child to move to Haiti and serve God there, that would be even tougher, wouldn’t it?  
Or maybe it’s control over your finances, or your habits, control over what you watch and listen to or how you do business or simply allowing him to have his will and his way over how you live your everyday life.  There is a lot of truth in that old saying “If Jesus Isn’t Lord of All, Than Jesus Isn’t Lord at All”
But whatever it is that he is asking for ultimately the choice will be yours.   God won’t pull the hat off your head; you will have to take it off yourself.  But the question is:  Will you?