Sunday Service at St. Paul Lutheran Church

Sermon: “Hissing Kittens In The Hands of God” John 6:66-69

The Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

August 24, 2003

   A family, mom, dad, and two children, are out for a drive on a Sunday afternoon. It’s a pleasant day & they’re driving at a leisurely pace down a country road. Suddenly, the two children start to hit their father in the back:

      “Daddy, Daddy, stop the car! There’s a kitten back there on the side of the road!”

   The father says, “So there’s a kitten on the side of the road.”

   “But Daddy, you must stop and pick it up.”

   “I don’t have to stop and pick it up.”

   “But Daddy, if you don’t, it will die.”

   “Well then, it’ll have to die.  We don’t have room for another animal.  We already have a zoo at the house.  No more animals.”

   “But Daddy, are you going to just let it die?”

   “Be quiet, we’re trying to have a pleasant drive.”

   “We never thought our Daddy would be so mean and cruel as to let a

kitten die.”

   Finally the mother turns to her husband and says, “Dear, you’ll have to stop.”  The husband turns the car around and pulls off to the side of the road. “Stay in the car. I’ll see about the kitten.”

   The dad goes out to pick up the little kitten which is just skin and bones, sore-eyed, full of fleas.  When he reaches down to pick it up, with its last bit of energy the kitten bristles, baring tooth and claw, and it hissss!  Dad picks up the kitten by the loose skin at the neck, brings it over to the car, and says, “Don’t touch it.  It’s probably got leprosy.’

   Back home they go.  When they get to the house the children give the kitten several baths, about a gallon of warm milk, and plead: 

   “Can we let it stay in the house just tonight?  Tomorrow we’ll fix it a place in the garage.”

   The father says, “Sure, take my bedroom; the whole house is already  a zoo.”   

   Several weeks pass.  One evening the father, sitting in his easy chair, feels something rub against his leg. He looks down and there’s the kitten. Checking to see if anyone is watching, he reaches for the kitten

   This time when the kitten sees his hand, it does not bare its claws and hiss; instead it arches its back to be petted. 

   Is it the same kitten? Could it be the same cat? It’s certainly not that frightened, hissing kitten that was on the side of the road.   

   What happened?  From hissing to purring – from frightened to friendly – from lost & alone to close & quiet?  Same kitten, but what happened; what made the difference?

  “Not too long ago God reached out a hand to bless me and my family,” writes Dr. Fred Craddock who tells this story, and he adds,” When God reached out his hand, I looked at it. It was covered with scratches.  Such is the hand of love, extended to those who are angry or bitter.”

  Do you know anyone who is bitter?  Wherever there are big egos, in-secure egos, differing opinions, strong opinions, there is bound to be tension, and even conflict. And where there is tension and conflict there can be harsh words, hard feelings, anger, bitterness, resentment

   One would think among Christians such things should not happen; not in such nice surroundings with such a nice group of people. Nice, well meaning, good-intentioned Christian people don’t get annoyed with each other, right?  Wrong!

   Near the end of his second letter to the Christian church at Corinth, St. Paul writes:

   I fear that when I come, I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as your wish; I fear that there may perhaps be quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.

   Anger, bitterness, resentment, frustration have roots that can spread and run deep in our sinful human nature.

   That appears to be what happened with many of the disciples reported to be following Jesus.  If I’m reading this text before us from John 6 correctly, when it says that Jesus heard a large number of his disciples complaining about His teachings saying that they were too difficult to accept; when it says that Jesus knew there were some among his disciples who didn’t believe; when it says that many of his disciples turned away and no longer followed him, that tells me there were those among Jesus’ disciples who were angry & upset about what Jesus was teaching. It wasn’t what they expected to hear.  There were others who were bitterly disappointed with Jesus because He wasn’t taking a more active, political role in liberating his fellow Jews from the oppressive rule of Rome. 

   Jesus taught He was sent from God.  He said He was the true Bread of Life. He announced that eternal life with God was available to all men only through faith in Him. Yet many of Jesus disciples found this teaching of eternal life in Him to be a “difficult teaching”

   That’s not surprising, someone has said. A rare & raw kind of beauty is exposed when we see; when it becomes clear to us we are so deeply loved.  God’s grace, God’s gift of eternal life in Christ, amazing as it is can be overwhelming at times; so pure, so ready to risk everything, even life, that people aren’t able to receive it.  Yet it’s true. It’s true. 

   See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are . . In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  

   God sent His Son into this world to save hissing, quarreling,

disbelieving, defensive, angry, bitter people, even when they don’t want anything to do with such amazing love, life-transforming love.

   Like the old man, who one morning, after praying & meditating by the side of a river, opened his eyes and saw a scorpion floating help-lessly in the water. As the scorpion drifted closer to the tree, the old man stretched himself out on a long root that grew out into the river and tried to rescue the drowning scorpion. 

   As soon as he touched it, the scorpion stung him. Instinctively the old man withdrew his hand. A minute later, after he had regained his balance, the old man stretched himself again on the roots & reached out has hand. This time the scorpion stung him so badly his hand became swollen & bloody.

   At that moment, a passerby saw the old man stretched out on the roots struggling to save the scorpion and shouted:

  “Hey, stupid old man, what’s wrong with you?  Only a fool would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, evil creature.  Don’t you know you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?”

   The old man turned his head.  Looking into the stranger’s eyes he said calmly, “My friend, just because it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, that does not change my nature to save.”

   What about that hand that God has reached out time and time again to bless me and my family & you and your family?  No, we’re not scorpions!  But maybe there is some hissing, frightened, ready to scratch & bite kitten in all of us.  When we in faith look at the hand of God that rescues us & holds us safe, it’s not just a caring hand with cuts & scratches, but what about the mark of a nail that can be seen in the palm of Christ’s hand. 

    Is not the hand of God ultimately that out-stretched hand, both out-stretched hands of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died to save us, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood, and his innocent, suffering and death.

   When Jesus saw many of his disciples turn back and no longer go with him, he turned to the twelve and asked them: Do you also wish to go away?

   That’s when Simon Peter answered Him, Lord, to whom can we go, You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.

   The hand of God’s love in Christ that reaches out to bless us and our families is indeed the hand of love that transforms hissing kit-tens into purring kittens; disobedient children into obedient child-ren; lonely & troubled people into joyful and grateful people.

   Whether the picture is a scratching, hissing kitten by the side of the road; a helpless, angry scorpion drowning in a river; or many disciples who turned back from following Jesus . . in my ministry I have seen it happen that in a time of loss, in a time of crisis, there are some who gladly accepted the tidal wave of love and support that comes from fellow Christians. 

   Others still struggle with the grace of it all, the holiness of it all, and they need more time before they see and they are ready to return and be warmly received & lifted up, free & clean. by the great, great love of God.

   Where else can a person find such love then in Jesus Christ.  Lord, to whom shall we go, You have the words of eternal life.  Lord, Do you have room in your heart, in your hands, in your arms for all of us and even those who are not yet ready to come to You.  And the answer always is yes – yes and    Amen.  Amen