Sunday’s sermon: City Dog, Country Frog meditation

City Dog Country Frog
City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems

Texts used – 1 John 4:7-21 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

For Memorial Day weekend, I decided to do something a little bit different. We broke the book City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems into two sections. Part I is “Spring” and “Summer.” Part II is “Fall,” “Winter,” and “Spring Again.”

First, we read the Scripture reading from 1 John (above). Then we read Part I of the story, follow by this meditation on the relational nature of faith.

  • “On Connectedness and Faith” – City Dog, Country Frog[1], pt. 1
    • Friends, we are human beings. No matter what circumstances in life brought us here – no matter our past, our present, our futures. No matter what differences or similarities exist between us. We are human beings, each and every one of us, and human beings were created to be relational beings.
      • Scientific evidence – research done by Matthew Lieberman who contends that as humans, our need to connect is as fundamental as our need for the basic elements of life like food, water, and air[2]
        • “Across many studies of mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans, the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed. …  We may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts.”
        • “The things that cause us to feel pain are things that are evolutionary recognized as threats to our survival and the existence of social pain is a sign that evolution has treated social connection like a necessity, not a luxury.”
      • Heard sad, horrifying stories of children who have been found neglected and abused – children who have been denied basic human contact and interactions in one way or another, children who’s emotional and mental development have been stunted because of their lack of human interaction → We were created to be connected to one another.
    • Turn to Scripture on this: It’s all over the place in the Bible!
      • Right there in the beginning:
        • God creates human beings together: God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.[3]
        • And even from that very beginning, God was in relationship with those beings – talking with Adam and Eve, walking in the garden with them. Beyond creation, God is constantly in contact with humans – through the covenants with Abraham and Noah and Moses and Israel, through the words of the prophets, through the poetry of the psalms, and in the physical presence of Jesus Christ … Emmanuel … God With Us.
    • Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually … we were meant to be in relationship with one another – to connect to other human beings in meaningful and profound ways.
      • Doesn’t mean every interaction needs to be serious – we need the fun, silly interactions just as much as we need the compassionate, comforting ones
      • Scripture reading from 1 Jn this morning reminds us that all those interactions must stem from the same place: a place of love
        • Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us.[4]
        • It’s a powerful, powerful thing to love someone and to know that they love you in return. It doesn’t matter if it’s romantic love, love from a family member (parents, children, grandparents, siblings, or a 3rd cousin twice removed!), love from a friend. When someone loves you, it affects you. It affects how to interact with that person, to be sure, but it also affects how you go about being in this world. It cannot be denied that the people we love and the people who love us mold and shape us.
          • See that in the story: Country Frog teaches City Dog his games, and in turn, City Dog teaches Country Frog his games → And they both play and have fun together and develop that special bond.
            • Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God.[5]

Hymn: We Are Your People

Next, we read the Scripture reading from 1 Thessalonians (above). Then we read Part II of the story, follow by this meditation on grief and faith.

  • “On Loss and Faith” – City Dog, Country Frog, pt. 2
    • When we lose someone that we love, it affects us in every way imaginable … and plenty of ways we would never have imagined.
      • Obviously emotionally – sadness, frustration, loneliness, anger
      • Physically – grieving can cause physical pain (headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations, etc.) because the part of the brain that processes physical pain also processes emotional pain[6]
      • Spiritually – sometimes the loss of a loved one can alter our relationship with God
        • Maybe question God, rage at God, blame God (esp. if that loss was unexpected/abrupt)
        • Lean more heavily on God – seek solace, comfort, reassurance
          • Reassurance that our loved one is now in God’s presence
          • Reassurance that we will see our loved ones again someday
          • Today’s Scripture reading: Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about people who have died so that you won’t mourn like others who don’t have any hope. Since we believe that Jesus died and rose, so we also believe that God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus.[7] → Hope can be a tenuous thing to hang onto in the face of loss, but it is truly our best and brightest source of peace in turbulent times. We have hope exactly because of that connectedness we were talking about earlier.
            • Hope in our connections with each other – the knowledge and reassurance that others will remember our loved ones, too à that they will live on in the stories and pictures and memories that we share
              • Sort of like the end of the book when City Dog meets Country Chipmunk: “What are you doing?” asked Country Chipmunk. “Waiting for a friend,” replied City Dog sadly. Then he smiled a froggy smile and said … “But you’ll[8]
            • Hope in our connection with God – an eternal hope in God’s promises of grace and salvation → that there is more beyond this life
              • Joy and peace in God’s Kingdom
              • Chance to see our loved ones again
    • This is Memorial Day weekend – a weekend to honor those who have given their lives for this country, those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. And Memorial Day weekend has also become a weekend to remember those whom we have loved and lost.
      • Flowers/wreaths on their graves at the cemetery → taking flowers with Peter’s mom
      • So we’re going to take a little bit of time this morning to play our own Country Frog remembering games – a time to share memories of loved ones that we have lost with each other. Take a few minutes to gather with the people around you and share.
      • Friends, hear the Good News: This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.[9] … Since we believe that Jesus died and rose, so we also believe that God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus.[10] Amen.

Hymn: Giver of Life, Where’er They Be

[1] Mo Willems. City Dog, Country Frog. (New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children), 2010.

[2] Gareth Cook. “Why We Are Wired to Connect: Scientist Matthew Lieberman uncovers the neuroscience of human connections—and the broad implications for how we live our lives” in Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-are-wired-to-connect/. Written Oct. 22, 2013, accessed May 28, 2017.

[3] Gen 1:27.

[4] 1 Jn 4:11-12.

[5] 1 Jn 4:7.

[6] Jon Kelly. “How does grief cause physical pain?” in BBC News Magazine, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36213249. Posted May 6, 2016, accessed May 28, 2017.

[7] 1 Thess 4:13-14.

[8] Willems, 52-56.

[9] 1 Jn 4:9-10.

[10] 1 Thess 4:14.

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