[The following is a sermon I preached in 2005, about a year into my work in pastoral ministry]
John 8:42-47; James 3:13-17
We all have idols in our lives. I’m not talking about the religious concept of an idol of worship, but rather people that we greatly admire. One of my idols is a man named Chuck Jones. He was the mastermind behind the Warner Brothers animation studio during its heyday. For me, Saturday morning was not complete without my weekly dose of Bugs Bunny, Sylvester the Cat and Yosemite Sam.
Chuck Jones’ formula for a storyline was simple: a hero and his nemesis. Whether it was Yosemite Sam trying to swindle Bugs Bunny or Sylvester trying to secure a breakfast of Tweety Bird, each cartoon presented the failed attempts of a bad guy trying to outwit a good guy – a battle between good and evil. As each episode came to a close, right before Porky Pig declared, “That’s all folks,” the hero came out the winner.
One of the most predictable storylines of the Warner Brothers shorts was any episode of the Roadrunner. Each cartoon featured Wile E. Coyote’s unsuccessful attempts to capture the Roadrunner. The coyote simply wanted some lunch and would go to any length to secure a tasty meal of glazed Roadrunner (although I’m sure if he lived in Columbus County it would be FRIED Roadrunner.)
Wile E. Coyote relied heavily on the ACME mail order company to provide him with rocket sleds, catapults, giant slingshots, dynamite, exploding phone booths, powerful electro-magnets and female Road Runner costumes. The coyote considered himself to be a genius (his business card read, “Wile E. Coyote, Genius”) and he was able to devise the most elaborate and foolproof schemes using his supplies from the folks at ACME. Yet, all his plans and high tech equipment always seemed to result in little more than sending the coyote falling helplessly over a cliff. That is, if he didn’t blow himself up or get flattened by his ACME steamroller first.
What does an image of the Coyote plummeting to earth have to do with the Gospel? Let’s examine one of these cartoons as a presentation of our personal struggles in the battle between good and evil. The coyote is driven by one thing – his appetite. His physical hunger drives him to any length to satisfy his craving for a meal. No matter how hard the coyote tries, his ingenious plans always result in his demise. This poor creature is consumed by an earthly desire. In Philippians, the Apostle Paul writes of the enemies of Christ: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19-20). In the case of the Coyote, we see an individual constantly chasing after earthly desires only to reach the same destination time and again: his own destruction.
As I mentioned before, Wile E. Coyote considered himself a genius – one with great wisdom. The Epistle of James tells us that selfish ambition is indicative of wisdom that is earthly, unspiritual and of the devil. James further states that selfish ambition results in disorder and evil practices. Using his wisdom, the Road Runner’s chief nemesis devises the most elaborate schemes to catch his prey. But, because the coyote’s drive is fueled by selfish ambition, his well-ordered plans constantly end in chaos. A typical cartoon opens with the coyote walking through the desert feeling hungry, and it ends with him crawling out of a coyote-shaped hole on the floor of a canyon, with a black eye and stars circling his head – and he’s STILL hungry. All that work to satisfy an earthly desire, and he’s now in worse shape than when he started.
When we chase after earthly things, we will never get the results we expect. The devil tempts us every day through our desires. He wants us to focus on the things of this earth and not the things of heaven. Satan will do whatever he can to divert our attention away from God. He will tempt us with riches, glory and fame, and yes, even food. What object did the serpent use to entice mankind to sin in the Garden of Eden? A piece of fruit! Adam and Eve both ate of the fruit in order to become like God – that’s what the serpent offered them! After taking that fateful bite, they found they were, like the Coyote, in worse shape than when they started: they were now SINNERS – and they STILL were not like God. The enticement of an earthly desire, born of Satan, gave birth to the fall of mankind.
Why do we submit to our earthly desires if we know they come from Satan? Why do we allow the ruler of this world, the prince of darkness, to have control over our lives? When temptations arise and we give in to them, why do we listen to the devil and ignore God? In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” Jesus speaks here to those who profess to believe in God but have not truly made a commitment to Christ. Consider the words of John 8: “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?’ Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your* father'” (emphasis added).
What a stinging accusation! Who among us can claim that we never do what we have heard from Satan? Anytime we commit a sin, that’s exactly what we do! Instead of listening to our heavenly father’s voice as He tells us “no,” we follow the pleading of our earthly father as he says, “yes! YES!” By yielding to temptation, we make a conscious choice to ignore God and listen to the advice of the devil. We decide we would rather listen to a liar instead of the father of all Truth. Jesus says that we can call God “father,” but our hearts and commitment show whom we really consider our
You may think Satan is untrustworthy but, believe it or not, he CAN be trusted. He can be trusted to lie, to cheat, to deceive… and to destroy! Christ tells us that Satan is a murderer and always HAS been a murderer, that he is filled with so much deceit he has no room for any truth, and that when he lies he is speaking his native language. Have you ever heard someone say, “so and so is such a liar he’d rather climb a tree to tell a lie than stay on the ground and tell the truth?” That’s the kind of being Satan is. He cannot tell the truth, and anything you hear from him is a lie – he is the father of all lies. When he speaks, he lies – and that’s the Gospel truth!
So why do we listen to him if we know he’s a liar? We listen because he says what we want to hear! He knows our weaknesses, he knows our desires and wants, and he knows how to trick us into focusing on earthly things. I’ve said before that God won’t always give us what we want, but He’ll always give us what we need. Satan, on the other hand, will ALWAYS give us what we want, and NEVER give us what we need. Is the carrot that Satan dangles in front of us really all that beautiful? What reward awaits us when we grab on to the brass ring he places within our reach? Whatever treasure the devil has to offer us will be, just like him, rooted in this world. If we chase after worldly things, we will be rewarded with worldly things. Consider again the hapless coyote in his quest for the elusive Roadrunner. He puts all of his effort into chasing after something to satisfy a worldly desire, his hunger, and is rewarded with a painful lesson in the law of gravity. He chases after something of this world, and is then rewarded with something of this world – literally!
Imagine for a moment, what would happen if the coyote ever DID catch the Roadrunner. His appetite would be satisfied, and he would no longer be hungry – at least, not until tomorrow. Then he’d be hungry again. Unlike the treasures that await us in heaven, the things of this world are merely temporary; they satisfy only for a short time… and then we’ll find ourselves right back where we started – still wanting, and still a slave to our earthly desires.
Did you ever wonder why, if the Coyote could order anything at all from the ACME catalog, he didn’t just order some food? ACME seemed to carry everything else, so certainly they could deliver a TV dinner and a microwave. The coyote had everything he could ever need right at his fingertips: catapults, rocket launchers… anything at all! All he had to do was place an order. But he never used what was available in the proper way. The catapult he ordered was not intended to hurl a coyote through the air so he could catch his prey. His constant misuse of what was available always led to his demise. If only he had ordered some food instead…
Like a giant ACME catalog, God has everything to offer, and we can either abuse what is available or act responsibly. Do we use what He has made available in the proper way, or do we misuse it to suit our own purposes? God DOES provide us with all that we need, but do we utilize what He has given us to bring glory to Him or to satisfy our own earthly desires? How each person decides depends on where his heart is, and whose voice he hears.
As we watch the Coyote chasing after the Roadrunner, we know he is headed for disaster. When God sees us chasing after our worldly desires, He sees the same thing. As the Coyote sails over the cliff, we laugh at his ineptitude. As we sail over the cliff, God calls out to us and extends His hand to save us – but will we hear his voice? Or are we too busy listening to someone else?
As long as Warner Brothers cartoons exist, the Coyote will continue to chase after the Roadrunner. Nothing will stand in his way. He can be flattened, crushed, blown up or hit by a streetcar, but he will forever keep his eyes on the prize. Each of us needs that same level of commitment in our own lives. We just have to make sure our eyes are on the prize offered by our heavenly Father. Otherwise, like the Coyote, we are headed for disaster.
If you put all your energy into chasing after Roadrunners, you’re bound to fall. At least, that’s what Chuck Jones told me every Saturday morning. God tells me the same thing everyday. The devil tells me otherwise.
Who are YOU going to listen to?