Sermon Mad Libs
Back in 1953, Leonard Stern, one of the writers
for the TV show "The Honeymooners," was working on writing a new character
into the series. He was stuck for a descriptive passage and yelled out
to his co-writer Roger Price for help with an adjective. Before he could
define his request further, however, Roger yelled out "clumsy!" Stern
said, "I now had a character with a round face, blue eyes, and a clumsy
nose. At that moment, or maybe ten seconds of laughter later, Mad LibsŪ
For those who aren't familiar with Mad
Libs, it's a game where you have a story where some of the
words are missing and you have to fill them in - but all you know is that
you need to supply a form of speech like a noun, adjective, adverb, color,
etc. You don't know what the story is about and you don't get to hear
it until you've given all of the words that are needed. The result is
often gibberish, but it's also often hilarious.
This morning, I thought we might play a round of Mad Libs and see what
In case you're like me and have forgotten everything you learned in
English class, except perhaps how to speak it, here is a quick refresher
on parts of speech we'll need this morning:
An ADJECTIVE describes something or somebody. Lumpy, soft, ugly, messy,
and short are adjectives.
A NOUN, like the Schoolhouse Rock song tells us, is a person, place
or thing. Sidewalk, umbrella, bridle, bathtub, and nose are nouns.
A VERB is an action word. Run, pitch, jump, and swim are verbs.
When asked for a GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION, it means any sort of place:
a country or a city (Spain, Cleveland) or a room (bathroom, kitchen).
When asked for specific words like A NUMBER, A COLOR, AN ANIMAL, OR
A PART OF THE BODY, it means a word that is one of those things.
Ready? Here we go:
The Van is
my piano, I shall
He makes me eat obese
in garnet cats;
he leads me beside happy rats.
He mops me in
for his mine sake.
Even though I gallop
through the tense Paris,
I fear no floor;
for you are with me; your church
and your Germans,
they strut me.
You prepare a chain wallet
before me in the presence of my fairy;
you scuttle my
head with underwear;
my child overflows.
and banana shall
follow me all the hip pockets
of my baboon,
and I shall sashay
in the toy of
the hymn my
whole life long.
Now, that's a familiar piece of scripture, Psalm 23. What do you think
of our new version? Is it as good as the original? Do you like it better?
As the Mad Libs version shows us when we knock out some of the original
words and put in our own words, this beloved Psalm doesn't make much sense,
does it? It may be funny in some parts, but overall it's nonsense.
This Mad Lib reminds me of the story of the prodigal son. Here is a
different perspective on that story:
Feeling footloose, fancy-free and frisky, this feather-brained fellow
finagled his fond father into forking over his fortune. Forthwith, he
fled for foreign fields and frittered his farthings feasting fabulously
with fair-weather friends. Finally, fleeced by those folly filled fellows
and facing famine, he found himself a feed flinger in a filthy farm-lot.
He fain would have filled his frame with foraged food from fodder fragments.
"Fooey! My father's flunkies fare far fancier," the frazzled fugitive
fumed feverishly, frankly facing fact.
Frustrated from failure and filled with forebodings, he fled for his
family. Falling at his father's feet, he floundered forlornly. "Father,
I have flunked and fruitlessly forfeited further family favors . . ."
But the faithful father, forestalling further flinching, frantically
flagged his flunkies to fetch forth the finest fatling and fix a feast.
But the fugitive's fault finding frater, faithfully farming his father's
fields for free, frowned at this fickle forgiveness of former falderal.
His fury flashed, but fussing was futile.
His foresighted father figured, "Such filial fidelity is fine, but
what forbids fervent festivities? The fugitive is found! Unfurl the
flags! With fanfare flaring, let fun, frolic and frivolity flow freely,
former failures forgotten and folly forsaken. Forgiveness forms a firm
foundation for future fortitude."
In fewer f-filled words - the prodigal son decided that his life was
empty at his father's house. He was feeling unfulfilled, so he gets dad
to pony up his part of the inheritance and takes off for what he thinks
are greener pastures. He enjoys his life for awhile, living it up - until
his money runs out. Finding himself in the same place as the hogs, he
realizes that the emptiness he felt over at dad's house was still with
him. All the fun, the money, the good times - none of this had fulfilled
his longings. None of the things of the world - or as Paul puts it "the
flesh" - could fill those empty spaces in his life.
I'm sure we've all had our prodigal moments when, in the midst of life,
we realize that even though we have all the things we might want, we still
feel empty inside. There's still a hole that hasn't been filled, no matter
how much money we spend, how many friends we have, how great our jobs
are or how seemingly fulfilling anything else is in our lives. There's
still just something missing.
I've had a few prodigal moments in my life. The biggest was when I was
in my early 20s, several years after abandoning God because I believed
the lie that I could not be both a lesbian and a Christian. I had given
up on God. I figured if God didn't love me, the least I could do was return
the favor. I had girlfriend. I had a job. I had a home. I had all those
things that were supposed to make you happy. That's what the world says
is supposed to make you happy, right? I wasn't rich, but I all my needs
were met. But, I was still empty. There was still a big hole in my life
that nothing around me could fill.
Finally, my girlfriend at the time felt like she wanted to go back to
church. I didn't want to go. God was the last thing we needed. We'd done
fine without God this far, why did we need God now? Besides, God hated
us. If we went back to God we'd have to give up who we were because God
hates queers, right?
But, it was at church that I found that empty space immediately filled.
There was a man in a collar, behind a pulpit, telling me that God loved
me and that God had missed me terribly since I had left. In that church,
God ran to greet me and "frantically flagged his flunkies to fetch forth
the finest fatling and fix a feast."
My life had not made much sense in the years that I turned my back on
God. It was like a weird Mad Lib with odd words stuck in all the wrong
places. But, the moment I opened myself up to God's presence in that church,
all the pieces fell into place. Suddenly, my life made sense again. I
spent years not talking to or thinking about God, but in that moment,
I looked back over that time and I could see that God had been at work
in my life - providing for my needs in the form of jobs, money, food,
the right people at the right time. There was so much that God had done
for me over that time that I hadn't even noticed. I was looking to other
things to fill the void, to give meaning to my life and God had been there
the whole time, but I refused to see it. I refused to let God fill those
empty spaces, and instead I filled them in with my own nonsense.
Another prodigal moment came in seminary. After two semesters of Christian
history I was done with Christianity. There were so many controversies,
arguments, splits and even murders committed in the name of religion that
it sickened me. I reached a point where I really didn't know if I could
believe in God anymore. Nothing made any sense to me anymore.
Many of my old beliefs had been stripped away and I had yet to form
new ones in their place. Instead, I was hearing a lot of people talking
- a lot of historical facts and many of those facts were not pleasing
to me. My faith didn't make sense anymore because I was letting other
people fill in the blanks. I was letting the history of the church, the
history of doctrines and dogmas fill in the blanks and it made me feel
very empty. I was full of knowledge, but craved real faith.
Life began to make sense again only when I stepped back and handed it
all back to God. I had to hand God some of the doctrines I had held for
a long time because they no longer produced a strong faith in me. I had
to give up some of the long held beliefs I had because they only caused
confusion and emptiness in my life. They no longer filled in the blanks
for me - but instead caused a messy, pig sty, Mad Lib of theology that
only disheartened me and made me feel emptier.
It was only in letting go of some of the old doctrines and dogmas of
historical theology that helped me regain and make sense of my faith.
Only when I turned back to God, and not what people said about God, did
things begin to make sense. I let God fill in the blanks. I let God write
large the words of my faith and beliefs. God more than met me halfway
- and threw me a big party.
I'm sure you all have had your own prodigal moments when you've insisted
on filling in the blanks of your lives with things of the flesh. We all
do it from time to time. We fill our lives with money, jobs, relationships,
cars, houses - things that we think will bring us happiness. There's certainly
nothing with wanting or having these things in our lives, but when they
become everything to us, we've made a wrong turn. When we put any of these
things ahead of God in our lives is when we invite trouble. In those times,
no matter how good life seems to be, we'll still feel empty - unable to
fill that God shaped hole in our lives with anything of this world.
When we fill our lives with those worldly things - the things of the
flesh - we think we'll be happy, but instead we have no peace, only feelings
of fear, want, lack, anger and anxiety. But, when we put God in charge
- when we fill all of our emptiness with God, then the world makes sense.
Suddenly we have peace. We are filled with feelings of love, joy, compassion,
boldness, abundance and confidence. We understand that God is our strength,
God is our rock. Nothing can shake us if God is our foundation. Certainly,
there will still be bad times in our lives. We are never promised trouble
free lives. But, even in the midst of trouble, if God is filling in the
blanks, we know that the story God writes for us will always have a happy
ending - the best ending possible - an ending that reconciles us for eternity
with our loving Creator.
When we give over every aspect of our lives to God we can become like
the woman in this ancient parable from India:
A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone
in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and
the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler
saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did
so without hesitation.
The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone
was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. But a few days
later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.
"I've been thinking," he said. "I know how valuable the stone is,
but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more
precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give
me the stone."
Brothers and sisters, when we let God control every aspect of our lives,
people notice. They can't help but notice because we will be the wise
woman, giving away things of great worth because we know, we understand,
on such a deep level, that things cannot fill the empty spaces within
us - only God can do that. Filling our lives with God, with God's presence,
with God's love, with God's mercy, with God's compassion, with God's hope,
with God's forgiveness, with God's understanding, with God's beauty and
God's joy, is the only way we can truly fill all the blank spaces in our
lives. This is what makes our lives make sense. This is what makes our
lives rich beyond measure. This is what makes others understand just how
priceless God's presence in every area of our lives can truly be.
The choice is ours. Which do we prefer? The Mad Lib we wrote earlier
or those beautiful, familiar words that fill our every longing?
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for
you are with me; your rod and your staff- they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint
my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
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