My Dad, Ted Crouch, loved the character, Snoopy, in Charles Schultz’s comic strip, Peanuts. Snoopy is of course the pet beagle of Charlie Brown. Charles Schultz, in an interview, once said this of the beloved beagle of his imagination: “Snoopy’s whole personality is a little bittersweet. But he’s a very strong character. [Snoopy] can win or lose, be a disaster, a hero, or anything, and yet it all works out.” Said Schultz, “I like the fact that when [Snoopy’s] in real trouble, he can retreat into a fantasy and thereby escape.”
Friends, my Dad especially loved the relationship that Snoopy had with the character, Woodstock. Woodstock, a small and good-hearted yellow bird, is Snoopy’s best friend and sidekick. He was named after the famous Woodstock music festival of 1969. Snoopy is the only non-bird character in Peanuts who can understand Woodstock’s speech. When depicted in the comic strip Woodstock’s speech appears most often as “chicken scratch”, with Snoopy either directly translating or allowing the reader to deduce Woodstock’s meaning in the context of Snoopy’s replies to him.” Woodstock, a bird, doesn’t speak, yet he does make sounds and noises such as laughter, yawns, sighs and Z’s or snores to indicate sleep.
This past week as I was thinking of my first Thanksgiving next Thursday without either my mom or dad present, I was going thru my briefcase and I happened to run across a Peanut’s comic strip from last summer which I had cut out and saved for it had reminded me of my Dad. And yes, the comic strip I had saved involved Snoopy and Woodstock. There are four panels in this particular comic strip. In the first panel we see Snoopy sitting on top of his dog house-- Woodstock is up there too facing away from him.
Snoopy, looking down at his best friend, thinks to himself:
“WOODSTOCK HAS NEVER SEEN A VI0LIN OR A FIRETRUCK OR A CANDY STORE..”
In the second panel Woodstock is now flying over Snoopy’s head and Snoopy while looking up at him says to himself:
“HE’S NEVER HEARD AN OPERA OR SYMPHONY…HE’S NEVER SEEN A MOVIE OR PLAY…”
In the third panel of the comic strip Snoopy, who is again sitting beside Woodstock on top of the doghouse, seems to have had a sudden revelation about Woodstock as, with arms extended, he thinks to himself:
“ON THE OTHER HAND, HE’S SEEN THE SKY, THE CLOUDS, THE GROUND, THE SUN, THE RAIN, THE MOON, THE STARS, A CAT AND SEVERAL WORMS…”
In the final panel Snoopy looks down at Woodstock and says to himself:
“WOODSTOCK FEELS THAT HE’S LED A VERY FULL LIFE!”
Friends, how about you? Do you feel deep in your heart that you have, and are, leading a very full life? Consider this: Unlike Woodstock, you have had the chance to see and hear a violin concerto by Itzhak Perlman; You’ve looked on in awe as firefighters race by in their firetruck on their way to help people or save lives; You’ve been blessed to see and walk into a candy store--surrounded by treats of all kinds! Unlike Woodstock, you’ve had the chance to hear Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni or Puccini’s La Boheme; You’ve had the chance to be moved and inspired by Beethoven’s Symphony #9 or Brahms Symphony #4; Unlike Woodstock, you’ve seen countless movies like Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, Forest Gump and Broadway plays like West Side Story and Fiddler on The Roof—movies and plays which filled you with joy and sorrow and caused you to laugh and cry.
Yet like, Woodstock, you’ve also seen the wonders of nature: the blue sky above you, the ground at your feet, clouds slowing rolling by on a fall day. You’ve too have felt the sun on your shoulders, you’ve sang and danced in the rain (at least I sure hope you have!);
Many of you, like me, have thought of a loved one while looking at a full moon and you’ve had the chance to make a wish upon a star.
Friends, in one sense or another, we all, like Woodstock, have lived a very full life—and we have the chance to make it even fuller. The life of Jesus and the teachings of Scripture as well as the gifts of nature, remind us of how we can do just that—live a full life rooted in hope and thanksgiving--one which overflows with God’s justice and love.
In the gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, Jesus clearly suggests that a full life reflective of God’s love and justice is to feed the hungry--give drink to the thirsty. According to Matthew’s Gospel, a person living a full life, a life in Christ, welcomes strangers, helps clothe the naked, cares for the sick, and visit those in prison. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, suggests, it’s easy to recognize those who are living a full life, a life in the spirit of God, for they are a community of men, women and children, whose words and deeds convey and express: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.
Our first lesson this morning, Psalm 100, aka Old Hundredth, suggests that gratitude and thanksgiving are the very foundation of a person whose life is full and complete.
Says the Psalmist: “Enter [God’s] gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to [God], bless his name!”
Friends, that person whose life is full, cannot help but sing when he or she comes into God’s presence, God’s temple, for they are ever aware that God is good and that “God’s steadfast love endures forever, God’s faithfulness to all generations.” The Teisingers sing out of their deep faith and trust in God. My friends, open your hearts and allow the grace of God to fill you with such life-giving faith, with such gratitude—for such is the key to a full life.
In our Second Lesson this morning we heard the Apostle Paul suggest to the church at Colossae that those whose lives are full, whose lives reflect the life of Christ, dress in a manner which never goes out of style. And Paul wants them to make such a fashion statement in their own lives as well! Paul essentially says to the members of the church—both the rich and the poor—when you get dressed in the morning don’t leave your house, until you “put on compassion, kindness; until you put on lowliness (humility) meekness, patience, forgiveness…” Says Paul, “And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony…And be thankful.”
Friends, a full life doesn’t mean a perfect life. We all fall short in being the person God has created us to be. Indeed, being your best is a life-long quest. But we each can have a fuller life right now if we trust in God’s grace to deepen our faith, to revive our hopes, to renew our courage and to enable us to live in a spirit of gratitude all our days.
In closing, because we who are blessed to attend a church by the sea—a church minutes from the beach--We are blessed to know firsthand that God’s presence with us can truly be felt in the flight of pelicans, in the sight of a seal playing amidst waves breaking upon the shore, in the sight of children or grandchildren making a sandcastle or the sound of their laughing as they play at the water’s edge. Did you know that the wisdom of God can even be communicated to us in the sight of a sandpiper running to and fro down the beach?
Poet and story-teller, Troy Bishop, in a poignant story I shared years ago about a discouraged man walking down a beach, speaks of a transformation we all can experience, if we open our hearts and minds, at Thanksgiving. I began this sermon with the insight Snoopy discovered as he considered the life of his best friend, Woodstock, a small yellow bird and I close with a story which involves another small bird and another transformative moment
which came to a person who paid careful attention to the world around him. I believe God truly is everywhere reaching out to us in the words of Scripture, in the life of Jesus, and in all creatures, great and small.
And now the story.
A man walks down a beach. He sees a bird.
"‘Sea bird, what can you tell me?’ thought the man, watching the sandpiper dance with the ocean. “Salt spray caressed the little bird as it plied its rhythm of advance and retreat.
“Cries of sea gulls pierced the air. “The man's mind went to the frustrations of his life…Why does life bring such unhappiness?
“And he offered an entreaty upon the wind to the sandpiper running in the wave-swept sand, saying, ‘Please enlighten and inspire me.’
“The man noticed the sandpiper’s tracks. ‘You step so lightly!’ he murmured.
“Racing with the waves, the shore bird never paused. Obstacles arose and the sandpiper veered around them. Immediate goals retreated and the sandpiper abandoned them for others consistent with its pursuit. Water splashed on its plumage and it shook itself and raced on.
“The man, [considering the sandpiper before him] thought, ‘You do not dwell on yourself and thus are not self-important.
“You are a little, living cork on the ocean of life, bobbing with each wave, instead of being broken by it.’
“As he left the beach, the man said to himself, ‘I, too, shall be [humble] and leave light tracks in the sands of life…[I too will bob and weave and not be broken by the powerful waves, the challenges, the setbacks, the losses, the sorrows, I encounter in my own life.]
“‘I will live [in] the spirit of the sandpiper!’
“And the man went away joyously as the little bird ran happily in the briny wind.”
Friends, may you this Thanksgiving take a moment to reflect on your life. A moment to consider how far you’ve come, to consider all you’ve faced-- your joys and sorrows; to consider what you have overcome, where you’ve been and where you dream to journey still.
And take a moment to consider that in the history of the world—there will never be another person just like you—you are a one-time unique gift from God to the world.
Consider all that, and as you do. For all of it. Give thanks and praise to God.