Rev. Dr. Bruce Epperly is the senior minister at the South Congregational Church in Centerville, Massachusetts. He also has worked as a seminary professor and a university chaplain, ultimately serving four or five different seminaries and universities. He also has written more than 50 books, including the award-winning book Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry. He’s the kind of minister who makes the rest of us feel lazy by comparison!
But I will admit that I do not know him because of any of these esteemed accomplishments. I know him because of a book he wrote that sounds significantly less intellectual: The Gospel According to Winnie the Pooh. He does a wonderful job describing the inhabitants of 100 Acre Wood:
“Eeyore [is] always dour and ready to look for the dark cloud on any sunny day, and yet . . . One awesome thing about Eeyore is that even though he is basically clinically depressed, he still gets invited to participate in adventures and shenanigans with all of his friends. And they never expect him to pretend to feel happy, they just love him anyway, and they never leave him behind or ask him to change….
“Piglet [is] always a little anxious, after all he’s a Small Animal and the world is so big, and yet in a pinch, it’s Piglet who saves the day, summoning all his courage to rescue his friends from danger….
“Rabbit [is] the micro manager, suspicious of strangers or anything that’s unfamiliar…. And, yet, he overcomes his suspicion of strangers and makes new friends with those strange animals who come to the Wood, Kanga and Roo.
“Kanga and Roo, who come without documentation, [are] strangers in a strange land, and give heart to the community.
“Owl uses big words – reminding everyone he’s the smartest critter in the Wood. The problem is: no one understands him and once he gets talking, he doesn’t even understand himself. Yet, he is loved….
“Then there’s exuberant Tigger, hopping through the forest, talking loudly, and showing how happy he is, [yet he] is a regular nuisance, disrupting the order of [things]….
“And, that honey-driven Pooh, who meanders throughout the Wood, always in search of a snack or a honey bee hive, a bear of little brain, but all heart and all love. He saves the day by reminding us that love is the only thing that really matters.”
Does anybody relate to any of these characters? Do you see yourself in them? What about our church? Do you see our church in the Hundred Acre Wood? You might have seen it more if I hadn’t edited Rev. Epperly’s words so freely. You see, if you were reading along, you saw a lot of ellipses. I left out a bunch. He actually compared some of these characters to members of the church. I’m going to expand on his words, adding my own thoughts, but let’s think again about those characters.
Eeyore is depressed, and nobody tries to tell him he has to feel better. They just accept him as he is and include him anyway. I’d like to think this is how we deal with people experiencing depression, as well as those going through times of grief. Or at least it’s the way we should. You don’t have to pretend. You still belong. You’re still welcome. But unlike Eeyore, some of us hide. We go through difficult times and we think we have to put on a happy face or stay home, and so we stay home. Those of us who aren’t Eeyore need to make sure that the Eeyores among us feel safe to be their true (if gloomy) selves so that we can walk beside them.
Piglet is anxious and fearful, afraid everything is too big, too hard. Piglet is afraid of new directions, afraid of the unknown, and because of that, Piglet might occasionally hold us back. But Piglet is also the one who, when push comes to shove, finds the courage he needs to move us all forward. Piglet could also represent the children among us, who we should protect but also listen to and learn from.
Listen to the unedited version of what Rev. Epperly says about Rabbit and Tigger:
“Look at Rabbit the micro manager, suspicious of strangers or anything that’s unfamiliar. He’s the apostle of ‘we’ve always done it this way.’ He likes the way church was in the good old days, and worries that strangers will destroy our way of life. His bluntness can hurt. And, yet, he overcomes his suspicion of strangers and makes new friends with those strangers who come to the Wood.
“Then there’s exuberant Tigger, hopping through the forest, talking loudly, and sprinting up the aisles of the church just to show how happy he is, a regular nuisance, disrupting the order of worship – sometimes during the pastor’s prayer. And yet his messy spirituality is as real as . . . the most ardent believer’s.”
Now do you recognize yourself? Or maybe someone else? (No finger-pointing, please!) The message is that all are welcome in the 100 Acre Wood, and all are welcome in the church—in spite of our differences, in spite of our challenges, in spite of whether we’re Tigger or Eeyore, Rabbit or Winnie the Pooh. We need everyone in the 100 Acre Wood.
And finally we come to our scripture. I’m reading again this week from a paraphrase called The Message. I wouldn’t use a paraphrase for a deep theological study because a paraphrase is one person’s opinion of how the scripture would be expressed in contemporary language, rather than a whole committee’s translation. But sometimes it’s just what we need to bring the familiar scriptures alive. 1 Corinthians 12:4-18.
God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful:
- wise counsel
- clear understanding
- simple trust
- healing the sick
- miraculous acts
- distinguishing between spirits
- interpretation of tongues.
All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. God decides who gets what, and when.
You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which God has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of Christ’s resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—God’s Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.
I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where God wanted it.
Now, in case that paraphrase wasn’t clear enough for you, here’s another try: In the church, if we were all Eeyore, where would the energy be? If we were all Tigger, where the peace come from? If we were all Rabbit, where would our welcome be? If we were all that silly old bear with the big heart, where would our brain be? We need one another in the church. We need everyone’s gifts, everyone’s strengths, and everyone’s weaknesses.
Last year the movie Christopher Robin came out, a live action film that brings those wonderful stuffed animals back into Christopher’s life as an adult. There is a wonderful scene near the climax of the movie where Christopher’s daughter Madeline has taken Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet on a train for a very important mission. To occupy their time Winnie the Pooh tells the other characters to look out the window and play the game “Name what you see.” He means trees and houses and animals. But when Pooh says name what you see, Piglet looks out the window and says “Panic! Worry! Catastrophe!” Tigger looks out the window and says “Speed! Danger! Recklessness!” Eeyore looks out the window and says “Disgrace! Shame! Humiliation!” And Pooh says, “Well, that’s one way to put it.”
What do you see? When we look at the world around us, we could all be Eeyore because there is so much that is gloomy. We could easily be Piglet for there is so much to fear. We could be Owl and retreat into big words that hide our own ignorance.
What do you see when you look at your life? Whose eyes are you looking through?
What do you see when you consider the future of our church? We’ve talked before about how the church in America is in decline. Each year a smaller percentage of the population goes to church at all, and those who do attend go less often. What do you see? Are you Piglet and you see catastrophe and cause for panic? Are you Piglet and see danger? Are you Eeyore and see shame and disgrace? Or are you like Winnie the Pooh, who named clearly what he saw when he played the game? He said, “Tree, shrub, house, tree, I don’t know what that is.”
I like that last answer! I don’t always know how to define what I’m seeing, or what the implications are. But I do know that we are being called to be bold. We are being called to go on adventures and “expotitions.” We are being called to change. And some of that change won’t be comfortable, but it is necessary. So the Piglets will have to be brave and the Tiggers will have to slow down and the Winnie the Poohs will have to remind us that it’s all about the love.
And because it’s all about the love, that means it’s also about the justice. We need Tigger’s energy for the justice work around us. We need Eeyore’s awareness of the pain. And we need Winnie the Pooh’s heart.
And of course we need Christ, our Christopher Robin, who moves in and out of our world and never forgets us and who will be our friend forever—and even longer.
In the story The House at Pooh Corner,
Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh” he whispered.
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
Let us be sure—of one another, of a hand to hold, of our value here in the 100 Acre Wood.