The Turtle and the Rabbit

We all remember Aesop’s story “The Tortoise and the Hare,” which teaches us slow and steady wins the race. Jesus uses stories effectively as well. His stories are called parables, like this one about yeast. Yeast? Yes, yeast.

The Turtle and the Rabbit ~ June 02, 2019 ~ Matthew 13:33-35

Most of us are familiar with the Greek writer/storyteller Aesop, or maybe at least you’ve heard his name. The earliest sources, including Aristotle, indicate that Aesop was born around 620 BC, in Thrace, which is on the Black Sea and is modern day Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. If you don’t know Aesop, you at least are familiar with some of his tales, known to us as Aesop’s Fables. Like “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” where the ant was industrious and planned for the winter, storing food; the grasshopper did not. “The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg,” and “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Well, I want to show you a video that surprised me because I was in my last semester of school in a course about leadership, and he was trying to teach about core competencies and leadership, and here I am finishing up my doctorate, and I’m watching a cartoon! And I didn’t quite understand why, but at the end of it I understood. And I said, “You know what? Out of all the things that I’ve learned this semester in this course, this stuck with me!” And I want to share it with you.

Transcript from the Video: The Story of Turtle and Rabbit (The New Version)
Once upon a time, a turtle and a rabbit had an argument about who was faster. They decided to settle the argument with a race. The turtle and the rabbit both agreed on a route and started off the race. The rabbit shot ahead and ran briskly for some time. Then, seeing he was far ahead of the turtle, he thought he’d sit under a tree for some time and relax before continuing the race. He sat under the tree and soon fell asleep. The turtle plodding on overtook him and soon finished the race, emerging as the undisputed champ. The rabbit woke up and realized that he’d lost the race. The moral of the story is that slow and steady wins the race.

This is the version of the story that we’ve all grown up with, but our version of the story continues.

The rabbit was disappointed that he’d lost the race, and he did some thinking. He realized that he’d lost the race only because he had been overconfident, careless, and lax. If he had not taken things for granted, there’s no way the turtle could have beaten him. So, he challenged the turtle to another race. The turtle agreed. This time, the rabbit went all out and ran without stopping from start to finish. He won by several miles. The moral of the story? Fast and consistent will always beat the slow and steady. It’s good to be slow and steady; but it’s better to be fast and reliable!

But the story doesn’t end here!

The turtle did some thinking this time and realized that there’s no way he can beat the rabbit in a race the way it was currently formatted. He thought for a while, and then challenged the rabbit to another race, but on a slightly different route. The rabbit agreed. The turtle and rabbit started off. In keeping with his self-made commitment to be consistently fast, the rabbit took off and ran at top speed until he came to a broad river. The finishing line was a couple of km on the other side of the river. The rabbit sat there wondering what to do. In the meantime, the turtle trundled along, got into the river, swam to the opposite bank, continued walking and finished the race. The moral of the story? First, identify your core competency, and then change the playing field to suit your core competency.

The story still hasn’t ended.

The turtle and rabbit, by this time, had become pretty good friends, and they did some thinking together. Both realized that the last race could have been run much better. So, the turtle and rabbit decided to do the last race again, but to run as a team this time. They started off, and this time the rabbit carried the turtle till the riverbank. There, the turtle took over and swam across with the rabbit on his back. On the opposite bank, the rabbit again carried the turtle, and they reached the finishing line together. Both the turtle and rabbit felt a greater sense of satisfaction than they’d felt earlier. The moral of the story? It’s good to be individually brilliant, and to have strong core competencies; but unless you’re able to work in a team and harness each other’s core competencies, you’ll always perform below par because there will always be situations at which you’ll do poorly and someone else does well.

TEAMWORK is mainly about situational leadership, letting the person with the relevant core competency for a situation take leadership.

And that is the end of the story.

And so here I am – I’m excited, first of all, I get to watch a cartoon in this class – but I’m scratching my head, “What is this thing all about?” And at the end I’m saying, “How genius! What a way to illustrate I have some strengths that you don’t have. You have some strengths that I don’t have. And if we work together, we will fill in the places that lack, and as a team we can accomplish incredible things if we stick to what we’re good at and augment it with what other people are good at!” Is that not what a church does? A whole bunch of different gifts and talents here, they’re not all the same; but together, as a team, we can win the race!

Now, do you see how a story can present a powerful message about teamwork? I could have talked to you over and over and over about teamwork. But I’ll bet you’ll remember that video, that little story, long after you’ve forgotten anything I would have said about teamwork. It sticks in your mind. Stories are powerful. Why? Because they work. Three years worth of school, that’s the thing I remember the most! It’s a great story about teamwork. Stories work. That’s why Jesus used them as a teaching tool. We call them parables. So, would you join me in the unison prayer as we begin to study the Word of God. Let us pray.

Lord, upon the pages of this book is Your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

            So, we’re in Matthew 13 this morning, and Jesus is telling a parable, verse 33:

Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. This fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet: “I will speak to you in parables. I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.”
(Matthew 13:33-35)

Jesus loves to tell stories. First of all, when I read this, the thing that pops into my mind (which is often a question): The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast. What exactly is the Kingdom of Heaven, and is it different than the Kingdom of God? Quick answer? There is no difference. In fact, Matthew was the only one of the four gospel writers to use the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” in his book. He does so partly because he is writing to the Jews, to a Jewish audience. And out of intense reverence and respect, Jews don’t even pronounce God’s name, it’s too holy for them.

For instance, I don’t know how many of you have come across this issue or problem, but have you ever come across a Bible that is so dilapidated, falling apart, old, well-used – it is really non-functional anymore? You know what they say, a Bible that’s falling apart is owned by someone whose life is not. So, it’s falling apart, you don’t know what to do with it! And you’re like, “Pastor, I just feel funny throwing it away! What do I do with it?” Well, the Jews never throw away their Torahs – their Bibles. When they’re done and they’re old and they’re used and they cannot be repaired anymore, you know what they do? They actually have a funeral for their Scriptures. They bury them in the ground like it’s a body, primarily because on the pages of the Torah is the name of God, Yahweh. That’s how much reverence they have for God’s name.

So, Matthew, when he talks about the Kingdom of God, he doesn’t want to call it the Kingdom of God, because that might be offensive to the Jews. So, he calls it the Kingdom of Heaven. So, they are both the same thing. They are interchangeable.

But Jesus says here the Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast. Now, I don’t know about you, but I got saved so that I could go to the land of yeast? No. The Kingdom of Heaven is both a physical place – heaven, for those who are saved, born again, confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in their heart that God raised Him from the dead – where we’ll be after we die, with all the saints, and Jesus, and all those believers who have gone before us. So, it is a physical place that we aspire to. It is also a spiritual place, or a psychological place in the sense that… I’m guessing at some point in your life, somebody’s come up to you and asked you, “How are you doing? How are things?” and maybe you responded using this phrase: “You know what, Sarah? I’m in a good place. Things are going well.” You ever use that? “I’m in a good place right now.” You’re not in a different location. You’re still here! “I’m in a good place.” The opposite is true too, is it not? “How’s it going?” “Well, I gotta tell you, I’m in a bad place right now!” So, the Kingdom of Heaven is not just a physical place, but it’s an attitude, it’s an outlook, it’s a point of view. And if God is ruling your heart, your life, and your mind, and you are willingly submitting to His authority, you are now a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. You are in a great place!

            Now, this attitude, this condition, this state of heart and mind, Jesus points out here, has far reaching effect. The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast that permeates the whole pile of dough. Your attitude, your condition, your state of mind, your state of heart, can have an effect on other people.

For instance, I’m going to bet, here, that you know someone who you call (maybe not to their face), a Debbie Downer, right? Every time they show up, they’re whining and moaning and groaning about one thing or another, just like Winnie the Pooh’s friend Eeyore. You’re sitting around with some friends at a table with your co-workers, and Debbie Downer shows up. And you’re polite, so you invite her over. Then you make the cardinal mistake: you ask, “How are you?” There are some people, and you know who they are, that you never ask that question to because they will answer it! Debbie sits down at the table. “Well, I’ll tell you, my boss is a real jerk, and we’ve got a lot to do at work, and we’re not given any time. My son flunked his math test. My husband’s being a real…” and it goes on and on and on. All of a sudden, all the people at the lunch table start chiming in. “Yeah, you know, I’ve been having some trouble too…”

Have you ever passed the flu around your house? You know, like one person gets it, and then the next person gets it, and then the next person gets it? No one means to get someone else sick; it just happens. Similarly, with negativity, it is like a contagious disease. All of a sudden Debbie Downer’s sitting at your table. Before everyone was having a nice lunch, now everybody’s complaining, and everyone’s depressed! What happened? Some yeast got in your dough. I have found that the same thing goes for gossip. Christians know – or they’re supposed to know – that gossip is evil, it’s destructive. The Bible says:

“Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people. Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord.”
(Leviticus 19:16)

Scoundrels create trouble. Their words are a destructive blaze.
(Proverbs 16:27)

 A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire, and… the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
(James 3:5-6)

Tongues can be a vicious thing. So, yes, we know that gossip is bad. But let me ask, and I’m not going to embarrass anybody by asking for a show of hands, but when someone starts gossiping, do you walk away? Do you tell them to stop? Not only do we not put an end to it, we join in! And it often becomes a contest! “Oh, he did that? Well, let me tell you what she did! And you should hear about Fred, do you know what Fred’s doing? Oh my gosh!” And the next thing you know, your whole lunch table is talking about other people.

Why do we do that? Does it make us feel good about ourselves to point out the faults and foibles of others? I’ll tell you why – because we’re fighting a spiritual battle every single day. The little guy on your shoulder is telling you to join in on this negativity, telling you to join in on this gossip. He knows it’s destructive. That’s his purpose – to steal, kill, and destroy.

So, if we allow a little negative yeast into our hearts and into our minds, it will quickly spread. The good news is, it works both ways, as I showed the kids. A little bit of water can put out some flame too. Did you ever notice what happens when you smile at someone? Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they smile back. My mentor, Reverend Carlson, used to play a game with the kids. He’d walk up to them and look at them and say, “Don’t you smile!” See! She lasted half a second! You can’t help it. Smiles are contagious! People can’t stop themselves.

So, picture yourself back at that same lunch table, and Debbie Downer doesn’t show up, but Ursula Upper (I just made her up). Ursula shows up. “Ursula, come join us!” She sits down. “Ursula, how are you doing?” “I’m blessed! Let me tell you, my kid is doing so well with his violin lessons, he’s sounding like Mozart!” (You know that’s not true, but her attitude is infectious!) “Things are going pretty well at work; the work is manageable. My husband bought me flowers last week!” You know what happens? It gets catchy! All of a sudden, you have a table full of people who are talking about their blessings! “Yeah? Well you wouldn’t believe what my son is doing!” “You wouldn’t believe what my daughter is doing!” Everybody’s talking about the good. See, a little negative yeast can permeate every part of the dough. A positive, encouraging, godly yeast is just as contagious. The whole atmosphere of your lunch was affected by some Kingdom of Heaven yeast.

I really hope that you know someone like that, like Ursula Upper. I do. Miss Lauren! Lauren is like human sunshine! You walk in in the morning and she’s bubbly, she’s happy, she’s smiling. She always looks at a problem with an optimistic view. I know her life is not problem free. I know she has challenges like the rest of us. She just sometimes forgets to tell her face! I’m telling you; she influences your attitude. You can’t help but respond in kind. It reminded me of – think if it this way – what affect does sunlight have on plants? You put plants in a jar on a table, they will bend toward the sunlight. They can’t help themselves. They are reaching for life – life-giving sunlight. Well, when we reflect SON-light, people will turn toward the Light of the World. They can’t help themselves. They will respond to your positive, godly, blessed yeast.

I mean, I understand, when you turned to Jesus, and you became a believer and got born again, your life did not change all of a sudden into all unicorns and fairy dust 24/7. I get it. That’s not what happens. Didn’t happen to me either. But what does change – or what should have changed, because we know how our story ends now – is our hearts, and our minds, and our attitude.

Remember, your outlook – there was a story I’ve used before, but I really thought that it fit into this message, so I wanted to share it again. It’s the story – or you could call it a parable – of the shoe salesman.

There’s this timeless story about a shoe salesman whose company one day decided to give him a new opportunity. They sent him to Africa to launch their new product range. He was very excited to be chosen for such a promotion, but within a week of arrival, he was on the phone back to his boss sounding very dejected and disheartened.

“Boss, I’m sorry, you may as well bring me back home. This is a complete waste of my time and the company’s money. No one wears shoes in Africa.”

The boss agreed to let him come home, as he didn’t want to have unhappy staff. He decided, however, to give another of his salesman a try. Within a week, that second shoe salesman again was on the phone to his boss, barely able to contain his excitement!

“Boss! This is amazing! Quick, send me more shoes! Give me everything you’ve got! No one wears shoes in Africa!”

It’s the same circumstance, a completely different attitude! That’s what should have happened when you got saved. Your attitude changed. You now live in the Kingdom of Heaven! Being a Christian does not mean life does not present challenges anymore. Of course it will! “No one wears shoes here.” “How do I get across this river?” However, our hearts are different, our minds are different, our point of view is different, and now, like yeast, we can have an influence on other people’s lives. You truly can. You can be an Ursula Upper or a Debbie Downer, it’s your call.

Stories have power to teach, to transform. Whether they are Aesop’s fables, the story of a turtle and a rabbit, or the tale of a shoe salesman. That’s why Jesus used them. What I’m asking is for you to let Jesus use you. Be a parable. Be human SON-shine! Let your story, like yeast, reflect the Light of the World and infect others! You will be amazed at how many people are affected by your yeast, by your SON-shine; how many people will turn toward His light and be changed by it because you have been changed.

Look, people remember the story of the Tortoise and the Hare because it taught them slow and steady wins the race. Hopefully, after today’s video, the Turtle and the Rabbit will remind you of the advantages of working as a team. Well, if you reflect Jesus’ heart, His love, His mercy, His grace, His forgiveness, and His selfless service, your story will not long be forgotten either. You’ll be that shoe salesman, saying, “Boss, this is amazing! Quick, send me more shoes! Give me everything you’ve got! No one wears shoes in Africa!” Because your heart has changed, because your mind has changed, you’ll be saying, “Lord! This is amazing! Use me to shine Your light! So many people here don’t know about Jesus!”

So, be human SON-shine. Let Jesus use your story as yeast to help others bend toward Him. Amen.