Consider the monkeys

Daily Reading for May 25 • The Second Sunday after Pentecost

How do you prepare yourself to write the Declaration of Independence? On what was Thomas Jefferson nourishing his mind and soul? His account books reveal that on May 24 Jefferson paid someone named Hillegas twenty-seven shillings for fiddle strings. May 27, Jefferson spent “one and seven” for toys. May 28, he gave two shillings for a doll. The ledgers further show that, during the remainder of that momentous session of the Continental Congress, Jefferson also bought fishing tackle, a pair of boots, a hat, and guitar strings. . . .Apparently Thomas Jefferson solved this creative crisis when on that same pregnant day he shelled out—this is the item I love—“one shilling for seeing a monkey.”

We’ve got a revolution on our hands, a cataclysmic international upheaval, erupting hopes and dreams of freedom, and Thomas Jefferson is off looking at a monkey. . . .Who says that frivolity isn’t part of God’s creative design? The Puritans, those promulgators of the “Protestant work ethic,” said it wasn’t. But Jefferson wasn’t buying that, and the balance seems to tip in his favor. How logical is it to assume that inspiration—the operation of God’s creative Spirit—is bound by our conceptions of “logic”? The wisest people know how to press beyond such limited thinking. Creativity follows its own logic. . . .

Now consider Jesus, who taught his disciples to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air (Matt. 6:26-28). . . . Maybe part of salvation is looking at lilies, not for any particular purpose or use, but just because God put lilies here for looking at. And to look at the lilies is to salute God and to acknowledge the work of God’s hands, and somehow that salutation, that acceptance of God’s grace, is part of our salvation. . . .

The danger is that people who will not pay “one shilling for seeing a monkey” eventually pay by getting monkeys on their backs. People who won’t look at lilies develop tunnel vision. People who won’t gaze at the birds of the air grow blind to God’s gifts of grace. And people who haven’t time or heart to hug little children can’t be trusted to hold anything. . . .

It’s possible that taking time out for opening to grace may produce better results than banging your head against a wall. It’s possible that lilies and birds may charm away the boulder that blocks your brain. After all, God did not design this world to be a penitentiary but a paradise, and God created it all for you as well as for every other creature. Consider the lilies—and don’t miss the monkeys.

From “Consider the Monkeys” by Robert John Versteeg, quoted in Best Sermons 4 edited by James W. Cox (Harper & Row, 1991).

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