Sermon May 22, 2022

“A Message to the Holders of the Golden Tickets”

by Rev. James Rausch

Willy Wonka, you’re a crook!  You’re a cheat and a swindler!   Grampa Joe was the one who finally said it.  Shouted it, really.  And I was actually kinda glad he did.   By then everyone else was thinking the same thing too, but you just didn’t want to believe it could be true.  I mean, this was the legendary Willy Wonka, the candy man!  You know… the one who “mixes it with love and makes the world taste good!” 

What a shock!  That he would take a little boy’s dreams and smash them to pieces.    Do you know the story?  (Open chocolate bar)   I know the contest to find a golden ticket in your Wonka Bar wrapper happened once upon a long time ago.  But still every time I open a bar I look.  Maybe it’s the kid in me, always hoping.  Hey, what do you know!? I got one!

Some of you remember the story but many of you may have never heard it, so let me try to help you picture it.  Everyone in the world dreamed of finding one of the five Golden tickets that would win a tour of the mysterious and highly secret chocolate factory.  It had been closed to the public for many years.  Ever since old Slugworth began spying to steal Wonka’s candy making secrets.  The chance to go inside and see what the whole world wanted to see was even better than the second part of the prize, a lifetime’s supply of chocolate.

Finding that golden ticket meant everything to a boy who worked hard in school and delivered papers, saving every penny just to buy his family bread to go with their cabbage water, which is all they had for dinner.  Finding that ticket was the best thing that ever happened to Charlie Buckett. So to end up being disqualified by Wonka on a technicality – fine print in paragraph 37b buried somewhere in a contract – no child should be expected to have to deal with such things.  Wonka had to be an off-his-rocker lunatic.  And cruel too, with what he did to those five children.

Everyone assumed that Willy Wonka loved children.  Why else would you spend your life making candy?  That’s why everyone wanted so much to meet him, especially those five lucky children.   I’ll admit, some of their behaviors made them kind of hard to love, but really, they weren’t all that different from you or me.

Let’s see, there was Augustus Gloop from Dusselheim, Germany.  Augustus was prone to overeating   Self-control at the table was obviously not emphasized at his house. So can you imagine the temptation a candy factory would bring.   When he saw that chocolate river flowing with the creamiest, richest chocolate he’d ever seen… well, what would you do?  He was told not to go near the river.  It wasn’t safe, and he would contaminate the chocolate just by touching it.  But the aroma of it was so incredible.   He couldn’t resist.  And sure enough, he fell in.  Yet Wonka hardly seemed to care when he was sucked into the pipes and shot to who-knows-where into the machinery.  Wonka’s assistants, the oompa-loompas, apparently got him out, but that was all for him.  What a way to end your dream tour.

And then there was Violet Beauregard.   She had a habit of gum chewing that was a bit annoying.  Her chomping was loud and constant.  I like to chew gum, too.  But I get loud without even realizing it.  I imagine that’s how it was for Violet.  Now, when they were shown this incredible machine that makes gum that tastes like a three-course meal in sequence, she just had to try a piece.  She didn’t pay any attention to the warning that the gum was not yet fully tested and ready for people to try.  Grampa Joe called her a nitwit for ignoring the danger, but who would have thought a tiny piece of gum posed any risk.  She knew she wasn’t supposed to take it, but how could she help herself?  Wonka just shook his head as she turned into a giant blueberry!   Once again it was up to the oompa-loompas to roll her away and squeeze her before she exploded.   Another golden ticket winner sent home empty handed and smarting from the experience.

Then there was that boy, Mike Teevee, whose whole life revolved around watching television.  It was kind of sad to think of how many hours he wasted away in front of the tube and the things it was teaching him, but when I thought about it, I have done a lot of TV watching too.  It’s not hard to get hooked.   He ended up getting shrunk down to miniature size when he ignored warnings and stepped in front of that strange tv camera that was built to transmit candy bars directly into people’s homes.  His poor mother fainted when the oompa-loompas tucked him in her purse and took them away.

I suppose the hardest one to like was Veruca.  Veruca Salt.  She did act like a spoiled and obnoxious little brat.  It was her way or no way and whatever she wanted, she wanted it now.  Her temper tantrums were hideous, but they always seemed to work on her dad.  I remember she wanted one of the geese that laid those special eggs and she was determined to get it this instant!  Have you ever had a selfish impulse and acted on it without thinking?  I have.  Well, when she climbed up on Wonka’s educated eggdicator that’s supposed to separate the good eggs from the bad eggs, it sent her down the chute to the reject pile.

Wonka’s disqualified them all.  They broke the rules in the fine print, no doubt.

And you’re left wondering about Charlie Buckett, he did seem to have better manners than the others, and no annoying habits that we could see, but he and Grampa Joe did take a couple of fizzy lifting drinks when the others weren’t looking.  Sure enough, even as Charlie was expressing his concern about the other children, Wonka ended his tour.  No escort out, and no lifetime’s supply of chocolate.  Wonka said they stole the drinks and contaminated the production chamber when they floated up and touched the ceiling.  That’s when Grampa Joe lost his temper.

I guess all five children did do something wrong, but come on, kids will be kids. What candy maker wouldn’t expect that?  You’d think candy makers would love kids most of all, and there should be a little room for tolerance.   Especially for a kid like Charlie.   But the look on Charlie’s face when Wonka told him and Grampa Joe to show themselves out, you could almost hear his heart breaking.  How could that happen? How could the one who can, “take tomorrow, dip it in a dream, separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream,” turn out to be so heartless.  I guess Willy Wonka only wants children who can follow the rules perfectly, but you and I know no one can live up to that.  I’ll admit, maybe Augustus and Veruca and the others did learn some badly needed lessons about their selfish and destructive behaviors, but if Wonka only cares about children who can live up to every letter of his fine print, he must not really love children after all.

What a sad ending to the story.  Each child sent home crushed and even a little bitter.  Technically, legally, Wonka did nothing wrong to them at all, but try to tell that to a child who’s just been given a few great reasons to doubt that this legendary Candy Man was ever anything he was cracked up to be.   Now Slugworth, his adversary, wasn’t looking so sinister after all.  And all five kids had the chance for some very tempting revenge.  Because at the moment that each one won their golden ticket, they were approached by a man who called himself Slugworth, who secretly offered a bundle of cash just to bring him back one piece of the highly secret candy that he said would give anything to analyze and steal the formula.  The everlasting gobstopper.  And early in the tour, they each talked Wonka into giving them one, in exchange for a promise never to give it away.

Charlie was by far the poorest of them all.  What that cash Slugworth offered for that gobstopper could have done for his mother and two ailing sets of Grandparents.  You just know he would have spent it all helping them.  But he gave it back to Wonka.  Charlie gave the gobstopper back to the one who just disappointed him like he had never been disappointed before.  Would you have given it back?

What made Charlie give it back, I don’t know.  But as it turned out, that was the whole point of Wonka’s plan.  It wasn’t Slugworth who secretly offered cash for a secret candy, but someone Wonka himself had hired to test the golden ticket winners.   Because he knew that anyone who would pass up such a good opportunity to be hurtful and disloyal to him when they had every reason to, could truly be trusted.  And what a surprise when Willy Wonka told Charlie he won!  And the most unexpected twist of the story, Wonka was giving Charlie the whole factory and everything that he owned.

So, Wonka did turn out to be even more generous and much wiser than he was cracked up to be.  He truly wanted the best for all children, and he taught them all some hard but good lessons.  But when it all came down to it, he was willing to forgive all their bad behaviors and share all he had with any of them, even Veruca.  He wasn’t looking for them to live up to a contract perfectly after all. What he wanted was someone he could trust with all that was his. Someone who would appreciate the gift and have the heart to share it with others. And if I know Charlie, I have a feeling he spent a lot of time after that thinking up ways to invite Violet, Mike, Augustus, Veruca, & countless others to share his joy.

Who else but the Candy man could think of such an ingenious way to make sure all he had was shared with others?   Who else?  Well, there is one.  Actually, I hear He is the One who gave Wonka the idea.   Came right out of His Book in a story told by his Son.   Here, I’ll read it again for you…

  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Now, you and I surely encounter times in this life when we can’t help but feel let down by God. We may even have approached a point where we begin to think God never was as wise and generous as he was cracked up to be, because somehow the dream that came with our golden ticket turned out to be a big disappointment.  But wouldn’t it be something if it turned out that our dreams weren’t nearly as extravagant as God’s generous plans?  And could it be that God wants what’s best for all of us children, and teaches us lessons that call us away from selfish and destructive behaviors?

No one on the tour knew that Wonka’s ultimate aim was to share everything he had with someone who could love children as much as he did. They couldn’t see past their immediate experience of the strange, unpredictable tour, the temptations it brought, and the prospect of receiving a lifetime’s supply of chocolate.

As those who have been given the gift of life and have heard the message through Jesus that God loves each of us, we are all, at this moment, holders of a golden ticket.  The unpredictable and often strange tour we are on is called life, and in it we encounter temptations and trial.  Often, our perception of who God is, and what God is up to, leads us to confusion or even frustration.  And, more frequently than we’d care to admit, we break the rules and act selfishly.  If we’ll listen, God will teach us lessons which are both hard and good.

          But unlike Wonka, we golden ticket holders are told up front that God’s deepest desire is to share with us all He has.  No matter how hard to love we might seem sometimes.  And we can persist in our journey of faith in spite of mistakes, setbacks, and disillusioning surprises.  God’s love can and does cover them all.

Now if a human can dream up and tell such a marvelous story with a delightful, unexpected ending, how much more can our loving God bring the story of humanity and all of creation to a wondrous culmination that exceeds our best imaginings?

I’m inviting you to trust in that possibility even more deeply now.  Remember, if God only loved children who could live up to the fine print perfectly, you and I know none of us could do it.  But if what God is looking instead for is someone who persistently clings to love and a belief in him, even after our expectations of him have suffered some bitter disappointment?  If God is looking for someone who can be trusted to really appreciate a gift and long to share it with others, I want Him to find that in me.  How about you?