brown animal on brown grass during daytime

Underdog, Wile E. Coyote, and the Kingdom of God

I was born in 1953. That makes me a number of things. For my children, that makes me old and out of touch, although I think I surprise them now and then. For the AARP that makes me a target member. For Bob Evans I’m a customer of the senior citizens menu. But it also makes me a core member of the Baby Boom generation.

Baby Boomers probably have been the most analyzed and discussed generation ever. We have been influenced by many factors not affecting previous generations. One of the most influential, however, unquestionably has to have been television. We are the first television generation.

My family purchased its first television when I was six years old, approximately a week before I was to start school. I’ve always felt some grand conspiracy at work on the timing there, but never quite figured out what it was! Prior to the arrival of the television I spent much time with Comic Book friends such as Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and others. I loved the classic superheroes—seemingly ordinary people who were invested with supernatural powers and who could accomplish feats beyond the capabilities of ordinary humans.  When the TV arrived, my loyalties naturally changed to that medium, but my attraction to the superheroes never changed. I was a faithful follower of the old Superman series, the Batman shows of the 60s, and the Mighty Mouse cartoons. I was also a big fan of some of the more unlikely superheroes, however, such as Popeye the Sailor and Underdog.

I particularly liked Underdog. Underdog was an animated character. His normal appearance was as the somewhat beagle-like, mild-mannered Shoe-Shine Boy. When other characters reached superhero form, their muscles grew, their personalities changed, they developed special tools, they wore masks, etc. With Underdog, however, almost nothing changed.  He put on a cape, but his naivete and mild manners continued and, through the unassuming voice of Wally Cox, his charge of “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here.” would hardly intimidate even the most timid of opponents.

What was appealing about Underdog was that he was just a plain, ordinary kid who approached life with a childlike trust that good triumphs over evil, struggled against the bad guys and usually won, but just barely.  I think most kids related to that situation and appreciated that someone without all of the special powers could nevertheless accomplish special things.

For the same reason, the story of David and Goliath has always been popular with children. David is the quintessential underdog child struggling against the bad-guy who mocks him and his beliefs. Children easily relate to him. Moreover, he also is a classic superhero, but one much more like Underdog than Batman. All of the army of Israel quakes in fear at the voice of Goliath. They know that they cannot beat him by themselves, but have no supernatural powers in which they have faith. When David steps forward he is ridiculed by the soldiers as nothing more than an impotent child. King Saul, grasping at any straw to deal with the situation, offers him his armor and weapons (you might think of them in the same light as some of the gadgets that Batman used), but, like Underdog, David puts aside special weapons, choosing instead to rely on his complete trust in good over evil; his complete, childlike trust in God. Like all superheroes, David prevails—the simple stone, thrown by the ordinary boy, overcomes the problem that seemed beyond human ability to overcome.

As a child enamored with superheroes, I loved the David and Goliath story. I still love it, but now because it teaches me so much about the Kingdom of God. God loves underdogs. The Kingdom of God is made up of underdogs that God has made into superheroes. God is an awesome God. He will do incredible things through us if we trust Him completely. Yet in our modern sophistication, we too often are like the Israelite soldiers who stood by and watched because they were focused on their own inadequacies. We dwell on what we can do, or have failed to do, rather than what God can do in our lives through His grace. We dwell on our sin and failings, rather than God’s power and grace.

A story I heard about an itinerant Methodist pastor exemplifies how easily we can choose to focus on our limitations rather than trust God’s grace to act through our lives. Many years ago, a rural pastor with a multiple charge accepted another church into his charge.  When he first visited the church he met a rather eccentric old woman who claimed she talked directly with God. To test her, the pastor, who held guilt over some secret sin, told the woman to ask God how he had sinned. When he next visited the church, he again spoke with the woman and asked her what God had revealed to her about his sin. She responded, “God said to tell you he cannot answer the question because he has forgotten your sin.”

How often are we like that pastor, thinking about our sin and guilt about our sin, when God is someplace ahead of us. He knows we sin. He knows that we will put our will ahead of His and sin in doing so. But he sent us His Son to show us that if we trust Him, our sin is irrelevant. He is ready to do great things through us if we permit Him to do so. He is ready to transform us into superheroes. But we so frequently do not permit Him to act in our lives because we focus on our human failures and limitations, instead of His power and grace.

Jesus is addressing the same point in today’s Gospel lesson. With a storm raging about him he sleeps quietly in the boat—completely at peace and trust in God. The disciples, however, are in a near panic because they cannot see what they can do to save the situation. Jesus simply quiets the storm and chastens them with, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” He was challenging them to understand that if they trust God completely, incredible things can happen.

This is not only the message in today’s readings, but it also is the essential message that Jesus brings to us. He also taught us through Nicodemus that if we turn to God with the complete trust of a newborn child, we will be transformed by the Holy Spirit to accomplish the work of God. He taught us with his analogies to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, that our relationship with God must be one of complete trust. Again and again Jesus repeats this essential truth: that when we surrender our will to Christ, our sin is irrelevant because through the Holy Spirit we will be transformed into the image of Christ. Christ will be evident in our lives through the works the Holy Spirit does through us. And more often than not, the Spirit will accomplish things through us that we never dreamed we could do.

My wife insightfully has described the power of grace in the Kingdom of God, and how easily we miss that power through our own will, through the experience of that Baby Boomer anti-hero, Wile E. Coyote. I am sure you have seen the many times that Wile E. Coyote has been chasing the Road Runner only to run off a cliff. He keeps running through the air as long as his focus is ahead or upward. But when he realizes where he is, looks around, and realizes that he cannot do what he is doing, he plummets to earth.

The Kingdom of God is like that moment before the coyote focuses on his limitations. The promise that Christ holds out to us is that if we keep focused on him, if we trust in God totally, we will keep running through the air and never fall. That we will sail in the storm and never sink. That we will conquer problems beyond our thinking with just a sling and a stone. That if we surrender to Him, he will forget about our sinful nature and transform us into superheroes of the Kingdom of God. So my friends, will you trust Christ to make you soar? Will you permit Jesus to take you, the underdog, and transform you into a superhero of faith?    

© Thomas M. Trezise, 2009


  1. Sue Culp on September 8, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Thanks! I left to teach Sunday School and I always enjoy your sermons. It was also nice to read Riding the Train – I heard that one, but it was nice to think about it again. Your stuff stay with me and makes me think. Glad I’m on your e-mail list.

  2. Nancy on September 10, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Hi Tom, Thanks so much for sharing your sermons. They speak to me, they give me hope and they keep me on the right path. I love the idea of me being a super hero! You are so very gifted and talented in your writings and inspiration to others. Keep up the great work for God’s kingdom! I, too, am glad I’m on your email list. Nancy

  3. JimmyBean on October 1, 2009 at 1:28 am

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

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Welcome, I'm Tom

I'm Tom Trezise a retired lawyer and corporate executive with over twenty years of experience as a Methodist lay preacher. Raised in Appalachia, I proudly call myself a hillbilly at heart. I'm the executive director of The Everyday Kingdom, a non-profit devoted to fostering a community that helps people find and experience the peace, purpose, and joy available from living every day in Christ’s kingdom.

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