Sunday March 27, 2022, The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Cycle C)
The tie in between today’s readings: Finding Happiness
The purpose of a journey is to be transformative. I’m not talking about your daily routine commute. That’s just a rut. I mean the vacation to a new and exotic place, the cruise where you meet exciting people, or the test of a rugged wilderness trek. While we plan and anticipate these kinds of getaways, daily life can also be forays of discovery in themselves if we decide to not merely see but observe what’s around us. This makes me think of the Wizard of Oz, where the answer to Dorothy’s yearning to go over the rainbow was right there in front of her face the whole time. God challenges us to walk with Him daily in life’s adventures and to open our eyes to a better understanding of Him and ourselves. In order to gain some insight, let’s do a compare and contrast of the Wizard of Oz against our Bible readings today and maybe find our road, yellow brick or not, to a happily ever after.
The Escape Journey
Dorothy Gale of Kansas and the Prodigal Son cannot get away from their farms fast enough. The problem with escaping from something is that you are always escaping to something else. For both of them the saying “the grass is always greener” turns into “be careful what you wish for”. Dorothy went over the rainbow and wanted to get back as soon as she arrived in Munchkin land. Our Prodigal was too busy partying and needed more time before he came to the end of his rope and looked homeward. Either way, it’s the moral learned from the journey that’s important. Our heroine from the Heartland returns with the epiphany that the search for happiness outside of yourself is futile. You make your own happiness. Unfortunately, she will fail in the end unless she discovers that fulfillment in life is living for something other than yourself. After landing in a pig pen, the Prodigal comes to his senses. He is restored to his father when he goes home, humbles himself, and repents. We are confident that the son, having learned his lesson, will put others first, work the farm, and endeavor to win back his estranged brother by following his father’s example: loving others is the key to happiness.
The Journey of Circumstances
David in Psalm 34 is a victim of circumstance, like when a tornado picks up your house and takes you away. In this Psalm he praises God for getting him out of a close call with the Philistines. His father-in-law, King Saul, is hunting him down (so much for family). David, desperate to elude him, slips into the enemy Philistine city of Gath and ends up out of the frying pan and into the fire. So, what do you do when you don’t know what to do? David improvises. In order to save his life, he pretends to be out of his mind, counting on the thinking at the time that it was immoral to kill an insane person. He puts on a pretty good show: drooling, odd rantings, and scratching on the doors, all the while praying desperately in his head for God to get him out of there! His gutsy move pays off and the king expels him in disgust. In our Wizard of Oz story, we have a Gale in a tornado plummeting down to a strange world. In Munchkin land, Dorothy comes out of her house to discover that she is guilty of involuntary witch slaughter. She needs to get to the Emerald City ASAP to escape the Wicked Witch of the West, who wants to kill her and take the ruby slippers for herself. Dorothy’s path is laid out before her: follow the yellow brick road. The question is how did the yellow brick road get there in the first place? It had to be mapped out, surveyed, leveled, and constructed by someone who knew it would be needed. She must have faith and trust the engineer of the road to get her where she needs to be. Fortunately, that’s what she does. Suppose though she said, “You know, this yellow brick road thing doesn’t work for me. That wheat field over there reminds me of Kansas. I think I’ll head off that way.” Sounds foolish, but don’t we do exactly that when we go our own way and ignore doing what we know God says is right? In fact, in one scene, with the Emerald City in sight she does leave the road and gets in trouble in the poppy field. Whether you’re winging it like David or following guidance like Dorothy, when troubling circumstances come the Bible tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path” (Proverbs 3:5-6). It’s all the difference between confidently skipping down the road or carelessly dancing in a mine field.
The Shared Journey
In most fictional adventures, there is a message. The author wants you to be absorbed in the story, implant the characters in your mind, and have them linger there. You share in their journey, laugh with them, cry with them, and in the end their triumph becomes your victory too. In this experience, the writer asks you to consider his message and become changed. Whether you agree or not with the underlying message in L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, he has reached countless people over the years with his classic. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob wrote an epic all His own. In it He rescues the Hebrews out of slavery, feeds them manna in the desert, miraculously provides water, keeps their clothes intact, and defends them against much stronger enemies. In our reading in Joshua 5:9-12, they have crossed the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. It’s their graduation from the Exodus struggle! The children of Israel are resting, reflecting, and regrouping as they prepare to claim the Promised Land, the next chapter in their adventure with God. If you read between the lines of the Bible, you can see that it is a love story…and you can be in it.
The Calvary Journey
God climaxes His love story on the cross. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 tells us that this relationship with Him is through His Son Jesus Christ. The curtain is lifted in verse 21 where it is written, “God made Jesus, who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” In the greatest story ever told, The Eternal Author invites us to write in our names by faith and journey to Calvary along with Jesus. On the cross with Him a great switch happens. We become new creations. Forget the past! Our sins are GONE! We are new people with a new job: ambassadors of Christ with a gospel directive. Nothing Humdrum here! So, join the story of reconciliation. See your world in a different light. Go on your life adventure with the Lord and after your story on earth is told there is an epilogue. You will live forever with the One who loves you. He will wipe away all of your tears. You will have a mansion in heaven, far over the rainbow. Let’s face it…there’s no place like home!