Broadway & The Bible – 9/10/17
Fall Sunday Series
The Greatest Commandment
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 22:34-40
Before I begin I’d like to invite the children to ease on down the aisles and join Penny in Rowel Hall for a fun activity. And while they’re heading over there I’ve gotta be up front with you all this morning.
I hadn’t seen The Wiz prior to finding out I was preaching this week. In fact, I hadn’t seen any of the musicals in this series. And now that I’m on the topic I think the only musicals I have seen by choice prior to this series are Grease and White Christmas. So, for those of you who were here for the Hamilton week, I know about as much about musicals as Mike does about Hip Hop.
However, The Wiz is an adaptation of a very familiar story. Wikipedia explains it as “an urbanized retelling of L. Frank Baum’s classic 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the context of modern African-American culture.” Now I wouldn’t consider myself urban or African American however the themes present in this version similarly echo the themes of the original and I believe that the themes of both are relevant to all of humanity.
As a quick refresher, our story begins with Dorothy living with her Aunt and not feeling particularly at home in her current living situation. She, and her dog Toto, are whisked away in a storm and land in Oz, whereupon she meets the munchkins and is informed by the good witch of the north that she has killed the wicked witch of the east, thusly having rights to her magical shoes.
At the beginning of the story, Dorothy is very afraid. Which is not particularly profound in itself, however I want us to pay special attention to how Dorothy and the other character’s attitudes shift throughout the story. Dorothy is way outside of her comfort zone. She is in a place she has never been, and we know from the prologue that she isn’t predisposed to being the adventuresome type, and has she no idea how to get back.
A good friend of mine once told me “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone” That is one of my favorite quotes. After we had been using it with one another to push each other we started debating whether the quote was “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone” or “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. I think for more reserved folks the edge works better, however I myself prefer the end. Which I constantly struggle with. There are many things I love to do which push me out of my comfort zone. Obstacle races like the tough mudder, skydiving, riding motorcycles. Things many people have no interest in doing, far outside the comfort zone to even consider. And yet, there are aspects of my life that I find much harder to push myself outside of my comfort zone. Probably the biggest one is that I’ve never lived in the city. It seems illogical to some but moving my home to a different neighborhood challenges me much more than jumping out of an airplane. So, when my friend hassles me about that my only response is that there is now even more of a reason that I should live there at least for a time if for no other reason than to overcome that fear, to push myself in ways I haven’t been pushed before.
Dorothy finds herself in this very position, but does not have the luxury of choice. Unlike me, she must rise to this occasion and get herself home. And how is she to do that?
As our opening clip showed, follow the yellow brick road. More specifically, ease on down the yellow brick road. Which, seems quite easy at first. I mean we are easing down the road right? All she has to do is follow this road, right? No intersections, no hard terrain, no navigating. Sounds pretty simple, at least in theory. But as the story progresses it is actually quite difficult. There are both foreseen challenges that she is warned about and unforeseen challenges that lie ahead of her.
And this is where our scripture for this morning enters. When Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment he responds “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” It’s that simple. Love God with everything you’ve got, and love your neighbor. Which makes sense right? If we truly love God and love what God stands for then certainly our love of neighbor should flow out quite naturally. So, why, and I’ll speak for myself here but I can’t imagine I’m the only one that feels this, why is it so hard for me to do that? Why is it so hard for me love my neighbor? In fact, it is so hard for me that I say the prayer of confession aloud almost every Sunday, and it is applicable every time. Every week I do something I shouldn’t’ve or I didn’t do something I should’ve. You’d think it’d be easy to ease on down the road of living the Christian life when there are really only two things asked of us, and yet I struggle with it as much as Dorothy struggles with her foes en route to Oz.
Her first companion is the scarecrow, who in the 1978 version of the film is played by Michael Jackson and his dancing is incredible if you haven’t seen it. Definitely worth just pulling up that clip on YouTube later if you haven’t seen it. Anyway, once Dorothy helps the scarecrow her confidence already begins to build. The crows had complete control over him, and Dorothy helps to set him free. If this isn’t a perfect example of loving your neighbor I’m not sure what is. And it is mutually beneficial, almost like God designed it that way…
Now for those of you paying attention during the prayer of confession you were reminded that the scarecrow is in need of a brain. Dorothy then picks up the tinman who is in need of a heart and the lion who needs courage.
We’re moving pretty quickly through the story now but I’m trying to keep this sermon to a reasonable length so hang with me. They get to Oz, the wiz says they have to kill the other wicked witch, which they succeed in by soaking her in water, they return to Oz, find out that the Wiz is a fraud and here is where they have the panicked realization that the Wiz does not actually have supernatural powers and can’t deliver on what they each asked for. However, Dorothy points out that each of them demonstrated throughout the journey that they do indeed have what they were seeking already present within them.
The scarecrow gets put into new situations on the journey and comes up with good ideas in the moment. The tin man develops genuine relationships with Dorothy and the others and begins to experience real emotions like sadness and joy. The lion gets put in dangerous situations and rises to the occasion using his strength and demonstrating courage. All these characters rose to the occasion and learned by doing. This is something I think worth noting. Our culture is heavily based in vicarious living. With the advent of technology we have access to almost an infinite amount of information in our pockets. This can be a great thing, but it also can be destructive. I can read first hand descriptions of people doing incredible things. I can watch videos of people pushing the limits of human capacity. But if that is all I do, then what have I learned. I can read review after review of different types of workouts, but if all I do is sit on my butt reading them then what good have I accomplished. I can argue on the internet with people all day about politics, about the best way to improve our country, about who is the most marginalized, who is deserving of support, what the right way to go about fighting injustice is but if that’s all I do I haven’t done a darn thing to improve the world around me. Facebook fights, twitter wars, tv shows to distract me from my life, none of these things accomplish anything. These characters, the scarecrow, the tin man and the lion, did not sit on their phones and read about minds, or hearts or courage. They dove headfirst into life to learn by doing. We have to put ourselves in a position to grow, to do, to be challenged, to do the right thing and we can’t do that from the luxury of our armchairs.
Had Dorothy known she could just click her heels and go home immediately this would be a very dull story and Dorothy wouldn’t have evolved as a person. That’s why we just can’t click our heels and get whatever we want out of life. And even if we could, that wouldn’t do us any good anyhow.
If Dorothy didn’t go on the journey, then the scarecrow would still believe he doesn’t have a brain, the tinman no heart, and the lion no courage. Similarly Dorothy would still be confused about who she is as a person. Dorothy doesn’t feel at all at home in the beginning, both in the live version where she grew up in the city but is now in the country or in the original film where she is 24 and scared to move out of her aunt’s house, which, just to be clear, definitely does not strike a chord with me. Her journey, the journey itself was where she and the other characters found what they were looking for, not from the wiz in oz.
Oz is very surface level place, and is a very real place in our culture. We are told if we buy one more thing, or get a little thinner, or make a little more money we’ll be happy. Just like they think that if they get to oz all they’re problems will be solved. However, that isn’t the case. Happiness, fulfillment, even salvation is not flashy or shiny or sexy. Heaven isn’t a place where we get whatever we want, that would not actually fulfill us as people. What does fulfill us is God, which is a lot harder, but in my opinion worth it.
Our purpose or function in this life is not salvation at the end. It is not getting to heaven or to Oz. Our salvation is found in our life’s journey day in and day out, practicing justice and mercy. We are here to discover our inner potential, our power in this life and use that in order to make the world more like Jesus would want it to be. The greatest commandment is not something we do one time, and it is not something we do so that we can get into heaven, so we can ultimately go home to God. We have the power to be at home with God today, right now. The greatest commandment is the guiding principle with which we are to live our daily lives in this journey of life. At the end of the 1978 film the scarecrow says “success, fame and fortune, they’re all illusions. All there is, all that is real is the friendship that two can share”
God seeks this friendship with us when we love God and when we take the time to get to know God better. And God wants us to express that friendship by loving one another, by taking the time to get to know other people better. Now, is it easy? Can I do it by just easing on down the road? No. Can I stay in my comfort zone and do it? No. What about just reading an article about it on my phone? No. However, will I become a better person, a better Christian? Will I continue to grow my brain, my courage and my heart? Can salvation be something each and every one of us can experience every day? Absolutely, and for that we can thank God.
May the God of peace and love
comfort you when you hurt
Sustain you while you rest
And send you forth into the world
Doing works of justice and mercy
Knowing you are a beloved child of God
Just the way you are. Amen.