Sunday, September 15, 2013

Off to see the Wizard (J. Barry Vaughn, Sept. 15, 2013)

"If I only had a brain, a heart, courage, a way to get home..." Those were the things that Dorothy and her friends - the Scarecrow, the Tinman, and the Cowardly Lion were seeking when they set off down the yellow brick road to find the Wizard of Oz.


Steve and Margie Wilkinson gave me their tickets to see The Wizard of Oz at the Smith Center last week, but what they did not know was that they were also inspiring today's sermon!


Someone once said that there are really only two stories - there is the story of leaving home and the story of going home. I think that must be more or less true. Two of the oldest stories in the Western canon of literature are the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Iliad is the story of going off to fight the Trojan War, in other words, it is the story of leaving home, and the Odyssey is the story of Ulysses' return journey. In other words, it is the story of going home.


The Wizard of Oz is also a story of going home, of discovering that our real home is not a geographical place, not a physical house, but it is a spiritual location, a community of friends, a group of people who are bound together by a common mission, who cannot achieve that mission unless they help each other. It is the story of discovering that all those things that we left home to find - meaning, purpose, adventure, a heart, a brain, courage - were right there in the place where we started out.


The Wizard of Oz is the story of four people who believe that they have lost something or are missing something that they can only find by going on a difficult and dangerous journey, a quest in other words.


That is not a bad description of the human condition. Every one of us knows that feeling. Every one of us has woken up at 3 o'clock in the morning feeling that something is wrong, that we are lost or that we have lost something. We may not be able to say exactly what is wrong or what we have lost. We just know that something is wrong.


If that feeling goes on long enough and gets strong enough, we may say that we are depressed or that we are struggling with anxiety. Religion gives that feeling a variety of names. We may call it guilt, the sense of sinfulness, the need for repentance and forgiveness. There is a lot of truth in all these descriptions.


The danger is that we may try to fill up that empty place in our hearts with something that will not only make us feel even emptier but might even kill us both spiritually and physically - drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, and so on.


In today's gospel reading we hear two stories that Jesus told about people who had lost something - a shepherd who lost a lamb and a woman who lost a coin.


Both stories are odd. One lamb wanders away, but the shepherd still has 99 perfectly good sheep left. Nevertheless, he puts on his coat and hat, grabs his flashlight and shepherd's staff (and maybe even his rifle, too) and goes out into the cold, rainy night, walks up one side of the rocky mountain and down the other just to find one lamb who is not smart enough to come inside out of the rain and wind and cold.


A woman has ten coins. Jesus says that they were drachmas, pennies, a single day's wage. In other words, they were not worth very much at all. She loses one but still has nine other perfectly good coins. But she looks high and low. She picks up every knick knack on her shelves; she takes her candle and looks into every dusty corner; she moves the big comfy chair and sweeps behind it. Finally, she locates the coin and puts it in a safe place with the other nine coins.


Jesus tells us that these stories are about the joy that God feels when God finds something that he has lost.


"I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."


But how can that be? How can God lose something? I don't know the answer to that, but I believe it's true. From beginning to end, the Bible is the story of the divine shepherd's quest for the lost lamb. It is the story of the how the divine housekeeper sweeps her house and looks in every corner for the lost coin.


I don't understand how it happened but I believe that it did. The book of Genesis tells us that we started out safely in God's fold and wandered away. Why did we do it? Why did God let it happen? I don't know the answer to it, but I believe it happened. And I believe that deep down in our hearts, we all know that it is true. We all know that we are lost, that something is missing, but that there is a home for us somewhere over the rainbow, that if we look hard enough we will find that missing piece of our heart.


And my job is tell you where to find that missing piece. My job is to tell you that God is looking for you. My job is to tell you that you are in the right place.


Today is Kick Off Sunday. If you have taken the summer off (and that is perfectly OK, although I wish you wouldn't!), then today gives you the opportunity to re-connect with Christ Church and with all your friends here.


After the service, I encourage you to go out in the court yard and look at all the tables that are set up, to find out about the many opportunities Christ Church offers for learning, worship, prayer, and service.


And if you take the opportunity to get connected or re-connected to this church, you might just find that missing piece of your heart. Like Dorothy, you might find that you were at home all the time and did not know it.


Not long after I came here I proposed that we become a Great Commission church. Do you remember the four parts of the Great Commission? Make disciples, of all nations, baptize, and teach.


One way of understanding the Great Commission is to see it as a way of putting all the missing pieces back together. God is out there looking for the lost sheep. God is sweeping her house looking for the lost coin. And God wants to enlist us in that quest.


Today you have the opportunity to find new ways of engaging in that quest. Like Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tinman, and the Cowardly Lion, we are all on a quest together.


Consider getting involved in Epicenter and helping us feed the hungry. Think about joining  Daughters of the King being part of their ministry of prayer and service. We have a new and exciting Sunday school program. I hope you'll take the opportunity to find out about that and get involved in it.


When Dorothy and her friends came to the Emerald City, they discovered that the wizard was nothing but humbug, smoke, and mirrors. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" the wizard told them.


But when the shepherd found the lost lamb and when the woman found her lost coin, they threw parties. And Jesus tells us that when we wandered out into the night, when we dropped down into the cracks in the floor, that God put on his boots and coat and came out into the night looking for us or that God took her broom and swept the house until she found the lost coin. Jesus tells us that God gathers us up into the divine hands and bears us home, sometimes gently, sometimes a little roughly.


Listen! Do you hear that? I do. It's the sound of the angels singing and shouting and dancing in the streets of heaven.