Faith on Film : The Wizard of Oz
“Faith on Film: Wizard of Oz”
July 31, 2022
Exodus 3: 1-15; Romans 5:1-2 (MSG)
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Exodus 3: 1-15
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’ But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”: This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations.
By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.
This is our third week of finding God on film. We are putting our beloved scripture lessons together with popular stories from the big screens to engage our minds and hearts in new ways as we continue to learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
The first week we did the Princess Bride and we talked about even though life isn’t always fair, God’s love pursues us relentlessly. Last week we talked about Star Wars and the ability of God to see possibility where we only see impossibility and how that grace gives us hope in our dark nights.
And this week we had the pleasure of watching the classic film, Wizard of Oz, released in 1939. While it was popular when released in 1939, it wasn’t until 20 years later when the film first was shown on TV that it began to pick up its iconic status. In 1959, the 20-year anniversary, the film got a 45 million person viewing audience. Since then it has become considered the most-seen film in American history. So it is no doubt that a majority of people in this room have probably seen the film at least once. I’ve heard from some that watching the Wizard of Oz was even an annual family tradition. But in case you haven’t seen it, or it’s been a while, here’s
the basic plot. After a tornado hurls through Kansas, Dorothy Gale and her dog, Toto, are swept away from their home to the colorful and vibrant Land of Oz. In
order to find their way back home, they must embark on a journey to the Emerald City, where the Wizard of Oz resides. On the way, they are accompanied by a Scarecrow who wants a brain, a Tin Man who wants a heart, and a Cowardly Lion who wants courage. They are hopeful that the Wizard will be able to fulfill their wishes, but not far behind them is the Wicked Witch of the West, who is out for revenge on Dorothy after she accidentally killed her sister, the Wicked Witch of the East.
Despite the constant challenge and threat from the witch, our travelers make their way to the Emerald City. But there they find disappointment
when the great and powerful Wizard of Oz denies them what they are looking for and sends them to destroy the Wicked Witch, a mission even the Wizard thinks is
impossible. And yet our four heroes bravely tackle the mission, finding the witch and accidentally dump water on her that makes her disappear forever. The Wizard is beside himself when they return and Toto discovers that there is a small man behind a curtain actually controlling the smoke and lights that make the Wizard seem powerful and great. The Wizard has been stripped of all his theatrics and now must actually face these journeyers and try to grant their wishes. And so what unfolds is the critical scene.
While this man makes a pretty bad Wizard, he ends up being a very good man. Why? Because he has the ability to see the truth in people that’s been there all along. The Wizard sees that even though the Scarecrow has been on a mission to find brains, truly it has been the Scarecrow himself who brainstormed many of the
clever plans that helped them through their journey. And while the Tin Man says he lacks a heart, isn’t it he who has been the one who cried tears for his friends in
times of fear and joy? And the Lion who believes in his own cowardice so much he allowed it be added to his name, actually has a streak of bravery as he leads the way into the scariest parts of the movie. The Wizard sees what they themselves cannot: that they already possess that for which they search. So the Wizard musters up a diploma, a ticking heart clock, and a medal of bravery to show these wandering souls how far they’ve already come.
And then there was Dorothy, who longed to go home. But the Wizard couldn’t make that happen for her, and ultimately neither could Glenda, the good witch. But what Glenda does do is tell her that she has had the power to go home all along by clicking her shoes together. She had to come to her own realization, though, like the others, that the thing she most desired was what she already had. Her home wasn’t always perfect, but her home was her home. And accepting the sad and the happy as both parts of the growing up experience was the lesson Dorothy needed to find out how much she missed it all.
And what about that Wizard? Hiding behind his lights and smoke because he thought that being a good man was not enough… that he had to be a powerful, mysterious wizard to be liked by his people. The amazing thing is that it took this group of four seekers, looking for their own completeness, to help the Wizard discover that being a good and caring man was enough.
All of the characters thought they lacked something in order to be whole and complete. Brains, Courage, Heart and Home. But in the end, they realize with the help of each other that they all already possessed what it was that they thought they most needed.
The same is true for us. God made us into the people we are- even when we think we are missing something or need to be greater than we are. In no way whatsoever did God create any one of us with deficiencies. God created us with all the gifts and graces we need to be whole and happy. The question is, can we believe it, do we have a community around us that will help us see our gifts?
We just heard Amy read about Moses and the burning bush just a few minutes ago. Aside from being a dramatic passage and one perhaps fit for the big screen, what is the connection? What some of you may remember about Moses, is that in the lead up to the burning bush scene, when God had called on Moses to lead God’s people,
Moses couldn’t see past what he saw as his own deficiencies. He had a terrible stutter and he lacked any of the confidence he thought a leader of God’s people might need. But here in this passage, when facing the improbable sight of a burning bush and hearing God’s voice come out of it saying, “Moses! Moses!” he felt he had no choice but to answer: Here I am. The word for this in the original language of this passage is hineni (/hinahnee/) and it literally means in Hebrew- “here I am, all of me.” Can you say that word with me? Hineni. Here I am, all of me.
All of us, like the characters in the Wizard of Oz and like Moses himself go most of our life trying to avoid saying a word like this. Instead we put walls up. Sometimes they are walls to hide us from our own potential. Sometimes they are walls to hide the world from who we really are. But the call of God on our lives is to pull the curtain back. To step up and claim the gifts God has given us to be us—Just as we were created to be. With all our imperfections and doubts. God wants us, by faith, to believe that we are enough.
It is as our passage from Romans says, “By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that He has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand— out in the wide-open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”
It took Dorothy a long walk down the yellow brick road for her to realize that the thing she most desired in life was the thing she already had. When God gives us a dream, God also gives us permission and provision to accomplish that dream. God throws open the doors for us with everything we need to be happy and fulfilled, with everything we need to get to our desired destination. So what is it that you need to do accept yourself for you are- as God’s beloved creation? A paper diploma? A toy heart? A gold medal?
No, all you need is to stand tall! If you have put a curtain around yourself in hopes of hiding who you really are, pull it back. Whatever your version of smoke and lights is; whatever it is you’ve been hiding behind: you don’t need it to be a good person. You only need it to be a bad wizard. On the other hand, if you are wearing blinders that make you think you are not good enough because you’re missing something you don’t have. Take a second look. God has gifted to you everything you need to be a complete and wonderful child of God.
If you like the Wizard of Oz, you’d probably also like the next 13 books that Frank H. Baum wrote in the series. Our family has loved reading them again and again. One of the things I love about the rest of the story is that the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion use their inherent gifts to each go on and become leaders and rulers of various parts of Oz.
There is a moment when our name will be called upon to step up and do something hard. When we’re tapped to be the one to help or lead or comfort. A moment when we accept that who we are is just exactly who we need to be. In that moment are we willing to say hinani: here I am… all of me? Take all of me, O God, the parts that are perfect and the parts that of myself that I’m still learning to love and accept. Take it all and use me for your purposes.
Let’s pray. God, we have built up walls. We’ve lost sight of who we are and who you created us to be, of who you’ve placed within us. We’re wrapped up in fear and anxiety, and yet your Word tells us that your door is already open to us. Give us the courage, the wisdom, the heart to walk deeply and passionately into the home that you’ve laid out for us. May we not take this journey alone, but may we trust the community that you put before us to meet us along the way, and may we journey together, knowing that we are not alone, that we belong because you say we belong. And, like Dorothy, may we realize that there really is no place like home in the wide open spaces of your love. We pray this in your name.