With Whom Is God Well Pleased?
In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart, and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
THE WORD OF THE LORD.
We are now in the second Sunday of a new year. Beginning another year in our life, we need ask ourselves the question: With whom is God well pleased?
To answer this question I want to venture from this story of Jesus' baptism to first recount another familiar story. I am speaking of L. Frank Baum's story, "The Wizard of Oz," which has become ingrained in our American culture.
Though most of us know the story, let me review it so I can point out its importance for today’s question – With whom is God well pleased?
A girl, Dorothy, blown away from her home in Kansas by a tornado, lands in Oz, a beautiful yet strange place. If she is to find her way home, she must leave this land of bright colors, singing munchkins, and beautiful witches, to take a perilous journey to Oz. Only the wonderful Wizard of Oz can help her home.
So, she journeys towards the Emerald City. Along the yellow brick road, she meets three strange companions who also have a need for the wizard. The Scarecrow needs a brain rather than straw in his head. The Tin Woodsman wants a heart rather than an empty tin can. The Cowardly Lion desires courage so he can arrest his fears and take his place as king of the beast.
As they journey down the road ever closer to the Emerald City, they encounter a series of trials brought on by the Wicked Witch of the West whose sister was killed by Dorothy's falling house.
What is remarkable about each trial they encounter is that depending on the situation, one of Dorothy's companions helps them survive and continue their journey. If the trial calls for a rational response, the Scarecrow thinks of a way out. If it is courage, the Cowardly Lion ventures forth. If the need arises for sensitivity, the Tin Woodsman comes forward for he feels the most, often moved to the tears which rust him.
The climax occurs when they reach the Emerald City and the revelation shows them the Wizard of Oz is not a wizard - at least not the wizard they expected. They discover he is a man. They feel betrayed, thinking him a hypocrite, pretending to be something he is not.
In truth, however, he is a wizard because he tells each of the traveling companions they already possess what they seek and desire. The Scarecrow already has a brain, the Tin Woodsman a heart, the Cowardly Lion courage, and Dorothy a home. Their problem resides in the fact they do not recognize it.
A heart is not a heart until it is willing to be broken. A brain is not a mind until it is willing to admit it has much to learn. Courage is not courage until it is willing to act in spite of its fear. A home is not a home until one sees it not full of color and beauty like the Land of Oz; home is the uncle's farm with a precarious life of hard work, where tornadoes darken the sky and threaten to undo all one has worked for in life. A wizard dresses not in mythical garb, rather a wizard is of flesh and blood helping people to see what is already before their eyes.
The truth found by the characters in the 'Wizard of Oz" is true for us. Home for us is not a place without tornadoes or hardships; home is built and resides in the midst of a struggling life. A heart does not feel happy all the time. A heart risks being broken because it becomes vulnerable knowing at any time your loved one could be taken away.
Not long ago, a funeral home asked me if I would conduct a service for a woman who died and whose family had no church. Of course, I agreed to do the funeral. When I called the husband of the woman who died, I went to his home the next day so I could meet him, and he could tell me about his wife. He told me how they had been married for 45 years with no children. With tears in his eyes he told me how hard it was to say goodbye to Sara, but though his heart was broken now, he would do it all over again and marry her. Truly, this man had a heart for he risked being broken by being vulnerable. With such a man, God was well pleased.
This widower and these characters from the Wizard of Oz gives us the answer to the question of ‘With whom is God well pleased?”
God is well pleased with the heart willing to be broken, the mind willing to admit it does not know it all, with the person who acts courageously in spite of fear, with the person who sees home on the farm in Kansas or the roads of Galilee or the streets of Mt. Sterling.
God is well pleased not with the one who escapes from life, but with the one who is passionately involved in life. That is why these words were said to Jesus at his baptism. Jesus was willing to risk all he had for others by being passionately involved in life. That is what he asks of us.
Henri Nouwen wrote a book some years ago entitled "The Wounded Healer." The book’s theme is that to be a minister one has to risk being hurt; that it is "in our wounded-ness we become a source of life for others." Real ministry takes place not in giving glib answers to people's grief and problems, but in sharing their problems, and being present with them in their troubles, and being not above the crowd but wounded like everyone else. Only a wounded minister can be a true minister for Christ to a congregation.
God was pleased with Jesus because Jesus shared people's lives and showed compassion for them. God is well pleased with us when we show compassion, when we have a mind serving others, a heart willing to be broken, a courage acting despite our fear, and when we find home not in the magical land of our imagination, not on some gold yellow brick road, but on the dusty roads of this earth with this life God has given us. Amen!
(References for this sermon: See Frederick Buechner's '''The Magnificent Defeat" pp. 55-56 ; Henri J. M. Nouwen's '''The Wounded Healer" New York: Doubleday, 1971)
(Copyright 2018 by Jack Hughes Robinson. Use by Permission Only.)