This is the sermon I preached last week at my church.
Do you remember the song “Follow the Yellow Brick Road?” from the Wizard of Oz? It’s basically the instruction that Dorothy was given in order to get home. She had landed in Oz – a strange and confusing place, and wanted to get back home to Kansas. All she needed to do was follow the yellow brick road. Her job on the journey to find her way home was to stay on that road, and eventually she’d meet the Great Wizard; he’d solve her problems. Along the way, she meets new people, some of which join her on her journey and some of whom distract her from her purpose. At times she veers off the path and seems to forget where she was going. The solution. Get back on the path. Follow the Yellow Brick Road. Be persistent – there aren’t any further directions than that. I think this is a good metaphor for us.
Let’s do a little collective review about Jacob, because he’s the character in our first reading.
Kristen+ talked to us last week about Abraham, so who was Abraham’s son?
Who did Isaac marry?
What were the name(s) of Isaac and Rebekah’s children?
What do we know about these two?
- twins, Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated; enmity in the womb
- Esau came out first, all hairy and was his father’s favorite, Jacob came out smooth and was mother’s favorite
- Jacob tricked Esau to get his brithright
Jacob tricked Esau to get his blessing from his father (at his mother’s urging), then had to flee. went to his relative Laban’s, was tricked and worked 14 years to marry Rachel, was tricked and stuck with Leah, then worked for 7 more to marry Rachel. competition between the two for children and he’s living with a scheming father-in-law.
And so we arrive at the scene of the reading today. Jacob and his family are trying to go back to his homeland (he’s trying to get back on the yellow brick road, and follow what God told him to do), but turns out Esau and 400 of his hairy compadres are blocking the way. Jacob’s rightly terrified, sends most of his family away (thinking if he is killed, the might at least escape), and he sends three rounds of gifts to his brother to soften him up a bit. Then he wrestles with an angel.
I don’t know about you, but this part of the story puzzles me a bit. I have lots of questions that I don’t know the answer to but a key for our purpose here is that Jacob was persistent. He wanted a blessing from the angel, and he wouldn’t give up til he got it. He was so persistent that the angel had to give him a wound near the hip, or at the point where the thigh bone connects to the joint – which incidentally is the strongest part of a person’s body. He was that persistent. He got back on the yellow brick road. He was persistent and that is what we need to be, both in our lives and as a church community. When we get distracted, get back on that road. When we meet people who are friendly, invite them on the journey with us. When we awake in a poppy field, shake off the dust and get back on that road.
Listen to these words from the reading in 2 Timothy: continue, rebuke and encourage with all patience, be persistent, endure suffering, carry out your ministry, and this from the Message Keep your eye on what you are doing! In other words, get on the road and stay on the road. Don’t be distracted, don’t leave the road, but when you do – get back on. When we as a church start drifting to one side or the other, we need to be reminded: stay on that road. When we as a church are tempted to look at the beautiful fields nearby and take a break – we need to be reminded: stay on the yellow brick road.
Notice what the gospel story is about: the persistent widow. This poor woman comes to an unjust judge day after day after day, begging for justice. He finally grants it to her so that she will leave him alone! Jesus says to us – be like her! Be persistent as you follow God. Stay on the yellow brick road.
It would actually be lovely to end here. We have our command; stay on they yellow brick road. Work hard! Keep trying. Don’t stop. We need to remind ourselves of this and we need to do it. But the lynchpin in this whole series of readings today lies in the Psalm. In the monastic way of life – of prayers and the daily office, the lynch pin is the Psalms. Reading through those together, day after day gives us the fullness and the range of human emotion. And I think its worth noticing that the Psalm today is not at all “Be persistent,” like the readings are. The readings give us a clear message about our manner and behavior. Keep walking. Get on the road. Stay on the road. We need to hear that. But the Psalm is about God, who is like the Great Wizard, except God can actually solve our problems.. God is our help, God is the one who watches over our feet, God doesn’t sleep, God preserves us, God watches and protects us. So while it is we who walk on the yellow brick road, it is in God’s presence that we walk. God is the one who is at work around us and through us as we walk. Our job: get on that yellow brick road. Stay on that yellow brick road. God’s job: everything else.