Summary: This Transfiguration sermon seeks to show God’s face, Jesus, for who He truly is using the Wizard from the Wizard of Oz as a negative example - our God is no man behind a curtain.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Three In One who…
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I didn’t see the Wizard of Oz until just two years ago. Before that I had gotten to know the characters as they had been presented to me in pop culture here and there. I knew there was a little girl named Dorothy who came from a very unmagical land called Kansas. I knew she had a little dog named Toto. I knew that on her journey she befriended a dimwit Scarecrow, a Tin-man who couldn’t care, and a cowardly lion. I knew they were “off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz,” on a yellow brick road and that there was a green witch who kept on getting in the way.
So when someone suggested that I pick up the book “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire, which uses the land of Oz as its backdrop and focuses on the life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West, I figured there was no harm in reading the book. I knew the characters after all, and I thought I knew enough about their quest.
When I started reading “Wicked,” I was pleasantly surprised. It seemed I didn’t have to know about Dorothy and her little dog Toto, they hadn’t come on the scene yet. The story began with the birth of Elphaba, who we would later learn was the Wicked Witch of the West.
I soon found out that the book was a little piece of revisionist history about this “Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” who, as it turns out, was simply a despot with a really good public relations department. It paints Elphaba, the Wicked Witch, as actually the leader of a resistance group that is trying to overthrow the Wizard and bring peace back into the land.
Then I watched the Wizard of Oz movie. Most of the movie, after having read “Wicked” seemed like cheap propaganda. It seemed too fanciful, too wholesome, and the special effects looked like cheap parlor tricks. At the end of the movie, to my surprise, even in the propaganda film, the Wizard is still revealed to be just some schmuck behind a green curtain.
So here we are at the last Sunday before Lent, the last Sunday before we take another wild journey down the purple brick road for 40 days before Easter. We are at Transfiguration Sunday, and we’re given a chance to look behind the curtain at the man who is lead us down the road to Oz, to Easter and an open tomb.
We look behind that curtain, along with James and John and Peter, and we see what at least appears to be proof that Jesus really is God. He is transfigured before them. His face shines like the sun. His clothes are as white as light. Elijah and Moses show up. A booming voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, whom I love, in Him I am well pleased.”
And yet there is a little part of us that wonders. There is a little part of us that tries to peer a little farther to see if we can see the man behind it all, working with mirrors and a smoke machine and a microphone. Maybe it’s James Cameron and his pursuit for the Gospel of Judas and the lost tomb of this or that. Maybe it’s the prominent atheists who are putting out book after book. But we would like to see some magic for ourselves. We would like to see some sort of miraculous event. We would like to feel that feeling when we pray again. We would like to hear that still voice in the back of our minds. We would like to feel the magic of being a Christian again.
Jesus in this text from Matthew says something that just about everyone is confused by. He says, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” Our human sensibilities sit back and say, “why not? Don’t you want people to know that you’re God? Don’t you want people to know that this happened? What could possibly be the reason that you wouldn’t want people to know about this magical event today?”
Part of the answer lies in Lent. It lies in Jesus’ cross. If God’s mission on earth were to simply create a magical event that causes everyone to believe, then He could have done that without a cross. If God’s mission on earth were to simply usher in a new incarnation of Himself on earth with Jesus, well then it already happened at Jesus’ birth. No, instead, God’s mission, and His magic has to do with the cross. If it didn’t, God would be little better than the Wizard of Oz, orchestrating fantastic spectacles with nothing behind them.