The following sermon was preached by Joan L. Beck, Cornelsen Director of Spiritual Formation and Pastor to the Community, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Wednesday, March 6, 2013.
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you! Amen.
That evangelical pastor, Paul. His critique is so hot that I don’t like to sit with it. Hot enough to melt all the snow! But sit with it I did, and here’s what he got me to thinking.
At the end of the movie The Wizard of Oz, the good witch Glinda floats in to The Emerald City in an iridescent bubble to help Dorothy return to Kansas. Just as Dorothy is about to leave, the Tin Man asks, "What have you learned, Dorothy?" Dorothy answers: “Well, I think that it wasn't enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.”
She was looking for her heart’s desire! Dorothy had felt bored and ignored and overworked in Kansas with Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. But the cyclone that had catapulted her into the land of Oz led to a series of adventures and risks, and Dorothy realized how much her own people meant to her, how much she wanted to take her place again with them, in the sheltering love they offered even along with their poverty and hard work. She was looking for her heart’s desire.
The evangelical pastor Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 names several places that people ordinarily go to seek their heart’s desire. Paul recalls the adventures and risks that bedeviled God’s people Israel when they were struggling in the wilderness for 40 years.
Paul concludes that what their hearts desired was evil. He wants the competitive, ego-driven congregation Congregation in Corinth to look at Israel and see themselves in the mirror. What do we see in that mirror?
Paul says, they were looking for their heart’s desire when they became idolaters. Paul mentions the time in Exodus 32 when the people made the statue of a golden calf at the very moment God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. The people said the calf made visible the God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt. You see what made it idolatry: Giving credit to anyone else but God for the gift of being rescued and having the chance to start over. The people were trying to pin God down by coming up with a projection of God. They feared the hiddenness and holiness of God’s ways and thoughts, which were “higher than their ways and thoughts.” They could not live with God’s surprises. They wanted to predict God and to control God. And so their hearts did not desire God.
But Paul says that when we try to reduce God to our little pictures and boxes, we are not aligning with the truth of who God is and how God acts. Our heart’s desire is misdirected. If we are desiring a God we can control, we are desiring evil, not God. Because God is sovereign, free. Free to be who God is and to do what God wants to do. Why do our hearts not fear, love, and trust God above all things?
Paul says, the Israelites were looking for their heart’s desire in the wrong way when they engaged in sexual immorality. “Notoriously, the Israelite [men] engaged in large-scale orgies with the Moabite women” in Numbers 25 (N.T. Wright). People still go to parties with too much booze and sex and drugs, drinking to the point of violence. They also involve themselves in pornography, sexting, casually giving benefits to friends, on-line indiscretions, one-night stands, extramarital affairs, buying and selling sex, abuse, neglect, and addictions of all kinds. Their hearts do not desire the well-being of the neighbor.
God has made people for respect and care, not exploitation and abuse. Paul says that when we try to use people as our fantasy playthings, we are not aligning with the truth of who other people are. People are created by God for us to cherish and protect. If we desire another person in a way that is not adult, respectful, mutual, and committed to their well-being, we desire evil. God has made people in God’s own image. God is respectful and protective of what God has made. Why do our hearts not fear, love, and trust God above all things?
Paul says, the Israelite community were looking for their own heart’s desire when they tested God and failed to trust God in trouble. He cites a time in Numbers 21 when the Israelites bitterly charged that God would not, could not, look after them. They taunted and tested God’s commitment and capacity to help them. Their hearts did not desire to trust God. Yet when serpents attacked them, it was only God who helped them, through the figure of a bronze snake lifted high on a pole.
So Paul says that when we fail to cry out to God in our troubles, when we do not expect God to help us, we are not aligning with the relationship God has promised to us, and our heart’s desire is evil. After all, God has promised an everlasting covenant to be our God, and has chosen us to be God’s people. This is a relationship for our highs and our lows and everything in between. God cares for us so much that God does not leave us to snakes. Jesus, God-with-us, “gave his life as a ransom for many” and when he was lifted high on the cross, defeated that Great Dragon. God is compassionate. Why do our hearts not fear, love, and trust God above all things?
Paul says, God’s people of old like people today were looking for their heart’s desire in the wrong places when they despaired about what was happening to them in life. Paul mentions the kind of faithless grumbling the Israelites regularly engaged in, wishing they’d never left Egypt in the first place and wishing to go back there. They showed themselves willing to give up on God’s dream for them—God’s dream that they would become a partner people with God, blessed by God to be a blessing for others. They despaired of God just because the going got tough for them or things didn’t improve at the rate they expected. Their hearts did not desire to follow God.
So Paul says that when we renege on God’s plans for us, we are not aligning with our highest purposes in life or with the best we could be as individuals or as a community. We are allowing ourselves to settle for too little. Because God calls us through our baptism into Christ to “grow up into the full stature of Jesus Christ.” This is a high and holy destiny. God is the one who calls. Why do our hearts not fear, love, and trust God above all things?
Look in the mirror of scriptures, Paul says, and see that the desires of our hearts are evil. They lead us to try to control and use God and other people (the neighbor); they lead us to consuming anxiety and despair.
“But God,” Paul also says. But God is free and sovereign, protecting, compassionate, and the one who calls us to real life. “But God is faithful, and will not let you be tested beyond your strength,” Paul encourages us. “With the testing [that is part of life] God will also provide the way out.”
The “way out” that God has provided is Jesus the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus has been given for you: That you may see and desire the beauty and truth of a life aligned with God. That your sins may be forgiven and your hearts turned from your life-destroying ways. That you may be held and healed and fed with Jesus’ Body and Blood. That you may be freed from the tyranny of your own heart’s desires and filled with the desires of God. That you may be inspired and empowered with the Holy Spirit. That you may be “in Christ,” that you may be free, respectful, compassionate, and called into meaningful service.
Dorothy from Kansas said to the Tin Man, “If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.”
The Christian people say, “If I ever go looking for my own heart’s desire, I won’t look any further than the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
Then, like Dorothy, we turn to the good Witch of the East and ask for confirmation, “Is that right?”
Glinda says, “That's all it is.”
The Scarecrow says, “But that's so easy. I should have thought of it for you.”
The Tin Man says, “I should have felt it in my heart.”
But Glinda reassures us, “No, she had to find it out for herself.”
We have our own Dorothy here today. And she, Dorothy Dominiak, is about to leave us, to step into the hot air balloon of retirement and float off to enjoy more time with her husband and family. Good for her. But we will miss her, because she has blessed us through so many encounters during so many years.
And if we were to ask her what she’s learned in her life so far, here in Oz or anywhere else, I’m confident she’d tell us that she’s learned about the desires of God’s heart. Because that is how Dorothy has been with us: free, respectful, compassionate, and called into meaningful service. She found it out for herself, didn’t she? You see what a blessing it is for someone to live when their heart and God’s heart desire the same things.
In the movie, the Good Witch continues to speak: “You have to find it out for yourself.” [And you will!]
“Now those magic slippers will take you home in two seconds. Close your eyes. Tap your heels together three times [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit]...and think to yourself...there's no God like God! There’s no place like the shadow of God’s wings. There’s no place like home.”