By Deacon Bob Shaw
Let me ask you a question… wouldn’t you agree that within the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities there has always been a fascination with the movie “The Wizard of Oz”? This Halloween many queer folks will dress up as their favorite character (and it’s not always Dorothy.) As a matter of fact, a phrase that our community uses to discreetly find out if another person belongs to our community comes indirectly from this movie. Have you ever been asked “are you a friend of Dorothy’s?”
For those of you hiding under a rock and don’t know about this incredible movie, let me tell you a little bit about it. This movie came out in 1939 and follows the adventures of Dorothy, a young Kansas farm girl as she is magically transported to the fantastic Land of Oz by a tornado. It is a timeless classic, which appeals to audiences of all ages and sexual orientations. Through its lovable characters and beautiful music, this classic contains within it a wonderful message. All of the main characters – the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, and Dorothy all set out to find the almighty, the all powerful “Wizard of Oz,” who they believe can provide for their needs. Sounds like you and me when we reach out to God for our needs, doesn’t it? The Scarecrow wants a brain, the Tin Man wants a heart, the Cowardly Lion wants some courage, and young Dorothy just wants to go home.
Dorothy’s wish is kind of ironic. You see, before the tornado hits that disrupts her life, Dorothy finds herself wishing she could get away from home. She doesn’t like her situation there. The song that blossoms from that experience is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Listen to the words….and sing along if you like. *smile*
Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
There’s a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby
Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true
Some day I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me
Somewhere over the rainbow
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh why can’t I?
We all have dreamed about life on the other side of the “Rainbow.” Why, God, oh why can’t I get there? After all, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, isn’t it? Dorothy’s song came at a time in her life when she was unhappy, a time when the road that she and her little dog Toto were traveling, became a very bumpy and hard road to ride.
Noah knew what it was like to travel a bumpy road. His story begins with God’s deep sorrow over what humankind had become. We read in Genesis:
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”
Sometimes I wonder how God feel’s about the world that we live in today. I can’t help but believe that God’s heart grieves over what God sees. I often find myself concerned over the things I see, hear, and read both in the news and in the world around me. I see children who are starving. I see the world contemplating war and worrying about whether other countries will use weapons of mass destruction or not. I see people that are forced to live on the street. I see people dying of AIDS and their families not loving them simply because they chose to love someone of the same sex. These are just a few of the things that cause my heart to grieve. If my heart, a human heart that is capable of sin grieves over these things, I have to believe that God looks down upon humanity and God’s heart cries out in pain!
During the days of Noah God became so upset with the wickedness of the world that God decided to literally destroy the world and everything in it. Yet in the midst of all the wickedness, in the midst of all the turmoil, in the midst of all the fear, in the midst of everything going on, God saw Noah. Genesis 6:8 says:
“But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.”
God told Noah that there was going to be a flood so big that it would destroy everything on the earth. God also told Noah to build an ark and provided Noah with specific instructions on how the ark was to be built and what all was to be on it when the floods came. Can you imagine if God came to you and told you the world will be flooded in a month? If God gave you blueprints for this vast ship and instructions to fill that ship with one of each type of plant and animal that exists on this earth would you build that ship and gather all the items God requested? Would you have the faith to believe that what God told you is about to happen to the earth is true?
Noah had that faith. Noah built the ark and filled it as God told him to do. Noah and his family probably had to deal with a lot of ridicule from those around them as they prepared for this huge event. Imagine the reactions your neighbors and the community around you would have if you were building such a huge vessel and that you were preparing for the end of the world. They’d think you were crazy! There had to be times when Noah wanted to throw in the towel and just give up. Noah probably wondered why God would want to destroy the world and why God chose him and his family to start the human race over again.
Have you ever had God call you to do something? Whether it be so simple as to help others around you with food, money, shelter, a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, or to follow a higher calling to the ministry? Let me tell you a story. A few years back I was wandering along lost. I had a good job, shelter over my head, my faithful companion Max at my side. I didn’t know where my life was going and felt no sense of purpose. I had also been diagnosed as HIV+ a little over a year earlier, so I was still coming to terms with that. I was wading along in water that was way over my head and I felt I would eventually drown.
One day during this period in my life I had lunch with Pastor Paul. We were talking about how my life felt so stagnant. One of the questions Paul asked me was “what has brought me joy and happiness in the past?” The first thing that that jumped up in my mind was all the way back in high school. I would volunteer at the local hospital to entertain the children that were there. I’d dress up as a clown and do magic tricks for the kids. Seeing the joy on their faces was so rewarding! Here these kids were in pain and in a place they didn’t want to be and I was able to help them forget where they were, even it if was just for a little while.
Other examples I gave him centered around helping others. Pastor Paul then asked me if I had ever considered becoming a deacon. Now mind you, I hadn’t been going to church all that long and I grew up Methodist. We don’t have deacons! So I didn’t really know what being a deacon was all about. Paul told me a little bit about what a deacon does and asked me to pray about it and to specifically ask God to show me my calling.
Of course asking God about your calling is easy, listening to what God has to say and following it is another story! All throughout the deacon training I was constantly asking “Why God? Why Me?” I attended church in my youth. But during my teen years through the early twenties I was not active in church. Once I went into the Army I realized I was gay. When I went to Desert Storm I feared for my life and turned to my inner faith to make it through. John 3:16 was particularly comforting for me. After all, in my heart I knew I was one of the whosoevers mentioned in this verse. Once I moved to Atlanta and got out of the military I had checked out some local churches, but I felt that although they were somewhat welcoming, they thought my being gay was a sin. I knew that wasn’t so, how could it be a sin to love another person? So I just stayed out of church and clung desperately to the fact that I was one of the whosoevers deep down in my heart.
I had little church knowledge and knew virtually nothing about the bible. So I kept asking why God would call me? There were other people much more qualified, in my mind anyway, to be a deacon. Why did God want me to do that? I continued with the deacon training, questioning my calling the whole time. During one period that I was extremely low I almost pulled out of the program. I just couldn’t believe I was worthy of doing God’s will in this way. But then God nudged me to let me know I was doing the right thing, I was following the right road. You see, I needed to get a haircut one day and I knew this person at a Supercuts that gave a good crewcut (this was before I did it on my own). I went there and was told it would be a 30-minute wait to see this person.
Little did I know God planned it that way. You see, there was a HUGE Christian store right next door in the strip mall. So I wandered next door to check it out. In the back of the store there was a music section with listening stations and a lot of different Christian music. I saw that one of the CD’s that you could listen to had this drop dead gorgeous man on the cover. I had seen his picture and this album before in catalogs I had received in the mail, so I picked up the headsets and hit the play button. His music had a rather catchy rhythm to it. I stood there and listened to about 30 seconds of each of the first few songs and liked what I heard. Then I got to track five. Again I listened, but this time I listened to the whole song and I cried as I listened to the words. That song is “For the Sake of the Call” by Steven Curtis Chapman. All along I had doubted God’s call to me and my worthiness to serve God. God got me to listen to this song to let me know everything was going to be all right, I was following God’s plan, and this was God’s way to let me know not to worry about it.
The point of my story is to let you know to follow where God leads you. Don’t doubt it or ask why God wants you do it. There is a much bigger picture that only God can see. Know in your heart that you are doing God’s will and it is good. You saw in Genesis that Noah didn’t doubt God, he built the ark. He didn’t understand everything that was happening, but he had faith that God knew the big picture. The Bible says of Noah that “he did all that God commanded him.”
Chapter 7 of Genesis begins by the LORD saying to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation.” Once Noah had the ark finished and all packed up, the rains came for forty days and forty nights. The floods came and every living thing upon the earth was destroyed. The only things that survived were in that ark, as God told Noah.
Once the rains stopped, Noah sent out a dove that returned with an olive branch in its mouth. This signified that the waters were receding and that land was near. And what happened next? God established a covenant with Noah that a flood would never again destroy the world. The sign of this covenant is a sign that you and I can still see in the sky today after it rains – a rainbow.
“When the rainbow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:16-17 NRSV)
What could all of this mean to us a few thousands years afterwards? We all will experience stormy waters in our lives at one time or another. But Noah showed us that if we are faithful to God, if we do all that God has commanded us to do, if we simply place our lives in God’s hands and put all our trust in God, then God will lead us gently to a safe place.
Every time we see a rainbow in the sky, it is God’s reminder to all humankind that God is in charge of everything. And that God loves us. And brothers and sisters in Christ, if God is in charge of everything, no matter how rough the storm becomes, no matter how high the waters rise, no matter how lonely you or I may feel, no matter how hopeless the immediate future may seem, God will always cause our ark to come to rest in a safe place.
Our God is a mighty God!
Our God is an awesome God!
Our God is a forgiving God!
Our God is a loving God!
And our God is right here RIGHT NOW waiting for us to place our lives in God’s hands.