Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.
I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me — and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.”
I recently watched the new movie about the life of Elton John, called Rocketman.
The movie started with Elton John dressed in a bright coloured devil’s costume with wings, walking into a fairly plain room where there are people sitting in chairs around in a circle.
Elton John sits down and says: “My name is Elton John, and I’m an alcoholic and a cocaine addict and a sex addict. I am bulimic, and I have problems with shopping too.”
That’s the way the movie starts and the movie is kind of built on this confession, going back to his young life and working its way through his career.
And the overwhelming thought I had about the movie and Elton John, even though Elton John was not, and as far as I know is still not, religious, is that this movie is about what religion is supposed to be about.
Or, I could even put it a different way. This movie is about the deep longing of every human for healing, for truth, for acceptance and love, for inner change when life comes up empty, and for meaning and purpose…
Elton John at the time of this confession had had something like 7 number one albums in a row, one of the richest and most famous Rock artists of his day.
He had it all, by the world’s standards yet, Elton John tries to commit suicide…
Well maybe to be perfectly honest it wasn’t a serious attempt, more of a cry for help, but he took 60 valium and in front of his mother and grandmother screams: “I am going to die.” And jumps into a swimming pool and had to be rescued.
So what is going on? According to the movie his father was distant and divorced his mother and in many ways was absent from Elton John’s life, who by the way was actually born Reginald Dwight.
Elton is a gay man, and for many years he struggled with people accepting him for who he is…
He also struggled in some of his relationships, looking for love…
So here is a man who is hurt, broken, alienated, abandoned, even rejected by some, struggling with meaning and purpose.
Prancing around on stage in flamboyant costumes where he is adored, but wondering if the real Elton John would be loved and accepted.
And yet isn’t that why Jesus came?
At least isn’t this what we believe as followers of Jesus.
To those who are unloved, Jesus loves them.
To those who are rejected, Jesus accepts them.
To those who are hurting inside, Jesus loves and heals them.
To those who wonder what life is all about Jesus gives them purpose.
To those who are alienated, Jesus includes them.
To those who feel lost and abandoned, Jesus goes looking for them, to save them and bring them home to love.
To those who have broken boundaries, hurt others, hurt themselves, neglected family, said terrible things, Jesus forgives them.
To those who have deceived themselves, deceived others, live out of their false selves, their egos..
who put on psychological masks to fit into society and protect themselves from hurt…
Jesus tells them that the truth will set them free.
And that is what Elton John does in his confession. He tells the truth. He stops lying to himself in particular. He is totally honest with a group of people, and their love and acceptance of him is the beginning of his healing.
Elton John is a very rich man. And today’s gospel lesson has a parable about a rich man.
It starts with a man coming to Jesus and asking that Jesus intervene on his behalf so that his brother would split the inheritance with him.
We don’t know the whole story here. There are not really any details.
We don’t know if the one brother is being unjust and hogging money that the other brother is entitled too….
Or…maybe even more likely…
The rich father has died and left a whack of money to the first-born son, who inherits it all. The other son is left out in the cold because that is the way it was in those days. It wasn’t just.
Although I understand, even though I am not a lawyer, that parents can choose to leave all their money and worldly goods to one child and leave the others crying so to speak.
And so maybe this brother is crying out to Jesus for justice. For an equitable share of the wealth.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but many of the stories of brother vs brother in the bible, just raise awareness of how patriarchal the world was. There wasn’t even a question about the sister or daughter inheriting.
It was not a fair world.
But Jesus doesn’t even want to get involved. Fair or Foul, we don’t know, but Jesus doesn’t want to get involved. Instead he goes on about greed and tells a funny little parable. And by funny, I mean more strange than hilarious.
I think Jesus suggests the word greed, because the underlying question that the aggrieved brother had, indeed a lot of us have, myself included, is this:
What’s in it for me? What am I going to get?
The question of inheritance is a universal question. When people go to vote, often the number one question is this: What’s in it for me?
And the reason for people not voting is this: for a lot of people they don’t think their vote will make their lives any better or any different.
And that is especially true for the marginalized in this country, like the homeless, or the desperately poor.
Most governments do very little for that demographic.
But the question of inheritance is also a family question too. I was listening to CBC radio the other week and the guest was psychotherapist Ester Perel and she was talking about relationships.
She talked about how we often expect too much of our significant others. All of us come to marriage or to our relationship with a significant other with a history of attachment, trust issues, hurts, rejections, not being listened too..etc
And somehow think that this person is going to solve all our problems and we will always be listened to, always cherished, always understood, and I am not going to feel alone, hurt or abandoned any more.
And it isn’t true.
So many of us come to significant relationships asking: What’s in it for me? Instead of “What can I do for the other?”
Esther Perel says we even turn into a competition. I do more for you that you do for me.
She goes on to suggest that the other is not responsible for our happiness. We are.
And instead of thinking about what the other doesn’t do, be grateful for what the other does do.
Less expectation. More gratefulness.
And I think that this is what Jesus is getting at when he tells a little parable about the rich man who has it all. His ego talks to him about eating and drinking and taking life easy and having fun.
But it is all about self.
The guy is loaded and stores up all kind of earthly treasure while the rest of the world is starving.
Not one thought for the poor sods who broke their backs tilling the soil and harvesting the grain and looking after the animals and shoveling the sh…manure.
Not one thought for those who are sick, and those unemployed, or slaves or treated unjustly…
And in the parable the twist is this. This very night the man dies, and who is going to get it all. The people the rich man wasn’t thinking of, the people he was keeping it from.
“So it is” Jesus says “with those whose store up treasure for themselves and are not rich towards God.”
The twist is not as some people want to think about punishment for the man after he dies.
The twist is the self-centred man stores up all this treasure and who is going to get it. Not him.
It is a real commentary about wealth and the inequitable distribution fo wealth.
But there is a deeper meaning as well about what real treasure is…
The rich man stores up material and financial treasure but misses out on real treasure.
And we all know what real treasure is. It is those we love and those who love us.
I am thinking that rich towards God means loving others the way that God loves them.
I think that the parable of the sheep and the goats indicates what rich towards God might mean when the King says:
‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. 35 I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, 36 naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’ 37 The righteous will then answer him, ‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ 40 The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’
It is all about relationships. It is all about building families of love, and communities of love.
For whoever loves is born or God and knows God.
And…wherever love is God is…
Jesus says in more than one place that our happiness, our treasure is not out there somewhere…
But it is inside us. The kingdom is near. The kingdom is within you.
You don’t need anything to be happy.
You just need to love and give to others…..
Elton John sang a song called “The Yellow Brick Road.”
One of the interesting things I noticed in the movie “Rocketman” was so many of the songs that Elton John sang seemed to directly apply to his life, but he didn’t write the words for his songs.
Most of the lyrics were written by his friend Bernie Taupin.
But how they seemed to fit with Elton John’s life.
Here are some of the lyrics for the song: The Yellow Brick Road:
When are you gonna come down? When are you going to land? I should have stayed on the farm I should have listened to my old man You know you can’t hold me forever I didn’t sign up with you I’m not a present for your friends to open This boy’s too young to be singing the blues [Chorus] So goodbye yellow brick road Where the dogs of society howl You can’t plant me in your penthouse I’m going back to my plough Back to the howling, old owl in the woods Hunting the horny-back toad Oh, I’ve finally decided my future lies Beyond the yellow brick road
The Yellow Brick road refers to the road that Dorothy, Toto, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow were on to go to the Emerald city.
The Cowardly Lion wanted courage. The Tin Man wanted a heart. The Scarecrow wanted a brain, and Dorothy wanted to go home.
But the Yellow Brick road is an illusion, they already had the power within them and the magician was just a humbug.
So Elton John is singing a song about following the Yellow Brick Road to fame and fortune and happiness…
And he realizes that the Yellow Brick Road is not a magic ticket to happiness.
And that in some ways he has to return home.
And how do you return home?
You tell the truth.
You own up to your lies, your selfishness, your falsehoods about power, wealth and fame giving you happiness.
The lie that there is someone else waiting for you to make your problems all go away.
You tell how you have hurt others and how you have hurt yourself.
You confess that you asked all the time: “What’s in it for me?”
And very seldom asked about how you could help others.
And then you change. You turn around. You go home to love and health and sanity. Because it is all there within you.
Jesus has given you everything you need. And it is simply to live a life of loving, of giving of service.
Elton John reached the Emerald City. He followed the Yellow Brick Road. He was rich and had every kind of treasure. Money, Clothes, Power Fame, Sex…
And instead of happy it was killing him.
And he confessed and changed. He has been sober for decades now and he had raised hundreds of millions of dollars for AIDS endeavors. Research and Treatment.
He still has a problem with shopping.
You know Satan tempted Jesus with the Yellow Brick Road. Worship me. Satan said and I will give you the kingdoms of the world.
Worship your ego , and all the kingdoms of the world are yours.
Jesus rejected that treasure and he went searching for another treasure, a treasure so valuable that he gave his whole life to claim.
And that treasure is you.
Jesus gave his whole life to love you.
And if you want to find real treasure it is in doing the same thing. Loving one another, giving to one another, and serving one another. Amen