As Pastor Deb is on vacation this Sunday, our guest preacher was
The Reverend Jane Searjeant Watt
Sermon for South, Feb. 16, 2014
Church is many things to many people: fun and fellowship, inspiration and support. Church is teaching and learning, tradition and innovation. Church is serving and being served. Church provides us with identity, connection, and mutual support. Church is obligation and responsibility.
Church is confession of humanity’s collective guilt, as well as our own shortcomings. It is acknowledgement of God’s tender mercy and “amazing grace.” However, today, I invite you to consider another aspect of Church…Let us think of Church as a community of imagination.
Part of our calling as the people of God is to use our imaginations to summon visions of life as it could be and/or will be under the guidance of God. Inspired by our imaginations, we try to live our lives as if the NOT yet is the ALREADY. In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us guidance in this challenging enterprise.
In this extended reading from the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus uses some old examples of hard and fast biblical mandates to show us how we might become more faithful and effective in our daily practices of Christian life.
The setting here is still the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus pronounces abundant affirmation on the Church.
Jesus calls us “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” He urges us to go beyond legal requirements – to use our imaginations – as we seek to live faithfully with God. In a line made famous by the late Senator Robert Kennedy, Irish playwright George Bernhard Shaw wrote: “You see things and you say why? But I dream things that never were and I
say why not?”
We are fortunate to have gifted kids in our lives that play with their imaginations all the time. These younguns’ often imagine a world in which no child is left behind, nor is ever abused or goes hungry; a world where all children have clean sheets and clean clothes; a safe place to play with lively playmates – and loving, devoted adults to protect and guide them.
Their powerful imaginations tickle our fancy and bring smiles on our faces. I think Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me,” because they imagine the essence of God! We, who pride ourselves on being firmly grounded in reality, should remember that nothing comes to an end result without first coming from our imagination.
Many inventions have started in garages…..Orville and Wilbur Wright saw a bicycle and imagined an airplane. A college dropout named Stephen Jobs saw a big, bulky main-frame computer and imagined an Apple on every desktop. Sir Isaac Newton invented the cat door because his cat pestered him when he was working!
The slinky was born when a navel engineer saw a set of springs fall from a stack of books in his garage. A parcel of land, not being utilized well, became the dream of University people – and now we see the development of College Town. My Mom never tossed out a used envelope with “doodles” on it – because that may well have been my Dad’s next invention.
When we follow Jesus; he invites us – yea, he implores us – to imagine a different world. For instance, continuing his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges the church to imagine a world where violence itself is off the table…a world where violence in any form is off the table as an option for the resolution of the certain disputes that arise among human beings.
No murder, no terrorism, no warfare, no violence. Grounded as we are in everyday reality, it is hard to imagine a world without “fighting fire with fire,” without violence to counteract violence. So many bullies, so much crime, so much invested in arms and armaments. No fantasy can make violence go away!
But then again, weapons don’t seem to be working either.
So, we really don’t have much to lose by giving peace a chance, do we? You may have noticed I wear a John Lennon bracelet which says “Give peace a chance.” Whenever I see or hear things that make me seethe inside ….or when I am infuriated about whatever….this bracelet is always a tangible – daily – reminder for me to get a grip on myself.
At one time or another, we all feel peeved – with a stranger or more than one stranger; with our self or our partner, our parents or children, a sibling; someone on the job at work or someone with whom we play bridge! Jesus topples the tables of the money changers in the Temple, he becomes so irate! So, is that what do we can do with our anger, too?
Perhaps…..although, Jesus does offer another, constructive option. When we feel anger; just stop, bite your tongue, step away when things get heated, take a deep breath and imagine another way…..a way of peace and composure. We can trust our imagination to work for us in the area of personal relationships……if we respond to our imaginations and the nudging of the Holy Spirit.!
However, if there is an absence of imagination with in us, (among other qualities that certainly might help in an angry situation) we get stuck, gridlock occurs – and nothing changes….. (pause)
Enter the Church. Called by God, led by the risen Christ, and sustained by the Holy Spirit. We have been given the gift of imagination to use for the common good. Imagination is never in short supply with the people of God!
After all, we have magnificent stories – the parting of the Red Sea, the feeding of the 5,000, the resurrection of our Lord. These superb stories that tell us, “All things are possible with God.” With God’s love in our hearts and minds, we are empowered to imagine different approaches, or a different set of options with different outcomes.
Lest you think South Presbyterian Church is unique, let me read a few sentences from the President of CRCDS in the annual report, which providentially came in yesterday’s mail!
“Societal factors outside the direct control of CRCDS continue to make it difficult at attract and retain students and we recognize this means we must adapt if we are to remain relevant……..The societal shifts facing mainline denominations are once again requiring uys to explore new ways of living out the CRCDS mission. We do not fear this challenge. Rather, we recognize that following Christ has always been an act of faith and we further recognize that we are called not to preserve the old for its own sake, but to serve God from age to age adapting what we know to be the present with a constant eye on the future. This is not a time for fear, but a time for excitement. God continues to engage our world in new, life-giving ways. ….Our present age challenges us. …We must ask ourselves fundamental questions and we must recognize that the answers are very likely different now than they were twenty, fifteen, or even then years ago……the church is in the midst of a great period of change and as servants of the church, we must adapt to its needs….During times of challenge, it is all too easy for us to forget the very real presence of God.”
On this last Thursday, Deb and I, Mary Lee and Nancy met with the Presbytery Trustees about our future and the necessity for financial help to tide us over, if things should drag on. During this discussion, Amy Fowler, our Executive said, “Looking at South from the periphery, my sense of the process is: “The charrette primed the pump of our imaginations and gave us the courage to move forward.”
A light bulb went off…..I thought, “Amy’s right, we have exhibited imagination – and the faith – to step up to the plate!” We must not, “sit down on the job.” The work of God in Christ is not over. God calls all of us, you and me, to hope for – to imagine – more than we have yet seen.
This hope – this God-given imagination – is our ultimate confidence in Christ, which supports us when lesser hopes fail. God gives us hope – and like Abraham, we act by faith! God gives us imagination – and like Sarah, we act by faith! This hope – this imagination – gives us the audacity to engage – and to persevere – in tackling the present. And the great cloud of witnesses would expect no less from us!
Our present property concerns, against all odds, call us to imagine a new heaven and a new earth. Therefore, says Paul, “This is the race that God has set before us,”……we have fought the good fight, finished the race, and we have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7 and Hebrews 12:2)
Blessing and glory, wisdom and honor, power and might …. be to our God forever and ever. ………..Amen.