(Ephesians 3: 14-21)
I love to watch my little boys and their active, vivid imaginations at work.
During our picnic at the park, AJ looks up at the clouds and excitedly points out one that looks like a horse, and another grouping of clouds that make a spaceship, and in a different direction he sees a dragon with wings expanded, ready to fly.
Meanwhile my Alex insists he sees a puppy dog, a ninja, and a big, big castle.
During our Memorial Day Celebration on the lake, their imaginations seemed to be working overtime as the two boys turned their towels and rafts into a fort on the dock where they could hide and look out on the water for approaching pirate ships and elusive lake monsters.
And while my husband and I worked in the yard last weekend, my youngest and his friends were at it again, in their own world, creeping through the ivy and sneaking around the bushes, they were animals of the Serengeti in search of their prey, which happened to the granola bars and Gatorades that I set out for them on the patio.
I have often thought to myself, if only I had the imagination of a child, always on, always open to the new adventures that await.
Take a child’s imagination, and multiply it times infinity. Ephesians says, that’s how much God can do.
Here Paul, talking to the church in Ephesus, reminds us that God’s ability to create and bring about new things in us and our world is limitless.
“God can do anything,” the scriptures say, “far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”
One of my favorite definitions for imagination is the human capacity to receive and respond to God’s revelation in our everyday lives.
Central to our faith is an ability to imagine our lives and world redeemed, to imagine that whatever mess we may be in now, we will not be in forever, to imagine the way forward that God opens in our midst when it seems like there is no way.
This is what I hear Paul saying to the discouraged community of faith in Ephesus, and this message of hope is what we find throughout the scriptures, Old Testament and New.
In her book, The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor talks about the role of imagination in the life of faith. Here Taylor elaborates on the words of James Whitehead who said, “Faith is the enduring ability to imagine life in a certain way.”
Imagining life where wolves lie down with lambs; where mourning and tears and death will be no more; where the mighty are brought low and the lowly lifted up. Faith imagines the hungry filled, the stranger welcomed, the outcast loved.
And if faith is the ability to imagine life as God intends, Taylor says, “the human capacity for imagination is one the church cannot afford to ignore.”
We are called to imagine life – imagine the world – created, inhabited, blessed, and continually made new by the power of God.
The scriptures invite us to imagine such a world as this. Our Lord invites us to envision the world with hope and life, as he did with his life, ministry, and sacrifice. On earth Jesus continually saw the world through God’s eyes.
Jesus saw the crowd fed with fish and bread;
He saw the blind with sight restored;
He saw the children that gathered around him, not as distractions but as blessings;
He saw water that became wine at the wedding;
He saw a man, once lame, “take up” his “mat and” walk;
He saw Lazarus, bandages and all, coming out of his tomb;
Jesus has always seen the sinner as forgiven and as friend;
And he sees his disciples as his body, alive in the world-loving and serving, making mistakes along the way but most of all he sees their abilities to make a real difference in the lives of others.
With his focus on God’s word and will, Jesus sees the world with God’s eyes.
And at our most faithful, the church dares to do the same- to envision the world as God intends.
And at our best, we dare to act on those visions of what can be, seeking out creative ways to solve some of the challenges that we face as a community and out in the world.
At our best we seek out creative ways to reach those in need, to share the Gospel and in so doing we help to open the door to God’s transforming breath that brings new life, healing, and blessings.
Many years ago, John Lennon wrote the song Imagine as an invitation to envision a world without hunger, war, or religious divisions. “Imagine all the people,” he sang, “living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
Long before Lennon, we had the prophets fulfilling the role of dreamers. Isaiah was a dreamer. He imagined a new world, a coming day when the mountain of God’s sacred presence will be lifted up.
And when nations will stream to that holy place, learning and living by God’s Word, and “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Even from within a land scorched by violence, the prophet Isaiah was able to imagine a world at peace, were war and weapons were no more.
Well friends, I have to admit that I often have trouble even imagining a world such as this, where weapons and war, violence and abuse will be no more.
I struggle with this, I think many of us do, amid the heartbreaking news stories and realities we know, like massive numbers of migrants fleeing impoverished and war torn lands abroad , and the recent violence and exposed racial tensions in many of our cities and throughout our nation.
I struggle to see something different, better, amid the partisan politics that often seem to rule the day. But I try.
And I’m more thankful than ever that throughout the ages, there have been wide-eyed prophets and people, who, even during dark and difficult days, saw the world through a different light and lens—-the light of God’s presence and power, and the lens of imagination, possibility, and a fierce determination to make things better.
Christ’s church is many things to many people: It’s hospitality, inspiration, and consolation. Church is worship, teaching, singing, learning, tradition and innovation.
It’s a family, a place where we have fun and good fellowship. It’s a community that serves and reaches out in concrete ways to share the love of God.
Church provides us with identity, community, connection, and provides us with an opportunity to pray together for mercy and grace, and for the needs of so many. All of these things are essential and important I believe.
But today friends, we have been reminded that another central calling of Christ’s Church is to be a community of imagination, to summon visions of life as it could be and will be under the reign of God, and to serve as a visible witness of life—abundant, full life, here and now.
Paul says, “Reach out and experience the breadth of Christ’s love! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.”
And friends, what I have found is that as we strive to lead lives full of God, grounded in the love of our Lord, we begin to see the world as God intends and we begin to be bolder in what we hope for and work towards.
Again, I think about my boys and the children in our church that inspire. They look at life with fresh eyes, free from the cloudiness of worry, cynicism, prejudice, and doubt.
They see a world full of wonders, a world in which nothing is simply what it seems because everything is packed with endless possibility.
And just as we need the imaginations of our children to inspire, and show us some of the beautiful things that we might miss on our own, so the community and world needs the imagination of the church to see the world in a new way, God’s way.
I want to close with a story about a woman named Grace Thomas. Grace Thomas is not a famous person, but some of you may have heard of her.
She ran for Governor of Georgia back in the 50’s and again in the 60’s. In the race for governor of Georgia in 1954, there were nine candidates—eight men and Grace.
1954 was the year of the famous Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka which opened the way for the integration of the public schools.
The other eight candidates spoke angrily against the action of the US Supreme Court. Only Grace said that she thought the decision was fair and just. Well Grace came in last in the election.
But eight years later, she ran again. At the time the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum but her message of racial harmony among the people of Georgia was still very controversial.
One day Grace Thomas made a campaign appearance in the little town of Louisville, Georgia. In those days the centerpiece of the town square was not the courthouse or a war memorial, but an old slave market, where people were once sold and traded.
In that place, a hostile group of storekeepers and farmers gathered to hear Grace Thomas speak. “The old has passed away, a new day with new possibilities has come,” she said, gesturing to the market, “this place represents all about our past over which we must repent. But a new day is here, a day when Georgians, black and white, can join together and work for the common good, a better world.”
Someone in the crowd shouted out, “Are you a Communist?” Grace answered, “No, I’m not.” The heckler continued, “Well then where’d you get these crazy ideas about all of us joining hands and working together.”
And without a word at first, Grace Thomas look out and she pointed. She pointed to the nearby church. And after a moment she said, “I got them over there. At a church like that one.”
That’s where I learned about these crazy ideas of hope, equality, teamwork, and love. Church is where I learned to imagine what could be and where I started working with my neighbors, for a better world.
Friends, my prayer today, for this church in particular, here at Trinity, and for Christ’s church near and far, is that we live into this role. This all important role of being God’s community of imagination and hope, envisioning life as God intends and working together for a better world.
May it be so. And thanks be to God! Amen.