Sermon: Scope for the Imagination

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Sunday, July 8, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

I’m very sad to say that my time with you all is getting very short.  Next weekend will be my last Sunday as Vicar Day.  And those of you who’ve seen my anxiety over the past week know that I still have a LOT of packing left to do!

So, naturally, with so much to do, I decided this past week that I what I really needed to  do was catch up on my Netflix binge-watching.  I’ve been watching the show “Anne with an E” – have any of you seen it?  It’s really good.  The series is an adaptation of the novel Anne of Green Gables, which many of you have probably read.  The story follows an orphaned girl named Anne who is adopted by a middle-aged brother and sister.  Anne as a child is, let’s say, precocious.  She is a romantic with a free spirit, who loves to use big words. In her words, “If you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them!”

There was a particular scene that stuck with me as I was reading the gospel lesson for this week. In this episode, Anne’s teacher is calling on different students in the class to take turns reading the lines of a poem.  One by one, her classmates read in a bored, deadpan voice:

“A perilous life and sad as life may be
hath the lone fisher on the lonely sea”

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But Anne, who loves reciting poetry, really puts her heart and soul in it when her turn comes to read:

“O’er the wild waters, laboring far from home,
for some bleak pittance e’er compelled to roam!”

The other students laugh uncomfortably as Anne reads the poem – and you can see them making fun of her to each other behind her back.  But when Anne sits down, you can tell that she is very pleased with her performance.

Jesus doesn’t recite any poetry in our gospel reading for today, but he does quote a proverb: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”  Jesus has been preaching and teaching and healing and casting out demons all over Galilee, and he has developed a reputation for his wisdom and power and authority. But when he comes to preach and teach in his own hometown synagogue, his words are just about as well-received as Anne’s were.  His own people scoff at him and say, “Pfft, where does he get off saying all this stuff? Who gave him the authority to teach or heal or cast out demons?  Isn’t he Mary’s kid, the carpenter?  And aren’t these all his brothers and sisters right here with us?  We’ve known this kid since he was in diapers.  What gives him the right?”

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The people of Nazareth are instantly skeptical of Jesus and his authority, and it’s because they know where he came from.  Which, if you think about it, is really kind of sad.  They seem to have internalized the question that Nathanael asks in John: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Maybe the people of Nazareth have bought into this idea that they can’t be more than they are – just ordinary people from a poor, rural village. They’ve never imagined that they could do the kind of great things that Jesus does.  And so when Jesus shows up as this wise teacher and miracle-worker, the people of Nazareth feel resentful and even threatened by him.  They make me think of the other students in Anne’s class, too afraid to even try to do something greater, to put themselves out there, too afraid of what other people will think.

Even the disciples fall into this way of thinking and seem a little unsure about Jesus.  After all, they were also just ordinary people from other villages in Galilee, mostly fishermen, who probably never imagined in their lives that they would meet someone like Jesus.  A couple of weeks ago, we read the story of Jesus and the disciples on the sea in the middle of a storm.  After Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples asked themselves and each other, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him??”  Is this really Mary’s son, the carpenter?

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If Anne Shirley-Cuthbert of Green Gables could see the disciples and the people of Nazareth, I think she would probably say to them that what they need is a little more “scope for the imagination.”

Jesus, not unlike Anne, has a broad and prophetic imagination.  He seems to see much more in the disciples than they see in themselves. He has called them away from their ordinary lives to become part of something extraordinary.  He has preached to them and taught them what he knows.  He’s made them his friends.  And now, in this gospel passage, Jesus is charging them with the same mission he himself has been carrying out.  He gives them the same authority to cast out demons and to heal and to preach the good news of the kingdom.  I’m betting that the disciples were probably pretty floored by this responsibility.  Wouldn’t you be?  And they were probably afraid of what other people would think of them.

I have to confess that these are certainly feelings that I struggle with, especially as I prepare to step into pastoral ministry.  How can have been given the authority to preach and teach and pastor to God’s people, in God’s name?  What gives me the right to put myself out there as a leader in the church? Maybe you have felt this way, too, as individuals and even as a community.  Maybe you have felt called to something that feels totally beyond you. Maybe you have been afraid to put yourself out there because of what other people might think, or because you might fail.

But, just like with the disciples, I think that Jesus often sees more in us than we see in ourselves. Of course he sees our brokenness and our flaws, but he also sees that oftentimes we settle for what is safe or easy instead of living into the vast potential of who God created us to be. He sees that we are often capable of much more good than we give ourselves credit for.  I think that’s probably why Jesus sent the disciples out as he did – no bag, no food, no money, not even a change of clothes.  He wanted them to reach down into themselves and realize that God had already given them everything that they needed.  Just like God has already given us everything we need.

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Likewise, I think Jesus sees more in this world than it sees in itself.  He loves this world, so much so that he willingly died for it.  We are so conscious of this world’s flaws: the violence and the hatred, the cruelty, the greed, and the bitter divisions that seem like they will never be healed.  But Jesus can imagine this world as God meant for it to be:  a global community of love and justice and peace, a joyous community where all are truly welcome just as they are, where prejudice and poverty and hunger and war no longer exist.  That is the world that God sees.  It’s a world that often feels totally beyond us.  And we might think, who are we to take up such an enormous mission of liberation?  But the good news is that, in Jesus’ eyes, we are exactly the right people for this work.  He calls us to this mission, just as he called the first disciples, knowing that God has already given us everything that we need.  It shouldn’t surprise us anymore to find Jesus thrusting our staffs into our hands and pushing us out the door, charging us with the authority to go out and make it so.

So this is the final exhortation that I want to give to you, dear people of Peace Lutheran, as we both start new chapters in our lives:  keep broadening the scope of your imagination.  Keep in mind the vision of the world as God sees it, and trust that you have a part to play in making it happen.  No matter what lies over the horizon for this community, I know that the Spirit is hard at work in this place, and I trust that there are great things yet to come.

I want to end this sermon with one of my favorite prayers.  It’s a wonderful prayer for starting out on new journeys, for following God into the unknown and the unimagined.

Let us pray.

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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