Monday, September 17, 2018

SERMON: "Imagine a World"

imagine a world
a sermon for september 16, 2018
dave grishaw-jones
luke 15:11-32

When you walk out of here this morning, when we’ve sung that last thrilling verse of “Amazing Grace,” when you’ve recycled your program and you’re off to lunch, your challenge is this:  TO IMAGINE A WORLD like the one Jesus imagines in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Maybe you’ll take a walk this afternoon, or go for a run up in Rock Creek Park.  Maybe you’ll bless the fertility of the land and assemble a great green salad for good friends at dinnertime.  Maybe you’ll hunker down and read a book or a poem or the crazy colors of a Potomac sunset.  In all these things, dear Christian, your challenge, our challenge is the same: TO IMAGINE A WORLD like the one Jesus imagines in this parable.  To imagine ourselves as midwives to that world, choreographers in that world, disciples of that world.  Where grace abounds and forgiveness heals.  Where broken things come together again.

What God needs most urgently is our imagination this week.
  What Jesus cultivates most creatively in this parable is your courage.  Not your entrenched conviction around finer points of theology and philosophy.  Not your well-schooled cynicism around all the ways the world's going to hell.  What God needs--today, tomorrow, this week--is your imagination, your courage, and your capacity for hope.  Whatever else Jesus is after in this parable, it has something to do (maybe everything to do) with your imagination.  Where you live.  Where you work.  Where you study and play.

Will you see what I see? Jesus asks.


So let's talk about that this morning.
  Let's talk about the importance of imagination in your life, in your spiritual life, in your walk with Jesus and God's grace.  Because it strikes me somehow that that's what Jesus' most famous parable comes down to--in the end.  When it's 110 in the shade and not a square meal to be found, the younger son imagines his own homecoming.  When his father sees the young boy stumbling down the road, staggering toward home, he imagines their reunion and wastes no time rushing to welcome him home.  
Rembrandt's "Return of the Prodigal Son"
You see, where there's no imagination, there's no grace, no hope, no possibility of healing and peace.  Where there's no imagination, there's nothing like the boy's long walk home or the courage needed to keep walking when his feet ache or the fabulous feast with the fatted calf or the beautiful robe and the precious ring.  Where there's no imagination, I guess you could say, there's no parable at all.

And isn't it possible that this whole story--this story that's as fresh and contemporary as any other in scripture--isn't it possible that this whole story comes down to the question of the older brother's imagination?
  That day when his brother comes home.  That night when the band's warmed up and the dancing's begun and the feast is spread on a dozen tables.

The father's weeping tears of joy.
  The candles are lit, the house is rocking with love.  The fatted calf's been killed.  And the whole story comes down to the older brother’s predicament.  Can he imagine laying aside his well-earned bitterness and cynicism?  Can he imagine lacing up his own dancing shoes?  Can he imagine forgiveness and reconciliation, a new life of friendship, collaboration and celebration?

The French theologian Claude Dequoc says: "Forgiveness is an invitation to imagination.
  It is not forgetfulness of the past, but rather the risk of a future other than the one imposed by memory of the past."  Let me dial that up again: "Forgiveness is an invitation to imagination.  It is not forgetfulness of the past, but rather the risk of a future other than the one imposed by memory of the past."  Can the older brother risk a future other than the one imposed by memory--other than the one in which his kid brother runs off free and unencumbered?  Other than the one in which he's left behind to work the fields and manage the money and take care of the aging parents?  Can he lay aside his well-earned bitterness and risk a future of grace, a future of reconciliation, a future of forgiveness?

Now, to be honest, Jesus doesn't say.
  And that's just the kind of teacher Jesus is.  That's his provocative style in every one of these parables.  It always comes down to you and me.  It always comes down to our faith, to our courage, to our imagination.  This whole business of mercy and forgiveness: it’s not easy and it’s surely not routine.  But…as Gandhi and Emma Gonzalez keep telling us…we get to be the change we wish to see in the world.  It always comes down to us.


So here's the thing.  Trust me on this.  There will come a moment this week when your imagination makes all the difference.  Our ancestors called this kind of moment a 'kairos' moment: a moment of consequence, a moment of import, a moment when faith turns the world in a new direction.  It may well seem--to you--an ordinary moment, a mundane moment, a moment like all the others.  But make no mistake.  Your capacity for hope, your capacity for compassion, your faith will invite those around you to see new possibilities.  Maybe you're in a meeting where others are blaming the homeless for crime and disease and economic decline.  Or maybe you're standing in line at the supermarket and the guy behind you is making a homophobic joke.  Or maybe you're there when a desperate friend calls and she's running out of options, she's running out of hope.

In that holy moment, in that 'kairos' moment, your imagination will make all the difference.
  You will risk a future other than the one imposed by memory.  You will lace up your dancing shoes.  You'll invite those around you to consider new possibilities, a better world, even the kingdom of love.

Or it may be that your imagination calls forth new possibilities in a close relationship.
  You know how it is, how we get into ruts: with our spouses and partners, with our brothers and sisters, even with our best friends or colleagues here at church.  There may well come a moment this week when your capacity for hope transforms bad habits into exciting and fresh opportunities.  This is our Christian calling, after all.  Yours and mine.  This is what discipleship's all about.  You dare to name a fear.  You dare to confess your cynicism.  And suddenly, you and your lover can imagine vulnerable conversation, and loving support, and new choreography for a relationship you both cherish.  It's a 'kairos' moment--and your imagination makes all the difference.  You get to be the change you wish to see in the world.  In your own living room.  In your own bedroom.  At the breakfast table on Monday morning

I guess what this all comes down to is the practice of mercy: not the sentiment of mercy, not the invocation of mercy, but the practice of mercy.  Will we be the people, will we be the children of God who risk a future other than the one imposed by memory of the past?  And let’s be honest: this is about our life in community, too.  This practice of mercy is urgent and essential as we piece together a church, as we weave together a beloved community.

In that sense, this is something of a ‘kairos’ moment right here at First Church—a moment of new beginnings, a moment for urgent reflection around core concerns like privilege and bias, inclusion and compassion.  In so many ways the culture around us is lurching from angst to anger and back again.  We see something better for us, as a city, as a country, as a planet.  And this is a congregation with serious commitments and serious passion: we want to walk the walk in every way and address anything and everything that keeps us from being all that we can be.      

So the question is: Can we, will we practice mercy through all of this?  Can we, will we imagine a future and risk a future other than the one imposed by memory of the past?  That’s the question Jesus lays out there at the unsettling, but open ending of the parable this morning.  There’s a party in the works.  There’s a feast to be shared.   There’s a community to build.  What would it look like to risk that future, to join that celebration, to share that feast?

Now Jesus isn’t saying—and I’m not either—that the practice of mercy tempers or obfuscates our passion for justice.  We don’t shy away from the hard conversations.  We don’t gloss over crucial differences or pointed disagreements.  No, that’s not gospel…and that’s not the church.  But what the practice of mercy does is it looks for brotherhood, it looks for sisterhood, even and especially in the midst of our differences and disagreements.  And then, and then, mercy risks that future, that new and beloved future, which heals the brokenness of the past and reimagines relationships in light of God’s amazing grace.  That’s what the practice of mercy does.  It doesn’t temper our passion for justice—it deepens it, it intensifies it, and it engages our passion in God’s project of healing and peace.

Just a quick footnote here: Kate and I went to see ‘Blindspotting’ last night—and I’m guessing many of you have seen it too.  If you haven’t, get yourselves out to see it while it’s still on a big screen.  Because there’s struggle at the heart of this film—a struggle around truthfulness in relationship and justice in the streets and most decidedly the racism embedded in all of this—and it’s a struggle around the practice of mercy.  What does mercy look like in the midst of conflict?  How does mercy allow for new futures, and healed relationships, and even a fierce commitment to justice in our cities?  How does mercy transform not just situations around us, but our own inner lives?  See the movie.  Tell me what you think. 

Again, I’m not saying mercy tempers our passion for justice.  I’m pretty sure Jesus wasn’t going there either.  But it does change us, and it does change the way we pursue justice and insist on justice and create justice in community.  And in the beloved community, that’s a key piece of the project.   

So my friends, this great parable is out there this morning; and in it, God is still speaking.  Restlessly.  Urgently.  It is our calling—yours and mine—to imagine the world that might yet be.  It is our calling—yours and mine—to resist the voices that say, "NO, IT'LL ALWAYS BE THIS WAY."  "NO, IT'LL ALWAYS BE BROKEN AND SAD."  It is our calling to lay aside every hurt and release every bitterness.  And it is our calling to lace up those dancing shoes, put on a fresh shirt or a fresh skirt or both, and head for the hall.  For the dance is on.  The lost soul has come home at last.  And the feast is for us.