Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
On my desk sit two smooth oval stones, one white and one brown, given to me by a wise parishioner. Carved into the white one is the word "trust." and into the brown one the word "imagine." As I work they sit one on my right and hand one on my left, bookends of faith that I try to hold in balance in both my work and in my life as a whole.
Trust is a central theme for both Paul and Jesus. In most of Jesus' feeding stories, including the one in John 6, Jesus requires the skeptical disciples to trust that what they believe cannot be done can be done by the power of God. Indeed, to use Paul's words in Ephesians, the miracle is done "by the power at work within." them, a power they gain access to by trust in Jesus. That trust, Paul says, comes to us by way of the Holy Spirit which gives us the power to comprehend the "breadth and length and height and depth." of Christ's love. The image Paul uses to describe this foundation from which we trust God is that we are "rooted and grounded in love."
Adoptive parents know how critical it is for children to be rooted and grounded in love. Children who have spent any amount of time in an orphanage setting or a home in which they faced only neglect or abuse often experience what clinicians call "attachment disorder." These children have never bonded in love with another and so are often fearful, angry, distant, and lonely beyond belief. Their adoptive parents know that the best gift they can give these children is the possibility of setting down roots, finding a home in which they can be confident that they are loved and valued. They can only grow to trust other people, and themselves, when they allow themselves to slowly reach their roots into trustworthy soil. Once rooted and grounded, they can experience the mystery of the love offered by their new families.
The whole of our Faith is grounded in these two small oval stones of love and trust. It was through loving and trusting Jesus that everyone of the five thousand where fed. The power of love and trust in God can move the world, bring people together and find real peace.
A common saying of adoptive families is that their task is to provide roots and wings. Once trust is strong, children can find their wings and feel free to test the skies. In verse 12 of the third chapter of Ephesians, Paul says we have "access to God in boldness and confidence." Once we trust in Christ's love, we may indeed step forth boldly to both ask and imagine. If we settle in trust without reaching out to see where God's love can take us, we miss half the wonder and mystery of faith.
Paul urges the Ephesians to be bold in seeing where their faith can take them. Bible translators vie with one another to find a superlative that expresses what the NRSV translates in verse 20 as "abundantly far more." Words like "infinitely more." and "immeasurably more." appear in other English versions. Paul struggled to express the inexpressible adventure of faith that comes when we trust so completely that we take wing and see where God will let us fly on the wind of the Spirit. Our imaginations cannot come close to God's capacity for love and acts of love. But once we link our imaginations with God's capacity and forget the constraints of "realism." that bind us so closely to believing we can't participate in miracles, then we may be amazed at how God may act in and through us. If we never let go, we'll never find out what God might do within us.
As in the case of many adopted children, the key is understanding that we are really not alone. We really do not need to rely solely on our own skills, power, strength, influence or wealth. Once we are linked with God, we also are linked to brothers and sisters in faith the world over, like the disciples were linked with the little boy who had some food. When we imagine and ask together, we discover we can do miracles. Mother Theresa, after all, could not have accomplished all she did for good in the world without the help of hundreds of thousands of men and women working beside her, less well-known than she, but critical to her work. The gift of God to us, the adopted children of God's realm, is roots and wings.
We live in a world lacking love and trust. We do not trust our politicians and in fact most of our leaders. After all those leaders both in politics, entertainment and academia have again and again failed us. We have forgotten the power of love and trust. In fact, when we face another crisis the very first thing that often gets destroyed is love and trust. After all if one person let you down what is to stop this from happening again and again. We easily forget that real power and understanding can be built on love and trust. Maybe we need to keep reminding ourselves of the power of love and trust.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Sometimes we look right past miracles when they are in our faces. There is an old story about a church whose beloved pastor of many years retired and moved out of state. After an interim, the church called a new pastor who had a little trouble winning over some of the older men of the congregation. She knew that an important group of men gathered once a week early in the morning to go fishing, and she decided she would join them. Off she marched to the store to buy all her equipment and one early morning she showed up at the dock ready to join them. Somewhat skeptical of her capabilities, the men welcomed her onto the boat. After they had gotten out to the middle of the lake she suddenly realized she had left her tackle box in the car and would need to go back and get it. Knowing the men would be angry if she asked them to return to shore, she calmly got out of the boat and walked on the waters of the lake back to her car. As they watched her cross the waters, one man said to the others, "See, I told you she wasn't any good; they sent us a pastor who can't even swim!"
In the original Star Wars movie, Luke Skywalker tries to convince a reluctant Han Solo to help rescue Princess Leia when they discover she is aboard the Death Star. He appeals to Solo's mercenary nature by suggesting that she is rich and would reward him with more money than he could imagine. Solo answers, "I don't know, I can imagine a lot!"
Paul's reminder that God is able to accomplish through us far more than we can ask or imagine is reminiscent of Alcoholics Anonymous' call to its members to "Let Go and Let God."
My seven-year-old daughter is learning how to do cartwheels in her gymnastics class. She is struggling because she is afraid to let herself fly. She tries so hard to keep control that her legs end up bent and her arms both want to touch the ground at the same time. The more she lets go of that control and lets herself move freely, the easier it is for her to do the cartwheel.
Allowing the power of God free rein to work within us is much like how artists talk about the creation of great art. Michelangelo used to describe making statues as looking at a piece of stone and letting the figure inside of it come out. Madeleine L'Engle once wrote that "when the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens." (Walking on Water, (Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1980) p. 24)
In the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, our hero Indy is on a quest with his father to keep the Holy Grail out of the hands of the Nazis. In an ancient temple in the desert where he has been told the Grail lies, he is given tests to see if he is worthy to find it. In one he stands on the edge of a cavern looking across to a passageway on the other side. The cavern is too wide to jump over and no other access appears. He is asked to step out on faith, and after many deep breaths, he simply steps into the abyss, only to discover an invisible bridge that allows him to continue his journey.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison of the courage to act which comes from being rooted in God. "Faint not nor fear, but go out to the storm and the action, trusting in God whose commandment you faithfully follow; freedom, exultant, will welcome your spirit with joy." (Letters and Papers from Prison (New York: Macmillan, 1972) p. 371)
This story of feeding the masses with a little in John's gospel illustrates perfectly Paul's contention that God can do more than we can imagine working in us by the power of the Spirit. The disciples didn't believe it could be done; probably the little boy didn't think so either, nor the people close by who were in on the conversation. Jesus didn't actually ask them to believe it could be done; he simply asked them to trust him and then to do what he wanted them to do. Despite their lack of faith, they did trust him and so acted on that trust. It was enough, and the many were fed by the little.
A pastor colleague says that before he undertakes any task that he feels might be beyond his capability to perform (like the weekly sermon he must preach) he prays to God very simply, "I believe; help my unbelief."
A story is told of a Special Olympics in Seattle a number of years ago in which the participants showed themselves and the spectators the power of asking and imagining together. The gun went off and the hundred yard dash began, but one young man somehow stumbled and fell at the start and began to cry. A fellow racer turned, saw him down, and stopped to go back to help him. The others saw what she had done, and all turned around to join her. Linking arms, they all walked the course together and finished as one. The crowd was on its feet cheering in a way it would not have had only one finished first.
A few years ago I visited a Presbyterian church in Mexico, just across the border from Arizona. That church was doing rather well at attracting children and teenagers. At their weekly Bible school, it wasn't unusual for 80 or more kids to show up. But the church felt that they needed to hire someone who could focus on adults, who could go door to door through the community and invite adults to come to church and become Christians. The church found a young woman who exactly fit the description of what they were looking for, a 23-year-old woman named Charry, who had a deep faith and who had a great desire to share the good news of the gospel with other people. Even though at the time the church wasn't quite sure where they would get the money to pay her, they offered her the job, because they firmly believed that that was what God wanted them to do. And even though Charry was aware that there might be some uncertainty as to her pay, she accepted the position, believing that that was the work that God was calling her to do. If they had used reason, both the church and Charry should have turned that arrangement down. After all, it wasn't logical for the church to hire her. The numbers just didn't add up. The money wasn't there in the budget. But even though they knew that by themselves, they didn't have the resources to make it happen, they had the imagination to trust that that work of evangelizing the adults of their city was something that God wanted to happen. And since that was the case, they trusted that God would provide. And sure enough, in time God did provide. How different the Mexican churches are from churches in our country. Most churches in the United States would have looked at that situation, figured that there was no money in the budget for it, and that would have been the end of it—case closed. Yet the attitude among Mexican Presbyterians is that if they waited to have all the resources in hand, they would never get anything done. Instead they trust that even if all they have are a few pieces of bread and fish, God will add to it what they need.
The American Film Institute issued a ranking of the 100 Greatest Love Stories. In their opinion, the top five are Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, West Side Story, Roman Holiday, and An Affair to Remember. According to the Bible, though, the greatest love story in all the world is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
Is it possible for God's love to be so great that God ends up doing too much for us? Italy's supreme court ruled there are times when a mother's love goes too far. The high court ruled that a Florence judge was correct to have granted a divorced father custody of his son because the mother was too smothering to properly nurture the child.
As demonstrated when Jesus fed that crowd, Jesus ministered to people, not to receive recognition, but to satisfy the genuine needs of those around him. Sometimes, however, we are more selective about when and where we are willing to serve. Callers to some of the major homeless shelters in Boston became rather angry when they were told they would not be able to help at the shelters on Thanksgiving or Christmas because too many people had already volunteered for those days. One shelter had a waiting list of 170 volunteers to help with Christmas dinner. Many of the callers sounded frustrated and discouraged when they were asked to volunteer their services at some of the other less well-known shelters in the metropolitan area. While the major shelters report an overabundance of helpers on those two holidays, they say that lack sufficient numbers of volunteers throughout much of the rest of the year.
The vastness and wonder of creation continue to amaze scientists. Albert Einstein repeatedly hesitated to posit a big bang. In recent times, though, Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose have been able to show that Einstein's theory of general relativity does assume a big bang origin to the universe. From observing background microwave radiation in the cosmos, they conclude that originally the universe had a density of about a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion (1 with 72 zeros after it) tons per cubic inch.
Many aspects of God's creation force us to use our imagination to figure out how they happen. Staff at a city aquarium in Detroit were astonished when a female shark gave birth to three baby sharks. What made that births so incredible was the fact that the female shark had not been near a male shark in over six years. The white spotted bamboo shark gave birth at the Belle Isle Aquarium. Such an occurrence—often called a virgin birth—are not totally unknown, but there is no apparent explanation for how it happens.
There are many things in this life we cannot do unless God provides us with the power. One such thing is the ability to quit smoking. Millions of Americans continue to smoke even though they have chronic lung ailments. Around 38% of all people with emphysema continue to smoke, while 25% of those with asthma keep puffing away, according to the Agency for Health care Research and Quality.
While our love might tend to fade over time, God's love for us continues undiminished. According to a poll conducted in England last year, the longer people are in a relationship, the less likely they are to spend large amounts of money on gifts for each other. While 53% of unmarried people who are living together will spend over 100 British pounds on presents for their partner, only 31% of married couples will spend that much. Most couples who have been together for one to two years report they spend between 100 and 200 pounds on Christmas gifts for their loved one, while those who have been together for a longer period of time only spend between 50 and 100 pounds.
It is God's Spirit at work within us that makes it possible for us to get ourselves in tune with God's will. An inventor recently developed a piano that is able to tune itself in about forty seconds. The piano is due out on the market later this year. An internal device electronically warms the strings in order to adjust the amount of tension. A frequency analyzer, microcomputer, and power transistor also come as part of the piano to make sure the strings get adjusted to the correct pitch.
There is a trucking company that has the letters "G.O.D." emblazoned on the side of its tractor trailers. Beneath the initials is written "Guaranteed Overnight Delivery." Although God does not always act in our lives with such swiftness, we trust that God is always at work to bring us love and power.
A popular Internet search engine is called Ask Jeeves. By typing in virtually any sort of question, usually within a few seconds a web site is displayed that potentially contains the answer to what you're seeking. The site is located at www.ask.com. In a somewhat like manner, as we lay our requests before God, God provides us with answers.
John Lennon wrote the popular song "Imagine, "which included these words: "Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try. No help below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people living for today." What do we imagine in our minds? What do we imagine that we want God to do for us?
The Gospel certainly provides an opportunity to imagine how God might be at work with us to alleviate hunger, just as Jesus did for that large crowd of people. The Christian relief agency, Bread for the World, reports that more than 840 million people in the world are malnourished. Almost 800 million of those people live in the developing world. More than 153 million are children under the age of 5. Each year around 6 million children under the age of 5 die because of hunger. Twelve million die each year from lack of water. More than a billion people in the world lack access to clean water.
Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrated that he was a man who had a great imagination for what God is able to accomplish in our lives. When he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he said, "I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality."
Jesus not only satisfied people's souls, but he also filled their stomachs. Jim Wallis encourages churches to maintain both of those aspects in their ministries. He comments, "Churches today are tragically split between those who stress conversion but have forgotten its goal, and those who emphasize Christian social action but have forgotten the necessity for conversion." (Jim Wallis, The Call to Conversion (New York: Harper, 1981) p. 8)
July is designated as Anti-boredom Month. Through God's many displays of love and power, we easily discover that our God is anything but boring.
"Imagination is more important than knowledge." (Albert Einstein)
Those who sing and take to heart Bernard of Clairveau's ancient hymn "Jesus Thou Joy of Human Hearts." need not worry about a rebuke from the Master. This is a song for seekers, not for physical bread, but for "the food that endures for eternal live." In the first stanza we admit that we turn to Christ because "the best bliss that earth imparts." does not fulfill us. It is Christ's truth that endures, so that for those who seek him he is not only good, but "all in all, "The third stanza makes this a hymn well-suited to sing when Communion is celebrated, with its references to tasting, feasting and drinking. Wherever we go our "restless spirits yearn for Christ," and we find gladness in his smile. The hymn closes with the prayer: "O Jesus, ever with us stay, Make all our moments calm and bright; O chase the night of sin away, Shed o'er the world Thy holy light."
Eight-year-old Jenny was taking art lessons. She was learning to paint with oils. When her grandmother told her that the local museum was filled with oil paintings that were several hundred years old, Jenny piped up: "Maybe my apple will be there someday." Perhaps it takes a child to dare to imagine, and hold this kind of hope in her heart, that someday, her first oil painting will be included with the great painters of all time.
"The ability to imagine different things for ourselves is the one sure sign we have that humans are really made in the image of God." (Joan Chittister, O.S.B., Seeing With Our Souls: Monastic Wisdom for Every Day. ( Chicago: Sheed & Ward, 2002) p.68)
Love and Trust is hard all the time. There is a wonderful story about Joe and Ali in the column “Modern Love”. You can see the age-old struggle we all have. She writes:
In July, we went to Vermont and, I asked Joe what he wanted for dinner.
He looked at me slyly and said, “How about the Olive Garden?”0I threw my arms around him.
On the drive, I burped in front of him for the first time. I remember it happening in slow motion, including the part where I cried out “No!” right after. When I recovered, Joe told me that the first night he stayed at my apartment, I fell asleep on his chest and drooled all over him.
Joe said “I love you” first. I said it back, then retreated into my own head. In all of my scheming before Joe, I had never conceived of a situation in which I would have the power to break someone’s heart. I had assumed the man would have that power and my life would be a constant charm offensive to stop him from using it. I thought when someone said “I love you” to me, it would be the result of my hard work or even trickery.
“What’s going on in that dome of yours?” Joe asked as we stood on my building’s fire escape. This is truly how he speaks.
“I don’t want to say it,” I said.
“You can say it.”
“I’m freaked out because I can imagine a day that I wind up hurting you,” I said. “Not that I have any plans, but the potential exists, and I can’t imagine it the other way around.” This is truly how I speak.
Joe said: “There’s an episode of ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ where Lois is upset because Hal loves her a little more than she loves him. He tells her it’s O.K. because two people can’t love each other that much. If they did, they’d never leave the house.”
We had one big fight that first year. I was dusting a ceiling fan in his apartment and he got angry that I was doing it in his prized T-shirt. I stormed out of the apartment and walked to the subway.
“I guess we’re going to break up,” I thought. “It’s not like he’s going to chase me to the F train.” I needed to refill my MetroCard but had only pressed the first button when I felt him tap me on the shoulder.
I’m 27 now, the age I imagined I would be when one of those guys from my past would realize I was the One. In some ways, I am the version of myself I hoped I would be. I am more successful, by being six years out of college. I’m a little thinner, though I try to think about that less.
I sometimes wonder how I would do on the dating market now, imagining Harry and Sally reunions with those indifferent men from my past. I’m in touch with a few of them and, to be honest, they don’t seem to be pining.
I try to remember that I am worthy of anyone, but mostly that I am worthy of Joe. It’s common for a woman to have that kind of realization at the end of a movie, to discover she was enough all along. But what the movies get wrong is that once the character realizes this, she is transformed forever. In real life, I must keep reminding myself.
(https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/13/style/when-love-seems-too-easy-to-trust.html) The movies are only a poor reflection of the struggle we each have to love and trust.
Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. Martin Luther King, Jr. (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/martin_luther_king_jr_142097)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
O God, foundation of our trust, giver of our imagination, we attend to your presence as we gather here. Strengthen our faith in you, let our dreams and visions soar, that we may be faithful to your will and purpose. So enliven us, your people, that we may hear your voice, and respond to your call, as we worship you this day.
God of possibilities forgive us when our plans fall short of your plan for us. We confess that we are timid in our faith, and that we forget to stand firmly upon your promises to us, while we also fail to stretch ourselves to fit your vision. Open our eyes to what we may be and do in the strength of your Spirit, as Christ calls us to boldness in your name. Amen.
Generous God, as you fed the crowd with a small gift of bread and fish so long ago, receive these offerings and multiply them. Take what we give you, and bring it to life, that our gifts may go forth from this place to embody your love, in the name of Christ, Amen.
Loving Father, in the midst of our fears and uncertainties, you call to us, saying "It is I, do not be afraid." As we face various challenges and trials, enlarge our imagination, and give us eyes to see you walking toward us in the dark storms, stilling our hearts and reassuring our souls.
Help us to grow in our trust of your protecting love. We know you do not always take from us the trials we are facing, and that in them we can gain strength, and deepen our faith, if we do not lose heart. You have promised to be with us, in every chapter of our lives. May your abiding presence give us hope, and may the Spirit of Christ, who endured the cross, give us strength whatever we are facing. And may we share the help we receive from you with others, in peace, reassurance, and loving presence, through Christ who strengthens us. Amen.