Imagine the Possibilities

Sunday, October 2, 2022
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner 

Ephesians 3:14-21

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from Jesus Christ, who’s love makes all things possible. Amen.

If you have ever observed children playing with each other without adult interference, you know that their imagination can run wild. It is natural for kids to see flexible and permeable boundaries of what is real and what is possible. Watching the wonder of children’s minds can feel like magic.  And then somewhere at about 11 or 12, the spigot of imagination and wild creativity that flows so freely starts to shut off for most of us.

I remember a few years ago, my son Will, who was about 8 or 9 at the time asked Ellie who was 11 or 12, to play something with him that involved imagination and role playing. She was a good sport and played along for a while but got bored with it sooner than he was ready. He was clearly disappointed and noticed that something had changed. He came to Erica and I and said, “Ellie isn’t going to be able to play with me the same way we used to anymore, is she?” My heart broke a little. Some of the wonder of childhood was passing away, and with it some of the doorways to creativity and imagination were closing for all of us too.

I will concede that some evolution in our imagination is necessary as we mature. At some point, hoping and pretending to be Spider-Man, or the next Tom Brady or Simone Biles outlives its magic. But to give up on imagination completely and downplay it as “kids’ stuff” is a huge mistake. A distinctive part of what makes us human is our ability to conceive of things that are not yet a reality. Where would we be if daVinci wouldn’t have imagined a flying machine before the Wright Brothers could successfully design it and Boeing and others could perfect it and make it accessible to the masses? What would have happened if physicians and scientists didn’t imagine a world without polio or smallpox or cancer or Alzheimer’s and didn’t use that imagination to further treatments and cures? What would happen to the world if Christians lost their imagination for a redeeming Christ who is gracious and merciful, whose love knows no limits, and who calls the church to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world? I’m not sure I want to live in a world without this kind of imagination. Do you?

God has been in the imagination business from the beginning. From a dark, formless void, God creates plants and animals, deserts and rainforests, vibrant coral reefs and majestic snow-capped mountains. Our God creates humanity in all its variety and enters into covenant relationship with us. We belong to a God who can’t imagine a world worth creating without us.

To commit to the Christian faith, is to commit to a life of holy imagination. In our reading Paul prays that Christ will live in our hearts through faith and that “we will have the power to grasp love’s length and width, height and depth, together with all believers.” We can’t grasp the power of this kind of love on our own. It takes a village, or a church. Paul goes on to give praise for the possibilities that God’s wild and abundant imagination provides us. “Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us.”

The power behind God’s holy imagination is love. And that love makes all things possible. Not a mushy, sentimental, Hallmark movie kind of love; but a love that is fierce and enduring. It’s a kind of love that is rooted in relationships and reaches deep and wide and risks everything to make us the fullest version of who we are. It’s a love that inspires us to imagine a world where there is room for all to be enough and have enough because of a God who always provides enough and more.

I learned about this kind of love from my church when I was a teenager. My family was really involved in our congregation. I was there at least three times a week. My mom and I sang in choirs, my parents were youth leaders in my middle school ministry, my dad was on the church council. But there was also a secret. My dad was a recovering alcoholic, who was no longer in recovery. For a couple years, it wasn’t very obvious. But if you know anything about the disease of addiction, you know that it’s a progressive chronic disease that has a way of destroying just about everything in its path.

Looking back, it’s clear that our family secret wasn’t so secret. After a while, I noticed my sister and I had more caring adults around us than we could have asked for. People from our church created safe space for us, while my mom was getting her bachelor’s degree and working as much as she could to pay for school. My dad’s addiction got worse. He stopped going to work. He started using other drugs and one night he and friend he met in rehab got high and robbed a store at gunpoint. The high-speed chase they led the police on landed him in jail and eventually prison, and it also landed a picture of his arrest on the front page of the regional paper. Now there definitely were no secrets. It was out there for all of south central Minnesota to see.

People tend to distance themselves from trouble and embarrassment. It’s a natural human reflex. If there were a time people might stop showing up for us, this would have been it! But it was right then that I learned the power of imagination through God’s love. Because people from my church showed up, food showed up, checks showed up in our mailbox so we could pay our mortgage and buy groceries. They showed up for my dad too, when we wanted nothing to do with him. Our pastor and a couple of others visited him in jail several times, letting him know that he wasn’t beyond grace either.  More than that, they showed up with hope and imagination that reminded us that God’s big, wide, deep, expansive love had room for us to create something new out of what otherwise was completely dead.

God is in the imagination business. God always takes what we think is dead or wasted or beyond redemption and brings life, and value, and salvation. This is the ridiculously imaginative and generous story of God at the core of our faith. Christ came into the world when all seemed lost to embody our humanity and show the world God’s deepest love. When the world rejected that love and crucified Jesus, God got creative and took humanity’s instrument of death – the cross – and turned it into the ultimate instrument of life.

This year, as a church, we are going to Imagine the Power Within that God has already given us. This power within that convinces us that nothing is beyond redemption, and that God’s imagination can bring all things back to life, even after a global pandemic, and social unrest, and hurricanes and all the rest. God is at work within us, calling us to life and to bring life where others can only see death, to bring hope where others only see hopelessness, to bring love where others only see division. Imagine the power within us and how that power can touch lives and change stories. We know we’re not starting from scratch because Augustana is a congregation with a rich story of sharing God’s love and generosity with our neighbors. And God is calling us to build on that story, to write new chapters with new people.

Over this next year, we’ll ask a lot of questions together, we’ll develop faith practices to hone a holy imagination, we’ll get out into the community to serve and build relationships, we’ll develop relationships across generations and wonder together how God’s love is transforming our church. And we’ll need to generously invest in this work God is giving us. To commit to the Christian faith, is to commit to a life of holy imagination.

So, dear church, what has God given you to imagine the power within? How will you embody the kind of love that gives life to others? Whatever that is, may it be so. Amen.

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