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Sep 03, 2017

What Can You Imagine?

What Can You Imagine?

Passage: Matthew 16:21-28

Speaker: Father Will Lowry

Series: All

Category: All

John Lennon wrote and sang the song "Imagine." And yes, I know that he wants us to imagine that there is no Heaven.

But what can you imagine? What about Peter? What do you think he imagined?

One moment, Jesus is saying to you, “You’re the rock on which I will build my church,” and the next he’s calling you “a stumbling block and Satan.”

That’s not just great word play – from cornerstone to stumbling block – but such a reversal of relational fortune that it must have been incredibly painful. Can you imagine?

Perhaps that’s the difficulty. Peter couldn’t imagine. He couldn’t imagine that Jesus had come not just to comfort people but to free them.

I mean comforting people isn’t all that hard – the easy way out is just give them a little more of what they already have and tell them it will be alright. (Of course I’m being facetious - but to some this is what comforting is).

Now, freedom, freedom is different. Freedom requires that a person see that what they have isn’t life-giving in the first place.

The common assumption is that when Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah, he had in mind a warrior-king like David, one who would drive out the Romans and liberate the Israelites. And when you stop to think about it, that’s a pretty understandable, even reasonable hope.

The Romans were foreign occupiers, not only imposing Roman law but taxing the people to support their occupation and backing up their occupation, order, and taxation by violence.

The problem with Peter’s expectation is not that it is unreasonable, but that it doesn’t change anything. Rome is there in force and by violence. And let’s say that Jesus is the warrior-king Peter wants and he uses greater force and violence to drive them out. Well, eventually, someone with even more force or willing to do greater violence takes over yet again. Who’s in charge may change, but the wheel of force and violence keeps revolving. (It kind of reminds me of the popular tv series Game of Thrones.)

And here's the thing: Jesus knows this. He knows that by introducing a different logic – one that runs by forgiveness, mercy, and love rather than retribution, violence, and hate – he is challenging the powers that be.

Moreover, he knows that the wheel of force and violence will not tolerate his obstruction but run him over. And this is what Peter just couldn’t imagine. How could defeat mean victory?

Again, it isn’t surprising, when you stop to think about it, that Jesus was killed. From the moment of his birth, he is such a threat to the rule of force and violence that Herod is willing to slaughter all children under the age of two in the hope of destroying him.

No, it’s no surprise that Jesus was killed. What IS surprising is that God raised Jesus from the dead. Resurrection reinforces – better yet establishes – that Jesus’ life, love, and sacrifice are ultimately what will prevail. Yes, it’s hard to imagine, I know, in light of how prevalent force and violence seem in the world. But it is just what Jesus invites us to: lives that are shaped by love and forgiveness and actions shaped by compassion and hope.

It’s all so very hard to imagine. Like Peter, what we most often want is a little more of what the world already offers – be it force or security or wealth or status or popularity or whatever. But Jesus didn’t come to comfort us with a little more, He came instead to set us free.

And first freedom means realizing that we’ve settled for something that isn’t life-giving, so that we can hear God’s promise of not just more of the same but something different. So that we can hear God’s promise of life, a promise that means something only after what we’d previously accepted as life dies.

And here’s the thing, I don’t have to tell you that you are dying or that the world has disappointed you or that you’ve settled for less than what God hopes. The evidence is all around us in the disappointing relationship, the illness that returned, the career that ended, the untimely death mourned, the disappointment looming. Each of us knows what that is about. That is what makes it so hard for us to imagine the life that Jesus lived, the life that he gives and asks us to live.

So then it becomes a question of whether or not we are ready for something different, for something more. Can we imagine the life Jesus promises?

And that’s the hard part. Because giving someone another chance instead of writing them off, forgiving someone who has wronged us instead of seeking retribution, being generous with the resources we’ve been blessed with instead of holding onto whatever we can, offering our future to God rather than planning each step, seeking joy in service rather than acquisition. Are you ready for the Because we’ve already accepted what the world has offered and that’s all there is. And it hasn’t worked out all that great, has it?

Now, these different things, this different way of living with true compassion, love, generosity, forgiveness and grace often feels at first like death. It’s hard. We feel as though we are risking everything - our security, our power. Perhaps it feels a bit like dying on the cross, that is before God uses them to raise us to new life.

I’m tempted to reduce it to an act of imagination but it’s not. It’s and act of FAITH. But we do have to imagine it is possible to believe it.

So even when we take those small steps forward, God is at work, giving us a taste of life we’d never thought possible and multiplying the impact of our actions far beyond what we’d dreamed. Until suddenly, just as it felt like we’d lost our lives, we find them.

“Can you imagine that?” Living like that? Can you imagine that God is at work in and through your life for the good of the world? Can you imagine that this congregation has something of value to offer its community? Can you imagine that when you befriend the lonely or encourage the frightened the heavens rejoice? Can you imagine that, though you are afraid, when you stand up to those who spew hate that God is with you? Can you imagine that even small acts of love and generosity challenge the world order and introduce a different reality? Can you imagine that God wants for us not just comfort but freedom? Can you imagine that love is more powerful than hate? Can you imagine that God raised Jesus from the dead?

Sanctify your imaginations this week and help all of us to see, taste, and believe the life-giving promises of the Messiah who came not to give us what we want but what we need. Can you imagine doing that?

Amen.