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Monday, August 12, 2013

Just imagine...

Pr 14, Yr C
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
The Rev. Betsy Hooper-Rosebrook

      One of my activities this summer has been sorting through our giant under-bed tub of Lego Bionicle pieces and trying to put them back together into the 25 or so sets from which they originally came. With help from the instructions and Andrew--who at 15 still has darned good recollection of how the feet and heads and bodies go with which character--I've been making steady progress, and the piles of pieces are becoming satisfyingly smaller. As I've sorted and searched and snapped parts together, I've had a wonderful trip down memory lane, remembering the fun and fervor of battles waged and adventures undertaken by the boys with their Bionicles. These were their imaginary alter-egos, more powerful and brave, more wise and cunning than any little child can be on his or her own.
      Maybe you remember having your own imaginary friends or identities; we may joke about them, but they're one of the great gifts of childhood. When we become grown-ups, though, we tend to put these away as childish things, and adults who truly believe in imaginary beings are seen, justifiably or not, as having mental health issues.
      In mulling over our second lesson, from the letter to the Hebrews, I found myself wondering if Abraham was seen by his contemporaries as having an imaginary God. He did crazy stuff and held onto crazy dreams--far more than the handful detailed in this letter--based on the word of this God no one could see. Was this simply his imaginary alter-ego, a superhero God more powerful and brave, more wise and cunning, or possibly more foolish, than Abraham himself could possibly be?
      Here's where I think it's helpful to make a distinction between the imaginary and the imagination. Imaginary means not real; whatever it is exists only in our own minds. Imagination, however, is that quality which allows us to see beyond the limitations and boundaries of our current circumstances or culture or perceive the possibility of a reality that's bigger, or beyond, or more meaningful than what's right before us at the moment, and to see ourselves in that picture. Abraham didn't have faith in an imaginary God; he had faith in a God who called upon his imagination, who asked Abraham and Sarah to hold onto the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. It must have taken a huge amount of imagination on their part to envision any of this, to step outside not just their comfort zone but everything they knew to enter into this bigger reality of God's.
      The amazing thing is that with each step they took, they gathered evidence that this world of their imagination, their dreams and visions, was not imaginary. God led and provided for them, from a land to call home to a son who represented a future. In this week's Episcopal News Weekly Update, Bishop Mary Glasspool makes another distinction between words that I find helpful, differentiating between proof and evidence. Proving something to a skeptic is practically impossible; there's always another conceivable explanation, and the whole notion of proof seems at least a little bit coercive. Evidence, though...that's a different matter. Offering evidence is sharing my story, sharing what I've seen, sharing how my life has been changed, how my faith in God has sustained me. You get to weigh my evidence for yourself. Abraham and Sarah, by the story of their life, both in their trusting steps and their missteps, offer a lot of evidence for God and the breadth of God's creative imagination...enough to still be told thousands of years later, to encourage us in that same faith.
      Too often we think of sharing the Good News as being a process of trying to prove to others that God is not imaginary...and that's a kind of evangelism that gives Christians a bad reputation. What if instead we speak of where our imagination takes us, of faith in the dream of God's country being revealed even in our own time? What if we look for the evidence we've found of God in our life and share that story, of both our steps and missteps? What if we strive to live in such a way that we are evidence of God's love and care for every child of God? Just imagine...
      Let us pray: Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you, and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Stripped down

Pr. 13, Yr. C
Luke 12:13-21
The Rev. Betsy Hooper-Rosebrook

     On Friday, July 12th, I got up, appreciatively sipped a carefully measured 8 oz. glass of sparkling water that I was allowed before 7:00 a.m. because my surgery was after noon, and turned my back on all the other foods in the kitchen. When we got ready to head out to the hospital, I took off my rings and the necklace I almost always wear, and tucked away my purse, items it feels odd to leave the house without. After checking in for surgery, I gave Tom my insurance card, driver's license, and phone. Once the nurse escorted me into pre-op, I was relieved of my clothes in exchange for a hospital gown. Finally, after being poked, prodded, questioned, and labeled, I was rolled off to surgery where I had to let go of even my consciousness in the sleep of anesthesia.
     If you've had surgery, then you're familiar with this process of stripping away everything that seems to keep you safe and separate from...well, from everything. It has a purpose, but that doesn't change the sense of vulnerability it creates.   
     We all surround ourselves, insulate ourselves, in a variety of ways. The guy in Jesus' story had his grain and barns. We've got clothing and cars, books and bank accounts, jobs and memberships, homes and hair, food and photos. Lots of these things, in and of themselves, are very good; they help us function better, enjoy life, keep safe, recall times and people past, and engage others in the present. However, there's a risk to them too: we can begin to imagine that they are what really matters, and that bigger/better/more will help us function even better, make life even more fun, keep us even safer, give us more in control. We may get to go along for quite a long time imagining that, and in the process, some of us (probably most of us) get pretty far off track, becoming greedy in at least the sense of continuing to believe that more--and more, and more--is preferable.
     And then something happens. We have surgery, we become old, we lose a job or lose our health, we face a calamity or crisis. Whether all at once or bit by bit, all those external supports begin to fall away, and eventually we're stripped of the things that once seemed so valuable, so important, so strong and enduring. All we have left is God...or maybe, put more accurately, that would be phrased, "All we have left is that God has us."
     Eat, drink, and be merry indeed; celebration, bread broken together, and rejoicing in our blessings are among our greatest pleasures. But remember who satisfies our thirst and who fills our hunger--for love, for life--with good things; who takes us up in Her arms and heals us; whose mercy endures forever. Ponder these things, as the psalmist advises us, and make the choice to invest your best riches in the God who always has you.

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