Imagination and Wonder

The graduation season has begun once again and there are signs of a return to at least some of the rituals which accompany this important rite of passage for so many young people.  I’m certain that we have all heard our share of graduation speeches and often they repeat similar themes…hold fast your dreams, imagine a better world, go out and make the world better.  I certainly hope and pray that many of these young people will take the challenging experiences of the past year and translate them into purpose and meaning for the future.  We certainly need them to imagine ways that we may truly live together in peace and harmony.  Hopefully, they still are young enough to be idealistic, to imagine that the world can and should be better.  I think too of when we were all young and the dreams we had, the ways in which we used our imaginations to play and create new worlds to entertain ourselves.  One of the sorrows of aging is that too often we lose the capacity to imagine things in a different way; we let fear or discouragement stand in the way of letting ourselves dream of a better world.  Let us pray, O Holy One, we thank you for our creative imaginations, for our capacity to dream.  We invite your Spirit to awaken us yet again to new dreams and hopes as we look ahead to brighter days.  Amen.

          One of the great gifts of being human is our capacity to use our imaginations.  We don’t fully know how imagination works for animals, but for us it can be a treasure.  I think that in Jesus’ ministry, he was inviting people to imagine a better world along with him.  He was inviting those who were touched by his words and actions to join him, not only in imagining a better world but in taking responsibility for making it so. 

          Sometimes, our dreams for our futures can lead us to a place that we had long hoped for.  They inspire us to keep working hard to make those dreams a reality.  And sometimes, as we move through our lives, we discover new dreams for ourselves and for those we love.  It is important not to lose our connection to our imaginations; to not give up on dreaming of a future that is even better than today. 

In Paul’s letter from today, we are reminded of a question we too may have asked at some point in our lives or over this past year as we watched so much suffering overtake our country, so much suffering spread throughout the world.  This was a question that the Romans and  other early Christian communities also probably asked themselves- Where is God in all of this? As we hear in verse 12, “the night is far gone, the day is near.” The Rev. Jake Joseph observes, “Paul was writing to a community of Christians he had never visited in person, and he was attempting to share a very special dream with them, the dream of Christian hope, a law of love, and a sense of where God is in the midst of persecutions, hiding, and life- threatening potential conflict.  This letter may be Paul’s most comprehensive letter which captures the biggest vision for what Christianity could be. Paul, like many of his contemporaries, saw his time, in a way likely similar to the times in which we live, filled with too much conflict, persecutions, global climate issues-as apocalyptic in some sense—a time of great change and crisis.” (Rev. Jake Miles Joseph)

          “Scripture Scholars agree that this chapter from Romans, while filled with a deep sense of love for neighbor (which means the whole world… all people… and not just a literal neighbor) is rooted in the genre of apocalyptic literature and a feeling of urgency, fear, and a sense of God’s Realm being the dawning of a new day…like tomorrow or now.   A new day is dawning, a new day that we might dream of, a new day that is within our grasp.”

This letter from Paul was a call to the many who were learning about Christ and the ways in which Jesus set forth a new vision for the world; it served as an invitation to be the Dreamers for a better world that goes beyond borders, nationalities, and politics. As Christians, we are called to be dreamers for a world beyond violence, deportations, and unjust laws which serve to exclude or disempower our brothers and sisters.   The City of God, about which Saint Augustine wrote in The City of God, was this beautiful vision Jesus shared for all to join  God’s realm of Love, to be Dreamers and enactors of a world of Holy Love for all.

What are your dreams for who and what we could be as a community, a nation, a global planet?  This summer, our Speaker Series will offer the opportunity to shift our paradigms, to listen to the voices of those who are thinking in new and creative ways of saving our amazing and troubled planet before it is too late.  I love hearing of some of the amazing and creative environmental initiatives that are already well underway to capture carbon and reduce our carbon footprint as soon as possible.  Many young people are at the forefront of this movement and I am inspired by their leadership and their commitment.  What will be our legacy in helping move that dream forward?

          And so I invite us to consider this day an important question which I offered last week in my Sermon as well.  What is the core, the essential dream of Christian belief?  Can we imagine a world where love of all creation is not only possible but real, where true justice is available to all and not just the few, and where resources are treated with respect and shared with those most in need?

          We are all called to continue to dream of a world that envisions the unconditional love of God and we have to resist the temptation to give up, to cave in to despair, to turn inward.    

Years ago, I received a beautiful book called, I Dream a World, which contained lovely black and white portraits of amazing black women who had discovered the ways in which their talents and energy could be used to make a better world.  The title of the book was likely drawn from a fine poem by Langston Hughes by the same title. Even in the face of pain and hardship, discouragement and despair, each of them found a way to keep moving the dream forward.

I have been thinking too of some interviews I saw with some of the girls from Afghanistan this week following the tragic bombing at their school.  They spoke about how they are strong girls, and shared the dreams they have to get the education they deserve, to become doctors or businesswomen or political leaders so that they could help those in their country.

We hear of the dreams of young people who only dream of  becoming superstar athletes as a way of moving up and out of their lived realities, of making a lot of money so that they may live in comfort, but there are many boys and girls who dream of becoming scientists and engineers, mathematicians and nurses. The saddest thing is to hear of young people who have already given up hope that things might change in their lives.  It pains me to think of how many young people have fallen into despair over this past year as they struggled to keep up with their studies or learn the basics they need to move forward.  The cycles of poverty and violence which too many in our own country face have only been made worse during this pandemic. 

We have been given a great gift by our Creator, and Jesus himself invited his followers to join him in not only dreaming of a better world but helping to create it.  Our ability to dream is central to our capacity to imagine a world where things can get better, where God’s realm can be made real.  Even now as we emerge from this past year and more, we need to dream of a day when the conflicts may be healed, when gun violence can be ended, when all young people have hope for their futures.

My friends, imagine what is possible. Imagine what our community would feel like if our own hearts embraced the unconditional love God has for us. Imagine what the nation would sound like if our words echoed the inclusive love God has for us. Imagine what the world would look like if our actions reflected the unwavering love God has for us. 

             I Dream A World

by Langston Hughes (American, 1902-1967)

I dream a world where man

No other man will scorn,

Where love will bless the earth

And peace its paths adorn

I dream a world where all

Will know sweet freedom’s way,

Where greed no longer saps the soul

Nor avarice blights our day.

A world I dream where black or white,

Whatever race you be,

Will share the bounties of the earth

And every man is free,

Where wretchedness will hang its head

And joy, like a pearl,

Attends the needs of all mankind Of such I dream, my world!