Imagination with God

Scripture: Genesis 15:1-6 and 2nd Kings 6:8-23

 

Title: Imagination with God

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • God uses imagination to form faith
  • God uses imagination to reveal reality
  • God uses imagination to create new realities
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

When you daydream or imagine, what do you see yourself doing?

 

[Wait]

 

Perhaps you’ve had a hard week at work and you imagine being on holiday somewhere nice and relaxing

–         Or maybe you are studying for exams and you imagine graduating and getting your dream job

–         Or perhaps you are a teacher and there’s a student in your class who comes from a tough background and you imagine a better future for them

–         Or you might have lost someone close to you and so you imagine being reunited with them again, in heaven

 

This morning we continue our series on ‘Being with God’

–         This series is essentially about Christian spirituality

–         In very basic terms we could say that, for Christians, spirituality is Christ’s way of being with us as well as our way of being with Jesus

–         Using the analogy of wireless internet, if wifi is the capacity to connect and interact with others on-line

–         Then spirituality is our capacity to connect with God – to interact with His Spirit in other words

 

Rebecca Nye has a wonderful acronym which we are using to give structure to this series. [1]  Her acronym spells the word S.P.I.R.I.T.

–         Space, Process, Imagination, Relationship, Intimacy & Trust

 

These are all essential elements of Christian spirituality

–         We need these six things to connect with and interact with Jesus

–         So far we have looked at the importance of sacred space and process in our relationship with God

–         This morning we explore imagination with God

 

God uses imagination to form faith

Last week I told you about my grandfather who took me fishing

–         Although my grandfather didn’t go to church, fishing with him was sort of like a spiritual experience

–         The ocean was our sacred space

–         We enjoyed the process of fishing for its own sake – we were happy just being with each other

–         And going out on the boat, imagining all the big fish we might catch, was a bit of an adventure

 

My grandfather was a driller and he was good at it

–         He drilled water bores for farmers mostly, but he also did survey jobs

–         I don’t ever remember my grandfather talking to me about his work

–         He never elaborated on the finer points of water pumps or seismic stability or any of that stuff

–         What I do remember is him telling me stories

–         Each night, as I was going to bed, he would ignite my imagination with tall tales of adventure, involving a hero (usually himself) who triumphed over incredible odds

–         The stories didn’t have a moral to them necessarily – they were really more about courage and hope and never giving up

 

Sometimes we might associate the word ‘imagination’ with some kind of fantasy or fairy tale

–         Something made up or pretend, like an imaginary friend

–         With this kind of definition we might think our imagination is there to help us escape reality

 

But with God imagination is not about escaping reality – it’s about revealing reality and in fact creating new realities

–         Imagination is how God forms faith in us

 

In some ways our imagination is a bit like the soil in which the seeds of faith & hope grow – imagination nurtures and supports and feeds our faith

–         If our imagination is the soil then the seed of Christian faith is sown by telling the stories of Jesus

–         Stories of courage & hope, as well as adversity & redemption

 

In the book, Shaped by God, Sarah Arthur talks about ‘The Importance of Story in Faith Formation’ [2]

–         Christian faith is formed more by story more than by facts or information

–         God exists – that’s a fact

–         Jesus is the Son of God – that’s another fact

–         While getting our facts straight is important, knowing those facts doesn’t necessarily form faith in us

–         Being a Christian isn’t just about accepting certain facts or doctrines

–         It’s about trusting a person we can’t see – God

 

Looking back, my grandfather’s approach was similar to God’s approach

–         Just as my grandfather gave me stories, and not information

–         So too God gives us stories to ignite our imagination and form faith in us

 

The Bible is not an encyclopaedia or a text book

–         It is essentially a collection of stories (true stories of adventure) – which tell the larger story of God’s involvement in human history

 

C.S. Lewis seemed to understand the importance of imagination and the power of stories to form faith

–         In his book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lewis created a character called ‘Eustace’ – a boy with no imagination.

–         Eustace knows nothing of stories of adventure

–         The only books Eustace likes are ‘books of information’

–         Books which have a lot to say about exports & imports and governments & drains

–         Because of this Eustace has a very stunted imagination

–         Which makes him ill-prepared to handle the adventure of sailing with the King of Narnia to the edge of the world

 

When Eustace sees a dragon for the first time he has no idea what he’s looking at

–         The books Eustace read were weak on dragons and so he doesn’t know one shouldn’t steal a dragon’s treasure or you will become a dragon yourself

–         Only after he has become a dragon does Eustace realise his mistake

 

The valiant mouse Reepicheep takes pity on Eustace and to cheer him up tells the boy stories

–         Reepicheep’s stories give Eustace hope

–         They are tales about great men who had fallen on hard times but who were able to recover and be restored

–         These stories enable Eustace to imagine a different outcome for himself

–         They make faith possible

–         Eventually Eustace is converted from a dragon back into a boy again by Aslan – and in time he finds redemption

–         Like the heroes in Reepicheep’s stories Eustace grows into a virtuous character able to handle the adventure of sailing to the edge of the world

 

There is at least one book in the Bible which has a dragon in it – and a beast and a bride and a mighty hero

–         Who can tell me the name of that book [Wait]

–         That’s right, the book of Revelation

 

It’s a great shame really that Revelation is one of the most misunderstood books of the Bible

–         Perhaps that’s because we live in the ‘information age’

–         The internet is basically a huge database of information which we can access at our fingers tips

–         Collectively, Western society has become a bit like Eustace

–         We prefer technical information and so we are weak on dragons

–         We don’t recognise a dragon when we see it – therefore we don’t know how to defend ourselves against evil

 

What’s more we don’t realise that facing adversity is part of the adventure

–         Something a bit tough happens and we might panic or be tempted to despair or give up

–         We forget that the hero of the story always suffers

–         Without imagination we are ill equipped for the adventure of faith

 

The book of Revelation was written for the early church, most likely at the end of the first century AD

–         At that stage in history the Christian church was facing persecution in a variety of forms – it was a difficult time to stay loyal to Christ

–         Christians needed hope and strength

–         You don’t get hope from a download of data & information

–         Googling the word ‘hope’ won’t give you hope

–         Hope and strength to persevere comes from hearing a story which enlivens the imagination

 

And so that’s what God gives his people – a story which they can identify with

–         A story which is strong on dragons so they will be able to recognise evil when they see it and consequently avoid becoming like the dragon

–         A story with a virtuous Son of Man and a terrible beast so they will know what it is to be human and will keep their humanity

–         A story with a Bride in distress who is rescued by a mighty hero so they will wait faithfully and not give up

 

For those who are familiar with Revelation the dragon is Satan, the beast is the Roman Empire, the Bride is the church and the Hero is, of course, Jesus

–         In the end the dragon and the beast are defeated, while Christ and his Bride (the church) live happily ever after

 

Now what I’ve given you there is a very basic sketch – there is certainly more to Revelation than that

 

I also need to say that in describing Revelation as a story I don’t mean to imply that it is fantasy or that it’s somehow untrue

–         As I said before, in Christian spirituality imagination has to do with what is real

–         Revelation actually deals with ultimate realities – unseen realities

–         It uses imagination to show us what’s going on behind the scenes

–         In fact, God often uses our imagination to reveal reality

 

God uses imagination to reveal reality

The earth’s surface curves out of sight at a distance of 3.1 miles (or 5 km’s)

–         But if the earth were flat, or if you were standing on top of a mountain, then you could see a lot further than 5 km’s with the naked eye

–         On a dark night you could even see a candle flickering up to 48 km’s away [3]

 

What I’m trying to say here is, we can’t see the whole picture

–         The reality we see is limited, to a large extent, by our horizon

–         God gives us an imagination to help us see beyond our horizon so that our view of reality is fuller or more complete

 

We could say our imagination is a bit like a telescope or a pair of binoculars

–         It enables us to see further and clearer

 

Please turn with me to Genesis chapter 15 – page 17, toward the front of your pew Bibles

–         This Scripture shows us one of Abram’s encounters with God

–         Abram was rich and successful in many respects but his wife, Sarai, was unable to have children

–         From verse 1 of Genesis 15 we read…

 

After this, Abram had a vision and heard the Lord say to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I will shield you from danger and give you a great reward.”

 

But Abram answered, “Sovereign Lord, what good will your reward do me, since I have no children? My only heir is Eliezer of Damascus. You have given me no children, and one of my slaves will inherit my property.”

 

Then he heard the Lord speaking to him again: “This slave Eliezer will not inherit your property; your own son will be your heir.” The Lord took him outside and said, “Look at the sky and try to count the stars; you will have as many descendants as that.”

 

Abram put his trust in the Lord, and because of this the Lord was pleased with him and accepted him.

 

Do you see what God did there?

–         He didn’t simply tell Abram, ‘You will have a son’

–         He engaged Abram’s imagination

–         He took Abram outside and invited him to look beyond his immediate horizon: ‘Look up at the night sky and count the stars if you can. You will have as many descendants as that’

–         Then Abram put his trust in the Lord

 

Abram’s perception of reality was quite small and narrow

–         God used the stars to help Abram see things differently – to inspire Abram to imagine the full picture

–         God’s word in the soil of Abram’s imagination inspired faith & hope

 

God uses imagination to form faith in us

–         To reveal ultimate reality to us

–         And to create new realities with us

 

God uses imagination to create new realities

On the 30th August 2004, Yoko Ono, the wife of the late John Lennon, placed a full page ad in the New York Times

 

The Ad had only two words: “Imagine Peace”

–         At that time it was less than 3 years since the attack on the Twin Towers and the war on terror was well underway

–         Walter Brueggemann comments…

–         [Yoko Ono’s ad] “…is a recognition that peace will not come by thinking inside the box, but only by pushing beyond the presently available reality to a newness that is given at the edge of the human spirit.” [4]

 

While we might sometimes use our imagination to escape unpleasant realities

–         God uses our imagination to create new (and better) realities

 

There’s a funny story in 2nd Kings about the prophet Elisha [5]

 

The king of Syria was at war with Israel

–         Whenever the king of Syria set up an ambush for the Israelites, God would tell Elisha, the prophet, where the Syrians were

–         Then Elisha would tell the king of Israel and he would warn his people so they could avoid the ambush

 

After this had happened several times the Syrian king started to get a bit paranoid

–         He called his army officers together and confronted them saying,

–         “Which one of you is the traitor? Who keeps giving our position away?”

 

They all looked sideways at each other until one of them spoke up…

–         “It’s none of us your majesty. The prophet Elisha tells the king of Israel what you say even in the privacy of your own room”

 

Sadly the king of Syria lacked imagination

–         Like Eustace he was only interested in books of information

–         Books like ‘Guerrilla Warfare for Dummies’ and ‘How to ambush your enemies in 6 easy steps’

 

Anyway, as I was saying, the king of Syria wasn’t the sharpest knife in the draw and so when he heard that Elisha kept giving his soldier’s position away he thought he might have a chance if he could capture God’s prophet

–         It didn’t occur to the king that God would warn Elisha the Syrians were coming for him (as the Lord had done on every other occasion)

–         What is it they say? The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result

 

Nevertheless, God is a good sport & perhaps because he felt sorry for the Syrian king, God decided to give the Syrians a chance

–         God let the soldiers find Elisha in Dothan

–         So all the king’s horses and all the king’s men went to Dothan and surrounded the town

 

When Elisha’s servant got up and went outside the house he saw the Syrian army and panicked. Running back to Elisha he exclaimed…

–         ‘Master, we are doomed. What shall we do?’

 

But Elisha wasn’t at all surprised – it was like he had anticipated this all along

–         So he said to his servant ever so calmly…

–         “Don’t worry about it mate. They are the ones that are outnumbered”

–         Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see”

–         The Lord answered Elisha’s prayer and enabled the servant to see reality beyond his limited horizon

–         The hillside was covered with horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha

–         God’s army had been there as back up for Elisha the whole time, only the servant hadn’t seen it

–         Now the servant was imagining a different outcome

 

When the Syrians attacked, Elisha prayed, “O Lord, strike these men blind!”

–         In an instant the Syrian soldiers lost their sight and started bumping into each other

–         Elisha could have run away at this point but that wouldn’t have solved anything

–         So he said to the men, “You are on the wrong track… Follow me and I will lead you to the man you are after.”

–         And he led them to Samaria, a stronghold of the Israelites, their enemies

–         It was kind of ironic really – all this time the Syrians had been trying to ambush the Israelites and now Elisha had led the Syrians into an ambush

 

Once inside the city of Samaria Elisha prayed again asking the Lord to restore the Syrians’ sight

–         The Lord did and when the Syrians realised they were the ones surrounded, things got real

 

The king of Israel couldn’t believe his luck – the Syrians were sitting ducks

–         He eagerly asked Elisha, “Shall I kill them, shall I kill them?”

–         It turns out the king of Israel wasn’t all that different from the king of Syria – they both lacked imagination

–         Because their only solution was a hammer every problem looked to them like a nail

 

Elisha, however, imagined a different solution saying…

–         ‘No. You wouldn’t kill soldiers you had captured in combat, let alone ones that had been brought to you blind.

–         Instead show them kindness and hospitality – give them something to eat and drink and let them return unharmed to their king’

 

So the king of Israel provided a great feast for them and after they had eaten and drunk their fill he sent them back to the king of Syria

–         After that the Syrians stopped raiding the land of Israel

 

What was it Jesus said?

–         “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”

–         Perhaps he was inviting us to, “Imagine Peace”

 

The problem with both kings (the king of Israel and the king of Syria) is they lacked imagination

–         Their thinking came from inside the box, from their limited horizon

–         They couldn’t imagine anything other than raiding and fighting and seeking revenge

–         They needed someone like Elisha to help them push beyond the presently available reality to a newness that is given at the edge of the human spirit

 

Conclusion:

This morning we’ve been talking about the value of imagination in our spiritual life with God

–         Shortly we will share communion together

–         Communion is a spiritual thing – it is a way of being with God

–         Communion provides an opportunity for sacred space

–         It is more about process than product – it’s something we do for its own sake and not to achieve some end result

–         Communion also engages our imagination, nourishing and strengthening our faith & hope in Christ

 

By sharing the bread and the cup we remember Jesus’ story – in fact we enter into his story

 

Communion is not an escaping of reality

–         It is a way of revealing the reality of Christ’s presence with us

 

In communion we look beyond our limited horizon to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture of God’s story

–         Just as Jesus’ suffered, died and was resurrected – so too we share in his sufferings and we will share in his resurrection one day

 

I guess I could say more – but I don’t want to spell it all out for you – I want to leave something for your imagination…

 

https://soundcloud.com/tawabaptist/6-nov-2016-imagination-with-god

[1] Rebecca Nye, ‘Children’s Spirituality’, page 41.

[2] Sarah Arthur, ‘Shaped by God’ (Ed. Robert J. Keeley), pages 38-41

[3][3] http://www.livescience.com/33895-human-eye.html

[4] Walter Brueggemann, “Mandate to Difference”, page 95.

[5] Refer 2 Kings 6:8-23

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