Imagine With God
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
Sept. 7, 2014
Audio not available for this sermon.
I tend to think of things now as BF and AF – Before Fire and After Fire. Before Fire we took certain things for granted; our universe had certain set parameters; although we reached out and expressed our faith in many different ways through Spaghetti suppers, and International Dinners, Parking for God, Souper Bowl Sunday, Hands on Athens, and Interfaith Hospitality Network, we had, for the past almost 25 years, a certain particular identity that was ours alone. We talked about it yesterday in our Church Council retreat – and that identity was what was written on our sign down on the point where Oconee Street and Oak Street come together. “Home of Our Daily Bread” it said – and still says!
BF we were the Home of Our Daily Bread. Beth pointed out that it was the easiest way to identify ourselves to others – Where do you go to church – Oconee Street –you know, the home of Our Daily Bread – and people would recognize the name and immediately have an impression about what the church must be like, and any church that would have a soup kitchen operating from its facility seven days a week was different. It was recognized as a church that understood community needs and was willing to participate in a very intimate way by inviting strangers into its home, saying to forgotten people, marginalized people, the people most folks cross the street to avoid, “you are welcome here.”
The question often asked AF – immediately after our fire, was a void and the question “who are we now?” There was some panic, some anxiety. Will people stay? Will new people come? Fortunately, those of you who are lifelong members of the church could remember the years before Our Daily Bread began, and so knew about life before the soup kitchen and could see life after it perhaps more clearly and confidently with that long perspective than those who had come to the church during the kitchen’s long tenure, and you have been a positive and steadying force.
AF has given us the opportunity to re-imagine. Imagining who we are now, who we might become, what God is calling us to do today and tomorrow. Wondering what will our church community look like now as we live out our call to be “the people of God” in a new space and in new ways. We are not the first to have this experience fortunately; this kind of questioning is as old as Christianity itself. The letters contained in the New Testament – written by Paul and other early church leaders, are to various communities facing individual challenges and living through unpredictable times, and are attempts to assist them in finding ways to believe, dream, care, and change in response to the changing world around them. They had their own challenges just as we have ours.
Paul had quite an adventurous life, establishing churches, and moving from one place to another to share the good news of Jesus Christ. He got in a lot of trouble; he had difficulties of his own in most every place he went, winding up in prison more than once. The letter to the Ephesians is written from prison. And you might think that with prison walls around him, he would not be in any state of mind to imagine grand and glorious things, and yet he writes enthusiastically to the people of Ephesus that he is praying for God to strengthen them with a “glorious inner strength” and that they will experience the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love and live full lives, “full in the fullness of God.”
His faith has given him the ability to imagine beyond his present circumstance, and to live each day with praise for and confidence in God. He can see even from his prison cell the vision of humanity that God envisions, when God’s Spirit is deeply and gently within each person. And he expresses his conviction that God can do anything, more than anyone can imagine individually or wish for in their wildest dreams.
And we are called to dream and to imagine too. We now have the responsibility and the opportunity to envision beyond where we have been or where we are now to where God is leading us to be. To help in our discernment, we have been introduced to and reacquainted with a range of opportunities to be the people of God in our community in new and different ways through conversations we’ve had with representatives from various ministries within Athens. Hopefully, we as individuals as well as a congregation have had our imaginations enlivened with possibilities during this time of how we might be the hands and feet of Christ for today’s needs. And on October 5, our Missions Committee is sponsoring a Missions Fair after worship so that we can review these ministries again and meet additional persons from other organizations who are working to make a difference in peoples’ lives and could use our help.
And as we are dreaming big dreams and considering a variety of options, sometimes God just drops an opportunity in our lap that we can’t ignore or pass up. Recently our Church Council and Trustees have approved the use of 717, our old parsonage, as a meeting place on Thursday nights for undocumented high school students and tutors so that the students can prepare for college applications and research their higher education options. And it is so in keeping with our church’s tradition of reaching out to marginalized people, offering hospitality and welcome, and helping them on their journey to become the persons God intends for them to be.
This is such an exciting time for us as a church. We are breaking new ground and entering a new phase in our church’s life, but we are not breaking with the tradition of the church which has always been to reach out to this community and to be of help, whether it was to the African-American community in the 1920’s when that wasn’t the thing that white churches did so often, or when the church participated in the Community House up the street from here providing assistance to those who came asking, or when the church after becoming aware of the growing numbers of homeless people, decided to offer some sandwiches and place of welcome.
The work of God’s kingdom goes on. There are people to feed, to teach, to welcome, to advocate for, to assist, to shelter. We are part of a long history of Christian people who have felt the call of God in our hearts to love others and God has loved us, and have found various ways of expressing that love in acts of kindness and care. We know there are no quick fixes, and that the work will go on after we have left this place. But I believe in the truth of a Jewish proverb that I heard our former mayor Heidi Davison, quote some years ago, that says: “You are not required to complete the work, but neither are you free to abstain from it.”
There is a holiness in imagining and then in trying, and in places of great need, perhaps that is the definition of faithfulness to God. We are not asked to be successful, but we are asked to imagine and then to try, to do what we can, with what we have, in this place, and with all the love and commitment that we can muster. And when we do this, we too can declare the same outlandishly hopeful thing that Paul affirmed from his prison cell. “God can do anything, you know . . . by working within us, God’s Spirit deeply and gently within us.” Thanks be to God. Amen.