I promised myself in seminary that I would never preach about my family members (my future kids, really) without their full consent, and would definitely, never, ever, ever, EVER preach about my dog. Or cat. But certainly not my dog.
This is not meant as shade towards those who do preach about their pets; I just have experienced some highly painful sermons that centered around pets, and went full moral therapeutic deism about it. I have post-pet-sermon-syndrome. So, no dog sermons for me.
Knitting sermons, on the other hand, I have no apparent problem with. To my shock, I have talked about knitting, or knitting related things at least three times (that I can recall) in my preaching career. Which is more than any other subject.
Also, the link to the woman I’m referencing and her amazing books is here.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
Epiphany 5, Year C
Failure of Imagination. What could we even possibly do?
There’s a woman in New Zealand, a textile artist, really, who knits insane things into tea cozies. (You know what tea cozies are, right? They’re fabric covers that go over your tea pot in order to keep your tea warm.) Now, tea cozies, if you’ve seen one, are generally boring. They’re half-moon shaped, they go over the teapot, sometimes they have things written on them. But this lady contemplated tea cozies, and decided to just go nuts. She made tea cozies to resemble a bowl of fruit. A 3-D bowl of fruit. A tea cozy to look like a rooster. One to look like a vase of flowers, and one to look like the several hats that Princess Beatrice wore to Will and Kate’s wedding. And—here’s the kicker—all of these are knitted. She knit these amazing sculptural things. There are entire books of her knitting patterns, so you, too, can make a delightful, bananas, tea cozy out of yarn, so that your teapot resembles a tower of colorful fez hats. If you wanted.
What really delights me (aside from the idea of making my teapot into a work of art) is why she says she does this. Early on in her book, she comments that she realizes that this is an absurd thing to do, in the face of so much wrong in the world. But, she says, it takes imagination to engage fruitfully with the world, and these works of art are primarily about imagination.
Now, I do not have the sort of imagination that lends itself to looking at a Van Gogh painting and wondering how I could turn it into a nice knitted hat. However, I do agree that engaging with the world, especially as people of faith, requires a certain type of imagination—which we need to cultivate, because it goes missing on us at times.
Imagination, after all, is the ability to envision what is not, but what might be—and that is not so far off from the work of faith, which asks us to practice engaging with things unseen, but that are. As followers of Christ, and as people who work to usher in the reign of God, one of our primary tasks as disciples is to cultivate a sort of double vision—to see things as they are in the world, but also see things as God would have them be. And that takes the imagination of faith. It takes learning to see things that are not there, and yet getting ready for them anyway.
In this gospel story, this morning, Jesus has given his first sermon, gotten run out of his hometown, and now he’s enjoying the morning sunshine on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. He runs into some fishermen, who have spent the whole night fishing—because that’s when fishermen went out on the sea. So now, their workday is over, they’re coming home, and they’ve caught nothing. Nada. Zip.
And Jesus says, Hey, why don’t you try the other side? Peter is not a huge fan of this idea, and points out that they ARE professional fishermen, they did try that already, but fine, whatever. And sure enough, their nets nearly break with all the fish that immediately fill them.
They had to ask James and John for help, because their boat almost sank. They were not prepared for all these fish. Totally unprepared.
“Don’t worry,” says Jesus—“From now on you will be fishing for people.”
Peter and Andrew were entirely unprepared for all those fish. Now—they were fishermen, they had nets, they had a boat, they were prepared for some fish—Not all the fish. They weren’t ready. They hadn’t imagined that. And so when it happened, they were flummoxed, and nearly capsized.
They were, I imagine (hah) used to the world as they knew it, a world where they were moderately successful fisherman, caught some fish and then went back out the next day, and did it again. That was their life, and it was fine.
And so hadn’t imagined that a new way of being might break in, until one morning Jesus arrives and does just that. Suddenly, more fish than they EVER BELIEVED dove into their nets. Such prosperity, such generosity. And now they are no longer fishermen, now they were something altogether different— fishers of people—a role that requires an even bigger step outside their ordinary worlds.
Following Jesus requires quite a big leap of imagination. It requires us to see things not as they are, but as God would have them be, as Jesus has been telling us they could be. And that requires of us a vision based on hope, alongside our clearsighted view of what actually is. It is imagination that allows us to live as Christ calls us to live, because to seek the kingdom, to follow Jesus, is to begin to live in the world as Jesus describes it even as we still live in the current world. We have to live now as if the reign of God has already begun.
So we imagine ourselves there. Small kids do this all the time—it’s that game of make believe, only this time we do it with higher stakes. We imagine a world into being where all people do matter, as children of God, and so we act like everyone we meet is of infinite value. We imagine a world where the most important priority is the welfare of all people, and so we ourselves try to prioritize human flourishing, even in a society that seems to value profit over all else. We imagine a world where the earth is seen as a gift for us to care for, and so we take pains to preserve and celebrate God’s creation, instead of just exploiting it for our own ends.
It takes imagination to follow Jesus in our broken world, because when all we have ever known is this world as it is, anything else takes a leap into faith, as Kierkegaard would say. Like Peter and Andrew, we just have small boats, because who could imagine such a world as Jesus brings about? So as people of faith, we have to use our imaginative powers. We have to dream a little, and we have to live with a foot both in that imaginary, not-yet world of the reign of God, and in this world. We need to imagine up some big boats for this task.
What would our city look like, for instance, if the reign of God has come, fully? What would your life look like, if everything Jesus talked about in his sermon in Nazareth were now true—the poor brought good news, the blind given sight, the prisoner freed, the captive released, the Year of Jubilee proclaimed, all that?
Think of what you have on your schedule tomorrow, when you go to school, or go to work, or run errands. What would be different tomorrow? Just Imagine what that world would be like. What would be the same? What would be different? If everyone was valued and loved, and had what they needed, and the earth was safe and cherished and full with the glory of God.
Now, is there one thing, just one thing, you can do already to make that world a little closer?
Can you do one thing tomorrow that would make the world you imagine a little closer? Donate money to a non-profit, help someone that needs help, decide to do something good, or just do something anonymous and kind. What can you do tomorrow to bring the world Jesus describes, the world we imagine with God, a little closer?
We talk sometimes in church about being co-creators with God, and our presiding Bishop talks a lot about God’s dream for the world, but what I sometimes think that means is imagining with God. When God created the world, he spoke the world into being, and imagined something out of the chaos and waste that there had been. Our faithful imagining of a new world along with God is how we join with Christ in making that new world a reality. And when we step out in faith and slowly act on our imaginings, step into that bigger boat, then surely Christ meets us along the shore.