Pentecost IV (Proper 5A)
Gen. 12:1-9/Rom. 4:13-25/Mat. 9:9-13, 18-26
“We do not need magic to change the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: We have the power to imagine better.” Words of J.K. Rowling at Harvard’s commencement this past week. [quoted in Boston Globe; June 7, 2008] Rowling is, of course, Harry Potter’s real life mother. “We have the power to imagine better.”
The imagination is a physical, chemical, neurological miracle, 16 billion years in the making. Or 13 or 14 or 15 billion years, but why quibble? It’s a long, slow wave of the magician’s wand. Whether evolution is nature or miracle or magic, the human imagination is a wonder.
We can invite you back here next week because we can imagine next week. We can say, “thanks for the memories” because we can imagine things in the past. We can say, “As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever”: we see God’s glory as a past, present and future thing because we have imagination. The birds can sing praises beautifully, but their doxologies are little compared with the all-embracing sweep of ours. A glorious thing, the human imagination. We can even imagine imagination.
These very old texts we read in church day by day, week by week, are testimony to imagination. The Bible is, to a great extent, a product of imagination (with a little inspirational help, we presume!). And it is a stimulation to the imagination. God has created a magnificent world full of possibilities; human beings are endowed with imagination to participate with the creator in making it an even better world. The prophets speak of this better world, this new country: Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, Martin Luther King. Regardless of how strictly factual it is, the Bible is a priceless imaginative framework for envisioning a better world. The Bible is, to a great extent, an imaginative framework for creating a better world, for entering a new country.
The call of Abraham and the call of Matthew, which we just heard, are both calls to a new country. For Abraham, literally; for Matthew, figuratively. God calls Abraham to get up and go to a new country that he will show him. Jesus calls Matthew to get up and follow him to a new country that he will show him. God calls us to get up and go, follow Christ to a new country that he will show us.
The showing of the new country will largely happen by means of the imagination. We do and shall evermore envision a new country—it is our nature, it seems. Wherever we are, we have a certain restlessness to go further into the heartland of that new country. A restlessness, sometimes born of great suffering, that leads us onward toward the new country.
What is this new place like? We can imagine, we can envision. And we can read the Bible for clues. This passage from Matthew about the call of Matthew and the healing miracles is full of clues. The new country is a place of forgiveness and healing; healing of the body, healing of the soul. It is a place of life: full, vibrant, pulsating life.
And a big clue from the story of Abraham: the new country is a place of blessing. God tells Abraham that “in him” all the families of the earth shall be blessed. We Christians, Paul tells us, are Abraham’s descendants—we are “in” Abraham. In us, all the families of the earth are to be blessed. In the new country, all the families of the earth are to be blessed—and we descendants of Abraham have something to do with that blessing.
“Bless” is a great big word in English and can mean different things in different contexts. The Hebrew sense of “bless” adds yet more richness to the word. When the story of Abraham says that all families will be blessed in him, it uses a form of the word barak. Barak is to bless. Barak is from a family of words based on three consonants: the rough equivalent of b, r and k, in our alphabet. It’s the same in Arabic, by the way, hence the Senator’s name. The way Hebrew and Arabic work is that most words are based on three consonants. The vowels can change and you can have prefixes, suffixes and “infixes” to extend the range of meanings. So you can have barak or baruk or berek.
The root b-r-k in Hebrew and Arabic has to do not only with blessing, but, also—more basically–with knee and kneeling. Barak is “bless”; berek (in Hebrew) is “knee”. Imbedded in the Hebrew sense of blessing is the act of kneeling: as if kneeling in humble adoration of that which is being blessed. To bless the Lord is to kneel in humble adoration, at least figuratively.
Of course, the Lord blesses us as well. God on bended knee in humble adoration of us is a deliciously subversive concept. But we see it! Not until the Last Supper in the Gospel of John, but we see it: Jesus on bended knee before the disciples, washing their feet. Christ in humble adoration, not of the Father, but of us. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” “He humbled himself on a cross…” Christ in humble adoration. The Divine blessing made flesh—on bended knee, as the Hebrew word suggests.
(By the way, I’ve written more about barak in the latest edition of Cowley Magazine—barak the word, not the nominee…talk about a new country!)
The promise to Abraham is that in the new country all people will be blessed—“all the families of the earth”. And we are the means of that blessing. The Christian project, then, is to be that blessing. One way to frame our days on this beautiful planet, one way to think of our life’s work is to imagine the ways we can be this blessing to others. What acts, what words? In Abraham, in Christ, we are invited to kneel in humble adoration before all the families of the earth: speaking blessing, doing blessing, being blessing. Blessing all people into the new country.
A slight revision of J.K. Rowling’s words: “We do not need magic to bless the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: We have the power to imagine better.” How shall we speak blessing today? How shall we do blessing? How shall we be blessing? How shall we bend the knee before all the peoples of the earth? How shall we make our way into the heartland of the new country? “We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: We have the power to imagine better.” Just imagine… Just bend the knee and imagine…
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