We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon, Trinity Sunday, May 26, 2024 – “Imagination”

John 3:1-17

“Nicodemus Visiting Jesus” (1899)- Henry Ossawa Tanner

I spent last week in the Outer Banks.  While I was there, I visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial, one of the Outer Banks national parks.  What an inspiring place! 

Back in the early 1900’s, Wilbur and Orville Wright, two brothers from Dayton, Ohio,  were fascinated with the idea of human flight.  Although many had experimented with gliders, and Samuel Langley had created powered model gliders, no one had ever figured out how to fly in a manned, heavier than air machine that could leave the ground under its own power, one that could move forward without losing speed and land on a point as high as that from which it started.

The Wright brothers began to explore all that had already been done regarding human flight.  Wilbur wrote to the Smithsonian.    After studying the information they received from that institution, the brothers realized that they had as good a chance as anyone to be the ones to make human flight possible. 

So they got busy, and for the next four years, they tested current theories about aerodynamics, many of which didn’t work.  They developed their own theories, and devoted themselves to the goal of human flight, determined to be the ones who would turn the dream of human flight into reality.    

The Wrights imagined success at what until then had been an unreachable goal.  They had faith in themselves.  And they worked hard to make what they imagined become reality. 

As they got closer to realizing their dream, the two searched for an isolated spot with unrelenting wind, high dunes and lots of sand for soft landings where they could try out their ideas about flight.

On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur lifted off for the first time in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, in their invention, The Flyer.  That day was the first time that anyone had ever flown in a manned, heavier than air machine that could leave the ground under its own power, move forward without losing speed and land on a point as high from which it had started.     

The Wright brothers’ dreams had become reality.  But even these two dreamers probably could not have imagined that only  sixty-six years later, people would take what the Wright brothers had accomplished, would add their own dreams and hard work, and would fly all the way to the moon.  Incredible!  Only sixty-six years—from the windy, white sandy dunes on the coast of North Carolina, to the charcoal gray dusty surface of the moon, thanks to incredible imagination and the hard work by so many to make the dream of people walking on the moon a reality. 

One thing I really appreciated about the museum exhibit at the Wright Brother’s memorial was the emphasis on imagination, for imagination is the source of all creativity.  God imagined the universe into being, from the farthest galaxies to the tiniest living microscopic life on our planet. “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the things thy hands hath made…..”  Not only the universe, but we ourselves have been brought to life from God’s imagination.

The whole Bible is the story of what God imagines for creation and the reality of what really happens—God’s imagination distorted by our own desires, and we can use the word “sin” as shorthand for that corruption that continually threatens to destroy us and our planet. 

Which brings me to Jesus, the ultimate imaginative act of God.  Nothing else having gotten through to us, God imagines God’s self in human form, and as we Christians believe, Jesus is born as one of us, lives as one of us, and dies as one of us. 

So no wonder that Jesus is the most creative person that ever lived, because what Jesus imagined was what God had imagined from the beginning—a creation imagined out of love, imagined into love, and then imaginatively sustained by love.  The only way we could ever see that love in an understandable way was to be able to see, hear, touch and feel this love in a body—and so Jesus walked this earth for a time, making it possible for us to not only imagine God, but to see God at work through all of the things that Jesus did. 

In today’s gospel, Jesus describes how God’s imagination works as he speaks with Nicodemus.

Nicodemus is a Jewish religious leader, and he has questions.  He can see for himself that Jesus is not only a person of imagination, but Jesus turns imagination into reality through the miracles he is doing, the miracles that set people free from sin, illness and death, the miracles  that  give them the freedom to love. 

Nicodemus realizes that his vast intellectual knowledge of God is not enough—there’s more.  So he asks Jesus. 

And Jesus explains how divine imagination works—not just what we can experience physically, like a splash of water on our heads or running over our hands, but the Spirit is God’s imaginative creativity, a constant wind blowing over, around and through the chaos in which we find ourselves living,  a wind bringing life out of death.  

God’s Spirit is a constant wind of creative imaginative love that will blow through us if we open ourselves to that wind.  The Spirit blows away our blindness.  The Spirit is a cleansing wind that purifies our hearts.  The Spirit frees our imaginations so that God’s creative power can work through us-“Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” 

We can learn from Nicodemus, for he has spent a lifetime becoming a religious authority, and people look up to him.  But Nicodemus is living in a prison of his own making, his comfortable respectable life.    How hard it would be for Nicodemus to let the Spirit take over, for then Nicodemus would have to give up his power and all he has worked for, and let the Spirit take control.   We can sense the difficulty of his struggle, for it is our struggle as well. 

All of us have worked hard to create comfortable lives for ourselves.  We all have power of one sort or another.  Who wants to give up power, prestige, or control? 

And yet, the Spirit blows through us, and dares us to leave behind the comfort we know and to be blown where the Spirit will take us. 

Nicodemus struggles with another issue, and this issue also applies to us, in our scientific age—how can you dare to lay aside conventional wisdom, how can you believe and trust in something that you cannot see or prove? 

How can you have any faith at all in an invisible Spirit telling you to let go of everything you have done under your own steam and put the Spirit in control instead?    It’s crazy.

And yet God dares us to be people of divine imagination!

And we can accept that challenge because we know who God is and what God does. 

First, we can see with our own eyes the splendor and majesty of God’s work as Creator when we see God’s handiwork in the world around us.

Second, God loves us so much that God would imagine God’s self into human flesh, and become Jesus among us,  who could do the things that only God can do—control nature, cast out demons, bring healing, and love those that everyone else hated.  Jesus turned to love rather than to violence, enduring death, even death on a cross, and passing through death into resurrection life.    Jesus, God with us, and still with us, through the Spirit. 

Third, the work of the Spirit, the holy Spirit that God breathes into us—this Spirit is also all around us, and although we cannot see the Spirit, we can see the results of the Spirit’s work—when people imagine justice, and justice at last comes to be, when people imagine love, believing that love will win out over hate, when people who disagree agree to work together for the common good. 

So today, we celebrate God, the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.  We celebrate Jesus, through whom all things were made, and who makes God known to us.    And today we celebrate the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, the divine source of inspiration in each of us. 

By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can give birth to those dreams of divine love that can come only from God.   Freed by the Spirit, lifted up on eagle’s wings, borne on the breath of dawn, we can imagine God’s boundless reign of love being poured out on this earth.  And we can trust that what we imagine will someday become reality because God will give us the power and the support to make God’s dream of love real and visible in each one of our lives.

So may the Spirit blow where it will, through us, and lift us into the mystery of divine love that even now we can see taking shape, that “one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth,” glorious  beyond our wildest dreams.