Let Your Imagination Run Wild

Isaiah 58:9b-14

[Watch sermon here.]

Isaiah invites us to dream of the world God desires for us.
Dreamily, Isaiah writes,
God will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong.

What do you think it means
that God wants to make our bones strong?

Here is a story that sheds light on that question.

It starts with Margaret Mead, an anthropologist and teacher.

One day, Mead was asked by a student
what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in culture.

She reversed the question back to her students,
What do you think the first sign of civilization was?

The students offered examples of
when humans formed tools like shovels,
cookware, fish hooks, and grinding stones.

Margaret Mead listened patiently and then said,
“These were important advancements,
but they do not speak to civilization,
our ability to live together in authentic community.”

Mead went onto say that she considered the first sign of civilization
in an ancient culture to be a femur – which is a thighbone –
that had broken and then healed.

Mead explained that in the animal world
if you break your leg, you die.
You can’t run from danger.
You can’t find food.
You can’t access water.
You become prey.
No animal survives a broken leg long enough to heal.

A broken femur that has healed
suggests that someone has taken time
to stay with the fallen one,
has bound and treated the wound,
has carried that person to safety,
and has cared for that person during their recovery.

Healing someone through difficulty
is the beginning of a civilized culture.

God will make your bones strong,
Isaiah promises.

God will not leave you alone
in your difficulty.

These dreamy words have weight
as Isaiah speaks to people who
have been trampling the sabbath,
and pursing their own self-interests on that day.

They have not cared if other people
have broken bones, or broken hearts.

Prior to the passage we hear today,
we learned that the wealthy have been exploiting their workers.
They have been enjoying the sabbath
while their workers work seven days a week.

This is what Pharaoh did to the Israelites
when they were slaves in Egypt.
Pharaoh never gave them a day off.
He wanted them to work continuously to grow his wealth.

This is wrong, Isaiah is saying.

This is not a civilized culture.
This is not caring for the other.

Strong bones.
God wants our towns to have strong bones.

Start dreaming of this. Get lost in God’s vision.
Play pretend.
Try on new ways of relating and seeing the world.
Shake off the dusty way of living
that leads to unhealed bones.

Instead, imagine.
Imagine what it would be like if your community
was like a watered garden.
Like a spring that never ran dry.

This is what God desires for us.
God desires to make us a watered garden.
A spring that never runs dry.

The irony of this image is not lost on me.
Although Essex had a drizzle on Thursday,
this town has been in a state of drought for a month.

Grasses have browned. Plants have dried.

The earth is thirsty. We are thirsty.

We need only look outside to see the parched places of the earth.
And what of the parched places in our communities?

The parched places where the sabbath is trampled.
The parched places where people are not treated with dignity.
The parched places where young families
cannot afford the skyrocketing rents on the shoreline.
The parched places where people drown in medical debt. Student debt.
The parched places where people cannot access
the mental health care they need.
The parched places where people are dying inside of loneliness and shame.

Dehydration scorches our throats
as we encounter the parched places of the world.

Yet, God beckons, let your imagination run wild.

Dream God’s dreamy dream.

What could God’s dream look like?

God invites us to imagine a world,
where everyone gets a day of rest a week.

God implemented the sabbath after the Israelites left Egypt.
God did this so that everyone,
particularly low wage workers would have a day off.
God did this so that the economy of Pharaoh would never occur again.

God invites us to imagine the best sabbath ever,
a well-watered day.

On this day, workers in first-world countries
and workers in third-world countries would have a day off.
They would get paid enough to live on.
Our country would no longer exploit Bangladesh, Haiti, and Honduras,
to get an immense quantity of products at an unsustainable price.

On the best sabbath ever,
we would take only what we needed,
and pass the rest along so that everyone had enough.

We would enjoy each other’s company.
We would not sink money into gadgets and gizmos
that promised us happiness.

We would sink into silence.
Or sink time into long conversations.
We would delight in one another. In the earth.
In the fluttering monarchs and the crowing blackbirds.
They would be our friends.

On this sabbath,
we would use our car a little bit less
because we knew it would allow our friend, the sugar maple tree,
to live a little bit longer.
The sugar maples will die out as our area warms with the climate.
Sugar maples require cold.

When we used our car a little bit less,
we would instead go out and talk to the maple
and she would tell us all her sweet secrets.
She would tell us how she spins sunshine into syrup,
and houses the squirrels and creates great art for us in the fall,
as her leaves change to orange, and red, and yellow.

On the greatest sabbath ever,
we would not notice that we were using our car less.
We would not notice that we were watching less TV
or on the internet less or on our phones less,
because we would go outside,
and God would paint the sky for us.
God would paint it in deep pinks, and purples, and a brilliant orange.
We would stop and delight,
as God watered the gardens of our souls,
from a well that never runs dry.
And we would know that this is the communion God desires for us.

On the best sabbath ever,
we would pay more for our products,
or we would refrain from purchases, or we would share,
or we would learn to make do in crafty ways,
so that everyone had enough to live on.
On this sabbath we would ensure others could pay rent,
eat dinner, and have shoes from their feet.

On this sabbath,
we would not notice that we have less products,
because we would light our candles and have dinner.
We would talk with people.
We would tell them how we missed them.
We would tell strangers we cared about them.
And we would form a new community.
A community that tends to us when we break a bone.
Or a heart.
And likewise, we would tend to others
when they break a bone. Or a heart.
And we would know that this is the communion God desires for us.

On this sabbath,
we would listen to stories.
we would stop holding tightly to our stubborn views of the world.
We would stop being self-righteous.
We would say, I am parched, I know what it is to be a desert.
I want to learn to be a spring, dripping with water.
And other people would stand up and tell their stories.
You would tell stories. I would tell stories.
We would say, I did not know you were bearing that yoke.
I did not realize our society put that yoke of injustice on you.
I did not realize you had that experience.
That is not right.
Come, let us walk together
to heal the broken bones of our world,
so that we can be community together.

On this sabbath,
we would not notice
that we had to be a little more humble.
It would not phase us that
we had practiced saying,
Yeah, ya know, I got it wrong,
because we would know our purpose
is to be community together,
and it would fill us with endless delight.

And on that day,
we would receive God’s endless delight in us,
the delight God has always been wanting to give us.

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