“Training Our Imaginations”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – December 23, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

    Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:39-45

    The symbol we have used to define our walk to Bethlehem has been the lighting the candles of our Advent Wreath.  Today, we have lighted the Candle of Peace.  Peace is a difficult theme to discuss.  We know peace as a concept but rarely can we hold on to a peaceful spirit as a vital aspect of living. Perhaps this is why Jesus defined peace for his disciples in a very specific way:

Peace is what I leave with you.  It is my own peace that I give to you.  I do not give it to you in the same way that the world tries to express peace.  The peace that I give to you will help you to rise above the worries, emotional upsets, and fears that can easily take center stage in your lives. (John 14:27f)

    Have any of us experienced prolonged inner personal peace?  We have observed this state-of-mind in infants the minute a fussy baby receives a pacifier.  This 1901 invention created by the Manhattan pharmacist, Christian W. Meineche, has given parents hours of peace.  Most of us are most appreciative of his contribution to our lives.

     During the early stages of life, children hold the secret to peace because of how they enjoy their imaginations.  Children are quite inventive when they tell us a story of what they are drawing or painting.  A young lady was making such a creation when her teacher said, "Please tell me about your picture."  Her student responded, "I am drawing a picture of God."  The teacher said, "Honey, no one knows what God looks like."  She said with total confidence, "They will when I'm finished."

    While visiting in a number of homes, I have attended afternoon tea with a number of little girls.  I would sit on the floor at their invitation as each served me a cup of tea.  Some of them offered me a cookie as we sat and talked about a number of topics.  They spoke and acted like little adults. These children were totally comfortable with what was happening.

    Once I said, "These cookies are delicious!  Did you help your mother make them?"  The little girl looked at me rather strangely and said, "Nooo . . . you are not eating a cookie.  We are just pretending."  I said, "Yes, but you have learned how to serve tea and cookies beautifully."  She said, "Thank you." 

    The imaginations of children can grow by leaps and bounds because there are a lot of other aspects of living that they do not have to worry about.  Their imaginations work beautifully because of the environment of security, love, and peace that has been created in their homes by their parents.

    In our lesson this morning, Dr. Luke recorded what happened when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth.   Mary was greeted with these words:

    As soon as I heard your greeting, Mary, the baby I am carrying within me jumped with gladness.  How happy you must be to believe that the Lord's message to you will come true.  (Luke 1:44)

    This entire episode involved the use of the imaginations of the two women.  Elizabeth told Mary that her unborn baby had jumped with joy.  Mary was fantasizing about the meaning of an angel's message to her about the baby she was carrying.  (Luke 1:32f)

    When we take time to consider what is happening in our world, we are only saved by our imaginations when we use them to escape matters over which we have little or no control. When the thoughts and deeds of others impact our lives with values and attitudes that appear strange to us, they can influence us.  How can we observe such things and keep all of it outside of our minds, hearts, and spirits?  We have a tool that we can use any time we wish.

    A news-reporter imbedded in a Syrian war zone was interviewing a Canadian physician who was an active participant in Doctors Without Borders.  She asked him how he survives day after day in an underground environment, feeling the shocks by falling bombs while being surrounded by dozens of wounded children and adults. His response was interesting.

    On days when bombs are falling all around us top side, I literally turn off the chaos by remembering that often I am the only thing that stands between these people and death.  Remaining their cheerleader is a must for me. These people need to see me as aloof from what is happening around us. They are my only concern. You might say that my overactive imagination is what spares me from being afraid. If I die here, I will die knowing I did what I could while trying to save as many lives as I can.

    We need to remind ourselves that our peace leaves us when we become preoccupied and engaged with what is happening in our world. We have the same ability of using our imaginations as did that doctor.  We know we cannot control much that other people do or say so why personalize it emotionally?  Yet, we often have tremendous difficulty keeping our main thing, the main thing. 

    The doctor said that he keeps reminding himself that he is the only thing that stands between his patients and their deaths.  We are the only ones who can control our opinions of how we interpret our experiences.   Where should our imaginations take us to get away from it all?  When our imaginations convince us that we are angels living in the Kingdom of God, we are like the doctor.  We may be the only thing that stands between people and their becoming the walking dead. 

     It took the imagination of Jesus to understand that he had outgrown the need to be forcefully assertive in this world. (Luke 22:27) He called us to be the leaven for the loaf by living among others. (Matthew 13:33) There is no need to sacrifice the light that we have by surrendering to the darkness of our circumstances.  We have a hidden tool that can give us the same environment as those little girls who were serving me afternoon tea.

    When we use our imaginations as a resource for remaining sane in an insane world, we may find that we have not escaped at all.  What we have done is to make an invisible world quite visible by living in it, taking our cues from it, and using responses that we will need when we graduate from this life.  Our imaginations have become a pathway for living the truth.

    All of the words of Negro Spirituals were created by imaginations that were in overdrive:  Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; Down by the Riverside; Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child; Take My Hand, Precious Lord; Nobody Knows the Troubles I've Seen; and, He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word.

     Every one of those songs contained themes of hope, deliverance, God's presence, spiritual freedom, and, yes, peace during their experience of being a slave.  The reason these songs live on is because they bring comfort to all people who experience being a slave in an abusive relationship, oppression in the work place, bullying of any kind, feeling abandoned by God and being held captive by fear, worry, injustices, and the nagging dread about waking up each morning.

    Horatio Spatford used his imagination in 1873 when he wrote the words:

    Peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, 'It is well, it is well with my soul.'

    The occasion of his composing that hymn was the death of his daughters when their ship collided with another ship in the Atlantic Ocean and sank. Only his wife was pulled out of the frigid water. His imagination allowed him to escape being held a prisoner of prolonged mourning and longing from an accident over which he had no control. 

     Our environment is and has always been filled with security, love and peace, but events in the world have repeatedly blocked our ability to experience it.   We have to allow our imaginations to take us there.  Because Jesus repeatedly went there, he was able to say:

    The time is coming, and is already here, when all of you will be scattered, each of you to your own home. I will be left alone. But I am not really alone because my Father is with me.  I have told you this so that you will have peace by being united to my world. This world in which we are currently living can be a very cruel place.  Be brave!  I have overcome this world. (John 16:32f)

    Our imaginations are an authentic, powerful pathway that can energize our inner lives.  They are the source of all our creativity.  They allow us to see and understand what has not yet been created.  Every invention since the creation of the wheel has come from someone's imagination.  Everything is imaginary until we bring it into material form.

    Think of it.  What we are observing in the material world is nothing more than what others have created from their imaginations.  Every act, whether good or misguided, is coming from someone's imagination.  If everyone is creating from their imaginations, let us create just as Jesus did when he said, "But I am not alone.  My Father is with me."

    Remember that living in The Kingdom of God has nothing to do with religion.  It has to do with an attitude, a consciousness, and an awareness where love is the only lens through which we look. (Matthew 7:12) From our smiles, our attitudes, and our peace, we can make visible what is missing in so many lives.  Let nothing in this world prevent us from feeling like the little girls who served me afternoon tea. Allow our imaginations to teach us that what we all want is already here.



We are grateful, O God, that you created us with the ability to live in peace.  When Mary discovered that she was with child, she became filled with fear. Once she was told the meaning of her pregnancy, she exclaimed to the angel, "I am the Lord’s servant; may it happen to me as you have said."  How grateful we are that you have equipped us with the ability to change our worst nightmares into lessons for us. Experiences of hurt can become opportunities to express our love.  Our moments of uncertainty can eventually become sources of our inner-peace.  Amen.



Loving God, on this fourth Sunday of Advent, all of us celebrate the gift you gave to humanity in the form of a baby. While humanity remained locked within the cares of their everyday experiences, you gave us a reflection of yourself when no one was looking for it.

As your seed continues to sprout and evolve within our spirits, so does our understanding of life.  When Jesus was born, few people were aware that true wealth cannot be found in gold or silver, nor in possessions that thieves can break in and steal.  Few people understood that true power was not found among rulers, military strength, and gigantic businesses. Few people knew that the Law was useless in perfecting the spirit of people whose only desire was to serve. Few people understood that we grow by giving away our gifts of kindness, forgiveness, and friendship. When Jesus came and taught his listeners about such experiences, centuries later we were left with a window through which to view who you created all of us to be.  We thank you for allowing us to look through that window.

We know that there are people for whom this season is a challenge.  Bless those who are working through unexpected changes in their journey.  Bless with peace those who remain anxious about loved ones who find themselves in difficult circumstances.  Bless those who have misplaced their faith and cannot believe anymore.  May something touch their lives during this season with a form of love that expects nothing in return. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .