Sermon on 1 Kings 8, the dedication of the Temple, and the imagination.
Make believe is something that we often look down upon. From a child’s imaginary friend to someone’s over-involvement in books, tv or movies, we (the enlightened) tend to look down upon those whose minds are in the clouds. “It’s not real.” “Aren’t you worried he won’t have ‘real’ friends.” “It’s just a movie.” “What a waste of time.”
Yet, some of our favorite books and movies are completely composed of the quest to realize that play and childlikeness are important, if not serious parts of the human reality. Think of Peter Pan – I will never grow up, right? The boy who won’t become an adult. My favorite portrayal is in the movie “Hook.” You have a grown-up Peter Pan who has forgotten who he really is, and he gets dragged back to Neverland by Tinkerbell to save his children from Captain Hook. At one point, Peter joins up with the lost boys. He’s starving. It is time to eat and they sit down at the table. They pray. The lids come off the plates and there is nothing. At least not in Peter’s eyes. But the boys remind him of his favorite games of make believe. Some being the obligatory “momma” joke. Another being the imagination tied to food. Eventually Peter imagines the food and it is there.
I have wondered for a while about the imagination. It’s role in our lives, especially in faith. How our imaginations of who God is, what God has done rests in what we have been told and what we can’t be told. Where there is this reality in God that we need to hold onto. Something to trust in. Someone to trust in. This real Christ. Real Savior. Real God. A God that exists for us. But also, a God of mystery. A God who leaves so much open to the imagination. An example – the picture we have of God here in 1 Kings 8 is a cloud. Something dense and yet formless. Something that can fill any space. Anywhere. Yet one can walk through it, live in it, but might not want to. There is play in that. Hide and seek in that. A God of the imagination. Of magic.
However, “Danger Will Robinson!!!!” Our imaginations can also be harmful to our faith sometimes. To our life before God. Taken in different directions, it can lead to our own thinking of what church is or what God has to be like. Looking at our own present realities, the hardships we face, the struggles, illnesses, deaths, finances, all of it. We let our imagination, our anxieties, fuel our ability to trust and then all hell breaks loose.
I had two conversations just this week with those who have seen such tragedy and their thinking has moved to that awful question – Is God punishing me? Or, What am I doing wrong? Where our imaginations allow us to craft God in our image as vindictive and angry. As one who looks down upon humanity and is so obsessed with each individual sinner that he sits in his heavenly office writing out demerit slips. Holding our own sins against us until the day we die.
Or if I just pray this prayer it’s like pyxie dust to sprinkle over my life. Or like the prison warden who will grant us release based on good behavior. I’ve been good God. Now what? When things don’t work out the way our imaginations think they should, then our imaginations may take us off to somewhere else. Maybe a God-less future. A place lacking in grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
Yet, what does Paul tell us this morning? To stand. To stand on faith. To trust in Christ and believe that what he says is true. I will neither leave you nor forsake you, Jesus says. I will be with you always. Paul telling me to put on a righteousness that is not my own that covers my heart in God’s mercy. To wear the helmet of salvation that my mind might know that God is my refuge in times of terror, not the cause of the terror. That the shoes I wear are Gospel loafers to send me off to share in the freedom brought by Christ, with a shield about me, the sword of the Word to defend me. All against who? Paul says it plainly, the evil one. The liar. The one who asks us, as he did of Eve in the garden – Did God really say…? Did God really say, I forgive you all your sins? Did God really say, I grant you eternal life? Did God really say, I have made you my child? Or another way to put it, The devil saying to you – it’s all make believe. It’s not real.
It was almost as though Solomon forecasted the failures of the human imagination in his dedication of the Temple. He builds it knowing that people aren’t going to be able to be there all the time. That it is not a space to be occupied by God as his only home. That it can’t even hold him he says. Even the highest heaven can’t hold God, but this place becoming one which bears God’s name as a source of solitude. A place to turn in hard times. Moving on down the eighth chapter of 1 Kings Solomon adds the Temple as a place for foreigners to turn to God, knowing that God will hear. That those eventually sent in exile even, whose sins have overwhelmed them, toiling in the muck and mire of life, they, too, have a place to turn. Where God’s name will dwell, not for his sake, but for ours. A place where we are assured of God being present when we feel abandoned. Where we may be absent from the Lord, but he is never absent from us. The Temple as God providing himself for humanity as a tangible place, that our imaginations might be peaked that God would bring his imagination to us.
I have good friends who are pastors, but also cosplayers. They craft their own Star Wars Regalia for different conventions and events. They do stuff through Make-a-Wish and for parties, parades. This week, as I was preparing for this morning I sent my friend Pari a message asking about why they do what they do. This making real of the imagination. Pari told stories of her and her daughter interacting with kids in this creative outlet, and finding comradery in this work. Pari said this, and I quote – “It creates a bit of magic in our ordinary lives, even in a world that is saturated by special effects, screens and the like.” For lack of a better correlation, in a world saturated by reality, faith adds that magic, that imagination, that play to our lives, not as a psychosis or distraction, but as an actual place of release and turning. Knowing God to be true, even when the world wants you to deny it.
For us, in Christ, we turn our minds and souls to the magic and imagination that is Christ. The One who is our Temple. The One who bears the name of God and has given it away to his brothers and sisters, his children in baptism. Who playfully hands to you his very Body and Blood as himself hidden in bread and wine. When we look to the world and see so much we hate. So much that causes us anguish. So many things we wish we could fix, faith becomes that place where reality and mystery meet. Where the truths of God wreak havoc in the sins of man to make us know that salvation is not a hope that everyone could just get along, but that all our sins, the sins that divide us and anger us, the sins that cause us to deny the truth of his imagination at work in us, the sins that make us condemn one another are forgiven before we ask for it. That our prayers in faith are heard whether we think he is listening or not. Imagination being the part of the childlike faith we need. Faith as play. Trust as wonder. Thanks be to God. Amen.