Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 11:1-15; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine …”
I see Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, potentially today, encouraging us to use our imaginations a little more in our walk with God. We may be suffering, as a world, from a profound lack of imagination these days. We truly need to let our creative minds run free if we are to learn to live more fully into the reality of God’s gift in Christ, who can accomplish more in and through us than we can even begin to ask or imagine …
So, our challenge as humans in the world is not necessarily one of doing or believing but of inhabiting the story of Jesus and letting it inhabit us. We hear the stories from scripture over and over and can become numb to them. So, maybe we really need to imagine them – not differently, necessarily – but more creatively, if we desire to move further into God’s story revealed to us in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Eugene H. Peterson translated the Bible, from the original Hebrew and Greek, to a paraphrased form that sounds much more conversational, focusing very intentionally on imaginative story; it is called The Message (completed around 2002). He tells lots of stories in his last book, As Kingfishers Catches Fire (title from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem). And there is a story that he shares about John Mark, believed to be the author of the Gospel of Mark. And Mark, legend has it, was a disciple of Simon Peter. He is talked about in Acts as a disciple of Paul but the two had a falling out and he ends up with Peter. And some, not a majority, but some scholars believe that Mark’s Gospel is actually Peter’s Gospel story of Jesus, dictated to Mark.
Now Peter is a nickname, you know, as his real name is Simon. Jesus names him cephas, or rock, “… and upon this rock I will build my church.” And the name sticks, as we know him mostly as Peter, or Simon Peter. Eugene Peterson relays another story that says Mark had a nickname, too, also in Greek, Colobodactylus (sounds like a dinosaur) which means “stumpfinger.” Now I will let your imaginations run wild! And it was a nickname, like Blondie or Shorty or Stinky or Flash ... Maybe he had big, chunky fingers? Maybe he was a big man with big hands? Who knows? After Peter’s execution – he was crucified upside down, tradition tells us, during the great persecutions under Nero – legend has it that John Mark was made bishop of Alexandria. And since he didn’t want to be known as Bishop “Stumpfinger,” he probably took back his given name and the nickname is lost to us; it didn’t stick.
Now what is this dalliance with John Mark and Peter, you are probably wondering? Well, Dr. Peterson is not only a big believer in story but a huge believer in how our imagination can open us up to the possibility of God’s fullness in Christ. He writes, still in As Fisherkings Catch Fire (love saying that, possibly the coolest name for a book ever), “We need an incarnated imagination, a Jesus-soaked imagination, so that every truth becomes a lived truth ...”
What does the Rev. Dr. Peterson mean, you may ask? I take you back to Paul and Ephesians. Paul writes, “… I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love …” Being rooted and grounded in love means that we are becoming much more intentionally focused on the total gift of Jesus Christ in your life and my life, here and now. Are we allowing the vivid life, mission, and sacrifice of Jesus to stir our imaginations? Who is Jesus to us, really?
God tells us that we can experience the fullness of His grace because Jesus, imaginatively and completely, gave himself to us. He healed and he taught and he lived, yes, but above all He walked among us and gave himself to us completely. He opened himself up to the pathway of death that we might live. And, after all, is not Jesus the most over-the-top example of the imaginative mind of God who would save us and, therefore, came among us. Living God made flesh and bone. Who would have ever thought of that??
Jesus was grounded in the fullness of God’s love and He, himself, is the fullness of God’s love. Let us dare to imagine ourselves in Jesus’ world and, even more, let us believe that He is fully in ours. Jesus says to His disciples, as he approaches them on the water, “Do not be afraid.” May we live with the courage to imagine our Risen Lord impacting the contemporary world, our world, our lives. Jesus lives and He is on the move among us. Let us know Jesus more clearly by listening afresh to His salvation as it comes to us through the Gospels. Let us know God’s love for us, even as we struggle and fail to comprehend it fully. And God grant us the imagination to be blown away over and over again, by the fullness of God, the love of God, which passes all understanding. We need not reinvent the story of God’s love for us in Jesus. We need, quite simply, to give ourselves permission to imagine it afresh.