Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Family Camp Sermon on Christian Imagination

Luke 8:4-10
Sermon Notes
Thou Art the Man
How Does the Story Go?
Augustine Presbytery Family Camp

         Our broad subject is the Christian imagination.
         We heard Pastor Garner talk about the imagination, give us a few definitions of it and point to the fact that we both do and must use our imaginations all the time. But our imaginations should be trained in that which is good, they must be holy, so that we use them to the glory of God.
         Pastor Jones talked to us about using our imaginations to love one another. Without an imagination, we cannot love appropriately. We must enter into the mind and the circumstances of others, in order to love them rightly, and to do this, we have to imagine what they are like, what they are experiencing, to some extent, even what they are thinking. Then we can love them the way that we should.
         Pastor Strawbridge revealed some of the glories of music, particularly in the work of Bach. This music represents the creative impulse, engaging the imagination in such a way as to directly reveal the character of God to our ears and emotions. Music is necessarily the result of an active imagination.
         The passages of Scripture that we have read this morning require an active imagination. The story that Nathan told to David was a story on David. The story that Jesus told the Pharisees was a story on the Pharisees.
         My intent this morning is not to give a strictly exegetical sermon. Of course, that is the primary role of the pastor and Sunday sermons. We need to keep our eyes on the text and reveal what is in the text. But a pastor has to be very creative in how he does this. If it was as simple as bringing the text, then the reading of Scripture would be sufficient without the preaching of Scripture.
         But the reading of Scripture is not preaching and preaching is fundamental to how the Spirit ministers to the hearts and minds of His people and to the unbelieving world. What I would like us to see this morning is that story telling is the primary means of revealing these truths. Since that is the case, we should learn to tell stories the way the Bible tells stories.
         When I say that we should learn to tell stories the way the Bible tells stories, I am not saying that we should only tell the stories in the Bible. We can and should tell the Bible stories. This is like imitation in writing. We copy good writers so that we learn their cadence, their story telling ability, and then we branch out and tell our stories like they told their stories but the stories have changed. Our imagination has bridged the gap from their story to ours.
         We do something similar in music. We learn the notes, or chords, we learn some theory on how music works. We many even learn various pieces of the masters but then we use our imagination to get from there to where we want to go. Our imagination bridges the gap to a new reality, a new creation.
         The reason we don’t only tell Bible stories is because the Bible does not only tell Bible stories. Nathan’s story to David was a creation of his own mind. He told David a story about a poor man who only had one ewe lamb and treated it preciously, feeding it from his own plate and letting it drink from his own cup. And when his rich neighbor needed to entertain guests, he took and killed the poor man’s precious ewe and fed it to his guest. The result of the story was David’s anger and condemnation of the rich man. Then Nathan springs the punch line on him. Thou art the man!
         The New Testament passage is similar. Jesus made up a story about a rich man who had died and a poor man in Abraham’s bosom. The man in torment wants Lazarus to tell his brothers the truth before it is too late for them. But Abraham’s answer is for them to listen to Moses because they won’t listen to someone who rises from the dead. He is saying that they do not have ears to hear.
         My point here is not to exegete these passages but to get you to look at how the Bible teaches us. Nathan makes up a story. Jesus makes up a story. Neither of their stories are from the Bible but they give us thoroughly biblical teaching that sets truth in stark contrast from error. We should do likewise. We should have ears to understand God’s story and we should exercise our creative impulse in telling stories to others.
         Let us look at a key paradigmatic story.
         Luke 8:4   And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable:  5 A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. 8 And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
         This was the public sermon, a short story. We understand this story now, not simply because we have spent a long time thinking about it but because Jesus has revealed the story to us. We have heard Him. We have had ears to hear.

9 And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be?  10 And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.
The stories are explained to the disciples but not to the unfaithful. One of the things that Jesus was doing was explaining how stories work and how to use stories. My purpose here is not to exegete this story. But to see what Jesus is doing in His use of the story.
He tells us a story and then He says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” What does He mean? He is saying that if you have the ability to understand this story, great. But if not, then you need more training. You need a better head for understanding such stories. You need to improve your hearing. You need better insight into the ways of God. You need to see better.
This is part of what we are about this weekend. We are attempting to stimulate our imaginations in such a way that we can get who we are in the story that God is telling.
We need to understand not only how the story goes, but what the story means and what our place in the story is. This may seem simple to you but it is not simple. It takes work to understand God’s story and what He is telling us about who we are and what He requires of us.
In fact, this failure of imagination is a fundamental reason why so many people fail to understand the broad story arch of Scripture, particularly the eschatological maturation of the church. This is the story that God has been telling from the beginning. This failure of story understanding, a limited imagination, if you will, is also why men have a hard time grasping paedo-communion.
The Bible does not come to us in a simple, straightforward story. It takes a good imagination to understand it.
Even in the days when Jesus was walking with His disciples and explaining the story to them, they still failed to see the arch of the story. Jesus often spoke in parables, they probably seemed like riddles to His disciples and they had to ruminate on His meaning. Often, after ruminating, they still didn’t get His meaning and they had to go ask Him what He meant. This process of rumination is one of the key aspects of stories. The rumination is the engagement of the imagination and leads to true knowledge.

How do you hear Bible stories? Do you ruminate in a way that shows you are understanding the arch of God’s bigger story and learning how to accurately see yourself in this story?

Let’s Do Some Practice
When Jesus tells a story, who do you identify with?
Are you Pharasaical? Are you like the Pharisee who prayed,
Luke 8:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
Don’t get ahead of yourself. Whom are you most like in this story? We think we are the miserable sinner that went away justified. But what do we CREC people really think of ourselves? We don’t cheat people in business. We want real justice. We don’t commit adultery. We go to church every Sunday. We pay our tithes. We might even get real spiritual and miss a meal or two for prayer once in a while. That all sounds sort of reasonable. And such men might really thank God that they don’t do all those wicked things that other men do.
But have you ever stood far away from God and wondered if you could even approach Him, scarcely even able to raise your eyes up to Heaven? Have you even grabbed your chest in real contrition, aching with the pains of your own sins? Have you ever really pleaded with God because you felt in your hear that you intensely needed His mercy?
So, who are you in the story?
Jesus was a master at this sort of thing. He taught people surprising stories and often placed them in the story where they least expected to be placed. This method shakes the mind. It causes us to slow down, think about it, imagine if Jesus might be telling the story to us or even on us.

11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. 13 They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. 14 And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. 15 But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
What sort of ground are you? We all think we are the fertile soil, bringing forth great fruit. But are you? Have your read the story aright? Jesus intended for us to think about His stories and imagine ourselves in various ways.
How are you doing in your imaginations? Is the world you imagine a true world? Are the characters in their proper places?

16 No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light.
It is all going to be manifested one day. Reality will be revealed. If you have ears to hear, then you get the story and you share that knowledge abroad.

17 For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.
But if you do not get the story, this truth will also be revealed.

18 Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.
This is a direct mandate for cultivating a biblical imagination. Take heed how ye hear. Hear with the right ears. Understand the story. Imagine yourself where you really are.

Three Points of Application

1. Lazy Imagination- This is someone who only lives in the present. The present is the shortest possible time. Reality only exists in the past and the future. The present is hardly here at all.
Pastor Garner said something about stupid people being the ones with limited imagination. That is so true. Think about this. Those people who only live in the present have virtually no imagination. They simply exist from meal to meal, pleasure to pleasure. If the stomach grumbles, they act. If the desires flame, they act. Because they resist creating an expanding future through imagination, they simply live in the moment. They fail to even consider the consequences.

2. False Imagination- A false imagination is a wicked step-sister to a lazy imagination. Some people devise evil continually on their beds. They have active imaginations but they use them for evil intent.
Where they go really wrong is how they imagine themselves in the story. They imagine some semblance of good. They think that seeking pleasure is a good. They consider the consequences but in a self-deceived manner.
What will happen if I stay out until 2am? Nothing because I’ll watch myself. Nothing because I remember the lessons my parents taught me?
What will happen if I complain and grumble? Maybe someone will listen to me because I am right and they are wrong.
What will happen if I commit adultery? Nothing because no one will know. Even if I get caught, the pleasure gained will exceed the pain.
A false imagination creates a false future. The perceived or imagined consequences are not the real ones. This is why we need to have ears to hear. We need to have a dose of reality about which character we are in the story so that we can imagine the true ending of the story.

3. True Imagination
A true Imagination creates the future.
Faith is Imagination realized. Faith is what makes the future. We walk by faith based upon what we believe about the past and the future. We imagine things from the past and from the future and our faith makes it so.
Heb. 11:1   Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

We tend to think of imaginary things as things that are not real, like an imaginary friend. He is only in your mind. But our entire history and future are in our imaginations. They exist, essentially, in our memories. The past is not continuing and the future has not come into existence and yet they are both real. It is our faith that takes these imaginations and reckons them as reality. Faith and imagination are not exactly the same thing but they are very closely related. Faith is that active aspect of imagination that links us to real things.
         We need to understand stories.

Parable of Vineyard
Matt. 21:45 And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.  46 But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.
The parable of the vineyard. The Pharisees answer against themselves. When Jesus told this story, he totally set up the Pharisees. He got the answer from them in the same way that Nathan got the answer out of David. But in Nathan’s story, David was the bad guy. In Jesus’s story, the Pharisees were the bad guys.
David repented. The Pharisees fulfilled Jesus’s imagination of them.

         There was a group of people at family camp. Most of them made it to camp and got home without mishap but there was one family that got really disoriented on the way home. The problem was that the wife had fallen asleep and she was the one who usually gave directions. It was the middle of Virginia and they had no cell reception. Although she didn’t know it, her husband could not actually read and got around by listening to the GPS speak directions. With her asleep, he decided to do his best according to his own memory. But not only could he not read, his memory was not that great either. So, while his wife and children slept, he soldiered on until he finally took a fatal turn in the middle of a new traffic pattern on the highway and ran head on into an 18 wheeler, and the entire family perished in an instant.
         A different family barely made it to camp. They argued all the way there and their kids fought the whole way, too, calling each other, raca and fool. At camp, they put on a stiff upper lip but they didn’t understand most of what was said and only came to camp in order to be distracted from each other for a few days. At camp, they had a major fight on the first night, argued all night long and were a mess the next day. But when they heard the violin piece that Pastor Strawbridge played, they were so ashamed of how they sounded that they repented of their noise and changed their tune. They rode home on grace.
         He who has ears to hear let him hear.


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