A sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost
I am in a season in my life in which nearly all the literature I read is children’s literature. I have been given the blessing or the curse, depending on the book, to read these stories over and over again.
To start my sermon today, I want to share with you one of my favorite stories, one of which I have not yet grown tired of reading. This story is called, “What This Story Needs Is A Pig In A Wig”, by Emma Virgan.
What this story needs is a pig, a pig in a wig on a boat in a moat with a frog, a dog, and a goat on a log. This story also needs a rat, a rat with a hat on a trunk with a skunk in a house with a mouse, and a panda in a blouse.
Hey, it’s getting crowded in here, don’t you think? Off of this boat before we all sink. What this story needs is a pig in a wig on a boat, not a house with a mouse, nor a panda in a blouse; not a rat with a hat or a skunk on a trunk, nor a frog or a dog or a goat on a log.
What this story needs is a pig in a wig on a boat, having fun in the sun on her own. All alone.
Hey, I made a mistake when I sent you away. Can you swim back so we can all play? What this story now needs is.........a bigger boat.
I love this story. It’s an imaginative story: a pig in a wig. Who thinks of that? It’s brilliant. It is the story of an imagination, the narrator’s imagination coming to life as she speaks each one of these things into being. And like all good stories, there is a conflict. That conflict is that the imagination has created a problem, a challenge, and the pig gets stuck in this imagination. The imagination is herself in a wig on a boat in a moat. So she tries to undo the rest of the narrator’s imagination, kicking everybody off the boat, cutting herself off from them, trying to revert back to the way it once was. She finds that, too, is problematic because she finds herself all alone and isolated and lonely. The real solution is not to undo the imagination and cut herself off; the way forward is a new imagination—a bigger boat.
The word, imagination, has gotten a bad rap in today’s society. Colloquially, we mean fantasy when we use the word imagination. We’ve confused the words fantasy and imagination. But the word imagination has nothing to do with fantasy. You can certainly imagine a fantasy, but an imagination can also be something very real. Imagination is more akin to vision than to unreality. Imagination is a way to look at the world as it rarely is, but what it can be. There is a beautiful prayer in the Book of Common Prayer written by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, which begins “Almighty God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations”. That is a sense of imagination that I’m talking about here.
The Gospel has two imaginations in it today. The imagination of the world, the context in which Jesus and the disciples live, work, and exist. It’s an imagination that says when someone does something wrong against you, you might try to talk with them once or twice, but ultimately you’re going to punish them and cut them out of your life if they refuse to do what you want them to do. It’s an imagination of this world that tries to isolate us from each other, that tries to create a billion little islands in this world. It’s that imagination that is the background to this story.
And then there is Jesus’s imagination. “What should we do if someone sins against us, O Lord?” You go talk to them, take a few people and talk to them some more, and keep talking to them. The world may be on board with this, but the place where these two imaginations hit each other is when Jesus says that if they ultimately will not listen to you, you treat them as a Gentile and a tax collector. I love this line, because this is where the two imaginations touch. For the world, the treatment for a Gentile or a tax collector is to cut them out of your life. You kick them off the boat. But what does Jesus do with the Gentile and the tax collector? He eats with them. He invites them to his table, and he goes to their table. What does Jesus do to get in trouble with the religious authorities? Eating with the wrong sorts of people. Eating with the Gentiles and the tax collectors and the prostitutes and the sinners of every kind. Those people are living within this imagination that says you are cut from people’s lives if you don’t fit within this boundary that they had created. You cut people from your life if they don’t fit in this boat.
Jesus says, let’s think about this a different way. Let’s create a bigger boat. Let’s create a world in which there is room for all of us to stay in relationship with each other. Treat them like a Gentile and a tax collector; treat them as I, Jesus, have been treating them. This is Jesus’s imagination, the imagination that he has been living in his life: an imagination of relationship; an imagination of love as we heard in today’s Epistle from St. Paul. The fulfillment of the entirety of the law is to love your neighbor. That’s the imagination of Jesus. That is the imagination he’s inviting us into. I tell you, the world will think that is as fantastical as a pig in a wig, but it is not. It is not fantasy, it is an imagination. It is not unreality, it is reality. God sees it, and that’s the imagination that we are called to embody in this world.
“Almighty God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations”.