Sermon: Love’s Imagineers
Texts: Joel 2:28; Deuteronomy 15:1-15; Luke 4:14-21
Date: January 27, 2019
©Rev. Dee Eisenhauer, Eagle Harbor Congregational Church
We are starting a new worship series today celebrating creativity. The series is loosely based on a book by Troy Bronsik titled Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists and Jesus Followers. The author frames the creative process in six concepts we’ll be considering for the next few weeks: Dream, Hover, Risk, Listen, Re-Integrate, and Rest. We begin by considering how creativity springs from dreaming.
The Drawn In book’s chapter on dreaming picks up on a word you’ve probably heard before due to the incredible marketing expertise of the Disney empire: “Imagineer.” Walt Disney popularized the word imagineer to describe artists, engineers and designers who bring environments to life in Disney motion pictures and theme parks. But “Imagineering” was reportedly first used by engineers and aluminum workers in World War II to describe “the fine art of deciding where we go from here.” Imagineering is basically implementing creative ideas–creative dreams–into practical forms. An Imagineer mashes up the dreaming with the making.
Brosnik uses Buckminster Fuller as an exemplar of Imagineering. He began his designs with the concept that things belong to one whole. He observed engineers looking at design issues one at a time without asking the crucial question “Why is this bridge/building/artifact/etc. needed?” and wondering how the current project would fit into the whole environment. Fuller and his futurists would dream of what they wanted to see happen and then would work backwards as a team of experts to get the project to a place where it could happen. Sometimes the dream was ahead of the technology. Many of the geodesic domes for which Fuller is best known were not even possible when he first designed them. They had to wait for the technology to catch up to the vision. Fuller’s approach to design science conceived of new ideas that would allow people, in his words, “to abandon their previous problem-producing behaviors and devices. For example, when humans have a vital need to cross the roaring rapids of a river, as a design scientist I would design them a bridge, causing them, I am sure, to abandon spontaneously and forever the risking of their lives by trying to swim to the other shore.”
Suppose God, whom we often call Creator, is a Divine Imagineer? Suppose God’s dream from the very beginning, from the word…Good (rather than Go, see Genesis 1) was to create a world of loving connectedness? In Tony Brosnik’s words, “God was so enthralled with a life of loving connectedness that God loved into existence a world with the same potential. Like a painter setting out with an end in mind, God imagines and engineers a world continually unfolding as an expression of God’s own original love. It’s almost as if God were standing at the future, lovingly pulling creation forward.”
We might think of our Scriptures as our Creator’s dream journal, in a sense. I think of the Bible as a human product, not a divine product; yet many of the texts we preserve and re-visit seem Spirit inspired, Spirit infused. Joel’s prophecy about the Spirit being poured out on all flesh causing old and young to see visions and dream dreams hints at the way God lovingly pulls us forward into a more perfect society through dreams and visions that may be captured in inspired words. We can appreciate the fragments of God’s dreams that are captured in ancient texts without making an idol out of the Bible. We can marvel at the way God’s dreams make their way into human flesh as generations of dreamers shape their lives around the divine calling to love and justice.
You may know that as the story is told of the speech Martin Luther King, Jr. is most well-known for, “I Have a Dream,” the dream part of the speech was not necessarily a part of King’s plan for that address. King’s speech to the hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the Washington Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was falling a bit flat. Mahalia Jackson was said to have leaned forward and urged King, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” He had spoken about “the dream” in other addresses, and his friend and colleague urged him to bring that spirited vision for America to this gathering. So he did; and the words wrapped around that expression of a dream for America are still reverberating and inspiring folks today.
I wonder if there wasn’t some voice in Jesus’ mind the morning he went to the synagogue (as was his custom), some voice that inspired the texts he chose. My commentary says he searched for the words in Isaiah he read. He flipped to one part of the scroll of Isaiah’s prophecies he wanted to read, and flipped back. I wonder if there wasn’t some kind of voice in his mind saying, as Mahalia Jackson said to Martin Luther King, Jr., “Tell them about the dream, Jesus! Tell them about the dream!” Because the words he reads express the broad outlines of God’s most persistent dreams: “Bring good news to the poor; proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; let the oppressed go free; proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” “Today,” Jesus says, “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He is expressing how he sees his own mission using the framework of this old dream for a human society pleasing to God. A new dreamer is on the scene, being pulled and guided by an ancient dream. He was a compelling Imagineer of loving connection, loving society, bringing an old dream to bear on his life and ministry.
The last bit of scripture Jesus reads about “proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor” signifies a complex and fascinating vision captured in the Hebrew Scriptures, the year of Jubilee. “The year of the Lord’s favor” is not intended to make the hearers conclude that this is God’s favorite year ever, because Jesus was beginning his ministry, or the weather was just so beautiful. No. The year of Jubilee was an Imagineering proposal for Israelite society in which every 50 years all the land that had been sold or seized from the original land-owners would be returned to them. This was a vision for a moral economy, a faith-based economy. I have a book by biblical scholar Richard Horsley titled Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision of Justice for All that spells out in great detail how this vision is expressed in Hebrew (and Christian) scripture. Horsley points out that the Hebrew folk believed that all “the land belonged to Yahweh and was, in effect, leased to Israelite families for their use.” As the biblical narrative tells it, after liberating the people from slavery in Egypt, Yahweh had given the “Promised Land” into the possession of clans and villages, and those larger tracts were divided into family parcels of households and fields. It’s not really private property; God owns it, and it’s leased or loaned to the people. However, those allotments mean something in the long term. A second principle underlying this vision was that “the land allotted to each family was inalienable, could not be permanently sold or taken away.” Leviticus 25:23 has Yahweh declaring: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.”
In the Jubilee year spelled out in the scriptures, any families that had lost their land due to indebtedness were supposed to be able to come back and reclaim the land for their families. This would allow those who had fallen on hard times to make a fresh start. It would also remind everyone quite viscerally that God was the owner and the people were the tenants. The very notion of the land going back to the original tenants every fifty years makes Capitalists hyperventilate and grow faint, right? As I understand it, there is not much archeological evidence that the Jubilee year was observed in actuality, certainly not on a regular basis in Israel’s history. Yet it is a powerful dream that puts immoral and atheistic economies on trial, in a sense. If nothing else, the concept of the Year of the Lord’s favor reminds the faithful who owns the earth, and encourages humans to find a way to help their neighbors who have fallen off the cliff economically.
There’s an entire tier of Sabbath-rhythmed practices outlined in scripture that are also aimed at keeping people who have fallen into debt because of bad harvests or other bad luck from starving to death or becoming permanently shackled by debt. We heard about the every-seven-years practice of forgiving debts and freeing slaves in the text from Deuteronomy. This is, as I understand it, kind of a mini-me of the Jubilee year. The Covenant allows for making loans to those in need, as long as you don’t pile on by charging interest (another feature of the Covenant economy that causes Capitalists to blanch and shudder). You can and should make a loan to your needy neighbor. But lest they become permanently and literally enslaved as a result of the debt, every seven years all debt should be forgiven. This gives someone the opportunity to start over, with a clean slate.
Richard Horsley’s book on Covenant economics demonstrates all the ways the law was designed to guarantee the economic rights of the members of the society to an adequate living. “When, because of whatever natural or historical contingencies, some people fall short of an adequate living, the surplus resources of the communities of the society are to be made available as aid to those in need.” It’s clear in the debt-forgiveness laws, the gleaning laws, the no-interest laws and so forth that members of the society are responsible for sharing their resources liberally with those in serious need. In God’s dream society, people have a God-given right to (and basis for) the economic resources for an adequate living.
When Jesus says the Spirit has anointed him to bring good news to the poor, he’s got this entire tradition behind him. God’s dream is good news to the poor, because the Covenant vision has mechanisms to ensure their survival. It’s as if the poor matter to God just as much as the rich. Capitalists everywhere feel their blood pressure spike at the notion an economy could be designed to look out for the interests of the poor rather than just paving the way for the rich to stay that way.
When Jesus says he has been sent to proclaim release to the captives, to let the oppressed go free, he has this entire tradition behind him. God’s dream provides a way forward into freedom for those who have been oppressed, often through no fault of their own. Societal habits can build on histories of oppression and preserve the economic grooves that have been created by injustice long after particular laws have been formally abolished. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks to that in this brief clip from a 1967 NBC interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzBaXZI-IWM
Humans tend to develop amnesia about how poverty was created or sustained by their society’s or economy’s principles and practices. Some of us find it hard to even admit that oppression exists, and that it is deliberately preserved by those who benefit from having a permanent “bootless” underclass for cheap labor and someone to look down upon. Some are so threatened by resistance to oppression that they react with murderous violence, as we have seen. Well, “you can kill the dreamer; but you can’t kill the dream.
I spoke last week about claiming the words spoken to Jesus at his baptism, “You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” for ourselves. We are beloved; God is pleased with our existence. We were called into being by God’s dream of loving-connectedness. It’s essential that we recall that the loving connection is not just between our individual selves and God, but that God calls us into loving connection with each other. We are here for each other. Ephesians 2:10 hints at being created to love as well as be beloved: “For we are what [God] has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” God prepared a way of life, a way of good works, before we were even born. This is not about predestination but about a dream Imagineer God had and has for creation.
We who claim God’s love for ourselves claim it as well for our neighbors. Therefore we cannot be content with a social order that is rigged against the poor and oppressed. We must claim the same mission Christ claimed, a spirited intention to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free. We are urged to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, as if we actually believe that the earth belongs to God and that all God’s creation has an inalienable right to an adequate living. We declare that this is our dream as well as God’s, and then lean into making it true.
We know that proclaiming something doesn’t make it magically appear. Yet there is value in claiming this dream as our own. John Stendahl compares Jesus’ claiming Isaiah’s vision with authority to Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. “When the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in the midst of the Civil War, the slaves who lived within the realm of the Confederacy remained in bondage. Many did not know about the proclamation when it went into effect. Its authority was denied and nullified by local and regional power. Yet Lincoln, in both his words and his claim to authority over the whole of the split and rebellious Union, contended that the proclamation was nonetheless true and real. And so this flawed and partial emancipation became the herald of a fuller freedom, a fulfillment yet unreached.” Stendahl suggests that when we claim the ancient dream of a good society as Jesus did, the present leans into it and it has begun. We imagine and enact the shape of a future that claims our obedience.
The original imagineers, those engineers and aluminum workers in the WWII era used the word to describe “the fine art of deciding where we go from here.” There is a great deal of Imagineering work to be done on our creating a more perfect Union here in our homeland, a multitude of decisions to made about where we go from here. I believe the Divine Imagineer, our Creator God, is still inspiring dreamers and doers of the Word today, calling us from a dream of equitable community, just community that preserves everyone’s right to an adequate living. The dream is needed to pull us into a more compassionate future. All us dreamers are needed as co-workers with our Creator, joining God in loving creativity. In the immortal words of John Lennon, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”
 Brosnik, Tony Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists, and Jesus Followers Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2013, p. 20
 Ibid. p. 21-22
 Ibid. p. 22
 Ibid. p. 24
 Horsley, Richard A. Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision of Justice for All Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, p. 38-39
 Ibid. p. 49
 Kynes, Samuel, after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.
 Stendahl, John “The Proclamation” Christian Century January 7-14, 1998, p. 13