A Failure of Imagination (a sermon for the Feast of St. Martin)
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church
November 14, 2021
Today the church remembers Martin, Bishop of Tours.
Martin was raised a pagan and became an officer in the Roman army. As a young officer serving in the Province of Gaul (now France) he became an “inquirer” or catechumen of the Christian faith. Legend has it that one day he encountered a beggar who was cold and naked. Moved with compassion he ripped his own officer’s cloak in two and gave the beggar half.
“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
“When was it that we saw you?” the characters in Jesus’ story ask.
When you gave the hungry person food. When you gave the thirsty person water. When you visited the prisoners.
That’s when they saw him.
In this story, Jesus is telling us that God regularly shows up in those places and persons where we least expect God to be.
Not in the well-fed, but in the hungry.
Not in the free people, but in the prisoners.
Not in the important military officer, but in the cold, naked man beggar.
Again and again, Jesus shows up where we least expect him. And I think it surprises us because our imagination is too small.
We see that again and again in the Bible.
Nobody could imagine that the King of Kings would be born in a barn.
Nobody could imagine that water could turn in to wine.
Nobody could imagine that a lunchable could feed thousands.
Nobody could imagine that a dead man would walk again.
And nobody could imagine that anything worthwhile would show up in the poor, the hungry, the sick.
The experience St. Martin had with the beggar changed his life.
Up until that point, he was flirting with Christianity. But in this encounter, he knew he had experienced the risen Christ. He knew he had to give his life to the risen Christ.
He got his release from the army, became a monk, and established the first monastic community in the region. Then he was tricked into becoming bishop…he was actually tricked…and then his imagination was unleashed.
St. Martin imagined what it would look like for a bishop to stay out of the fancy palace and visit people. He was the first bishop to make those congregational visitations a regular practice.
St. Martin imagined what it would look like to connect and partner congregations, developing a rudimentary parish system.
St. Martin imagined what it would look like to start new churches and reach new people.
51 years ago, six families had the imagination to see what a dozen acres in rural northeast Tarrant County could become. And we are the inheritors of that legacy. And throughout the years, the people of St. Martin’s had the imagination to see what an education building could become. What a partnership with a soccer club could become. What relationships with Fort Worth non-profits could become.
And now it’s our turn to imagine.
On this Feast of St. Martin’s, I want us to start thinking about how we can do the same.
Who can we become? What does Jesus Christ want us to become?
I don’t have any grand ideas of what we’ll discover, I just have a hope.
By the Feast of St. Martin next year, I want us to have an idea of who we are called to be for this time and this place.
We’ve been promoting some house parties to “meet the rector.” I still want to have those gatherings, but not so you all can get to know me. I mean, that’s an added bonus…maybe.
But I want to use those gatherings to start asking some questions that can help us imagine.
I want to ask “where are we?” Not just at the corner of 1709 and S Pearson. But where is our community. We’re in Denton, and North Richland Hills, and Fort Worth, and all around the country online. Maybe we can imagine what it would look like to be a presence in those communities…?
I want us to ask “what do our communities offer?” Not what we can offer the community, but what our communities, the people around us, what do they have to offer? Maybe we can imagine what it would look like to partner with God in work that is already happening.
I want us to ask “what do we want God to do?” In our lives. In our communities’ lives. In the world. Can we imagine a way to help usher in the dream God has for us?
There are a million questions we can ask as we dream about and discern what God is up to.
So I guess this sermon is really just a sales pitch for these gatherings. And for other gatherings we can have. Let’s invite our neighbors, our friends, our community, to come and imagine with us.
What does the world need St. Martin’s to be?
What does God want St. Martin’s to be?
We aren’t the St. Martin’s of fifty years ago when those six families got together. We aren’t the St. Martin’s of 21 months ago before COVID. We aren’t even the St. Martin’s of four months ago before I moved here.
We can’t be limited by the ideas of who we were, or even who we wanted to be, in those times and in those places.
Because we are St. Martin’s, now. This time. This place.
And we have to open our imaginations to what new thing Jesus might be calling us to be.