Rev. J. T. Smiedendorf
Plymouth Congregational Church
Fort Collins, CO
What do you want? I mean what do you really want?
We are moving into a social season of intensified appeals to want. Advertisers will increasingly try to entice your wants, shape your wants, even redirect your wants. Although what is most powerful is when an advertiser can get us to see their product or service as a fulfillment of a want we already have, especially a deep want, a deep intangible want. It’s not just a car, it’s security and reliability. It’s not just a truck, it’s power and manly status. It’s not just a toy, it’s happiness. These are the deepest wants, the intangibles, the deep ones that have to do with meaning and purpose, values and identity, love and acceptance.
Something that is offered to us as a community of faith is the journey into life giving depth. It’s not that living life in a sacred manner might not involve the delight of a desired product or service, a needed new car, a comforting massage. It’s that there is a call of faith to living into a depth that sees through the illusory or shallow aspects of stuff and amusements into what is of lasting or life-giving value, what we really deeply and truly desire and need.
A faith of resilience and wisdom knows that there are things such as enough, and such as when and where, and such as first things first, and such as beauty and truth. Such a way of life knows when it is the right time for a new car or a massage.
From the place of the soul, the question of what do you want can also be phrased, ‘what do you long for’? In your heart of hearts, for what do you long, for yourself and for others? Or even what do you dream and desire for the world to be? I like that term desire. I have a sense of desire as calling forth something that we feel in the body, something deep in us.
And deep want is the place to which we are faithfully invited when we consider the identity and the expression of being a steward. Stewardship is more than just our October theme. It’s an ‘always theme’ of being a person or a community of faith. Next Sunday, Consecration Sunday, we are asking for each of us to pledge a contribution for 2022 so we can plan responsibly for our ministry and mission in 2022.
Yet, all of this occurs within the larger, ‘the always’ context of faith and stewardship, the context of valuing and trusting and serving something greater than ourselves. Some years ago at a church retreat, the congregation I was serving summarized that something greater as the flourishing of life. We could call it the Realm of God, or the Body of Christ, or Shalom, or justice, peace and the integrity of Creation. Isaiah called it a “new heavens and a new earth.” We could call that kind of something greater a faithful vision of what we really want, what inspires us, touches us, and calls us to celebration and action.
This talk of of vision and hoping for something reminds me of the book Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. This book has a subtitle: How to Face the Mess We are in without Going Crazy. In it, Macy invites us into facing the global environmental crisis by viewing hope not as a feeling based on a prediction of what will happen, hope based on a likely outcome, but into hope based on desire, based on intention, based on our highest vision of what we want for the world, what we most deeply value becoming real. Out of that vision of value and deep desire, we act out our hope. Our hope is active in our living out of and into the vision of what we deeply want.
As noted by Macy in Active Hope and by others in the field of change, starting with the end in mind may be the best way to begin. Starting with what we really want, starting with a deep imagining of what we want to see happen. We can do that now. Perhaps for Plymouth Church, perhaps for Fort Collins, perhaps for Colorado or for all Creation. The Strategic Planning Team has offered a vision of five years forward. Review their vision.
And you can move into the future perhaps 10, 20, or even 50 years. Close your eyes and see if it deepens your imagining. Imagine with all your imaginative senses what it is like to have our deepest hopes come to be. In positive terms, not imagining what you don’t want or what isn’t there, but focusing on what you do want and on what is there, imagine what you desire for the flourishing of life. What is that like? What do you see? What do you smell? What do you touch and taste? What do you hear?
Those who research this process encourage us to set aside “the how” in this phase of the process and just focus on the what. When we have filled that positive picture up, we take time to feel in our hearts the desire for it and the joy in its coming. Only then do we ask the question, how did we get here? The imagination is used to trace backward in time the steps that led to that change until we come back to the moment in which we stand. We come back to the now moment and are able to more adequately act with effectiveness to move on the path toward that greater something we seek.
I can think of instances in the life of churches I’ve served and even my own life where I couldn’t imagine how I would get to somewhere or some way, but those churches did and I did. Somehow the vision did manifest. With a focus on the vision and persistent steps, and sometimes with unexpected gifts and graces, the new was and is birthed, even the hard-to-believe "NEW."
This morning’s sacred reading from our Scriptures is an example of vision, a description of what (Third) Isaiah understood God really wants to have happen with human beings; to have fairness for those who labor, that they be rewarded with adequate fruits of their labor, that people are healthy and live full life spans, that there be an end to violence. Described beautifully in images that we can use to more deeply enter this reality, this desire, these images invite us to see elders and children together, to taste fruit and feel the shade of the vines, to hear the pounding of the swords into plowshares (Longmont UCC).
And, here and now, as much as ever, we are called to have a vision of the Realm of God, a place where there is balance in the relationships of humanity and in Creation so that we see polar bears walking on plentiful ice, and hear the songs of songbirds aplenty, and see the sight of whales breaching, and of students filling classrooms in productive learning, and of workers performing jobs with good pay and benefits, and smell good nutritious luscious food in the air, and hear the sound of music and laughter.
If our prayer that heaven may come upon the earth is to manifest, we must be on the path of stewarding our individual and communal lives, and that includes feeling and holding that vision of what we truly deeply want: the flourishing of life that the God of Grace and Justice wants for Creation.
What do you see and feel and smell and hear when you imagine that vision of what God wants for the world? What vision do you see and feel and smell and hear when you imagine what God wants for Plymouth Church? What can you do with your time, talent, and treasure to help manifest it?
May we be about the business of vision, the imagining that opens us and guides us and sustains us being vital, joyful, and wise stewards of the life that we have received.
J. T. comes to Plymouth as an experienced interim pastor, most recently, as Bridge Minister at University Congregational UCC in Seattle. Previously, he served congregations in Denver, Laramie, and Forest Grove, Oregon. Read more
*Isaiah 65:17-25 (Third Isaiah, back in Judah but struggling)
17 For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;[a]
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord--
and their descendants as well.
24 Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.
For the word of God in Scripture
For the word of God among us
For the word of God within us
Thanks be to God