Texts: “Creativity” by Matthew Fox * Mark 6:30-34 (Jesus feeds the five thousand)
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged leaders in families, churches, and governments; and today, I look at these challenges from the standpoint of imagination, creativity, and innovation.
Our service today is an innovation. It is the first time we have both livestreamed the Sunday gathering and re-opened our doors to the public. Many thanks to those who have made livestreaming possible this spring and summer, especially to Brian Sampson; and to the others who are working with him to combine a live feed on Facebook with in-person attendance.
As in most churches, these changes have been stressful. Each Sunday, I don’t fully exhale until I have downloaded the video file saved by Brian or Liliana to Facebook, uploaded it to the church YouTube channel, and linked to it from our website and Twitter feed. Today will be no exception; and I am excited to see the results that Brian has achieved with a new camera and software.
This work is important not just for the pandemic. The Church Council has decided to continue to livestream our services even after that happy day when Canada announces it has become COVID-free.
Most of us can recount things we have learned since the pandemic was first declared by the WHO six months ago. Some have embraced the Internet for the first time. Others have learned how to record and stream video from their devices. Many of us have become adept with tools like Zoom to stay in touch with family, church members, and others.
But there is always more to learn, which is why we rely on perennial innovators like Brian to take the lead, do the research, and disseminate expertise. As Brian develops a new normal for our Sunday gatherings, I hope others of us will be inspired to join his team of videographers. This will allow us to continue to stream our spiritual gatherings, funerals, weddings, and other events.
Of course, the necessity that has been the mother of this invention is the pandemic. We wish that COVID-19 had not mushroomed into a pandemic; and we hope it will soon be overcome in Canada and elsewhere. But there are usually silver linings in the clouds that shadow our lives; and becoming more adept with videography and social media has been one of those for Mill Woods United. So, thanks Brian.
The Way of Jesus is about imagining a new way of life and creating new ways of being a loving community. In today’s reading, Jesus challenges his friends to feed five thousand people who have gathered to hear him. The story is often read as a supernatural miracle. But I prefer to see it as one in which Jesus inspires his disciples to help the community share its resources, and in so doing to reveal greater abundance than they knew was present.
The new creation represented by the stories of Jesus goes way beyond food, of course. In the death of Jesus and the resurrection of the Risen Christ within us, a spiritual path is revealed that is beyond tribe or nation. It is a way of Love that turns its back on the violence and moralism of the past and opens our hearts and minds to a life of unity and shared divinity.
As long as the pandemic persists, we will continue to seek new ways to stay in touch, to spread the Good News, and to carry out ministry. I applaud the work of so many people who have devised new ways to run the Food Bank depot, which resumes on Tuesday, the Clothing Bank, which resumes on the 15th, and The Bread Run, which resumes on the 19th.
I hope many of you will use Zoom on Wednesday morning for a coffee hour check-in, and then on Thursday evening for the presentation of a 15-minute TED Talk and a time of discussion. And who knows what other innovations we will try? Physically distanced sharing circles in the sanctuary? The use of drums on Sunday morning? A Christmas gathering outside the building? Who knows?
This past Thursday, I led my first worship service at a senior’s residence since March – outside in the South Courtyard of Sakaw Terrace retirement residence. Eight of us gathered in a circle of chairs to share experiences over the summer. I also offered a brief reflection; and I loved seeing these people again. But I don’t know if the weather will allow too many more such gatherings.
Regardless of what happens with the pandemic and the other social crises we are living through, our imagination, creativity, and willingness to innovate will be called upon in the months and years ahead. The old ways did not always serve us well. So, the question remains: what innovations can we collectively imagine that will feed our souls and serve our neighbours in changing circumstances?
In the short excerpt from Matthew Fox’s book on Creativity that we heard today, he notes both the power and the peril of imagination. Imagination helps us to overcome problems and build more loving communities. But it can also ensnare us in fears of a future we don’t want.
The shadow side of imagination reminds me of an old saying . . . that worrying is like praying for something you don’t want. Instead of worrying, at Mill Woods United we try to pray for the neighbourhood and world we do want. Seen in this way, prayer is an act of sacred imagination.
Can we pray for a country and then a world free of COVID-19? Every family, school, and store has imagined ways to remain COVID-free, which is why this morning we are wearing masks, keeping our distance, and not sharing handshakes.
But the broader context is not so clear. Almost as soon as the pandemic was declared, the idea that Canada could not become COVID-free until there was a vaccine descended on all of us. I will be thrilled if a vaccine appears. But until that day, I am pleased that some countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, and New Zealand have demonstrated that eliminating COVID-19 is possible.
If we can imagine victory over COVID-19 and then achieve it, perhaps we can imagine succeeding in far greater challenges – to end racist violence, to get rid of weapons of mass destruction, or to stop humanity’s destruction of the natural world.
It might seem like a huge leap from imagining safe ways for people to gather at Mill Woods United Church to imagining a world free of racism, war, and pollution. But the greatest journey begins with just one step. And God’s dream of Love is a gracious space in which we seek to live and within which we pray.
May it be so. Amen.