Do you ever have déjà vu? Didn’t you just ask me that? Bill Murray is at his wry, wisecracking best in this riotous romantic comedy about a weatherman caught in a personal time warp on the worst day of his life. Teamed with a relentlessly cheerful producer (Andie MacDowell) and a smart-aleck cameraman (Chris Elliott), TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities. But on his way out of town, Phil is caught in a giant blizzard, which he failed to predict, and finds himself stuck in small-town hell. Just when things couldn’t get worse, they get worse; Phil wakes the next morning to find it’s a Groundhog Day all over again…and again…and again.
Do you ever have days like that? I do. But, for Christians, a Groundhog Day existence should not be the norm. As followers of Jesus, each day is a new day. Oh, there may be certain things that stay the same, like remembering to put on my hearing aids, brushing my teeth three times a day, use the Waterpik two times a day, and floss my teeth after each meal. But, each day is filled with new things and opportunities. All I need to do is have the desire to see them.
Our lectionary texts drive home this point: utilizing imagination is central to a community’s overall health. Individual freedom and responsibility have a dynamic relationship. Whenever I get focused on me and my freedom, I blame, and my life becomes more predictable. In fact, I become more negative and motivated by fear. Living a Groundhog Day existence is not only boring, but it can breed a life of contempt.
On this Fourth Sunday After The Epiphany, we affirm that the Christian life is a journey not a series of Groundhog Day experiences. To view and live life in this way, requires imagination. Look how God dealt with sin and all of its ways to disrupt, discourage, and derail humans. Mark Labberton, the author of The Dangerous Act of Worship, writes, “Our God is Beauty, Goodness and Truth, and the fount from which all its many expressions come. The greatest evidence of this is the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of God. Here God’s imagination is borne in mysterious, self-offering love that begins the re-creation of a fallen world that will one day become a new heaven and new earth.” Imagination is key to overcome the predictability of life that Groundhog Day days offer. Labberton continues, “Only God’s imagination could dream such an end or fashion such a means.” Our imagination is crippled by sin, however. That is why confession and claiming God’s forgiveness is so important.
Let’s address the point of the four lectionary texts: utilizing imagination is central to a community’s overall health. First, Christian freedom is grounded in love, God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Having an attitude of gratitude, reverence, and wisdom requires imagination. Challenging beliefs and worldviews is imperative. Listening to God leads to faithful action. Living an ethic of self-sacrifice is joy producing. Arguing with another’s experience is counterproductive. Making boundaries or borders cannot keep Jesus out. Answering with certainty about what is right and wrong is perilous. Second, when we hurt others, we hurt Christ. Engaging the real world and its real-life issues makes the church visible. Addressing poverty, war, greed, abuse, and violence is all about healing the hurting. Hearing the call to stop hurting others, thus no longer hurting Christ, comes through prophetic words spoken. Loving others guards the integrity of the church. Our words and actions of good news bring salvation. That is the point of living a journey and seeing it as good. Live fully in the imagination, which God gives you.
Our lectionary readings teach us to use our God given imaginations to live the journey, not a series of Groundhog Day days. Living a convictional life is preferable to one which is bland. Freedom is not permission to do whatever we wish, but that which advances the common good. Richard B. Hays, Professor of New Testament at The Divinity School, Duke University writes, “Rather than asserting rights and privileges, we are to shape our actions toward edification of our brothers and sisters in the community of faith. In so doing, we will be following the example of Christ.” Use your God given imagination. See things as God sees them; the poor becoming rich, the weak becoming strong, and the marginalized welcomed. Do you see things differently now?
Taken from the iTunes Preview website from a description about the movie, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray.
Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 148.
Some of my thinking in this paragraph has been shaped by Anne H. K. Apple, Christine Roy Yoder, Verity A. Jones, Richard A. Puckett, P.C. Enniss, Gary W. Charles, V. Bruce Rigdon, and Steven J. Kraftchick in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 290-313.
Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1997), 145.