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Thursday, May 02, 2013
Lectionary Scriptures: Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67:1-7, Revelation 21:10, 21-22:5, John 14:23-29, John 5:1-9

What do you dream about?  It’s a question that can refer to our dreams while sleeping or our hopes and visions and aspirations while wide awake or lost in a moment of almost trancelike wonder.  Much has been made of dreams and their interpretation.  Where do they come from?  What are they trying to tell us?  Visions of possible futures are sometimes the province of planners and politicians, philosophers and theologians, novelists and poets, even those who specifically call themselves futurists.  Where are we going as a society and where do we want to go?


Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

So---what of the lectionary readings for Sunday?  Two specifically are, or contain, visions.  Others offer elements of vision, explicitly or implicitly, that have informed the Judeo-Christians tradition for millennia.

The reading from Acts reminds us that visions and dreams can be part of the process by which we gain direction and purpose in our lives, a sense of where we are to go and what we are to do.  That seems to be the role it played here in Paul’s life.  The story, however, reminds us that visions may be seen through a glass darkly.  Paul and his party went immediately to Macedonia (Acts 16:10-12) where they meet not a man but a group of women (vss. 13-15).  We have here a vision which leads to another act of inclusiveness in the early Christian movement.  These were Gentile women not welcome in the synagogue, so speaking to them leaps across two barriers.  They are not followers of the Jewish laws of cleanliness and they are women.  Lydia was apparently a successful business woman, who may have provided financial support for Paul’s work.  She certainly provided hospitality for Paul and his companions.  (vss. 14-15)

The entire book of Revelation is a vision that came to “John” while he was “in the spirit” on the Island of Patmos.  (Revelation 1:9-10)  It is full of fantasy type images.  It portrays a battle in which good overcomes evil and a new heaven and a new earth are established.  (Revelation 21:1)  Many attempts have been made to interpret and reinterpret the imagery in every age, often extending their significance into the far future, sometimes applying them to the politics and leadership of specific times and places.  The first readers almost undoubtedly read the book as a word of encouragement in the midst of the persecution they were experiencing.  The writer himself shares “with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance.”  (Revelation 1:9)  The ultimate message is that God and good win.

Visions sometimes pertain to political situations and possibilities.  They are a source of hope and endurance and motivation.

In the porti7on for this week, the writer again speaks of being carried away in the spirit “to a great, high mountain.”  He has a vision of Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God.” (Revelation 21:10)  He’s already been told, “See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them . . .” (vs. 3)  There are details that some of us may find disturbing, but the essence of the vision is that in the presence of God the significance of much that we hold near and dear seems to drop away.  Temples and cathedrals are no longer needed.  (vs. 22)  We don’t have to keep looking over our shoulders at the sinister shadows where danger may lurk. (vss. 23-25) We are given an image of a completely safe place where all that we need is provided. The river of the water of life flows through the city with “the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit” and on and on.  Frankly, I’m not sure I could stand such luxury or if it would be good for my soul.  Behind the images, however, is a message that can give us hope when we are surrounded by the machinations of power politics which too often oppress and abuse in the world we experience on a daily basis.

Let’s give the remaining readings a cursory look from the standpoint of vision.

The reading from John 14 is part of Jesus’ farewell discourses preparing the disciples to carry on after he is no longer with them.  He promises an “Advocate, the Holy Spirit” who “will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”  (John 14:26)  He is stirring them to dream about their future.  This is not the end, but a beginning.  The building blocks for that future are love and peace.  “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”  (vs. 24)  As if it were the greatest gift he had to give, he tells them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”  One might ponder the words, “I do not give to you as the world gives.” Peace is more than the absence of conflict.  External peace begins with an untroubled heart. (vs. 27)

John 5 gives us what appears to be a straight forward story of a healing.  Many, in reading and interpreting it, have focused upon the question Jesus asks in verse six “Do you want to be made well?”  The question can easily be turned into an attitude of blaming the victim, but it is also true that we may not be open to change.  Maybe we’re too comfortable with things the way they are.  It is often persecution that gives birth to dreams of better alternatives.  At the same time, too much hardship may discourage the dreamer entirely.  It’s even possible at times that our “dysfunctions” serve us in ways we don’t fully understand.  Sam Keen suggested that sometimes we prefer known hells to unknown heavens.  In all cases, dreams and visions matter only when we want and are open to things being different.

In some ways I think another key to this story is the absence of a helping, supportive community for this man who had been ill for 38 years.  (vs. 5)  He says to Jesus, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”  (vs. 7)  There’s not only a lack of community; there is a competitive spirit and a lack of awareness that leaves this man marginalized.  How often do we discriminate by simply overlooking or running past those who are different?

“Community” has always been at the heart of my vision---the hope for and building of a society (on the smallest group to the global level) in which people really connect with and care for each other, where everyone is included, including what this reading calls “invalids---blind, lame, and paralyzed.”  (vs. 3)

This week’s Psalm is another Psalm of praise and one need not say much else.  Underlying it, and many other Psalms, however, are the elements of a vision, a hope, a dream.  It begins with a dream of connection with God (not totally unrelated to the reading from Revelation).  “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us that your way may be known upon the earth, your saving power among all nations.”  (Psalm 67:1-2)  The ever-present biblical theme of justice and equity is introduced as one of the reasons for praise.  “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.”  (vs. 4)  The tree of life we saw in Revelation is not specifically mentioned, but the abundance of the earth is offered as another part of the praise and blessing of this Psalm.  (vs. 6)

Maybe this week’s readings can invite us all to be dreamers, dreammakers, and dreamkeepers.  Where is God calling us to new challenges and new opportunities, asking us to arise from our lethargy and walk?  What new society and world---new heaven and earth---is God letting down from heaven, inviting us to realize the possibilities of love, peace, and justice in this world?  Maybe they are screaming for us (or gently prodding us) to “Pay Attention!”


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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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