Have you ever had a dream that changed the whole direction of your life? Do you think of your dreams as a place for holy encounter? or just something annoying to disturb your sleep! People in biblical times believed that God spoke to them through dreams; that the Spirit led them through visions. They listened for God in dreams and could distinguish important dreams; sign dreams; holy dreams from unimportant ones.
Some cultures still take dreams very seriously. In Aboriginal tradition, the Creator communicates in dreams, and at turning points in their lives, people are led by the Spirit through visions and vision quests. Jungian analysis is based on attending to dreams as a way of understanding and integrating the unconscious. Those who pay attention to dreams find that the more they value the messages of the dream, the more the unconscious mind gifts the dreamer with a flow of images and connections, for healing. I believe that dreams do connect us with our deep inner wisdom and are one way for God, the genius of the indirect, to nudge us on our journey.
Today we read two scriptures in which people dream and vision outrageously! Usually when times are hard, we feel we donâ€™t have time for dreams; Got to get practical! factual! get on with it! â€¦..(Or is that just me?) But here two leaders of the early Christian community; one trying to build a new movement in an alien culture, and another living through times of devastasting persecutionâ€¦ are having visions and dreams that change how they and their communities view the world! These dreams were so important in the early community that they were shared and written down so that we have them 2000 years later. And they werenâ€™t even high on LSD or peyote!!!!
Peter in Acts, is on the hotseat with the disciples who had stayed in Jerusalem. They were a rules-bound lot and Peter who has been out in the territories, preaching and teaching and healing in the Spirit, is called on the carpet for playing too fast and loose with the gospel. Why has he broken the purity code by welcoming Gentile outsiders into the Jesusâ€™ people? (Gentile is the term for anyone who was not a Jew) In his defence, Peter tells of a life-changeing dream. It happened while he was in Joppa, the same seaside town where Tabitha was raised. And it happened while he was in prayer, he says.
As a religious Jew, he had always known what God considered clean and unclean. He knew it was against Godâ€™s will to visit in a Gentileâ€™s home, and particularly to eat with them, which showed tacit acceptance. Eating non kosher was repulsive to Peter. Peter knew also that before Gentile outsiders could be baptized into Christian community they had to be circumcised as Jews. OUCH! You can imagine there might be a bit of resistance to this idea. especially from adult males!â€¦.
Imagine Peterâ€™s shock to have a vision of a large sheet coming from the sky, full of unclean animals. Three times, a voice urged him to eat. That biblical 3 again! Now Peter is a righteous man so he refused After all these animals were unclean! Then come powerful words which make a huge spiritual shift not only for Peter, but for early Christianity. â€œDo not consider anything unclean that God has declared cleanâ€ A radical idea for the people of the First Century. Still a radical idea for most of our own age. We so much prefer to tell God whom God should consider uncleanâ€¦.which strangely just happens to resemble very closely our own biases nâ€™est-ce pas?
Peter took his dream seriously. He understood its meaning as a message from God. He acted upon it the very next day. He had been invited to the house of Cornelius, a gentile. Because of the dream, he went; and then he preached and lo and behold, these Gentiles were filled with the Holy Spirit! Go figger! Who could have guessed that gentiles could be spirit filled believers! So he baptized them, because as he said, Who was I to try to stop God? Who was I to try to stop God? Case closed!
It seems God was doing a whole new thing that Peter had to catch up with!
This story was pivotal to the early Church which struggled with the baptism of Gentiles the way the United Church struggled with the Ordination of Gays and Lesbians a few years ago, and then later gay marriage. â€œDo not consider anything unclean that God has declared cleanâ€ Some of the Christian community continue to think that they know who is acceptable and who is unclean. And they are more than willing to enlist God on their side to bash those whom they despise.
Next Friday I am going to Ottawa for an anniverary of a service that I was part of developing in my former congregation. It was to honour birth mothers who gave their children for adoption. We held it Saturday night before Motherâ€™s Day. It honoured a group of mothers, birth mothers, who were invisible, at best, or despised at worst. It was a way for adopted children and adoptive families to honour their bringing life into the world. Over many years we heard painful stories of the shame and guilt and silence these women had lived because they were labeled by their families, their churches, their society as unclean, bad women. These services were for many, the very first time they had stood up in public and broken that silence. It reminded me of Peterâ€™s vision of inclusiveness. Who are we to declare unclean what God has made clean? Who are we to try to stop God?
Dreams matter. They can lead to paradigm shifts, They can give us new ways to see our world and our place in it. There are so many places where we need dreams and visions to help us see in new ways.
Our generation recognizes the need of dreams and visions of new ways of being in relationship with First Nations, for we have operated out of a colonialist, racist mind set for far too many generations. We are all broken by this reality and Godâ€™s intention is surely distorted. For the future of our planet we need to learn from Aboriginal people a new way of being in creation. Montreal and Ottawa conference meeting this year will meet with the theme Living in Right Relationship. And in the fall at Manoir dâ€™Youville there will be an encounter between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people from the church on Seeking Right Relationship. If this is of interest to you, let me know.
What difference would it make to our world if we were to experience the sacred in creation as native people do? What would a world look like that honoured creation and allowed creation to honour the sacred? a world where human beings were seen as part of this creation connected to it in harmony, not itâ€™s owners, and exploiters? What if our paradigm for all economic and political decisions shifted and was rooted in a sense of reverence for the earth and for one another? What if we, like Aboriginals, thought in terms of the earth being our inheritance from our ancestors and our decisions as affecting the next future 7 generations? It would matter wouldnâ€™t it? Visions make a difference. They affect every aspect of how we live our lives, of where we find meaning and identity, of what we value and therefore protect and give energy to, of how we make decisions. They can change our world view.
Visions also sustain when there is crisis, when the world is falling apart, and we are discouraged and feel hopeless. Revelation was written when the early church was facing persecution from Rome. It was a dangerous time to be known as a follower of Jesus. Many were tortured, imprisoned, or killed for their allegiance. It was surely a time when one could be excused for nervousness that human events had somehow gotten out of Godâ€™s control. How audacious to dare to dream in such a time! Yet John of Patmos (not the disciple John) sets himself the task of strengthening his community and inviting his people to open their eyes to Godâ€™s promise, so that they do not lose hope.
John vision in todayâ€™s reading, paints a spectacular verbal portrait of life as God intends for us to live. It is a vision that invites us into awareness that God is always making a new creation. As Godâ€™s Spirit breath moved over the out chaos in the first creation bringing order and life out of chaosâ€¦so God was recreating even in the midst of their chaos. and I would suggest ours. John casts his visionâ€¦
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.….All of the evil, all of the violence that they were currently experiencing was destroyed- The sea in ancient Hebrew cosmology symbolized Chaos, containing the monsters of the deep. Saying the seas was no more means choas is no more. In Godâ€™s dream, which we glimpse of in this passage, chaos is no more.
The new heaven and new earth which God is creating is not a return to the garden of Eden, but a city as it was meant to be, the holy city, the New Jerusalem, given from heaven. And God dwells in the midst of this city, in the midst of community. God dwells not just in some past place, in the garden, but with people in communityâ€¦. life understood as communal, inspirited by the Presence of God.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, Death will be no more; mourning and weeping and pain will be no more for the first things have passed away. The vision of healing, and wholeness, and of an end to the oppression is Godâ€™s dream, Godâ€™s intention for creation â€“ This is what God is creatingâ€¦.This promise of a better world has sustained many in the struggle for justice around the world.
Then God speaks- See, I am making all things new I am Alpha and Omega the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Imagine nourishing yourself from the spring of the water of life; from the Source itself.
Imagine living out of a vision of a God who is not some ancient Being struggling to keep up with our fascinating and frightening modern world. Rather a God whose Spirit is continuing to create, to make all things new , who is both the originator and the consummator of history. who longs to give water from the eternal spring of the water of life.
This image has captured the greatest and most resilient of humanityâ€™s hopes and dreams. It has energized and inspired many into action to seek a better human society. It energized the struggle against child labour and inhuman working conditions in the Industrial revolution, it was a powerful vision for those who worked to end the slave trade. It has inspired reform movements in many parts of the world. It has been a source of identity and strength for my own journey.
It has been said that without a vision the people perish.
Visions energize, visions give meaning, They create how we see reality. Visions connect us to one another and to what God is doing in our world. Who are we to try to stop God? Who are we to assume God is not doing a new thing in our midst?
Visions matter.. We discount them at our peril.