27 May 2012

Dreams and Visions

Good and Gracious God, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be pleasing to you, our rock and our redeemer.


Last Sunday we were reminded of Jesus’ parting words at the Ascension as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Those words in Acts chapter one reminded us to be witnesses in our in our towns, in our nation and in the world. We were rightly reminded to live out our membership vows, vows that I will renew here next week, to support the work of the church with my prayers, my presence, my gifts, my service and my witness.

But before the Apostles and Disciples could be witnesses they were told to wait. In Luke’s gospel account of the Ascension the Disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem until they were “endued” or filled with power from on high. So today we mark that moment in the church, when the Holy Spirit of God came and gave the church her power. From the moment we leave the disciples last week, until we pick up the story again this week, the Disciples have been waiting… and waiting… and waiting.

I personally am not fond of waiting. In restaurants and stores often the only thing that allows me to keep my patience is the thought that, surly there must be a hidden TV camera around to see how I will react to the prolonged line at check out, or the delayed delivery of my food. I must be on one of those ‘candy camera’ style shows, I think… but never has that been the case, and in the end I am glad that I was patient. However, I will not begin to address my attitude when waiting in traffic, I know there isn’t a ‘candy camera’ around on I-95.

So imagine yourself in the Disciples place; Jesus was dead, then He was alive, then He appeared a few times, then He ascended into heaven and then He left them alone. And while he promised them that he would not leave them comfortless there they are in Jerusalem, waiting at this point for about 10 days and feeling alone.

They now believe in and have experienced the Resurrected Christ, which has transformed them into a subset of an already oppressed religion and race. At this point in history and this part of the world the Jews are considered an annoyance at best by the Roman Empire. A backwoods people, in a trodden down trading route. If that wasn’t bad enough, the disciples are now the outcasts in the minds of those people, the backwoods people. So after Jesus ascends and leaves them alone in this new obscure sect, they go back to Jerusalem. They go back to where they are familiar, and they, to their credit, do just as Christ told them, they wait.

While they are waiting the Festival of Shavuot arrives on their liturgical calendar. Shavuot can be translated weeks, so some of you may have heard of this called the Festival of Weeks. The Jewish Festival of Shavuot was to be celebrated seven weeks after the Passover. While Passover was, and is, the time when Jews remember being freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh in Egypt, it is at Shavuot that the people celebrate God giving them the Torah, the first five books in the Bible containing the Ten Commandments, making them the people of God, a nation, holy and separate. For us this would be somewhat like celebrating Independence Day on the fourth of July, the day we mark as the beginning of our nation, the United States. We celebrate with food and fireworks; they celebrate with food and flowers. In time and in some parts of the world, The Festival of Shavuot would come to be known as Pentecost, after the Greek word pentecoste, which means fifty. While there is a little dispute about exact dates, Shavuot usually began 50 days after the end of the Passover. Following that pattern, the Christian liturgical calendar marks Pentecost at about 50 days after The Resurrection. In parallel, At Easter we remember and celebrate that God in Christ overcame death and freed us from the bonds of slavery to sin. Today, at Pentecost, we celebrate the day God came to us, dwelled in us and empowered us to be the people of God, the Church, holy and separate.

Going back to the disciples, we find them on this day; Shavuot, Pentecost, still waiting… and suddenly God shows up. The Holy Spirit descends on them, fills them, they begin speaking in many different languages proclaiming the Good News of Jesus and His Resurrection to the thousands gathered from all over the empire to celebrate during the festival. After waiting, all the disciples, at least 120 of them, probably more, have now gotten what they were waiting for. God himself, in the form of His Holy Spirit is with them, and in them. They are no longer alone, and they have been filled with power.  It is truly holy chaos, to the point of some wondering whether everyone is already drunk in celebration. It is at that point, that Peter gets up and begins to preach. The new Common English Bible records that moment this way;

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel; “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams.”
A few weeks ago I was at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida. I was there as part of my position with the United Methodist Publishing House. As many know, General Conference is made up of delegates, evenly split between clergy and laity, and is the sole decision making body for the denomination. This General Conference was, in my memory, one of the most contentious and stressful. I won’t go into all the details and all the issues and all the hurt that happened, but I will say for the most part when the General Conference adjourned many were left in a state of confusion, waiting and feeling alone. It will be weeks, even months, before we know the final outcome for many of the actions implemented at General Conference or if they will even be put into affect. But even as the confusion began to take place something else began to happen. All over the Methodist connection, people began to envision a United Methodist Church that still had a place in God’s plan! People began to dream of a United Methodist Church that will make a difference in this world for Jesus Christ! Young people began having visions and Elders began dreaming dreams! A Pentecostal awakening of sorts had begun!

Toward the end of General Conference many begin using the hash-tag line #DreamUMC when they made statements on Twitter. As many of you know, Twitter is a social media website and smart-phone application, where people can post thoughts, ideas, suggestions, or just about anything that pops into their head… as long as it fits in 140 typed characters. How it works is that you send the message in the form of a text and anyone who has an account can read your posts. About two years ago the Library of Congress even began recording every post by every person on Twitter. This year Twitter was being used by thousands of people during General Conference, of all ages and of all walks of life, delegates on the floor and people sitting at home watching via the internet. Out of that #DreamUMC twitter tag line, has grown a movement of people, younger and older, who are dreaming again.

Two weeks ago hundreds of these dreamers met virtually and began to formulate their visions and dreams for The United Methodist Church, our role in the world, and our hopes for the future into words and actions. Being one of these dreamers has given me a renewed passion for The United Methodist Church as a whole and renewed passion, vision and dreams for this local congregation at Zion. It has been a truly Pentecostal experience.

It has been almost 2000 years since that first Pentecost, when the Spirit of Christ filled the 120 and they went out proclaiming the Good News and dreaming big dreams! In time they literally changed the world, because they had been filled with the power of the Holy Ghost, the very same power that fills and empowers you today! As believers you have not only been commissioned by Christ, as we were reminded last week, but you have been equipped to do great things thru the Spirit of Christ. Great things like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, comforting the hurting, freeing those trapped in slavery. But also the often-overlooked things in our membership vows; lifting your prayers, being present, sharing your gifts, performing service, and proclaiming your witness. As a part of the universal church, who’s birthday we celebrate today, you are both called and empowered to carry on the work of the 120 plus disciples who first experienced this Holy Ghost outpouring of power. I believe today, at Pentecost, is an appropriate time for the disciples that gather here at the Zion United Methodist Church to begin to see visions and dream dreams again!

In 1740, Charles Wesley gave us a prayer in the form of a hymn to encourage the people called Methodist to be a people of Pentecost. A Spirit filled, a Spirit empowered, a Spirit led people. He penned these words;

“Come, Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire, Let us Thine influence prove: Source of the old prophetic fire, Fountain of life and love.
Come, Holy Ghost, for moved by Thee, The prophets wrote and spoke; Unlock the truth, Thyself the key, Unseal the sacred book.
Expand Thy wings, celestial Dove, Brood o’er our nature’s night; On our disordered spirits move, And let there now be light.
God, through Himself, we then shall know If Thou within us shine, And sound with all Thy saints below, The depths of love divine.”

And so today, on Pentecost, I am asking you what are your Dreams? What do you envision?  I try to end sermons with a call to discipleship and today that comes in those questions. What are your Dreams, what will you envision? I encourage you this week to take some time to specifically pray… seeking the Holy Ghost to fill you with Dreams and Visions for what God will do through you, through Zion and through the United Methodist Church.

In the Name of Jesus, whom we call the Christ, and who’s Holy Spirit fills us anew again today, Amen.


Go forth now as Pentecost people, 
filled with the Spirit, dreaming dreams, and seeing visions of God's possibilities. Go forth, knowing we are beloved and blessed by a God who never leaves us alone. Go forth, to be surprised by the Spirit in all that you dream and do. Go forth, claiming your identity as Pentecost people; people of dreams and visions, people filled with that most amazing and transforming Holy Spirit. Amen.