Monday, July 21, 2014

Dreams and Visions

The Day of Pentecost, 6/8/14. Good Shepherd, Berkeley
The Spirit of God, that moved over the dark waters at Creation, when the earth was without form, that flew down from heaven in a rushing wind, that Jesus exhaled softly, came to rest on the disciples on that Pentecost morning.

The result was astounding. They were inside the house, and yet all those down in the street could hear the cacophony of their many tongues- the drunken, firey, ecstatic sound of their voices.

What happened to them? How were they so utterly transformed? What kind of glory overtook them? How were they made to prophesy, to have visions, to dream dreams? Whatever it was, we might be tempted to say, in the modern vernacular,  “I’ll have what they’re having.”

Highly contagious ecstasy, firey energy, a means of communicating that went past all barriers. So full of life, so unencumbered that they seemed to be drunk. I’ll have what they’re having.

This Pentecost miracle occurred 50 days after the Easter miracle. But there is absolutely no separation between Easter and Jesus’ exhalation of the Holy Spirit in our reading from the gospel of John, because it happens on Easter Eve. Not only is there no fire or mighty wind, but Jesus gives absolutely no clue, either to his disciples or to us, as to what he is commissioning them to do.

And yet on this first Easter evening, on this first encounter with the risen Christ, his gift is the breath of the Holy Spirit. And once you are filled with the Holy Spirit, by definition, you will know what to do.          

It seems to me that this is a Pentecost moment for all of us here at this church. We are situated in a neighborhood not unlike that described in our reading from Acts. There are people here, not necessarily pious people, from every nation under heaven and the diversity is not only geographical. It is spiritual, cultural, economic, age-related and spans a breath taking range of abilities of every sort, or lack thereof.

We are about to publicly reopen the church that we thought none of them had ever noticed. And we have learned that they HAVE noticed us, that in fact, they always had noticed us. Perhaps we just didn’t notice them. When the scaffolding was removed, people stood in a line at the curb gawking. People of all languages. They couldn’t get over it. People driving their cars pulled over and took a look.

I got the following phone message on the church line. “I am a human person and hate religion and Christianity, but I love you guys. You are so good to the neighborhood. I am so glad you rebuilt the church!”

As Teddy and Tom Slocumb handed out flyers advertising the San Francisco Scottish Fiddler’s Concert, people asked Teddy if we would have a series of open houses once the church was finished so they could all see it- you know- more than just one grand opening. “Yes!” I said! We will hold a long series of open houses every single Sunday from 11:00 to one WITH a free snack!” I know that is not what they meant, but that is what we offer.

What will happen when all those neighbors and curiosity seekers come and see our church? Will we be able to speak their language? Will we be able to welcome the language of children, and not just tolerate them? Will be able to do what we have been sent to do?  Although the fire at the church is long extinguished, I hope we will still have some fire in the belly.  And I hope we always remember what we have been through these past two years.

We have been refugees, although we are only 50 feet from home. We have persevered, we have worked to keep our worship strong, we have been patient, and we been transformed, but not in a way we ever would have planned on or sought.

We have been filled with the Holy Spirit, every bit as much as those disciples of long ago. And however much static and even furniture that might tend to obscure it, we are all temples of the Holy Spirit.

Can we now welcome those of many languages? Can we welcome the language of those familiar to our Friday free lunches, but not our church? Can we be drunk on our own good fortune, to have such an amazing opportunity to prophesy? To have visions, to dream dreams of what do we want this church to be?

Peter quotes the glorious hymn written by the prophet Joel perhaps 900 years before. An amazing, inclusive, outrageously optimistic prophesy of future glory for humankind.

“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young ones shall see visions, and your old ones shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” -Acts 2:17-18.

At our Bishop Committee retreat, a week before Easter, we did have visions and we did dream dreams, and we have the drawings to prove it. We went through a process called theological reflection. We first came up with an image that expressed what we felt about the experience of having gone through the fire and having persevered as a welcoming faith community. It was a vision of a church, which was utterly wide open. Its walls were open to the street, and people were looking in from the neighborhood and some were walking up the stairs. We noticed that the way the chairs all faced the altar in the back made it so that the parishioners all had their backs to those who entered. This is why we wanted to try worship in the round.

When we took the next step, to find a biblical image that related to our vision, we came up with Jesus in the town square, openly teaching and healing. Open to everyone. Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit all over the place.

Last week I preached a great deal about glory, because that seemed to be a key word in our gospel reading. We found out that it meant power, splendor, light, importance, weightiness and weightlessness. The disciples at Pentecost received a kind of glory- a kind of holy power- they were on fire with the Holy Spirit- they were blazingly alive.

The second century bishop and theologian Iraneus defined glory as a kind of Pentecost that is the birthright of everyone- a Pentecost poured out on all flesh. “The glory of God,” he said, “is the human person fully alive.” This is what is promised- life and life abundant if we follow the promptings of the Spirit. If we use the life we are gifted with to offer ourselves and our spirit to those who may be gasping for breath, without even knowing it.   Amen.

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