Sermons

Sun, May 20, 2018

Dreams and visions

Series:Sermons

The Kokoda Trail--

in popular thought, it's almost begun to rival Gallipoli in the Australian secular religion.

It's presented as a crucial episode in defining our national identity.

And, in popular telling, it's a story of a bunch of eighteen year olds who--

without any effective leadership--

staved off the might of Japan...

and prevented an invasion of Australia.

However, the military historian--

Dr Peter Williams--

has suggested that the commonly held account of the Kokoda campaign needs major revision.

After careful investigation of Japanese reports and records, he concluded that--

contrary to popular belief-- 

the Australian forces were not always outnumbered by the Japanese.

It was not some seventy-seven, ill-equipped and ill-trained soldiers holding off the might of Japan.

In some battles, he claims, the Australians actually had superior numbers.

Other historians note that the average age of the Australian soldiers was about twenty-five...

not eighteen;

there were, indeed, some able and competent officers in charge;

and the heroic bravery of the troops wasn't universal.

One whole battalion was sent home to Australian for desertion during battle...

while, on another occasion, General Blamey criticised the troops as "running rabbits".

Japanese military records also show that there were no plans to invade Australia.

 

I have said it before, but history is not simply a recollection of facts.

It's a reconstruction.

It's an interpretation.

And it's a reconstruction that's written by the winners...

and always written from a certain point of view.

But, in the case of stories like Kokoda, we're not just dealing with history.

We're also dealing with myth--

foundational myth.

Anthropologically speaking, myths are legendary stories--

of heroes and gods...

exaggerated and blown out of proportion--

which serve a higher purpose.

Myths are stories that attempt to explain where we come from;

stories that help to shape and define our identity and our values.

That's what myths do.

And that's what we have in this morning's reading from Acts.

In the story of Pentecost, we have a foundational myth.

While it's possible that it has some basis in reality... 

on the whole, it has been constructed by the author to make a theological point;

to explain the foundation of the church...

and to uphold and inculcate its values.

It's a story full of traditional imagery:

like the fire and wind...

Hebrew symbols of theophany--

that is, of God's presence and appearance.

And, clearly, it's a story full of exaggeration.

And when we put all of that aside--

when we put aside all of the masterful storytelling-

what do we have?

What's the point that the author is trying to make?

"In the last days...God declares...I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh...and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams"

That seems to be the point:

the defining characteristic of God's people, the Church-

empowered by the Spirit--

is dreaming dreams and seeing visions:

daring to be illogical and impractical;

taking the risk of seeming foolish and fanatical;

focusing on the potentials, not the problems;

pondering the might-yet-be's, not the what-if's;

imagining the possibilities, not dwelling on past failures or mistakes;

dreaming dreams and seeing visions...

and clinging to them...

allowing them to inspire us...

to captivate us...

to sweep us along...

to buoy us up when we're down or doubting...

to keep us going when we feel like giving up.

Dreams and visions--

that, the author suggests, is what Pentecost is all about;

that is what it means to be inspired, filled, swept along by the Spirit;

that is what transformed a timid, fearful, and uncertain bunch...

into people who were bold and courageous;

that's what gave birth to the church...

and set them on a mission to transform the world;

and that's what will breathe new life into this and every community of faith and into this broken world of ours.

The author's image of the Church...

is of people of faith captivated by the Spirit of God...

seeing visions...

and dreaming dreams.

 

But what sort of dreams and visions?

 

Dreams of church services full once more--

like in the good old days--

of people revelling in choral music;

of Sunday Schools teeming with children?

No!

What then?

What sort of dream or vision does the author anticipate or expect?

Interestingly, he doesn't tell us--

not in so many words.

But let's look at how he crafts his story.

Note what this coming of God's Spirit to the disciples actually does.

Note how it's manifest.

First, the author suggests that the followers of Jesus... 

"began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability"

This small group of Aramaic-speaking Galileans...

suddenly started speaking in other languages.

And the impression is that each one of them spoke in a different language.

Second, according to the story, each person in this multi-cultural crowd... 

"heard them speaking in the native language of each".

People from virtually every corner of the known world--

indeed the author actually claims "from every nation under heaven"--

they all heard the disciples speaking in their own language or dialect.

Now, it may not be clear at first glance...

but this story involves two separate phenomena. 

First, there's an inexplicable ability to speak--

each one of this small group of followers is able to speak in a different language.

Second, each person in the crowd--

and supposedly people from every nation-- 

each one of them hears what is said in their own language or dialect.

In other words... 

there's an inexplicable ability to speak...

and an inexplicable ability to hear.

It's these two phenomena that Peter... 

in the story... 

explains in terms of dreams and visions.

 

As Church, we're called to dream dreams and see visions.

But not just any old dreams and visions.

Not the sort of mundane dreams and visions that most of us might have sitting in a pew week by week...

in a half-empty church building.

Rather...

we're called to dream daring dreams--

we're called to see expansive visions--

of what can happen with the coming of the Spirit:

dreams and visions of a world made new...

of humanity reconciled and re-united...

speaking and listening as if with one voice...

barriers and boundaries broken down;

the dream that the division...

the fragmentation...

and the estrangement of humankind can be healed;

the dream that the things that keep humans apart--

the barriers of race, language, and culture behind which we're trapped...

and the fear, suspicion, and animosity that these breed--

can be overcome;

the dream that reconciliation between the divided peoples of the world can be realised...

when, simultaneously--

prompted and guided by God's Spirit--

people discover how to speak and how to listen.

 

The Pentecost story is a salutary reminder...

that, if we allow the Spirit to blow through us...

things can never be as they are...

or have been.

The Spirit, who-- 

in the story of Acts-- 

shook the disciples to their core...

overcame their fears...

and propelled them forward into costly, risky, loving service...

seeks to do the same to us.

The Spirit strives always and in all ways... 

to break down the barriers that keep us all divided and some disadvantaged...

until we are all-- 

in a sense-- 

speaking the same language.

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