"Visions and Dreams"

LUKE 2:14-21

Jun 29, 2014

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            Two lawyers in the Bible Belt, where the vast majority of people still attend church, faced each other in a trial.  Given the locale one lawyer thought he would make a great impression on the jury by quoting from the Bible.  So he said of his opponent's client, "We have it on the highest authority that it has been said, 'All that a man has will he give for his life.'" But the other lawyer knew the Bible better.  He said, "I am very much impressed by the fact that my distinguished colleague here regards as the highest authority the one who said, 'All that a man has will he give for his life.'  You will find that this saying comes from the Book of Job, the second chapter, the fourth verse, and the one who utters it is the devil.  And that is whom he regards as the highest authority!"

            In referring to the Bible it's important to consider the context of the passage one is quoting, so let's begin with that this morning.  Let's place our passage in it's proper context.  It's nine o'clock in the morning on the Day of Pentecost.  By the way, I find it strange that Pentecost, the third most important day on the calendar for Christians, the day marking the coming of the Holy Spirit, the day pointed to as the very birthday of the church, does not get as much play as Christmas and Easter.  Christmas gets the most attention.  Christians and non-Christians alike observe Christmas, albeit in different ways, but they do observe it.  Easter is a big day in Christian circles, but even non-Christians get into Easter with bunnies and Easter egg hunts.  Pentecost, however, is largely ignored. Oh sure, we get out the red liturgical colors for that day, and sing songs about the coming of the Holy Spirit, but attendance at worship does not go up like it does on Christmas Eve and Easter. 

            Furthermore, we don't have holiday sales around Pentecost like we do Christmas and Easter.  I have never seen a sign in a store that read, "Just five more shopping days until Pentecost."  Have you?  In fact, in all my years, the closest thing I have ever seen approaching even a hint that this special day was soon to arrive was one year in the nursery department at Lowe's where some pentas were for sale.  And for those of you who might not know, pentas have hairy green leaves and clusters of flowers in shades of red, white, pink, and purple and are particularly  attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.  Anyway, I was at Lowe's and I heard a customer ask a salesperson, "How much does a penta cost?"  That's the only time I heard a reference to Pentecost in a retail store.

            And maybe it's good, that Pentecost does not get the commercial play that Christmas and Easter do.  Maybe it's good that this important day of the church still belongs to us, and not to consumers and retail stores, and it's on this day, the third most important day on the Christian calendar, that Peter stands up at nine in the morning to speak.  This will be the first Christian sermon ever preached.  I remember the first one I preached.  It was on one verse of the Bible, Hebrews 11:5.  It read, "By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and he was not found because God had taken him."  The verse had been assigned to me by my preaching professor and I gave that sermon at the early, less attended service at Grandview Presbyterian Church in Glendale, California.  I was not yet ready for prime time, their 11 o'clock service, so they put me at the early service where I could not harm as many folk.

            Well, Peter gets up to preach the first Christian sermon, and the first of twenty-eight sermons that Luke records in the Book of Acts.  Most of those twenty-eight sermons will come from both Peter and then later Paul, and let me tell you, when Peter gets up to speak we cringe.  We cringe for two reasons.  First, this is a tough crowd, and I do mean crowd.  People from all different lands had gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish Harvest festival known as Pentecost.  Earlier in the morning the Holy Spirit had descended on the disciples, also gathered in Jerusalem, and the Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak in foreign languages, to communicate with all the people in the crowd.  The crowd was amazed by this ability and some asked, "What does this mean?  How do they do that?"  Others, however, sneered and accused the disciples of drunkenness.  They thought the overly excited Christians were drunk, so Peter gets on his feet to counter that absurd remark.  So, it was a tough crowd.

            We also cringe because we think, "Oh no, Peter's going to speak.  He's put his foot in his mouth so many times!  This is going to be bad!  Someone get a hook!  Get him off stage.  Someone else get up to talk, Andrew or John or James, anyone but Peter," but then he says exactly what needs to be said, and three thousand people in the crowd end up giving their lives to Jesus Christ that day.  I'm lucky if no one dozes off when I preach, and Peter gets three thousand people out of this tough crowd to embrace Jesus Christ.  Amazing.  Utterly amazing.  

            Throughout the sermon, which goes all the way to verse 36, he quotes scripture and the first scripture he quotes comes from a rather obscure prophet named Joel, and our vision statement begins with that quote.   Listen to Peter's words again as he quotes Joel.

 

            In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughter will prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit ...

 

            As we reflect on our vision statement and the words of Joel, I want to offer two comments.  Number one, a vision statement isn't worth the paper it's written upon without the Spirit.

            I think of the man at an airport, in the 1950's when flying was fun, and who was worried about missing his plane.  He had no wristwatch, and he couldn't locate a clock, so he went up to a stranger and said, "Excuse me, could you tell me the time, please?"

            The stranger smiled and said, "Sure."  He set down the two large suitcases he was carrying and looked at his wristwatch.  "It is 6:08, the temperature is 75.  The barometric pressure is 30.19 and falling.  Rain is predicted.  In Madrid, the sky is clear.  The temperature is 40 degrees Celsius. In Istanbul, the weather is sultry and the moon full."

            "Your watch tells you all that?" the man interrupted.

            "Oh, yes . . . and much more," said the stranger. "You see, I invented this watch, and there is no other timepiece like it in the world!"

            "I want to buy that watch!" said the man. "I'll pay you $2,000 for it right now!"

            "No, it's not for sale," said the stranger as he picked up his suitcases.

            "Wait! $4,000. I'll pay you $4,000 cash," offered the man, reaching for his wallet.

            "No, I can't," said the stranger. "You see, it has great sentimental value for me."

            "O.K. listen," said the man. "I'll give you $10,000.  I've got the money right here."

            The stranger paused. "$10,000?  Well, O.K.  It's yours for $10,000."  The man was absolutely elated.  He paid the stranger, took the watch, and snapped it on his wrist with glee, and said, "Thanks," as he turned to leave.

            "Wait," said the stranger.  With a big smile, he handed the two heavy suitcases to the man and added, "Don't forget the batteries."

            Silly story, but this is the continual temptation that haunts God's people.  We forget the batteries.  We forget the source of our power.  We leave behind what is essential to the life of the community of faith.

            For the past two years we have labored over this vision statement.  We have prayed about it.  We have met about it.  The Conference on the Past, the Conference on the Present, the Conference on the Future.  We have listened to each other and the Spirit.  And we hope we have heard correctly.  If the Spirit isn't in this vision, it will stop here.  If we ever become what God means for us to become, it will not be because of our programs, or our choir, or our friendliness, or our preaching, or our vintage building.  It will be because God's Spirit lifts us.

            One writer used the analogy of an albatross.  I"m not an expert on the albatross.  Maybe you are.  Maybe you have a degree in albatrossity, but I don't.  All I know comes from a guy named Ken Bible.  Not Ken Doll, but Ken Bible and with Bible as a last name, he surely can be trusted.  Anyway, Bible notes that the albatross has the longest wingspan of any living bird: 12 feet.  He also notes that it is too heavy to fly.  It can't support itself in the air.  In fact, in still air, it can't even take off.  Yet the albatross is a marathon flier.

            Scientists put a radio transmitter on one to track it.  After 30 days and 9,000 miles, the battery gave out, and the albatross was still over the ocean.  How can a bird too heavy to support itself be a marathon flier?  The answer?  It doesn't flap.  It glides.  It is a master at riding the winds.

            For example, it knows that in slightly higher altitudes, the faster air currents provide greater speed. Then it dives, letting gravity give acceleration.  Then it catches an updraft off the waves, and the cycle starts all over again.  The albatross not only survives winds of almost any force at sea, but also it is not even blown off course. It can ride out the storms by reading the winds and circling.  Then when calm returns, it continues on its way.[1]

            We need to learn from the albatross.  If we could ride the winds of God's Spirit, we could accomplish far more than we think possible.  That is the first thing we need to learn from Pentecost.  The source of our power is God's Spirit.

            The second comment I want to make is this: where the Spirit is there is vision.

            The word vision occurs forty-eight times in the New Testament and thirty-one times in the Old Testament.   Let's define it.  Before we define it, I'm reminded of a story about Duke Ellington.  Duke Ellington, the late jazz musician and composer, was asked to provide a definition of rhythm.  He said, "If you've got it, you don't need no definition, and if you ain't got it, ain't no definition gonna help."  Well, thankfully, vision can be defined.

            One person defined it as "foresight with insight based on hindsight."  Someone else defined vision as "seeing the invisible and making it visible."  Still another person said, "vision is an informed bridge from the present to the future."  All of those definitions are good as far as they go, but they leave out one key ingredient.  They leave out the Spirit of God.

            George Barna puts that ingredient back into the definition.  He defines it as follows: "Vision for ministry is a clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God to his chosen servants, and is based upon an accurate understanding of God, self, and circumstances."[2]

            That's what we hope we have here ... a clear image of a preferable future imparted to us by God's Spirit. 

            For seven years we lived forty-five minutes from the most popular tourist attraction on the planet: Disney World.  It has four theme parks:  The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom, and two water parks: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, as well as Downtown Disney, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and Disney's Boardwalk.   In 2013 132 million people went through the turnstiles at Disney World alone.  132 million!

            It sits on forty-three square miles of property.  It is twice the size of Manhattan Island.  Originally, it took seven years to plan, and four and one-half years to build.  On October 1, 1971, Disney World had its grand opening.  As they were having the dedication ceremony, someone turned to Mike Vance, the Creative Director of Walt Disney Studios and said, "Isn't it a shame that Walt didn't live to see this?"  Vance replied, "He did see it.  That's why it's here."

            Disney World is there because of one thing - vision.  It is amazing how much of our everyday life is impacted by someone's vision.  The medicine that we take, the car that we drive, the planes we fly, the TVs we watch, the computers we use, are all the result of someone's vision.

            Somebody has astutely observed that the blindest person in the world is not the person with no sight, but the person with no vision.  And where the Spirit is present there is vision, and I hope we have both: the Spirit and God's vision for us.  Amen.



[1] Living In The Spirit," by Ken Bible, Herald of Holiness, May 1995, p. 32.

[2] George Barna, The Power of Vision, p.28.