Seeing Visions and Dreaming Dreams
Who really has a right to speak on behalf of God? Whose voices do we listen to as we seek a direction and a purpose for us as people of faith and as a community?
In my sermon from Sunday, I invite us to explore these themes as we reflect on the prophet's profound declaration in chapter 2 Joel of God's intent to pour out God's spirit upon all of us.
Seeing Visions and Dreaming Dreams
Rev. Leanne Masters
Southern Heights Presbyterian Church
October 27th, 2013
One of the really neat traditions surrounding ordination of pastors in the Presbyterian Church is that each ordination service centers around the elements to which pastors are ordained: The Word and Sacrament.
Now, I know that we are no longer referred to as “Ministers of Word and Sacrament,” but instead are officially called “Teaching Elders,” but there is a great teaching element to the old language. Those of us who are ordained to this particular service are called to make sure that the sacraments are rightly administered, the word is rightly preached, and that discipline is rightly handled (to paraphrase the Scots confession).
And so, in our ordinations, there is the hearing and an interpretation of the Word, and the administration of a sacrament.
Typically, because of the nature of the gathering, the sacrament that is celebrated during such a service is communion. It makes sense...the body gathers together in community and celebrates the communal meal.
However...My ordination was a bit different.
One of my oldest friends had a child who, at the time, was six years old, and had never been baptized...and she asked me if I would baptize her daughter. Because of the situation and circumstances, it made sense and was...just right.
The pastor of my home church at the time, who was also a great mentor to me, and I visited with the young lady, to make sure that she understood what baptism meant and to confirm her own desire to be baptized, since, because of her age, she was making the decision on her own.
And so, as I celebrated the administration of my first sacrament, I baptized a beautiful child and welcomed her into the family of God. It was a wonderful moment, and a wonderful day.
Since then, I’ve stayed in touch with both mom and daughter, and continue to have conversations about faith, life, and everything.
Her mother, my friend, shared with me one day that her daughter was having a conversation about the Lord’s prayer. In this conversation, she interpreted the statement, “Our Father, who art in heaven” as “Our Father, whose art is in heaven.” Because of this, she declared that God, indeed, was an artist.
When she was asked to explain what she meant, she elaborated...Of course God is an artist! Just look at the sunset!
What a profound statement about who God is and the beauty and the miracle of creation!
You know, in a way it makes me kind of sad, though. Because, typically, we listen in awe to children like her, and then we shrug and smile and dismiss her statement with an “Aww, isn’t that cute,” and a pat on the head...because we understand what is really being said in the Lord’s Prayer...and after all, she is just a kid. She can’t possibly have any real, deep understanding of any of that...can she?
It’s not just the little ones. Typically within the protestant tradition, we ask children to join the church at, what, 12 or 13 years old? And we tell them that membership comes with all these rights and responsibilities...including the responsibility of serving on committees and hearing the call to ordained ministry as a ruling elder or deacon when the time is right.
But then, what do we do? Even at 20/22/24 years old, we shake our heads and say, “No, you’re not really an adult, you don’t get to make adult decisions just yet. Come back when you’re older, wiser, have more experience.
When it comes to new members, too... Either new to the community or new to the faith altogether, they come with excitement and passion and ideas and thoughts, and we shake our heads and laugh and say, “Oh, Honey, you don’t know how things work here...let me tell you...”
We do it, too, to the older members of our church and our communities. When they make suggestions and have ideas about things that we might do, or revisit, or try because it meant something to them and they think that it could mean something again to someone else...
And we shake our head and wonder if they really get it and dismiss their words as those of someone living in the past, reliving the glory days of the church, not keeping up with the times.
Quite frankly, Christianity has a problem...and it’s us. More particularly, it’s how we view each other and even ourselves in regards to who has any say at all about God, faith, Christianity, the Church, this church. Our problem is that we have so narrowly defined who has any say at all that we shut out and shut down voice and ideas and visions and dreams all around us.
And, saddest of all, we give the majority of the authority in this matter to a select few...maybe to those who have paid their dues, maybe to those who have the degree and the title, perhaps to those who manage to get the microphone and the pulpit every week, and definitely to those who fit our idea of who understands and knows what God is saying and what God is doing.
You see it all around...not only in the local church...and I mean every local church...but within the larger Christian Church...at least in America.
You see, we have these “Rock Stars” of Christianity. They are kind of a big deal...people know them. I’m not sure what their secret is, but they are individuals who have risen to the top of our collective understanding of who speaks for God...Now, I’m sure that they are all lovely people who mean well, but with all the book deals, and presentations at major conferences and events, we end up with thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people all over saying, “Yes, God has spoken through this person...and no one else.” Well, except for the other rock stars and spokespeople of the faith.
And the real shame, in all of this, is that the Word of God keeps getting filtered narrower and narrower and narrower, until all we have is a small handful of people who speak on behalf of Christianity and...worse yet...on behalf of God.
We come to believe that there is such a narrow subset of people who can do so, who can hear God’s call to them and to the community that we think to ourselves, “No, I can not possibly have anything to say or to add to this conversation. I am too young, too old, too female, too uneducated, too new at this, too seasoned, too, too, too...”
And that’s why I love this one line from Joel here. Following a terrible plague of locusts and the famine that they brought, the people were crying out for direction and vision. They were looking for the one person who could speak on behalf of God and tell them what God was saying, what they needed to do, who they needed to be.
And here we have God saying, “No. Your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon the slaves, male and female, I will pour out my spirit, and they shall see, they shall know, they shall hear my word.” This statement, in just a few words, speaks eloquently to the the wideness of the vision of God. Sons and Daughters. Old men. Young men. Slaves, male and female. All of the people will have the opportunity to hear the word of God, to understand it, to know it, to seek it..
All of God’s people will hear God’s word to us...no one is excluded, and no one has a monopoly.
It’s something that is important to us, in our tradition and in our church.
That’s why we study the Word of God in community as a community.
That’s why we ask more hard questions than we give definite answers.
That’s why the pulpit is not the sole domain of the pastor.
That’s why we encourage reading and learning and exploring and listening to those rock stars and the lesser known people who may not have a book deal but who have a deep faith and are seeking a deep understanding...
It’s why we say that none of us have it figured out, least of all me, but that, instead, we’re on a journey together..
Sisters and brothers, all of us, and all of you have been called to dream dreams and to see visions. To dream of who God has called you, and us, to be in the world. To envision what that looks like, and how that can be lived out. To prophesy the truth of God, that is speak what God is showing you to be right and true in the world.
But, and this is important, we have also been called to the humility that we may not get it right, that we all have a flawed and imperfect understanding of what God is saying, and none of us has the ultimate vision of where we should be going or what we should be doing...but we all have a piece of it, and as we speak our hearts and hear the hearts of others, we together walk together to a fuller and more complete understanding of what God is saying to us, where God guiding us, and who God is calling us to be.
Go out and dream, envision, and seek God’s word and truth as we learn, explore, and grow together as people of faith and children of God!