The Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 22, 2022
“And it shall come to pass, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” From the Prophet Joel.
We’ve been hearing a good deal in our Sunday readings about dreams and visions.
Weeks ago, we read that one of the new disciples,
Ananias, was called by God in a vision to go find Saul of Tarsus.
Poor Ananias, he knew Saul was a persecutor of Christ’s followers
and he was afraid. God urged him to go anyway.
God had big plans for Saul,
so Ananias went and laid hands on him that Paul may regain his sight.
Saul, renamed Paul, could then begin his new life as an apostle.
Last Sunday we read of Peter’s vision in the city of Joppa.
While he was praying, he saw a sheet filled with four-footed animals,
beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air coming down from heaven.
He heard a voice which told him to Kill and eat.
Peter was horrified; never had he eaten impure food.
Peter had been praying about the conflict between the circumcised and uncircumcised, and found his answer in a vision:
In this odd vision, God was telling him not to call unclean
what God has made.
The dream opened Peter’s heart to the Gentile mission.
All of the Revelation to John reads like a giant dream—
a very odd and scary dream if we are honest about it;
but thankfully, its peculiarity is often interrupted
by visions of God’s glorious kingdom.
Last week we heard John writing beautifully:
“I saw a new heaven and a new earth.
See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them.”
This week, we get another of those glimpses of glory—
Of the dream God has for his people.
John says, “In the spirit the angel carried me away to a great,
high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem
coming down out of heaven from God,
with the leaves of the tree for the healing of the nations.”
And Today, we read of Saint Paul’s vision while in Troas,
which is in the land of Troy.
Paul heard a man call to him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
Paul set sail right away, crossing the Aegean Sea.
And who did he meet once in the city of Philippi in Macedonia?
A woman named Lydia, who invited the new Church into her home.
Although Paul had no plans to travel there, God did,
and what began as a vision became Paul’s most beloved mission Church.
“I hold you in my heart,” Paul writes to the Philippians,
“For God is my witness,
how I long for all of you with the tender affection of Christ Jesus.”
All these dreams: Ananias, Peter, John’s, and Paul’s
tell us of a God who yearns to be with us
and bring us evermore closer to one another.
Dreams are hopes waiting to be born.
When I traveled to the Holy Land 4 years ago,
I was fascinated by almost everything.
First on the list, though, I’d say, would be the archaeology.
Take the mikveh, for example, the Jewish pools or baths,
used in the rite of purification.
These pools have steps that go down into them, and many were very deep.
There are ancient Mikvahs excavated all throughout Israel—
large ones and small.
Walking through the ancient ruins of the dessert city, Qumran,
near the Dead Sea,
I wondered where they would get enough water to fill these up—
some were as big as a small pool.
They would have to wait for them to fill with rain water,
others were filled by manmade aqueducts from springs or nearby rivers.
Back in Jerusalem,
I was reminded of the story in John’s Gospel we read today
of a man who had been lying for 38 years by the Beth-zatha mikvah,
near the Sheep Gate…waiting to get in.…
there at the pool lay many ill, blind, lame, and paralyzed people.
When Jesus saw this man lying there
and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him,
“Do you want to be made well?”
The man answered him,
“Sir I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up,
and while I am making my way someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
I wonder if the man at the pool had ever considered
giving up on his dream in all those years.
Jerusalem is one big, complex place.
Not only a sacred site for 3 major religions in the world,
but also a contested city politically, historically, and geographically.
I knew this intellectually going in,
but I was surprised by the conflicting emotions my visit elicited in me.
One day, we visited the Yehuda market near the modern city of Jerusalem. There we walked and saw outdoor cafes,
open air markets with beautiful colorful food
with everything from fresh fish to varieties of nuts to fruit of any kind.
The market is clean and wonderfully landscaped,
with wide pedestrian walkways–no cars allowed;
there are happy kids playing everywhere.
The old Jewish men, dressed in traditional Eastern European dress,
black suits, fringes, and hats caught my eye
as much as the American Jews who wore their untucked touristy Guayabera shirts. Embroidered and 4 pockets
It was easy to identify them because they also wore their yarmulkes,
also known as skull caps or kippahs on their heads.
Soaking it all in, I said to myself, Finally.
Finally, these people have a safe place to call home.
The older men who grew up as children after the war,
probably never imagined living in Jerusalem,
going to this market, sitting and relaxing
and laughing with one another over coffee.
For them, this was a dream come true.
But of course, realizing their dream meant displacing others.
After WWII, 750,000 Palestinians were made to leave their homes—neighborhoods were just demolished. This was in 1948.
For two generations now,
many of these people are still living in refugee camps.
It is unbearable to see the camps of refugees, just outside of Jerusalem. There are no trees, no “leaves for healing the nations”, as John’s dream in Revelation wrote about.
For these people,
having a healthy and safe place to raise their children is still a dream.
When we humans dream of how we’d like to live in this world,
one person’s dream is not much different than any other person’s—
happy, healthy families—
the freedom to live and explore this great big world—
a safe place to call home.
These are no different from God’s dream, either.
As the late Desmond Tutu so beautifully wrote:
“God’s dream is that you and I and all of us
will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness,
for goodness, and for compassion.”
As a family…
Which means God cares for each and everyone of us—
even the annoying ones in the family,
even the ones who get all the attention,
but particularly, God cares for the ones who are overlooked.
God has a partiality for those who the world disregards.
Jesus clearly shows us this partiality in his life.
Today’s reading is just one of many
where Jesus goes out of his way to teach God’s dream of family.
Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate,
walking in by the ritual pool,
and stepping up to the man who’d been stepped over all his life.
This man had waited almost 40 years for a chance to be healed…
everyday he waited for his turn,
every day he watched the people jostle and push to get into the pool. Without help, the man would never make it;
he was too crippled, destined to be last in line.
He just needed help; he needed a friend.
Someone who would take the time to stop and ask him if he wanted help. Jesus did this.
Jesus fulfills this man’s dream, which is none other than God’s dream—where all people are treated as family;
where regardless of their disability, all have access to pools of healing.
When we open our eyes, along with our hearts,
we can see the dreams of others are God’s dreams too.
The Church in Philippi which Paul helped start,
took root from a dream, and became the first Church in Europe,
so successful, it was a model for other congregations to follow.
The people were noted for their generosity.
Later, it became the episcopal seat for a bishop.
I haven’t been there (yet)
but I’ve read that this congregation
built their first small church building in Philippi with a gorgeous mosaic floor that to this day bears a loving inscription, dedicating the church to St. Paul.
God’s dream with Paul’s willing heart.
Dreams are hopes waiting to be born.
As followers of a dreamer, who goes out of his way,
I hope and pray we can follow in his footsteps.