Much to my dismay we continue in this Sunday’s lesions with visions. Several of the lessons for today are about visions. Today we heard the stories of Paul’s vision to go to Macedonia and the continuing vision of John of Patmos’ in the book that we call the Revelation.
I’m personally very conflicted about the idea of visions. I see them as potentially good and potentially bad. On the one hand, visions seem like they can be extraordinarily helpful. Paul certainly did not have to wonder, think about, and struggle with a decision as to whether or not he should go to Macedonia or to some other part of the then known world. He had the answer. It was quick, concrete, and undeniable. This makes life very easy. It makes me sometimes wish for a few visions like this from God as well.
When I was in the military my life was fairly easy. I never had to wonder as I moved from assignment to assignment if that was the right choice or not. Sure I always asked for jobs that interested me, but once I had my orders, I no longer had to worry about if I had made the right choice. I didn’t make the choice at all. Like the wizard of OZ hidden behind his curtain, some unknown person at Headquarters made the choice for me. But the assurance was there. There was no second guessing. And so like Paul, I didn’t have to wonder if this was where I was supposed to be, it was crystal clear. Sometimes I wish my life was still that easy.
The problem with a vision like this is that it is very hard to ignore. They force us to come face to face with what God is calling us to do and they are very hard to ignore or explain away.
Most of us don’t have the convenience of that kind of clarity. Instead we must struggle with the choices that life presents us with, trying to discern the will of God for our lives in a much less concrete way.
And while clarity has its benefits, at the same time I’m very uncomfortable with visions. I’m uncomfortable with the idea wondering if a vision might be wrong. Or if I might interpret the vision in the wrong way. What if the vision is not from God. This has always been a real concern in the Church. Some of the mystics in the early church came up against this issue in their lives. The church tends to react against mystics and those who see visions. They are seen as a disruption and a threat to the order of things. As a person who very much likes order in my life and in the church I can identify with and understand this position.
So visions are a double edged sword. They can result in very different reactions. But still, the idea of visions interests me and so I wanted to spend some time exploring it.
In spite of the fact that it may sounds like I’m a real cynic when it comes to visions, I’m really not. Because I believe that churches need to have visions to grow.
In fact, I truly believe that people right here at St. Peter’s are having visions calling them to new things. Now I do not know if they are necessarily like the visions of Paul and John, those experiences where God speaks in a specific way to us. Perhaps they are and perhaps they are not. But I think the visions they have had are powerful and transforming in their lives. We have visions for mission or ministry that come to us inspired by God. These visions or inspirations are just as powerful, transforming, and life changing as those of Paul and John.
Now I don’t want to embarrass anyone by naming names. But I am convinced that some of the new things we are doing around St. Peter’s are as a result of the visions of some individuals in our faith community.
As we see at St. Peter’s visions can be life giving to a community. And visions don’t always have to be like Paul’s or John’s. Some of us get visions in other ways. Robert Kennedy said: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Those experiences of dreaming of things that never were and then dreaming about doing something about it, those are powerful visions from God.
This spirit of God, the spirit that asks not the question of why, but of why not, is a vision from God. It is the vision that makes things happen in the world.
God gives us all visions to work out in our lives. The challenging thing for us is to seek out those visions and follow them. It is hard when they are not visions like Paul’s. They are easier to ignore. The key for us is to have an open heart and open mind for God. We must quiet our hearts and our minds to the quiet voice of God inside of us.
We must answer our visions and respond in faith and joy to what God has called us to do.
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