Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:10; 21:22-22:5
Open gates, always open, no metal detectors, no standing spread eagle for the obligatory TSA X-ray, no pass codes, keys, pat downs or security guards.
Open gates, the three on the North, the three on the South, the three on the East and the three on the West, all wide open. In an age of fear and ever-increasing screening, checking and scanning, it is the open gates of John’s vision in Revelation that give me pause. Earthly walls and borders no longer needed; in the New Jerusalem, God won’t tolerate any threat to the inhabitants. It is difficult to imagine such a sense of peace and security when the news of recent days is filled with people escorted off of airplanes due to fellow passengers’ unease and suspicion. It is an otherworldly vision when people are blowing themselves up in the cities of Kabul and Lahore and Brussels. It seems like pure fantasy when juxtaposed with images of refugees pressed against fences, forbidden entry to places that might offer safety.
Open gates. No darkness. Fear as a thing of the past. Mistrust of our neighbors is unthinkable. No need for the sanctuary of the temple because our peace is in the Lord God Almighty, the Lamb. John’s vision feels as far away as Martin Luther King Jr.’s these days. “One day” has not yet arrived. People are judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character. Old divisions persist, new ones develop. The gates are still locked – gates of communities designed to keep some people out, gates of prisons designed to keep some people in, soundly locked.
And yet, Martin had a dream and John had a vision and Paul had a voice from heaven and Jesus gave a promise that “one day” would come. There will be a time when the gates are open and fear will be no more and all will bear God’s glory and we will see the Lamb face to face. Even now God is pouring out the Spirit upon all flesh, and our sons and our daughters prophesy, and our young men see visions, and our old men shall dream dreams. Or do they?
Part of what’s so striking about these texts from Acts and Revelation is the detailed vision, the explicit instruction, the narrative reporting of things that feel to us impossible. It is as if Paul has the Spirit as his travel agent. Go here, avoid there. People from particular places appear to him with explicit requests. When’s the last time that’s happened to you?
John of Patmos is given the dimensions of the holy city. He practically sees the mortar holding the jewels to its walls. Would that we had such clarity of the here and now, let alone that which is to come.
But we are post Pentecost people. The promised Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, the purveyor of peace, the bestower of prophesies, visions and dreams has come. So, why are we so afraid? Why are we locking gates and patrolling borders and acting as if we’re preparing for the zombie apocalypse rather than the return of the Lamb?
Is it because we don’t have detailed descriptions of a man from Macedonia or a bedazzled city coming down from heaven? Have you had any visions, dreams or prophesies lately?
Maybe you have.
What if I asked you this: Have you heard anyone pleading for help and gone immediately to them? Have you sought out supposed places of prayer? Have you spoken about the Lord God Almighty, the Lamb and had someone eagerly listen? Have you acquiesced when someone has prevailed upon you to share hospitality? Have you kept Jesus’ Word and been enveloped by the love of God?
Those seem a little more tangible, but here is the thing: They are no less powerful than the visions of Paul or John of Patmos. These are the things that make “one day” not just someday but today. These are the acts of faith that bring light into darkness, God’s glory into our cities, comfort to those who are afraid.
Consider this week what visions and dreams and prophesy the Spirit of God has poured out upon you and on your sons and daughters, your old and young.
Name those times when someone has pleaded to you for help and you went immediately. Or maybe someone has heard your plea and come to you and in so doing fulfilled Christ’s commandment to love one another. It could look something like a Presbyterian church in Seattle, a church building tiny houses for the homeless. It could take the form of old church buildings being repurposed to house refugees. Or it might be recognizing the church member who eats every meal alone except for the mid-week meal at church and inviting him to join you for lunch. When have you heard a man from Macedonia plead for help and when have you set sail to answer his cry? When have you been the one who cried out and were answered?
Maybe you’ve been seeing more visions than you’d imagined.
Don’t you go every week to a supposed place of prayer? Haven’t you gone to some you weren’t sure about and encountered God-fearers in the process? Mission trips, yes, but how about when your church took a meal and held a service at the local soup kitchen or that conversation with the stranger in the seat next to you that turned into something holy?
I suspect you’ve heeded the Spirit even when you weren’t aware.
Don’t you have a dream or two or three for your children? For all God’s children? What are they? No more fear? An abundant table spread for all? Peace?
It may be time to give voice to those dreams. They could well be God’s dreams given to you. They might be the ones you are to prophesy with confidence and power so that “one day” gets a little closer to this day.
I feel sure that faithful Lydias have extended life-giving, renewing hospitality to you and to many you know. That’s of the Spirit, too, and it is as measurable as the dimensions of the holy city come down from heaven. Tell about it. And I’ll tell about one time when a wealthy church woman – a well-coiffed, well-dressed church woman – came to my messy house – no, my dirty house – when I was very pregnant and chasing a toddler. She came to my house, dinner in one hand and a bucket full of cleaning supplies in the other, and she said, “I have brought you dinner and I am here to clean your house.” I insisted she shouldn’t. She insisted she would and proceeded to put on rubber gloves and scrub my toilet. It was a Holy Spirit-filled moment in my life that I will never forget.
You can’t convince me God’s post-Pentecost people aren’t dreaming dreams and having visions.
You most certainly are faithfully striving to love Christ and keep his word, right? Aren’t you haltingly, humbly trying to love God and neighbor with your whole heart and strength and mind? Don’t you pray to love like Christ has loved you? If you can have no other dream or vision than that, if you can prophesy no other word than that, it is more than enough.
This week share the visions God has given you. Tell them in detail. They are the dreams, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that will move us ever closer from someday and one day to this is the day.
- Can you think of “supposed places of prayer” in your community or in our current 21st century context? Where are the places where you might find worshippers of God who aren’t in our pews?
- Have you ever had a vision from God like those described by Paul and John and Patmos? What was it? Do you tell others about it? What did it compel you to do and say?
- Pray this week that you will have the ears to hear those who are pleading for you to come and give help. Pray, too, that you will have the courage to respond.
- Look at the other verses in Acts where Lydia appears. Do you know people who have a Lydia-like gift for hospitality?
- In some ways the Acts story is about being at the right time at the right place, for Paul and his companions and Lydia and hers. Can you think of such times? Did you think that those were Spirit driven encounters? Why or why not?
- Use the first part of verse 27 in John 14 as a breath prayer this week. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
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