Dream Dreams Dream Dreams Dream Dreams Dream Dreams Dream Dreams Dream Dreams Dream Dreams Dream Dreams Dream Dreams

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“Dream Dreams”

Rev. Stephen Milton
Lawrence Park Community Church
Acts 2:1-11.

One of the tricks in story telling is that details that get introduced in the beginning should be tied to what happens later in the story. Take that famous movie, the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy is an orphan living on her aunt and uncle’s farm in Kansas. There are a few farm hands who work there, and a neighbour who hates her dog. Dorothy is bored, but safe. 

Wizard of Oz
Then a twister comes, and she ends up in Oz where she has an extraordinary adventure with a tin man, a scarecrow and a cowardly lion. 

At the end of the movie, she wakes up in bed at home. She’s not sure if it has all been a dream or not. 

Dorothy wakes up
But, as viewers, we have fun when we recognize the three farmhands who gather around her bed. They played the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion in her vision of Oz. 

We met them briefly at the beginning of the story, not suspecting we would see them again. Most good stories are like that. They take something that doesn’t seem important at first, then give it an extra meaning later in the story.

Today’s Pentecost story is like that. It seems so strange because we are hearing about just the middle part of the story, the Oz part.  Pentecost is the middle of the story of how the church as born. It starts with the birth of Jesus and his early ministry. In the middle, Jesus leaves, and he sends the holy spirit to guide the apostles. The story ends with Paul and Peter having established the Christian church all over the Mediterranean, after many adventures. Pentecost sits in the middle, a Wizard of Oz moment. There’s this strange floating fire, with people who look like human candles with fire over their heads. 

But, like the Wizard of Oz, these strange tongues of fire have been foreshadowed at the beginning.  In Luke’s gospel, when John the Baptist is at the River Jordan, he makes a prediction about the Messiah. He says, 

“I baptize you in ]water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire.” ( Luke 3:16)

That line sounds strange when John says it because Jesus is so peaceful, how can he come in fire? But on the day of Pentecost, we learn what he meant. After Jesus is resurrected, he promised to send the Holy Spirit. And here it is, on this day of Pentecost, arriving as fire. John’s prophecy has been fulfilled. And now, filled with the Holy spirit, the Apostles are ready to carry Christ’s message and power to the rest of the world. 

In the Book of Acts, we hear the stories of how that started. Peter said that ordinary people would have extraordinary visions and dreams sent by the Spirit. And that happens:  

Phillip and the Eunuch
The Apostle Phillip is pushed all over the place by the Spirit, leading him to convert a Black Eunuch from Ethiopia. 

Peter and sheet
Peter has a strange vision of a sheet descending from heaven filled with animals Jews are not allowed to eat. This was his hint to spread the good news to the Gentiles.

Things get very trippy for the Apostles because they have received the Holy Spirit, and it has an agenda. They are suddenly like the farmhands, becoming the Tin Man, Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion. The Holy Spirit gives the Apostles  a power they didn’t have before, which sends them out on an Adventure, too.

Those were radical acts, acts that broke the rules of the time. The Holy Spirit doesn’t care too much about human institutions and traditions. It wants to spread God’s love, and doesn’t mind breaking oppressive rules to get things done. There is wildness and unpredictability to the holy spirit. Like a fire, its sparks can jump over fences and walls, and set holy fires in places that seemed sealed off. 

This anti-establishment aspect of the Holy Spirit has made it both inspiring and controversial. In retrospect, it appears that the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s was fuelled by the holy spirit. 

Martin Luther King Jr

Many of its leaders, like Dr Martin Luther King thought so, and it gave them courage as they faced enormous resistance. 

Nelson Mandela
The fight against apartheid in South Africa also looks like the Holy Spirit’s work, and Nelson Mandela was inspired by Methodism while he was in prison, leading to his embrace of peaceful resistance to apartheid.  [1]Many of us in the United Church believe that the Holy Spirit was at work in the gay and women’s liberation movements, even though those struggles did not receive much support from Christian churches. The Holy Spirit has a mind of its own, and if the institutional church isn’t interested in freeing people from bondage, then the Spirit will inspire people outside of the church to do the work. [2]

However, many social movements claim the support of the Holy Spirit in ways which are controversial. 

January 6th
The January 6th insurrectionists included many conservative Christians who thought they were acting at the behest of the Spirit when they took over the Capitol building,[3] and sought to hang Vice President Mike Pence. 

Freedom Convoy
When the so-called Freedom Convoy occupied Ottawa, it included Christians who thought they were acting with the Holy Spirit to protest a corrupt government.[4]

It’s easy to see the Holy Spirit at work when you agree with a cause. But how do we know if the Holy Spirit is behind a movement, or whether people just think She is? How do we know if we are acting with God’s Spirit, or acting on our own, with illusions of grandeur?

The Apostle Paul was on intimate terms with the Spirit. He never met Jesus in the flesh, but he knew the Holy Spirit well. According to the Book of Acts, Paul was a Pharisee, on his way to Damascus one day to persecute Christians. Suddenly, there was a blinding light, and he had a vision of Jesus that knocked him off his horse. From that moment on, Paul was guided by the Holy Spirit. It haunts and inspires every word he wrote. He spends the rest of his life trying to understand it, and to live by it. Here’s what he says about how we can know if an action is being inspired by the Holy Spirit:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. ( Galatians, 5:22-23)

 The Holy Spirit will not call for violence against others. It will not fight for a cause “by any means necessary.” It invites us not to indulge in anger and bitterness. That is not its way. It lifts us up, out of negative emotions to a higher level, where we get things done through love, joy, forbearance, and kindness. The Holy Spirit encourages us to talk to and try to understand those who disagree with us. And, as Paul says, it calls for gentleness and self-control. It is not egotistical or self-serving. 

To act with the Holy Spirit is more than joining a cause, it is also a call to change one’s own personal behaviour. The Holy Spirit does not possess people and get them to do things against their will. Instead, how much of it comes to you depends on how open you are to it. Long ago, Basil the Great, a 4th century theologian explained that the Holy Spirit comes to people in degrees, as they open themselves to it, and set aside some of their own selfish desires. [5] It’s like opening a door. If we open the door a crack, then a little bit of the Spirit will come in. If we open the door a little more, then a bit more will come in. Each person gets as much of the Holy Spirit as they can handle. It comes in degrees, in small doses at first. The Holy Spirit is strong medicine, if you get too much at once it can be overwhelming. It can turn your life and the world upside down in the call for love and justice. So, in its compassion for us, the Spirit comes slowly, in doses small enough for us to handle.

Many ministers have experience with this. Our vocation is known as a “calling.” Who is calling us? The Holy Spirit. Some people know all at once that they want to grow up to be a minister. Their call is clear. For other people, like me, that call was very slow. A door opening just a bit at a time. I remember how it started for me. I was a congregant in a church in the West end. I remember one day sitting in church after a service.  I realized that my career as a television producer wasn’t really going to amount to much. I liked making TV shows, but they were only briefly on the air, and then they would be forgotten. So, I sat by a stained glass window and said to God, I was willing to do whatever God wanted me to do. I’d freelance for God. Not to be great or famous, just to do something useful with my life, for God and others. I had no idea at all that opening that door would lead me to become a minister. That door opened very slowly, and it is still opening, a bit at a time. 

Each of us can open that door, and what will come in are dreams and visions of new things that we can do in our life. You don’t have to become a minister, there are lots of other ways of working with the Spirit. There are lots of things that need  doing. It can be as simple as just noticing when people around you could use some help, people you hadn’t really noticed before. Neighbours, workmates. It could be a change of career to something you really love, that you can be passionate about, and that will serve others. It can be a reconciliation in your family.

The Holy Spirit blows here and there, looking for openings, for people who have decided to leave the door open to God’s love and compassion. It’s as simple as saying, God, I am ready. God won’t overwhelm you. Many of you have been walking with the Spirit for a long time. When we live in step with the spirit, we live gentle, determined lives, modest, but committed to helping God improve this world through love and forbearance. We are all living in the days after Pentecost, with flames above our heads. Some are bright, some flicker dimly. We are all invited to let the Spirit in so we can dream dreams and have visions of a better world, the world and life which God intends for us all. With the Holy Spirit, common people can be transformed, led into adventures they never dreamed of, like farmhands who have adventures in Oz. We look the same in the end, but inside, we are totally different.