Sixth Sunday of Easter Lectionary Reflection
May 5, 2013
During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. Acts 16:9-10
Many years ago while driving to visit family in eastern North Carolina, I happened to glance off the mountain highway to see a sign that would have a major impact on my life and future. While I wouldn’t necessarily call it a direct sign from God, it at least falls into the “big heavenly hint” category. Painted in big bold lettering on the side of a simple brick and frame church building were these words: “Where there is no vision the people perish.” You may recognize this statement as the first part of Proverbs 29:18 (KJV). For some reason, that sign on the otherwise nondescript country church and the way it appeared in my line of “vision” on the horizon stuck with me and even later influenced my vocational path. No vision, prepare to perish … have vision, prepare for abundant life. There’s plenty to ponder in that comparison, but that’s not all the wise writer said.
The rest of the verse reads, “but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” In the New Revised Standard Version, the verse reads, “Where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint, but happy are those who keep the law.” Other translations render the word “vision” as “revelation” or “guidance” or even “divine guidance” or “Word from the Lord.” In Hebrew this word is ×—Ö¸×–×•Ö¹×Ÿ (chazon), and is best translated as “vision,” particularly vision or sight from God. Vision, then, involves both sight and dream, combines purpose and plan, and requires obedience and openness.
In this week’s lesson from Acts, Luke reports Paul’s dream as a vision of divine importance, a calling to action and mission to which Paul and his cohort immediately respond. This story once again pulled my mind back to that sign and how it called me to a vision for ministry to small congregations. It reminded me that God still calls us to dream, to listen for divine guidance, and to go boldly to proclaim the gospel and love and serve our neighbors. Just how do we respond to dreams today? Are we truly able to hear God speaking to us in dreams? Is that even realistic?
Sometimes I wonder whether we allow our rational minds to supersede the possibility of divine leading. Vision, when it comes to the Creator of the Universe, is less about a program or sales pitch and more about God’s plan and will for us, individually and as the Body of Christ. We go through periodic visioning processes in our faith communities (or at least we should) where we think, pray, and dream about our mission and vision in a particular context. This is a very good thing as long as we lead such discernment with prayer and as long as we are willing to let God guide us, even when it takes us far outside of our comfort zones and into difficult and new places.
Human nature and much about the human condition remains unchanged. People need to hear the good news of Jesus and come into contact with the life-saving, life-changing grace of God. Discipleship is not a spectator sport. Who is that “man from Macedonia” in your dreams? Who or what is calling you to faithful action and holy response?
Imagine the courage, the faith, and the audacity it took for Paul and his companions to set out on their mission journey on the strength of only a vision, a dream, and belief in a word from God. Now think about what they accomplished with the spread of the gospel to a hungry world. What will it take for us to listen for God’s vision for us and for our congregations? Whether it is a sign on the side of a church building or a vision in the night, I pray that we may be as strongly convinced as Paul that God is still speaking, and that we have important work to do. Listen, do you hear it?
Dear God, Wisdom tells us that where there is no vision, people lack direction and fail to live in your abundant presence. Where there is no good news, there is no real hope. You are the Word and life and salvation of the world. In you we place our trust, and we strive to listen. Send us, Lord, and we will go–whether it is only around our neighborhood or halfway around the world. Give us courage to do your will. Give us wind for our sails, a way for our feet, words for our mouths, and work for our hands. Through the Word of Life we pray. Amen.
Consider using the hymn “Listen God is Calling (Neno lake Mungu),” a traditional Tanzanian tune and hymn. Click here for a K-2 choir singing the hymn. You can find more information about the hymn, including lyrics, by clicking here.
Consider spending time with this week’s gospel lesson, John 14:23-29, where Jesus reassures anxious disciples that they will not be left alone but will receive the Spirit and the peace of Christ to go with them. We, too, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and we are assured of Christ’s presence among us whenever we gather together, when we hear the Word read and preached, and when we break the bread and drink the wine in Christ’s meal. By these we are strengthened to go out into the world and share Christ’s peace with others. We can be bold, not living in fear, although the forces of evil and powers and principalities (you may have to unpack this) swirl about us. Talk about what this might look like and how it works in our daily lives.
Invite the youth to commit to pray for one another every day. Share communion together if that is your practice, and finish your time together by blessing each other in the name of Christ.
Today’s gospel lesson offers a wonderful opportunity to talk about peace. You can show children various pictures of peace symbols used throughout time: the olive branch, the dove and olive branch, the white poppy, paper cranes, the peace sign, peace flag, and V sign). Remind them that although these are good symbols to help us understand the importance of peace, the kind of peace that Jesus was talking about in John 14:27 was something much more than any of these symbols can show.
Show them the Hebrew word for shalom. This is the kind of peace Jesus was talking about, but it is an even greater peace than his disciples would have understood shalom to be. Jesus’ shalom is a complete peace, the kind of peace that allows us to live boldly in this world and have no fear because we belong to Jesus. Consider talking to the children about how Jesus’ friends would have used shalom as a greeting and a way to say “so long.” We can do that, too, knowing that the shalom or peace of Christ is enough to carry us through any day or night, indeed through all our life. For more information about shalom, click here.
Photos: © bonniemarie – Fotolia.com, Byron Ernest, Creative Commons License, and © s_l – Fotolia.com