This morning we hear more about visions. In a vision, Paul was called to leave the familiar Jewish world and go to Macedonia, Greece, and eventually to Rome and beyond. And John’s vision continues; “in the Spirit” he is given a vivid picture of the new Jerusalem, God’s holy purpose for all creation.
We have been hearing about visions and dreams in the Sunday scriptures for the last few weeks. These passages tell only part of the story of how Jesus’ disciples struggled to make sense of Jesus’ life and teachings, his Crucifixion and most of all his Resurrection, all of which had such a huge impact on their lives.
The disciples had to figure out how to live in the light of what had been revealed to them by the Resurrection power of Jesus’ love and forgiveness and healing. What does it all mean? As followers of Jesus, how were they to live their daily lives, in sorrows in joys, in hopes and actions, in economics and politics? And how were they to pass this life-changing experience on to others?
One thing was clear to them: the Jesus experience wasn’t over. Jesus’ love and resurrection life didn’t end with his Ascension into heaven. The Good News goes on. Jesus promised them that the world will know the glory of God as they share Jesus’ love and peace. Jesus’ followers will not be left alone – the Holy Spirit will come and give them all that they need to carry out the mission of God’s love and forgiveness and new creation in each individual and in the whole world.
So – the visions came, the dreams helped show the Way. The disciples began to discover with clarity the meaning and identity of Jesus and Jesus’ commission to go out into all the world and share this good new, this Gospel of love. The path ahead began to become clear – the disciples saw the future goal, although the specific steps along the path were yet to be discovered. Early on, the Christian movement became known as “the Way,” the path of Christian life that the disciples were discovering.
Paul followed the Way to Macedonia. He didn’t know what he would find there, but he went, and working with those he encountered there, mostly women who later became leaders in the church. With faith and courage, Paul started his mission to new areas of the Roman Empire.
And John shared his revelation with the churches in Asia Minor, telling them of the rocky and violent path that would lead to the new redeemed creation of God, a path that they were called to follow in faith and hope.
Our celebration of the Easter season makes the Way clear to us in our time and place. Like the first Christians, we are called to set out on the Way; we too are to see, to act, to make real the promise of resurrection life in God. The Holy Spirit comes to us to us to inspire us and guide us on the Way.
SO – what is our vision? We may not have dreams and mystical experiences “in the Spirit,” but we still are given visions of who we are and what we are to do as the community of St. Paul’s as we live out God’s creation of forgiveness and love.
Each of us has an individual calling of course. But, right now, as we work together to invite a new rector to join us in ministry, we have a really important opportunity to discover and enact a new vision of who we are and what God is calling us to do as a parish.
The first step is our new mission statement: Learn God’s Word, Live God’s love. Six simple, short words which define the framework in which we respond to the Spirit of Jesus. We move ahead within the framework of this statement. And we work to discover how to put flesh on these words by asking ourselves: “What is my passion?”
We start with the reality that we need God in our lives. Like a divine 12-step program, we acknowledge that we need a greater power, we have to rely on God. The purpose of our prayer and worship is to learn God’s Word, to develop a deep relationship with God through Jesus and to experience God’s love in our hearts and minds.
Then, as followers of Christ, take steps along the Way. Step by step, we live God’s love. With the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we act in faith and hope and we live out our passions in the service of God. We embody in word and action the love of God which we see most clearly in Jesus on the Cross.
As you look ahead, as you prepare to work with your new rector, don’t try to repeat the things you think a church should be, ideas from the past, from old experiences, old structures and programs. Work to learn new ways of mission, new articulations of God’s Word in our lives and in our world. Discover new places and people around you where you can live and share the Gospel good news. Have the courage to strike out into the future like Paul. Have the vision, like John, to hear the voice of God and see, in the Spirit, what God is calling you to do. Identify what you are passionate about, as individuals and as a congregation, and move ahead on the Way with that vision.
Don’t worry about the Way or how you will get there – Jesus promises help, the power and presence of his Spirit, freely and abundantly given to us.
The words of the Jesuit theologian and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin might be encouraging to us at this point:
“Above all trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything, to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new…. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense, and incomplete.”
And, as Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” The vision and power of the Holy Spirit is clear: Rejoice and be glad; hope in the gifts of God. Then the prayer of the Psalmist this morning will be realized: “May God give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.”