Capturing God’s Vision
Based on Acts 11:1-18, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35
King Solomon, who is identified as the author in the opening verses of the Hebrew Bible book Ecclesiastes, writes in Chapter 1, “…Utterly pointless, says the Teacher. ‘Absolutely pointless; everything is pointless.’ What does a man gain from all of the work that he undertakes on earth? A generation goes, a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, the sun sets, then rushes back to where it arose. The wind blows southward, then northward, constantly circulating, and the wind comes back again in its courses. All the rivers flow toward the sea, but the sea is never full; then rivers return to the headwaterswhere they began. Everything is wearisome, more than man is able to express. The eye is never satisfied by seeing, nor the ear by hearing. Whatever has happened, will happen again; whatever has been done, will be done again. There is nothing new on earth. Does anything exist about which someone might say, ‘Look at this! Is this new?’ It happened ages ago; it existed before we did….”
Commentators on Ecclesiastes have made much of Solomon’s pessimism; certainly, we know that King to have been given to excess and to have wandered from the faith of his father, David. Yet, the book is really pessimistic not about the whole of human life, just about the human life lived without God in it; without God’s vision for life that informs what we do and how we should do it. Our scriptures today point us back to a creative God who is “making all things new”; Jesus gives a new commandment and Peter sees that following the restrictive covenants of Judaic orthopraxis towards food does not honor God as he had thought. In all things, when we have the vision to perceive what God through the Holy Spirit is doing, God is constantly creating a world for us that is better than our best efforts. Let us go to God in prayer that we might be granted the vision to perceive all that God is doing in our world…
John of Patmos has seen the worldly things come to an end – evil, death and Hades defeated once and for all and thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur. The dead came from all places to be judged by the works of God that they had done in their lives. Then John sees a new thing – a new heaven and a new earth coming down because the first earth had passed entirely away. There is only one home for God and mortals now and they will dwell together. The one on the throne tells John, “…See, I am making all things new….” This vision is only for those who believe in the LORD, all others who choose not to believe will be sent to their second death in the lake of fire and sulfur.
Peter went back to talk to the leaders of the Way in Jerusalem. They had heard that the Gentiles had accepted the gospel according to the Christ and they were questioning how those who were not Jews could do such a thing. Peter explained a vision he had from God where all forbidden foods were placed before him. God commanded Peter to kill and eat of this bounty from God, but Peter told God that it was unclean. God instructed Peter that only God could determine what was clean or unclean and thus he should not make arbitrary distinctions about things that were above his paygrade. This continued with an angel helping Peter to leave behind human distinctions and go with men from Caesarea to bring the good news. Peter did this and all the household became baptized with the Holy Spirit. Peter ends his commentary to the Jerusalem Jews saying, “…who was I that could hinder God?…”
Jesus has washed the feet of the Disciples and has eaten with them one last time before the crucifixion. He reminds them that he will be with them only a little while longer and then he gives them a new commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved them. It is through your love for one another, especially during the coming persecutions and all the church-y squabbles on doctrine and theology, that the world will know that you are my disciples.
Dr. Walter Brueggemann wrote in a devotional that I read this week the following, “…There is a powerful drift in U.S. religion and spirituality to dissolve the God of the gospel into a force or an idea or an experience. That dissolution is done in order to avoid the embarrassing ‘primitive’ notion of the tradition that God is a character who exercises agency and participates actively in the narrative, memory, and hope of Israel and the church. There are no doubt gains in such an interpretive maneuver; but there are also costs. In contrast to that powerful drift, the imagery and rhetoric of the Bible is insistent on the character and agency of God. This presentation of God permits a genuinely dialogical faith with the risks, gifts, and demands that inescapably belong to a serious relationship….”
This is the same thing that Solomon is writing about in the opening to Ecclesiastes. Depending on the translation, one reads that all human life is vanity, pointless or utterly meaningless. This is true when we dummy down or limit what it is that we see and expect from God…into a force, an idea or an experience as Brueggemann points out. Like God could ever be akin to a new ride at an amusement park – “Come experience God in Sens-u-round quality sound and bring your 3-D goggles!” or “Don’t miss It, God coming to the Arena Stage…one night only! Tickets on sale through TicketMaster”. That image of God is an idol of our own making that we keep at arms-length and with whom we never really take the time or exert the energy to get into a serious relationship. When we live out lives with this impotent kind of god, then our lives are lived only for us and our own petty needs. This is what King Solomon knew – we need a God who is large enough so that we will put away our lesser gods and seek to engage in serious dialogue and relationship, to help us to see what is and always has been possible in our world.
The God that John of Patmos sees, the God that Jesus knows and shows His disciples, the God of Peter’s expansive and inclusive vision…this is a God who is large enough to capture the whole of our lives. This is a God who is constantly reaching out to us; who longs to be in a serious relationship and ongoing dialogue with us. This is a God whose creative energies are being poured out as grace every day. When we look up from our mundane, over-scheduled, caffeine fueled, scarcity-based life narratives to the one on the throne who tells us…”if you would only look up from your little vision for your life and see what I have created for all of you. Can’t you see it? I am making all things new!”
Capturing God’s vision, this perspective of God constantly creating with us and for us, is what our discipleship is all about. If we do not say “yes God, with your help” when we get a vision of a new future – then all of our life really becomes meaningless. Karen Coppage said “yes God, with your help” after a number of years of dreaming about what would come to be called, “Madison Day”. She gathered the courage to go with God to talk to a bunch of pastors one year ago almost to the day. She was rewarded with encouragement and energy (the agency that Brueggemann wrote about) and the dream began to grow and to become real. The first meetings with only about 6 people in the room figuring that 10 projects and 100 people with a budget of $7500 would be a great start…grew to just short of 300 people doing all sorts of jobs, 19 projects large and small that engaged those folks, and $9500 dollars in donations – not to mention all the in-kind and heavily discounted materials. God worked through all of those people that caught the vision of what could be when God was not only involved, but was placed squarely at the front leading the way and creating something new and wonderful.
Easter people, this is the life-changing God that we say we serve. God is always creating a new thing – today is a day that the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! Let us understand that each time we wake from sleep it is a gift of God. Each day we are blessed to be alive is another opportunity to be in a serious and demanding relationship with our divine Parent. When we are captured by God’s vision, then our own world-view becomes more expansive, less restrictive, less exclusionary and certainly less divisive. When we are captured by God’s vision for us then we can answer Solomon’s question from Ecclesiates, “…Does anything exist about which someone might say, ‘Look at this! Is this new?’…” We can answer emphatically, YES!!, we have a God who is constantly making all things new – who are we to hinder God?! Amen and amen! G�