Visions. Where there is no vision the people perish. [Proverbs 29:18 KJV] I once had a vison while singing a communion hymn in the front row of the chancel choir stall at Grace Episcopal Church, Providence, RI. As we sang people came to and from the altar to receive the body and blood of Christ. All I saw were people’s shoes: some shiny, some well-worn, some new, some old, some with the heels worn off to the side, some scuffed. All going to and from the Altar of the Lord coming from all over the city and the state. Returning to the world of mission outside the doors of the church. Then I saw all the people of two thousand years and all those feet, all those shoes, sandals and dusty feet coming to and from the Altar of God and the Lamb. And I want to be with them all. I want to know them. I want to serve them. A tear falls from my eyes. And then I am singing again in the front row of the chancel choir stall. Visions
Paul has a vision in which a man in Macedonia cries out, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” [Acts 16:9-15] Psalm 67 presents a vision in which all nations and all peoples bless the Lord and allow the Lord to guide them. John of Patmos has a vision of a New Jerusalem in which God’s presence is light and life and healing for all nations and so secure that the gates of the city “will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there!” [Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5] And in the fifth chapter of John Jesus seemingly has a vision as he comes upon a man at a pool in Jerusalem who has been sitting there for 38 years and asks him, “Do you want to be made well?”
Paul goes to Macedonia, meets a business woman named Lydia down by the river, proclaims the Good News of Jesus and she and her entire family seek to be baptized. She becomes the first identified European convert to Christianity.
Traditional Jews recite Psalm 67 at the end of Shabbat, echoing the promise made to Father Abraham and Mother Sarah that through them God wishes to bless all the families and peoples of the Earth.
As Jerusalem and the Temple lie in ruins as a result of the brutality of the Roman Empire, John of Patmos has a vision of tremendous power and security of a New Jerusalem that will have no Temple and no closed Gates into the city because the eternal presence of God and the Lamb will provide endless light, safety and healing for all nations, all peoples, who are all welcome to come and go as they please!
Sensing the man by the pool needs to be released from his endless vigil of waiting for something to happen, Jesus simply says, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” And he does. That day was a Sabbath.
Visions are not mere dreams. Not some figment of our imagination. Visions are powerful messages from the unconscious or subconscious depths of our minds. When we pay attention to such visions as recorded throughout the Biblical narratives, and our own, things happen.
As Howard Thurman, African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, visionary and civil rights leader, understands the Bible from beginning to end is that all that there is, seen and unseen, comes from God’s vision of “a good creation of a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky. " A vision, suggests that other African-American visionary Verna Dozier, that we have rejected by each of us going our own way.
Each person, each nation, each religion, each tribe seem to all be going their own way rather than going together. One reason would be that we ignore the visions that have been handed down to us and the visions that people like Howard Thurman and Verna Dozier continue to offer up for our consideration.
Paul took great risks and went to great lengths to travel to Macedonia all to convert one woman and her family. No good deed, however, goes unpunished! Paul and his companions, while still in Macedonia, run across a slave girl possessed by a demon. She would tell everyone that Paul and his friends were “slaves of the Most High God.” This became an annoyance to Paul so he cast out the demon. Her owners seeing her in her right mind had Paul and the other arrested since the owners could see that now “their hope of making money was gone.” The owners had made her a commodity. God in Christ through Paul had made her a person. Paul and his companions were placed in jail. While singing songs and praying in jail, however, an earthquake shook the prison open. The jailer was about to fall on his sword thinking all prisoners had escaped, but Paul says, “Don’t worry, we are all here!” Eventually the magistrates free Paul and his companions. For the visions of God shall not be denied.
“Help us!” cries the man from Macedonia. Paul responds. Cries of “Help us” come to us from all over the world and all over our country. Who hears these cries as a vision from God? Who responds to the very people God wants us to help? Or, are we hindered by not being able to answer the question Jesus puts to then man sitting by the pool for 38 years waiting for something to happen? “Do you want to be well?” Do we?
We must need healing if we cannot respond or even hear the cries of God’s people. John of Patmos sees a tree with healing leaves in the midst of the New Jerusalem – healing for the nations of the world. What if? What if our policies were meant for healing the nations of the world? Might the rarely United States once again become a beacon of light for the world, shining in every corner of the world every moment of the day, the endless day of light emanating from the Lamb at the center of the City of Peace – City of Shalom, Jeru-Salem.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
Help us we cried and God and Paul and Jesus and Lydia all responded. The man who never asked for help got up and walked. The gates are never shut. We shall drink from the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the lamb. I see water, I see trees with leaves that heal, I see a man who walks, I see open gates with people coming and going. Freely. All those feet. All those shoes. All those people from all over. Now. And forever. When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?
Shabbat ends. “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth…May God give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.” We recite Psalm 67 once again. Perhaps one Shabbat we will see and embrace the vision of the Psalmist. And like Paul, respond. And like the man, stand up and walk.