May 22, 2022
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Zion’s Lutheran Church, Trinidad, Colorado
Rev. Dr. Rebecca Z. McNeil, supply preacher
Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22–22:5, John 14:23-29
I went to see Carla when I got home for the summer after my first year away at college. We were best friends from 4th through 8th grades. As kids, Carla and I were in and out of each other’s houses every day but at the end of 8th grade, Carla and our 8th-grade neighborhood friend, Nancy, made cheerleading, and I (much to my deep, deep disappointment), sure I would never be loved or liked or even have friends again, did not.
In High School, I found new friends and new interests in music, drama, and academics while Carla rose in the cheerleading and popularity ranks. She also fell deeply in love with a boy. He was handsome, he was older, and he was all she wanted out of life. We weren’t close friends anymore, not because we didn’t like each other or had a falling out, but just because we were busy in different ways with different things. When I was home from college that summer I became the youth minister at the church where Carla’s dad was the pastor. He suggested I give Carla a call or stop by her apartment to visit her, so, I did.
Carla had married the boy four weeks after we graduated from high school and gave birth to their baby that November. She took care of the baby and sold Tupperware for a living while the boy gambled most of their money away at the racetrack.
Something Carla told me in that crappy little apartment on that hot June day eons ago has stuck with me. She said, “I let my vision get all messed up. I spent all my time watching soap operas and got to where I believed the soaps were the way life is. It really twisted me. It made me feel like being treated badly is just the way things are.” She said, “I stopped watching soap operas a couple months ago and, I’m beginning to remember who I used to be and what I used to dream of. I’m re-evaluating how I want to live my life.”
Those were wise words from a nineteen-year-old.
Our vision of what it means to be alive and to live a good life shapes who and what we are. Our vision shapes how we live. It shapes how we spend our time, who we spend time with, how we earn our money, how we spend our money, how we vote, how we deal with heartaches and disappointments, what we do if and when we find success, and even what success means. Vision is an important and precious thing
Our scripture texts today are all about vision–visions from God about God’s vision for God’s world, God’s creatures, and God’s people.
Our reading from Acts begins, “During the night, Paul had a vision.” And what was that vision? That he and his team needed to cross the sea and go into Macedonia to take the good news of Jesus to Europe. It came to Paul in a vision, that the good news about God’s love was not geographically restrained, but was true without boundaries and limitations. The Gospel is for all the world.
Macedonia had been a cultural backwater, a no-where kind of place during the hey-days of Greek literature, art, and culture until Alexander the Great brought them into the wars that carried Greek culture all the way to Afghanistan and Egypt. Paul, instead of being a foreigner bringing warfare, was a foreigner who brought to the Macedonians the good news of the Prince of Peace. The vision Paul brought them was a vision of a different way of life so compelling that one of the wealthy women of the town of Philipi, Lydia, heard Paul’s description of the world through Jesus and caught the vision herself. She, Lydia, was the first European to take as her own vision, God’s vision made known in Jesus and told to her by Paul. A vision of peace, a vision of wide welcome that knows no national boundaries, that knows no sexism. A vision she in turn understood to shape hers into a life of hospitality, beginning by welcoming the strangers–Paul and his cohort into her home.
Our reading from the Psalms reminds us that God’s vision from the beginning of creation is one of love and cosmic involvement. God is not a God far off, but a God whose work and being brings health, wholeness, joy, and blessings to all without differentiating between nations and peoples and species. God’s vision is for a healthy, whole creation and, healthy, whole peoples.
Our reading from Revelation is a recounting of a vision given to John of Patmos in which God’s city needs no light because God is all light. God’s city is inhabited by the people of all nations because God’s love knows no limits. In the middle of the city, a river flows full of goodness to quench all thirst, and next to the river grows a tree whose very leaves are medicine for the healing of all people.
And finally, in the Gospel of John, we read of Jesus’ vision that he shared with his disciples before his death. Jesus promised them that when he was no longer with them, the Holy Spirit would take his place. And with the Holy Spirit in their midst, they would have the power to live their lives unafraid of all the things the world teaches people to fear. With the power of the Holy Spirit living in and through them, people can live in peace beyond all imagining.
Now, those are some visions, aren’t they?
And they weren’t then and aren’t now visions of something by and by like pie in the sky, they are visions intended to guide and shape us as beloved children of God in the very here and now. We, Jesus’ followers are called to see the world as God does. We are called to live ourselves into these holy visions.
When we choose to follow Jesus, like Lydia in Philipi chose to follow Jesus, when we are baptized or confirm our baptism our vision changes.
So, here’s what I’m wondering today.
If God’s vision for the world welcomes, loves, and cherishes all people, why is it that so many who claim to follow Jesus today believe our one nation is more loved, more honored, and more important to God than all others? Why is it that so many who claim to follow Jesus today believe that God who created the world with such vibrant diversity, God who is the giver of the gift of intimacy discriminates against his beloved children on the basis of who they love and share tenderness? Or that God discriminates against the color of their skin? Is not love, is not intimacy a gift given by God for human well-being? Is not a rainbow of skin colors a promise just as much as an iridescent bow in the sky?
If God’s vision for the world is that the earth will produce in abundance all that is needed for life to flourish, why is it that so many who claim to follow God’s beloved son, treat creation with disrespect, pillaging for their own short-term profit resources that are meant to sustain life for all beings in perpetuity?
If God’s vision for the world is that all people be healthy and whole, why is it that so many who claim to love God refuse to love their neighbors enough to be sure their neighbors have health care and housing and education and bodily autonomy and basic nutrition? Did Jesus not spend his years of ministry healing the sick, welcoming the outcasts, feeding the hungry, and honoring the voices of the vulnerable?
If God’s vision for the world means none of us need to live in fear, why is it so many, many people who claim to follow Jesus, cling to their cash, and build up actual arsenals of weapons? If God is generous with us, is not our cash a gift by which we too can live generously? If our Jesus bore no arms and refused to return violence for violence, not even in self-defense, raising his arms instead in defiantly loving surrender, are our arms not also to be free of weapons and open in vulnerable love to all our neighbors?
I had an “aha!” moment a couple of years ago when I got to the little country church where I was the pastor. I had been puzzling over how the loving, giving people in my two rural congregations could cling to truly bad and harmful theology even though they had been baptized and confirmed in the United Church of Christ, a denomination like the ELCA in which head and heart and spirit are engaged together in our theology. Their theology cast a vision of God as petty and vengeful, interested more in purity than in grace. Their theology divided people into the saved and the unsaved, good and bad, and it was all wrapped up in patriotism that worshipped military might and whatever makes the stock market and agricultural markets boom. It was a theology of fear that cast refugees as a threat and insisted that the poor must be poor because of their own bad choices. Their theology looked almost nothing like the vision described in all four of our scripture texts today. And then came my big “Aha!”
Louise, not her real name, said to the others in the pew, “Did you catch Pastor So and So’s sermon on tv this morning?” Nine out of the ten others in the sanctuary said they had. In their before church banter, they proclaimed their love for him and for his ministry. They wouldn’t miss listening to him. “Did you know he does a show at noon on weekdays on the radio?” Several said they donated heavily to his church off in Texas or Florida or wherever. They talked about all the preachers and shows they follow on the “Christian” radio station and on tv. One of them said it’s all her husband listens to in the cab of his tractor or combine. (He was one of our members who came to church only on Christmas Eve and Easter if she made him).
Aha! These folks have a horribly warped image of God’s vision for God’s world and for us as Christians because they are feeding themselves a media diet of soap-operaesque pseudo-Christianity. I got twenty minutes a week in their pulpit and a few of them came to Bible study once a week, but for the day in and day out of their lives they were feeding their souls, not on the riches of God’s grace but on theology that holds little resemblance to the actual teachings of Jesus. Theology that enriches and excuses the excesses and advantages of the majority and denigrates those who fall in the cracks and the margins. Theology matters.
Maybe too many churches, too many Christians, too many leaders, and too many followers have gone close to blind. Maybe too many of us have cataracts and spiritual degeneration we’ve left untreated for far too long. Maybe a whole big slice of Christendom today has lost God’s vision for the world. Maybe too many folks are letting fear and greed and “holier than thou” teaching be the lens through which they view the world and live their lives.
There are plenty of preachers and teachers and churches and denominations and Christian pundits and Christian politicians and Christian radio hosts and Christian pod-casters who make a lot of money dressing up fears and prejudices and self-righteousness in Christian branded clothing that in actuality bears little resemblance to Jesus.
Here’s the thing. I think it is time we do what my friend Carla did. Turn off the soap operas and all the other voices and influencers and take some time today, this week, this month, to pay no attention to all those folks “behind the curtain” and focus instead on God’s vision for us and for the world found in today’s texts, found in the Gospels about Jesus. Found in good, scholarly, responsible theology.
We need clear vision to see that the Good News Jesus brings literally and right now frees prisoners, stewards and preserves creation, provides more than enough in abundance to feed all people, welcomes strangers, heals the sick, breaks down barriers, celebrates human love, recognizes the image of God in all people, in all creation, ushers in true social justice, ends violence and brings peace that passes our deepest understanding.
Our lives, our congregation, and our world will be transformed as we see more clearly God’s vision for us and for God’s world.
 Texts for Preaching-Year C, Cousar, Gaventa, McCann, and Newsome Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 1994, pp.341-315.