Recurring Dreams

2 Corinthians 1:1-11

How many of you have had recurring dreams?  Dreams that appear to be more than dreams?

I had one that continued for some time. In the dream I lived in a large historic home, a home where I never went up the grand staircase into the upper floor, living in only part of the home. Eventually I did ascend the stairs and found that the previous owners had left beautiful furniture and all their belongings– which was always when I woke up.  But as the dream repeated I gradually explored all the rooms until finding myself even higher on a dreamcast4AAbeautiful rooftop terrace I didn’t even know I had. Eventually I understood this dream to be about breakthrough. Until I stopped being afraid of God’s greatest imagination for my life, I was stuck on the lower floors. When I figured that out and stopped being afraid is when the dreams stopped.    This wasn’t an ordinary dream. It was something more, something holy.

For some of us, the Holy Spirit might communicate through dreams or visions. And depending upon how open we are to such experiences, will determine if we recognize it and what we do with the phenomenon.

Each of us experience the Holy Spirit differently.  At times it may be a still small voice, a holy whisper through which a fully formed thought enters your mind.  Mothers might call it woman’s intuition, when we know something we wouldn’t otherwise know.

Other times the Spirit reminds us of something we’ve forgotten. Maybe we’ve begun to doubt ourselves and then, in an instant, we remember that we’ve got this. We know what to do. Or perhaps we’re going through something truly frightening but can’t deny that we also feel a peculiar peace that assures us everything will be ok. Have you had that experience?

Throughout the bible ordinary people experienced visions, dreams– promptings.  Mary did. Joseph did. Hannah. David. Samuel.  The prophets of old.  And…the apostle Paul.

His experience with Jesus on the Emmaus road was such a vision and it transformed him, forever opening him to the Spirit who pulled him along like a divine GPS.  The beautiful thing was that he trusted it. And he listened.

Apparently for Paul, when you know that you know, you want others to know what you know.  And so he told everyone he met about this man Jesus.

The book of Acts records that “During the night Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul didn’t assume it was a figment of his imagination. He paid attention.

As a result he started churches in the cities of Antioch, Corinth, and Ephesus and beyond.  And like the Spirit he kept in communication with those churches, giving them counsel as he had been counseled.

The letter we read today is the 4th letter he wrote to the church in Corinth. They were experiencing frayed and shattered relationships. Sharp words had been spoken and there was deep wounding.  They had forgotten they were Christian community.

Paul knew that even the healthiest communities can experience conflict. The Corinthian people were in dire need of getting un stuck.  He did not want their future to be defined by their past. He needed them to step back and review the gospel basics of how God was with them every step of the way.

In these letters he begins by focusing on what God can do that we cannot.

He reminds them that struggles happen telling them that as God comforts us in our troubles, we are to comfort others.  In other words we are blessed to be a blessing.

He reviews the gospel message that brought them together in the first place.  He talks about the God that raises the dead.  He reminds them that it was human conflict that led to the crucifixion of Christ.

He reminds them that God’s message of resurrection is a refusal to let human conflict set the terms for the future.  That resurrection always stands over and above the conflicts of life and man oh man do we all need that reminder.

It’s quite incredible really that God would bring the gospel to the world through deeply flawed human beings. We are each treasures in clay jars, fallible, breakable but FULL OF Godly potential.  Each of you are full of Godly potential.

That is God’s recurrent dream. That we will remember who and whose we are.

That we’ll remember we are children of Deity. Capable.  Loved. Supported.

Another one of my own recurring dreams also stopped when I yielded to the peace and not the fear. In the dream I’m crawling on all fours up the side of a grassy mountain. All around me people are sitting comfortably enjoying a spectacular view. Finally a guy taps me on the arm and says, “You CAN turn around now. You’re here. You’ve made it.”

And when I turn around there’s a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. The sky is a perfect blue. The air is clear.  And I realize he’s right. I’m OK. And I seat myself with the others to take it all in, my heart no longer troubled, no longer afraid.

Oh yes. I remember.  Children of Deity. Capable. Loved. Supported. Full of Godly potential.

Amen.

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With all your heart, mind, soul and strength

(A sermon on 1st Corinthians 13:1-13)

“God is the force and the love that created, sustains and that transforms the universe, including you and me.”

Those are the words of Rev. Stephanie Spellers, an episcopal priest in New York.  That was her answer to being asked “Who is God to you?”

To Stephanie (and to me) I see God’s very nature as love.   God created the world through love. God sustains the world in love.  God does what God does BECAUSE of love.  Love is the essence. The main ingredient in Creation’s stew.  Love is the motivation for everything God is, does and hopes.

This God of love is the God that the apostle Paul tattoomet on the Emmaus road.  When Paul encountered God in Christ—he found himself turned upside down. When God’s love touched him, he could do no other than respond IN LOVE, serving the living, and loving the God he had encountered.  And thank God, he couldn’t stop. He had to tell everyone, be they Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male or female, gay, straight, black or white.

Which brings us to the familiar Corinthians 13 known as “the love chapter.” We read it at weddings and at funerals.  And I wonder if we’ve heard it so often that we barely pay attention.  Is it a simplistic affirmation of Christian love and unity?

Is it a Duh. A “so what.”  NO. It’s not.

That’s not what was happening when Paul spoke those words to the church at Corinth. He wasn’t affirming that they had love. He was calling them out because they lacked it. Today we have the opportunity to place Paul’s words back into their context, wrestling them away from their warm and fuzzy misunderstanding.

It’s likely that he spoke the words with love and exasperation in his tone.

Things were not going well in Corinth.

The Corinthian Church was not a happy and homogenous body. They were not a comfortable gathering where people fell into step with each other because they shared a belief in Jesus, OR fundamentally similar lives, or values, or experiences. Quite the contrary.

The Corinthian fellowship was a melting pot of backgrounds, gender, age, rank, status, and life situation. Most of its members were from the lower classes but some sat on the opposite side in rank and resources. There were slaves and free people in the community, as well as people with different skill sets and gifts.   The problem was, the diversity among the Corinthians had dissolved into discord and rivalry.

This was a community fragmented, rather than enriched, by difference. So Paul is introducing them to an ethic-a way of living, being and thinking, that is necessary if they are to survive the muddy waters of difference and disagreement.  Without love they would be doomed.  Without diversity they would be less than.

This topic of diversity and how communities can get sideways when they become divided has always fascinated me, especially within the church.

In fact the title of my doctoral dissertation was “Divine Diversity: The church’s challenge or God’s greatest imagination?”  God has built diversity into all of creation, human, animal, biological.  In biology diversity is a mark of health. When absent, that biological system is diseased.  Logic tells us that it’s the same in humanity even if we humans haven’t always caught up with God’s brilliant design for OUR optimum health.

I grew up in a culturally diverse neighborhood and an interreligious home. My home was half Methodist and half Serbian Orthodox.  We had a Jewish family across the street, Italian Catholics on both sides, a Lutheran family next to the Jewish family and another Catholic family next to them.  The Jewish family invited us to Seder dinners and Hanukkah celebrations.    Everyone invited everyone to church or synagogue.  My neighborhood was a successful experiment in Love. We were close—like Salem. We tried always to show love and live from love. Knowing ourselves loved by God was our universal unifier.

Knowing ourselves loved, we cannot help but live in love. It’s in our divine DNA. It’s how we’re wired.  Only from that place can we call each other beloved and only from that place can we serve one another other in love.

And while faith and hope are essential elements of faith, LOVE is the empowering gift of the three. It is the glue, the fuel, and the reason.

The God of Christ and of Paul keeps calling us back into that love.

WE never “have” love — Love has us! Grasped by a love that never ends, we are privileged to be channels for that same love.

And today I am not calling you out because you don’t get it. I am affirming you because you do. With all your heart, mind, soul and strength, thank you Salem for being who and whose you are, claimed by love and compelled to respond in that same love.  It’s what people feel when they encounter us.

I love you for that.

AMEN.