Lesson of the Day
Acts 2: 1-21
2 When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
5 There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.6 When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. 7 They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? 8 How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”
14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young will see visions.
Your elders will dream dreams.
18 Even upon my servants, men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
20 The sun will be changed into darkness,
and the moon will be changed into blood,
before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.[a]
Your young will see visions, and your old will dream dreams. Yes, please. When is the last time your life was totally captivated by a dream? When you felt a dream catch you, lift you, propel you forward? Has it been a while?
When I was five I got to go see the Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey circus. My whole kindergarten class went. My dad went, too. I remember the huge tent. It seemed enormous. I remember the lions and elephants and rings of fire. But what really took my breath away were the trapeze artists. How could they fly like that?! They were graceful and strong, and they leapt, flipped, and flew, like they had no fear of falling. They soared, like a dream.
I decided then and there that when I grew up I would be a trapeze artist. That was my dream.
Then I got a little older, and I learned, the way we do, that that was a silly dream. I learned to have reasonable dreams. I let go of the dream of soaring. I got real.
This is how it is with dreams, isn’t it? The truly wild ones are hard to hang on to. The story we just read is a wild dream of a story. Fire and wind and people speaking foreign languages and understanding each other. It was so unbelievable that folks watching thought they must be drunk—because what other explanation do we have for adults being truly wild? But, Peter says, this isn’t drunkenness. This is as real as it gets. This is divine reality, Spirit poured out on all flesh, and we are going to see visions, dream dreams, prophesy. All of us.
It’s this moment of profound inclusion and astonishing courage.
This is called the birthday of the church. Our origins are in this dramatic release from fear, this wild explosion. The Spirit is poured out and with a great gasp they begin to dream again. The dreams birthed this day led to an astonishing, ever-widening circle of inclusion. On this day lines of nationality and language are crossed. In the years to come religious, racial, and sexual lines will be crossed. This is what church is: an ever-widening dream of justice, inclusion, and relationship. This kind of wild dreaming is our birthright. We are made to dream dreams.
We got to baptize Phoebe and August this morning. We saw the water drip down on their heads, and we claimed for them the promises that are claimed for us all: you are a child of God, holy and beloved. Christ is with you. The Spirit fills you.
For Phoebe we claim those promises in hope and expectation. Who can say where her life will take her? What visions she will see, what she might prophesy? We claim the promise that she, like all of us, is filled with the Spirit, is made to dream dreams. We claimed these promises on her behalf.
August claimed these promises for herself through confirmation. Confirmation is an opportunity for adolescents to decide for themselves if they’d like to claim these promises.
This year we offered confirmation in conjunction with two other churches. We teamed up. We had three kids from Bethany participate: August, and Audrey and Owen who will be confirmed in two weeks. Teaching confirmation this spring was one of the best things that’s happened to me in a while. It taught me to dream about our faith and church again. These bright, wise, curious youth brought fresh eyes to what we’re doing here. They asked questions. They dreamed dreams and reminded me to do the same. When Audrey learned that they would become full members her first question was, “Can I be an elder? Can I help lead?” There’s a girl with a vision. When Owen explained to session why he wanted to join, he said, “I’ve learned I don’t have to take it all literally, so I can keep learning and understand more as I grow.” He knows: faith isn’t about having it all buttoned up. It’s the opposite. It’s being open to the Spirit, willing to see new visions, dream new dreams. We had one week where we talked about how we imagine God. We put out a bunch of images of what God could look like. We had images like a galaxy, a rainbow, and also more traditional images like a king on a throne, an old man in the clouds. As leaders we messed up and didn’t have any images that were feminine. Well, our kids called us out. August raised her hand and said, “I notice that there aren’t any pictures of women.” Yes, indeed. The Spirit will be poured out, and they will prophesy.
This dreaming is not the sole prerogative of the young. Often our elders are the ones most able to envision new realities. The Spirit is poured out on all flesh. We are all made to dream dreams.
And we are in desperate need of dreams. Life without dreams is a life without hope. It’s no accident that this wild experience of Spirit and dreams was accompanied by a broad inclusivity. People who couldn’t speak the same language—literally and metaphorically—found themselves bound together. Dreams have the power to connect us to one another, to open new possibilities, make a way out of no way. We need dreams.
We need dreams in our daily lives: the ridiculous ones sometimes bear surprising fruit. That dream of being a trapeze artist somehow led me into swim lessons this spring. It’s not flying, but I’ve experienced weightlessness and freedom—also lots of choking and spluttering along the way. Our dreams have power. They can change us, change how we relate to one another, change old scripts, make room for new ones. This is what happens when Spirit is poured out. We are made to dream dreams.
It is so easy to become stale and stuck, to assume we know what will happen. But can we dream new dreams? Can we dream of forgiveness for someone who has hurt us deeply? Can we dream of communication that is honest and real? Can we dream of relationships where we don’t have hide parts of ourselves?
We need dreams. In our personal lives and maybe even more in our communal lives.
Our nation needs new dreams. Our world, too. We need dreams that go beyond getting our guy, whoever that might be, into office. We need a dream that goes beyond borders, fences, and walls, a dream that is better than detention and deportation. Do we dare to dream?
Do we dare to dream of a society where 2,000,000 people are not incarcerated? Where black parents don’t have to teach their children to be respectful to the point of subservience when they interact with police because they fear for their lives? Can we dream?
Can we dream of peace? Real, shalom peace? Can we dare to dream of a world in which we do not wage never-ending war with impunity? Can we dream?
Do we dare to dream of a society where the lives of poor folks matter more than the lure of profit? Could we dream of every person having breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a place to stay, and healthcare when they’re sick? Do we dare?
Do we dare to dream of a time when women will be paid fairly and not assaulted at work or at home, when we’ll have a right to bodily autonomy and won’t be afraid to run at night?
Do we dare to dream? Can we begin to dream? We need to dream.
We need a dream that is more than protection from school shootings. Can we dream of not only no more school shootings but of not one more child dead from gun violence? Can we dream of caring so much for our children’s lives that we are willing to set aside our rights and love of guns? Can we dream a new dream? Do we dare?
It’s scary to have such big dreams. They call forth hope that seems sure to be disappointed. Whether it’s the dream of being able to deal with that difficult person with equanimity or the endlessly elusive dream of world peace, dreaming is hard work.
It’s hard work, and if we get serious about our dreams, it can be dangerous. Immediately after the story we read, the first disciple is martyred. And there was once a man who stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and declared, “I have a dream…” It cost him his life.
And yet, this is what we’re called to. This what it means to follow that prophet from Nazareth. We are dreamers, filled with the Holy Spirit. We are made to dream dreams.