Heritage Presbyterian Church

May 19, 2019
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Scripture readings – Acts 11: 1-18 and Revelation 21: 1-6

When visions are described in the Bible, I wonder what your reaction is to them.  There are many opportunities to wonder about this if you regularly read and study Scripture.  Just today, we have two different visions:

  1.  Peter’s vision about what is clean and what is unclean… and Peter’s basic core beliefs being changed so that “God’s repentance that leads to life” is also available to the Gentiles.
  2. John’s breathtaking vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth as he described in the most unusual Book of Revelation.

Besides these, the Bible also gives us:

  1.  Daniel’s vision of the End of Days
  2.  The Book of Numbers tells us, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream.”
  3. The reading from the Book of Acts that we heard recently in which Ananias was told in a vision to go and help Saul.  Remember how disturbed Ananias was…he was told to help someone who had been persecuting God’s people!
  4. The vision from Isaiah 6 in which Isaiah saw the throne of the Lord and the hot coals burning in the fire next to it; an angel takes a hot coal and touches Isaiah’s lips so that his words are perfect.  Sounds pretty frightening!
  5. And finally, a favorite verse about visions, from the Old Testament prophet, Joel, to whom the Lord said, “Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.”

So…we have many different visions in the Bible to explore, to ponder, and to admire.  But I will confess that if I had a vision, it would scare me to death; it would mean that I had to get up and go and do something that I would probably NOT want to do…but I would be too terrified to refuse.

And let’s be honest: if I had a vision, and I told you about it, virtually all of you would not believe me.  And I would not blame you at all.

In our time, it seems that visions occur rarely. Yet, whether visions still occur or if they are rare and almost unheard of, we can still experience the following:

  1.  We can all see things that the Lord wants us to see.
  2. We should all envision things that excite us and get us moving and planning and working to make them happen…things we NEED to see.
  3. We should all have a vision for what the future could be, and we should be striving to make that vision a reality.

First, let’s talk about what we all see every day, the things that perhaps Lord wants us to see.  We also see problems around us, and those include problems we don’t want to see:

  • Human trafficking of young people into sexual slavery; I see your faces each month when we make the pitch for contributions to support Free the Captives.  I see your faces when I describe human trafficking as a “scourge” on our society…because that word is not used too often.  I see the hurt in your eyes when I remind you that during major sporting events – like the Super Bowl, the NBA All-Star Game, and the World Series – human trafficking ramps up.  I see the grim expressions when you hear me say that Houston is a major hub for human trafficking.  We don’t want to see that.
  • We can see a shrinking denomination all around us.  In fact, we can also see the shrinking influence of Christianity on our American society.  The latest report shows clearly that “no religion” is now the largest category of American religion.  We can see that the Presbyterian Church, USA, has lost more than half of its members in the past 50 years; anyone who has been with Heritage for longer than ten years can see that we are but a shell of our former size and grandeur.  We don’t want to see it, and we don’t want to hear about it either.
  • I’ve recently come to see that we may have people in our church who don’t really want anything to change.  They are just fine with our little church remaining what it is.  I see that some don’t want to do the hard work that change will bring.
  • And finally, we have all seen those who throw their hands in the air whenever difficult challenges occur and exclaim, “It can’t be done;” not those who change direction when the path is denied…those who become discouraged and just quit, sometimes very early.

Do you see it, Christians?  Or do you turn away because it’s too hard to see?  Jesus never turned away from anything…and he calls us to face what we see with courage and stubborn faith.

Next, let’s take a turn away from all that.  Let’s focus next on what we NEED to see:

  • A church that focuses its energy and its ministry on what’s going on outside the church. 
  • Any future church building as a center of action and work for the surrounding community, rather than an insulated environment that only exists for its member to celebrate their individual love for the Lord.
  • Wouldn’t you like to see our people regularly and systematically bring outsiders to our church?  Before you say no, how do you think each of you got here?  Somehow you came in, and somehow you were accepted.  Isn’t that what Christians have been doing for thousands of years?
  • Every pastor I know – and I mean every single one of them – would love to see the following: a church member or a small group of folks comes to the pastor and says, “Pastor, here’s what we want to do…what do you think?” instead of, “Pastor, what should I do?”
  • We would all love to see our worship services so full that starting a second – or even a third – service would become such a wonderful problem!
  • Or picture this vision: a church budget in which we agonize over how to spend all the new donations we have received, instead of agonizing over how we’re going to make ends meet and still function as an effective, responsible church.
  • I’d like to see those who claim to love children put their money, their time, and their talent where their mouth is.  Talking about children doesn’t accomplish very much, I have seen.
  • And finally…I’d personally like to see folks who see better than I can.  I don’t mean my glasses or my eyesight, but rather see what’s going on around us.  Some of you can see pain on the faces of others.  Some of you can see loneliness in the eyes of folks who are right here right now.  Some of you can see someone’s burden because you have carried the same burden – and you know what it’s like.  Some of you can see loss or desperation or hopelessness or sorrow – even on the faces of those who are good at hiding it.  Some of you have that ability – not necessarily because the Lord gave you that tender ability, but more because you were given a caring, open heart that loves others easily.  And when you see these things, you did something about it.  All of you are ministers in this church…you have the call and the permission to do things.  I wish more of us could do that…if we did, it might not matter much what I preached or what our missions were…because we would be known as a church that cares and loves and reaches out – like Jesus told us.

That’s what I want to see.  That would be nice.

Finally, with the phrase, “Old men dream dreams and young men see visions” running through our heads, let’s think about what we should see…in other words, our vision for the future.

A brief caution first: I am NOT interested in unrealistic visions or someone else’s visions that you think sound interesting or visions you borrowed from the Internet or visions that couldn’t be done with a staff of 5000.  I’m talking about our visions… our hopes and our dreams and our imagination.  That’s what I’m interested in.

A vision we should all see is one in which our community is safe.  Don’t tell me it can’t be done.  Yes, it can.  It will take work and coming out from behind our bunkers.  It will take caring about people we don’t know.  It will take putting others before ourselves.  It will take including the safety of other people’s hearts and feelings, not just their bodies and their lives.  It will take strong vision and soft hearts…the other way around doesn’t work.

I’d like to see health care for children become a priority for everyone, not just a financial burden for those who actually have the children.  And I’d like an end to all the excuses and the “big talk” – thank you very much.

I’d like to see courage become so routine that the powers that would sabotage our government or our political system or our financial systems or our churches wouldn’t even try because they would be thwarted at every turn.

I’d like to see us take care of our environment, no matter what we believe about the changes that may be occurring.  We can do more.

I’d like to see any church – and I mean ANY church – as a place where the only differences are in worship style and tradition.  I’d like to see churches of all faiths work together to bring a message of the love of God to the people…instead of “we are right, and you are wrong.”

And in those churches, I’d like to see pastors falling asleep at night, full of exhausted joy – instead of fretting with frustration over what he or she can do to improve things.

We should see all those things…and a million other wonderful things too.

So, Christians…what do you see? 

What do you want to see?

What are your visions?

Let’s have some conversations in the near future about that, and let’s see what happens.