Unity Hill United Church of Christ, Trumbull, CT
April 28, 2013
(This is an expanded version of a sermon I preached in 2010. I first asked the congregation to draw a five-pointed star on a piece of paper, big enough to write a few words inside the pentagonal center. I explained that they would be reflecting and writing on the paper throughout the sermon, using the star as a focal point. )
If you’ve seen the movie “What Dreams May Come”, you were probably struck by the sheer glory of heaven that one man envisions from the canvases of his wife’s art. From her imagination and his devotion to her, we see realms of glorious color, wild fantasy, heartrending beauty and unspeakable wonder. In this vision of heaven, humankind’s role as co-creator with God comes alive with vivid scenes of splendor woven together from the imaginations of heaven’s citizens.
The reading from the book of Revelation gives us another view of the new heaven and new earth, and its center is the new Jerusalem, no longer estranged from the ways of God but now adorned for God as a bride for a husband. In this new Jerusalem, death and mourning and crying will be no more, for the first things have passed away. This is good news indeed for the Jerusalem of today and for all cities and nations whose citizens experience death and mourning and pain. Weighing upon our hearts in recent days and months is the city of Boston, the town of West, Texas, the nation of Syria, and any family that has lost a loved one to gun violence.
We all have images and dreams of what heaven will be like, of who we will see, what we might experience or at least from what we will be free. Over the course of human history, whenever the future has seemed bleak and bereft of hope, our dreams of heaven have been at their strongest. And we can only dream of heaven because none of us really knows what it will be like. Even that resurrected Jesus, doggone it, didn’t really say a concrete word about what heaven is like. You’d think he’d want to put our minds at ease. No. Instead, he wanted us to put our faith to work.
(Write inside the center of the star a fear or a dream that you have about your church or about the whole Church, the Body of Christ.)
Peter too has a heavenly vision, but it’s more about a new earth than a new heaven; perhaps more about heaven on earth. In this vision God reveals something that at the time was unimaginable, that salvation is not only for a few but for all, even for those who were thought to be unclean and unworthy. God’s big dream, the Spirit’s fervent hope, Jesus’ simple prayer, that they may all be one, means all and one. With God there is no equivocating, no loopholes, no hedge bets.
And no, it doesn’t and shouldn’t put our minds at ease. It puts our faith to work and demands that we dream big with God. How will we co-create this new Jerusalem, this heaven on earth, this new city of God, with one another and with God? How might you, Unity Hill United Church of Christ, be faithful to your traditions and history and yet leave a wide open freedom for the Holy Spirit, for dreams and imagination to give you a vision for your future? How might you be hindering God’s big dream for you?
(Write the words “Holy Spirit” at the tip of one of the points of the star.)
How often do we take time to dream with God, using our imaginations to envision what our community of faith could be and can be? Sometimes a congregation might do a visioning process, looking ahead for the next 5 to 7 years. Goals will be set, mandates given to boards and committees, maybe a purpose or mission statement might be written. But in that process we often keep our goals reasonable, our mandates not too burdensome, and our purpose or mission statement may or may not have the oomph to sustain us through the dry seasons, through the hard times.
When we dream with God, we are called to use ‘what if’ ideas, fearless wonderings, big hopes, even our smallest musings. Each of us has a slightly different picture of what our church could be, because, even though we have a shared experience of church, we also experience it individually. Some of you have been worshipping here for a few years; perhaps some of you have been here most of your adult lives. We all have different ideas of what makes for a ‘best church experience’.
(On another tip of one the star points, write a few words of a time when you felt most alive, most involved, spiritually touched, or most excited about your involvement at this church. )
What can be difficult about this dream of ‘all’ and ‘one’ is that we are a community of individuals, each of us with our own expectations, identity, values, hopes and fears, our own way of seeing events and situations. We love that verse in the gospel of Matthew that reads, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”, perhaps not thinking Jesus said that because he might have to break up an argument. It’s no coincidence that in the next verse a discussion follows about forgiveness. Matthew 18: 21-22 reads, “Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’” Though we may have a shared identity and values, we need to be aware and appreciate that others have their own, no better or worse than ours.
(On another tip of one of the star points, write something that you value about yourself in relationship to this church, i.e., “I’ve learned to be something I didn’t think I could do: Sunday school teacher, moderator, deacon, etc.” “I’m a good organizer.” “I like to do things behind the scenes.” “I like to welcome people and show hospitality.”)
And yet despite our differences we do manage to experience oneness, a feeling of belonging, that all of us make up this unique community we call the Body of Christ. When we are at our best, we realize that we need every part—every hand, every foot, every eye, every heart—if our church is to be the church we know and love. Though there may be times we find it difficult to live with one another, still our church would not be the same without everyone there. We begin to see that the incarnation means that God lives in everyone, including those who bother us the most and those we love easiest and those we have yet to meet. God’s dream is for everyone, that all may be one.
(Write on one of the tips of the star points what you believe to be the core value of your church; that if this value did not exist, would make your church totally different than it currently is.)
When Peter had his dream, his vision of heaven on earth, of God’s community of ‘all’ and ‘one’, it was not accomplished overnight or even in his lifetime and still not in ours. Change and growth take time. God’s dream of a new heaven and earth is still working its way into reality. But this is our hope and sometimes it is unseen, unheard: that God IS still speaking, that God IS still working, that God IS still dreaming and creating and renewing, that God is not finished with us yet. And so there are times we lose hope, we falter, we allow our dreams to be replaced with fear.
So now I invite you to write on that last star point a wish that you have for your church. It can be anything. Even the sky is not the limit. Imagine that you are fearless, boundless, that this Body of Christ can accomplish anything, that with God all things are possible.
|Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, Saint-Rémy, France - 1889|
Now examine that fear or dream that you wrote in the middle of your star. If you wrote a fear, I’d like you to transform it into a dream. If you’re afraid that one day the church will die, perhaps your dream could be that it will live again, be resurrected. And all our other fears feed that one big fear, do they not?
Look at the center of your star, and then see what surrounds it: the Holy Spirit, your best experience, what you value about yourself in relationship to this Body of Christ, the core value of this church, and the biggest wish for your faith community. Think of the center of your star as a tree and the points as its branches, as if you are looking down on it from above.
What is in the center feeds the tree, feeds the dreams, the values, the experiences, even how we know and experience the Holy Spirit. If our center is filled with fear, even what the Holy Spirit is doing in our midst will be experienced as a fearful experience rather than the fulfillment of a dream or a hope. If our center is filled with dreams, imagine then what dreams may come of the Holy Spirit working through us!
I encourage you share your stars/trees with one another at coffee hour and to share them with your pastor and at committee meetings and at Council and in Bible study. See what comes from them. There is indeed yet more light and truth to break forth from God’s holy Word as it is lived through you.
Dream big, Unity Hill; dream God’s big dream, that dream of all and one. Through you, God has already begun to create a little piece of heaven on earth. How might you extend that piece of heaven to others who need to experience the good news of all and one? God has promised that the good work begun in you will be brought to completion. What a sweet dream indeed.
Dream God’s Dream! Holy Spirit help us dream
Of a world where there is justice and where everyone is free
To build and grow and love, and to simply have enough
The world will change when we dream God’s Dream. 
 Star graphic idea taken from “Experience: The Heart of Transformation” by Tim Scorer in The Emerging Christian Way: Thoughts, Stories, & Wisdom for a Faith of Transformation (Kelowna, BC, Canada: Copper House, 2006), 34-46.
 The reflections for the next four points of the star are the Four Questions taken from the Appreciative Inquiry process (http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/intro/whatisai.cfm) by David Cooperrider.
 “Dream God’s Dream”, words and music by Bryan Sirchio.