Sunday’s sermon: Empty Spaces

god-shaped hole

Texts used – Psalm 136; John 14:1-14, 27-31a





  • U.S. trash and recycling statistics
    • American = 5% of the world’s population → America = 30% of the world’s trash[1]
      • If all the world lived the way we live, we would need 2 Earths
      • In lifetime, the average American will throw away 600 times their bodyweight in trash
      • Enough trash to fill 63,000 garbage trucks daily (which would reach halfway to the moon if we stacked them end-to-end)
    • Although 75% of American waste is recyclable, we only actually recycle about 30% of it[2]
      • Over 11 million TONS (not pounds … TONS – that’s 22 Billion pounds) of recyclable clothing, shoes, and textiles make their way to the landfill every year
      • U.S. throws away $11.4 billion worth of recyclable containers and packaging every year
      • 18 billion pounds of plastic trash wind up in our oceans each year
        • Enough to cover every foot of coastline around the world with five full trash bags of plastic every year
        • Causes over 100,000 marine animal deaths every year from plastic entanglement and ingestion
    • Stuff that goes to the landfill
      • Takes roughly 50 yrs. for rubber to degrade
      • Takes 200-500 yrs. for aluminum to fully degrade
      • Take roughly 500 yrs. for plastic water bottle to degrade
      • Takes 500+ yrs. for Styrofoam to degrade
      • Take 1,000,000 yrs. for glass to degrade
    • Clearly, y’all, we have a stuff problem in this country.
      • Stuff that fills up our cupboards and closets
      • Stuff that fills up our garages and sheds
      • Never-ending stream of stuff that we can buy in the store, online, at the next garage sale, etc.
      • But what’s the purpose of all that stuff? What empty space are we trying to fill with all that stuff – that stuff that obviously means enough to us to end up in so many garbage heaps in landfill after landfill? With this idea in mind – this thought of how we try to fill empty spaces – let’s listen to our Greatest Showman song for this morning. [PLAY “Never Enough”]

  • Song = pretty clear → Only one thing will fill the void – the aching emptiness that the singer speaks of: the presence of the Beloved.
    • Song: Take my hand / Will you share this with me? / ‘Cause darling, without you / All the shine of a thousand spotlights / All the stars we steal from the night sky / Will never be enough / Never be enough / Towers of gold are still too little / These hands could hold the world / But it’ll never be enough / Never be enough / For me[3] → Some of the most coveted, most treasured, most far-flung and limitless things in the universe cannot fill the void for the singer. The coveted shine of the spotlight and all the fame and notoriety that it implies isn’t enough. Treasured towers of gold isn’t enough. Even the stars themselves plucked out of the night sky – limitless and far-flung as they are – aren’t enough. The world itself isn’t enough. Only the Beloved will fill the void.
    • Context within the movie: song sung by Swedish opera star Jenny Lind
      • After experiencing some success with his circus, Barnum decides to try to branch out – to continue the fun and fancifulness of his circus acts but also to add a more genteel, sophisticated, upper-class-approved act to his repertoire → enter Jenny Lind → Barnum entices her to travel “across the pond” and go on tour in the states → Barnum ends up all but abandoning his circus (leaving it in the hands of his partner, Phillip Carlyle) to tour the country with Ms. Lind → (without giving too much away) ends up in a bit of a romantically sticky situation because of all this touring and time away from his home and family
        • Said at the beginning of the series that this movie was loosely based on the real life of P.T. Barnum → portions of this part of the storyline are true
          • True: Barnum invited Swedish opera protégé Jenny Lind, nicknamed the “Swedish Nightingale,” to America to tour
          • True: They spent a great deal of time touring together
          • False: no romantic intimations between them during this time → Hollywood … what can I say?
    • Power of the song – both in the lyrics and in the context – is the longing that you hear in it → repetition of that simple phrase “never enough” really drives home the singular longing for that one person – a longing that creates that empty space that nothing and no one else can fill
  • Certainly could have paired today’s song with the Scripture that we read last week → story of the rich young rule who Jesus commanded to sell all his possessions – all his stuff – so he could follow Jesus
    • Definite longing in it
    • Definite empty space in it that the rich young ruler was seeking to fill
    • Definite overabundance of “stuff” in it
    • But I wanted to pair this Scripture reading from John’s gospel with this song this morning because it’s such an interesting juxtaposition that really illustrates both the empty spaces that we feel and the one thing that will fill up our aching hearts and souls to overflowing: the presence and love of God.
      • Jesus begins passage by gently admonishing the disciples
        • Reminding the disciples of God’s presence with them
        • Reminding the disciples of God’s compassion for them and desire to provide for them
        • Reminding the disciples of the abundance and, indeed, overabundance of God
        • Text: “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I to go prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be, too. You know the way to the place I’m going.”[4] → I feel like Jesus said this in a soft, tender voice – like he was trying to comfort the disciples, to reassure them, to quiet their fears and their apprehensions.
          • Context within the scope of John’s gospel → This passage is actually part of a large chunk of the gospel – chapter 14 through chapter 17 – that doesn’t appear in any of the other gospels. Jesus and the disciples are in the upper room sharing the Passover meal together. Jesus knows that he is about to be arrested. He knows what’s coming. He has washed the disciples’ feet. He’s broken the bread and shared the wine. He has made some dire and spot-on predictions – Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial.
            • Other gospels leave a good chunk of that last supper blank
            • John’s gospel gives us the table conversation – what Jesus and the disciples talked about after Judas had fled to turn them in
              • Discussion that includes some familiar and favorite passages
                • “I am the vine and you are the branches”[5]
                • “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends”[6]
                • From graveside committal service: “You have sorrow now; but I will see you again, and you will be overjoyed. No one takes away your joy.”[7]
          • And Jesus starts that discussion – of things to come, of the love of God, of prayer and purpose, of grace and hope and joy that cannot be taken away – by gently reassuring the disciples that he is going ahead to make a place for them.
            • Reassurance that even though he will no longer be with them, that God will continue to be with them
            • Reassurance that they already have all that they need to find that place
            • Reassurance that those empty spaces inside them and among them will indeed be filled
      • And yet, what is the disciples’ immediate response to Jesus’ reassurances? – text: Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way.” … Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.”[8] → Even in the face of the greatest assurance they will ever receive, the disciples are grasping … panicking … desperate for something more.
        • More concrete
        • More measurable
        • More proveable
        • Jesus is trying to provide them with that ultimate “enough,” but is it enough for the disciples?
          • Jesus even goes so far as to declare peace – text: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.”[9] → “My peace I give to you” … but is it enough?
  • At this same point in the other gospels – in Matthew and Mark, specifically – it mentions that Jesus and the disciples “sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.”[10] In light of this idea of God being enough, I imagine the hymn they sang may have been our psalm for today – Psalm 136.
    • Remember: original purpose/use of the psalms was as an element of Hebrew worship
      • Some personal (“I/me/my”)
      • Some communal (“we/us/our”)
    • Today’s psalm sounds like a call-and-response → each line followed by congregational response “God’s faithful love lasts forever!”
      • Various “leader” lines follow the storyline of the world and the people of Israel
        • Begins with God’s goodness
        • Extols the wonders and majesty of creation
        • Follows through Israel’s slavery in Egypt and their exodus
        • Culminates in the Promised Land and God’s protection of the people
    • After every single line – be it a declaration of God’s goodness, a reminder of the struggles of the people, or a recognition of the beauty of the world around them – there is the same faith-filled, glorious proclamation: “God’s faithful love lasts forever!” It is a statement of faith. It is a statement of hope. And it is a reminder that no matter what is facing us, God’s “enough” is always there – reaching out, holding us up, giving us strength and peace and faithful, steadfast love for the journey ahead. It is a reminder that with God, there is no “never enough.” Thanks be to God. Amen.


C.S. Lewis: The fact that our heart yearns for something earth can’t supply is proof that heaven must be our home.

  • Sure and blessed thing to fill those empty spaces in our hearts, souls, and lives = the faithful love of God, the peace of Christ, and the companionship of the Holy Spirit → our “always enough”



[3] “Never Enough” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Sony/ATV Music

[4] Jn 14:1-4.

[5] Jn 15:5.

[6] Jn 15:13.

[7] Jn 16:22.

[8] Jn 14:5, 8.

[9] Jn 14:27.

[10] Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26.

Sunday’s sermon: Driving a Hard Bargain


Texts used – Jonah 2:1-3:3; Matthew 19:16-30




  • Story of 4-H pig auction → Mary Jane’s pig
    • Explain how a 4-H animal auction works
      • 4-H kid leads animal into the bidding ring
      • Bids = $$/pound
      • 4-H kids gets the proceeds
    • Ryan → mandate from his employer to buy Mary Jane’s pig
    • Robert → playing around – upping the bid just for fun
    • I have to admit that it was rather entertaining to watch these two squaring off. Ryan would bid. The auctioneer would recognize the bid and call for any others. Robert would wait a minute or two – sometimes even waiting until the auctioneer got to “Going once!” – and then he’d chime in with a “Yup!” And Ryan would bid it up again. And with every bid and counter bid, Ryan got a little bit redder and a little bit redder and a little bit redder.
      • Everyone around us knew what was happening
      • Mary Jane, standing down in the ring with her pig, could see what was happening
      • Close-knit rural community → the auctioneer knew what was happening, too
    • Eventually, after bidding the cost of the pig up to an abundantly high price, Robert backed off and let Ryan win the auction for his employer. → by the end …
      • Had Ryan wiping the sweat off his brow and reaching for his wallet
      • Had Mary Jane sufficiently thrilled about the check she’d get
      • Had all of us nearly rolling on the floor with laughter
    • Now of course, this is an amusing example of bargaining and “upping the ante,” as it were. It was all in good-natured fun. But not all the bidding and bargaining that goes on in our lives is so good-natured, is it?
      • Anyone that’s tried to balance busy schedules (family, work, social get togethers, etc.) knows how much bidding and bargaining can be a tricky and uncomfortable part of that
      • Moving in with someone and sharing a space for the first time requires serious bidding and bargaining
        • Living in Chancellor’s my senior year of college = 4 girls, one shared kitchen … one small, shared freezer!
      • Not to mention the bidding and bargaining that happens between us and God. → cue today’s song from The Greatest Showman [PLAY “The Other Side”[1]]

  • Movie context
    • P.T. Barnum bargaining with Phillip Carlyle, playwright and member of the upper class → Barnum wants Carlyle to bring his creativity and expertise (as well as his good name and his relative celebrity) to Barnum’s circus
      • Barnum’s part = offering, enticing, seeking to open Carlyle’s eyes and enliven his soul – song: You run with me / And I can cut you free / Out of the drudgery and walls you keep in / So trade that typical for something colorful / And if it’s crazy, live a little crazy
      • Carlyle’s part = hesitant, uncertain, stubborn → convinced that the life he’s living is the only way he would ever want to live (even though it’s clear that he’s unhappy living that life) – song: Don’t you know that I’m okay with this uptown part I get to play / ‘Cause I got what I need and I don’t want to take the ride / I don’t need to see the other side
        • Driven by propriety
        • Driven by expectations (his parents’, society’s, his own)
        • Driven by fear of the unknown
        • Driven by worry of shame that might come from being associated with Barnum … with the other … with “too different”
    • The back-and-forth nature of this song is what makes it so exciting. And it’s also what makes it so unexpectedly Biblical. → long, long line of characters in Scripture who can bid and bargain with the best of them
      • OT “heavy hitters”
        • Abraham[2]
        • Moses[3]
        • Jacob (took his bargaining to the next level by actually wrestling![4])
      • Many of the psalms = bargaining (“help me, God, and I will praise you all my days” or something similar)
      • NT bargainers:
        • Mary, mother of Jesus (wedding at Cana[5])
        • Mary and Martha (bargaining with Jesus after Lazarus’ death[6])
        • Even Jesus himself in the Garden of Gethsemane (“Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. However, not my will but your will must be done.”[7])
  • Today’s Scripture passages = probably some of the most notorious bidder and bargainers
    • Start with our NT Scripture this morning → So, the first time I heard this song on The Greatest Showman soundtrack, this was the Scripture reading that popped into my head because Phillip Carlyle shares so many similarities with the rich young man who encounters Jesus at the beginning.
      • Text: A man approached [Jesus] and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus said, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There’s only one who is good. If you want to enter eternal life, keep the commandments.” The man said, “Which ones?” Then Jesus said, “Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Then the young man replied, “I’ve kept all these. What am I still missing?” Jesus said, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come follow me.” But when the young man heard this, he went away saddened because he had many possessions.[8]
        • Hear that back-and-forth btwn. Jesus and the rich young man just like you hear it btwn. Barnum and Carlyle in the song: “What must I do?” → Jesus: “Keep the commandments.” → “Which ones?” → (Jesus lists commandments) → “Done that. What else?” → Jesus: “Sell all your stuff, give the money to the poor, and come follow me.” → (CRICKETS)
        • Challenging Scripture because we don’t actually get a concrete answer from the rich young man – text: But when the young man heard this, he went away saddened because he had many possessions. → Clearly, he didn’t like Jesus’ idea. Clearly, he wasn’t as gung-ho about following Jesus as the disciples who dropped their nets right there on the beach and followed immediately. Clearly, this was going to be a struggle for the rich young man. But Scripture doesn’t say he turned Jesus down flat. Scripture doesn’t say, “He went away saddened and never thought about Jesus again.” What if that seed that Jesus planted in the rich young man’s mind and heart actually took root? What if it only took him some time – time bargaining with himself, time bargaining with God – for him to say, “You know what, I’m going to take that chance. I’m going to do it.” What if he really did sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and join Jesus and the rest of the crowd following him somewhere down the road? A few towns later? What if he really did say yes … just a delayed “yes”?
      • Rich young man is not the only bargainer in our NT reading this morning – text: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I assure you that it will be very hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. In fact, it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” When his disciples heard this, they were stunned. “Then who can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible for human beings. But all things are possible for God.” Then Peter replied, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you. What will we have?” Jesus said to them, “… all who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or farms because of my name will receive one hundred times more and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.”[9] → Peter and the rest of the disciples are bargaining here, too. They’ve already done what Jesus asked the rich young man to do. They’ve given up everything for Jesus. They’ve been following. They’ve been learning. They’ve been devoted. … But they’re still bargaining.
        • Bargaining for eternal life just like that rich young man
        • Bidding for a better (the best?) place in Kingdom of Heaven
        • Can’t help clinging to their perceived needs and deep-seated desires even in the face of all that God is offering them and calling them to do
    • OT character = embodiment of this in spades → none other than Jonah
      • Jonah = prophet in about the easiest, cushiest, most positively famous time for prophets to exist in Israel → Most of the time, it was a pretty horrible job to be a prophet. You were called by God to bring words of rebuke and conviction, calls for repentance and change, and predictions of dire and unspeakable things if that repentance and change didn’t come about … not normally words that people living high and happy lives like to hear. But Jonah was a prophet in one of Israel’s most peaceful and prosperous times, so he enjoyed a life of ease and comfort and celebrity … that is, until God called him to GO. – called to take a word of conviction and repentance to Nineveh → huge city, violent city, evil city
      • Jonah = not so excited about this call → decides to bargain not with his words but his actions
        • BARGAINING MOVE #1: runs in the exact opposite direction of Nineveh (hops on a ship to Tarshish) → God’s counter: bring about a giant storm
        • BARGAINING MOVE #2: Jonah confesses to fellow sailors that he’s trying to run away from God and asks them to throw him overboard → God’s counter: Jonah swallowed by a giant fish
        • BARGANING MOVE #3: Jonah sits in the belly of that fish for three whole days before finally agreeing to go to Nineveh → God’s counter: fish spits Jonah out not just anywhere but on the shores of Nineveh (subtle, right?)
      • Enter our Scripture reading for today. – text: Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of that fish: “I called out to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me. From the belly of the underworld I cried out for help; you have heard my voice. … I will offer a sacrifice to you with a voice of thanks. That which I have promised, I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto the dry land. The Lord’s word came to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.” And Jonah got up and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s word.[10]
  • Hear this song and these Scriptures woven together in terms of faith = hear all that bidding and bargaining that we do with God
    • Like Jonah, we hear God’s attempts to call us
      • Call us into mission
      • Call us into faith
      • Call us into deeper relationship with God
      • Call us into a life that we can’t even imagine → We’ve spent the last three weeks talking about that life.
        • Kingdom of God being the greatest show we can imagine
        • Million dreams God has for us and for this world
        • God’s call to us to COME ALIVE in the Spirit and in our faith
      • Today = little dose of reality → recognition that even when we hear those calls and even when we believe in the beauty of those dreams, we still push back … pull back … resist … try to negotiate
        • Fear
        • Uncertainty
        • Stubbornness
        • All sorts of pull on our time and our attention that often keep us from following fully
    • Song speaks to us as God speaks to us – promise and hope, goodness and wholeness: You would finally live a little, finally laugh a little / Just let me give you the freedom to dream / And it’ll wake you up and cure your aching / Take your walls and start ‘em breaking / Now that’s a deal that seems worth taking / But I guess I’ll leave that up to you ……………… Amen.

[1] “The Other Side” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Sony/ATV Music.

[2] Gen 18:16-33.

[3] Ex 32:7-14.

[4] Gen 32:22-32.

[5] Jn 2:1-12.

[6] Jn 11:1-44.

[7] Lk 22:42.

[8] Mt 19:16-22.

[9] Mt 19:23-28a, 29-30.

[10] Jonah 2:2, 9-3:3a.

Sunday’s sermon: COME ALIVE!


Texts used – Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:1-21





  • This summer: started working our way through sermon series using the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman[1] → For the first few songs, we sort of eased into it. We talked a little bit first … gave the song a nice long intro … But today is Pentecost – a day of fire and wind, of sacred stirrings and holy interruptions. Today, my friends, is not an “easing in” sort of day. So without further ado … “COME ALIVE!” [PLAY “COME ALIVE”[2]]

  • “Come alive! Come alive!” This is a song of the experience of Ezekiel – all low, desert valley and dry, dusty bones … all prophecy and power … all sinew and spirit … all breath and breath and BREATH.
    • Ezekiel
      • Text: The Lord’s power overcame me, and while I was in the Lord’s spirit, he led me out and set me down in the middle of a certain valley. It was full of bones. He led me through them all around, and I saw that there were a great many of them on the valley floor, and they were very dry.[3]
        • Dry = depleted … wrung out … drained … EMPTY
        • Dry = exhausted … impoverished … beat down … EMPTY
        • Dry = dreary … tedious … tiresome … EMPTY
        • Empty of life
        • Empty of essence
        • Empty of meaning
        • Empty of hope
      • Context[4]:
        • Opening of Ezek: In the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, I was with the exiles at the Chebar River when the heavens opened and I saw visions of God. (It happened on the fifth day of the month, in the fifth year after King Jehoiachin’s deportation. The Lord’s word burst in on the priest Ezekiel, Buzi’s son, in the land of Babylon at the Chebar River. There the Lord’s power overcame him.[5] → tells us a lot about Ezekiel and his audience
          • Translating “30th, 5th day, 4th month” = late 6th century BCE → This makes Ezekiel part of that Babylonian exile – that “brain drain,” as some historians call it.
            • Confirmed by our Scripture: … in the fifth year after King Jehoiachin’s deportation. The Lord’s word burst in on the priest Ezekiel, Buzi’s son, in the land of Babylon at the Chebar River. → In the grand arc of the Old Testament history, that puts Ezekiel’s prophecies and oracles before Isaiah. Ezekiel relayed God’s word to the people of Israel before the fall of Judah and the Babylonian exile and through the beginning of that experience. Isaiah came a few generations later toward the end of that same exile.
          • Chebar River put it in present day Iraq not far from where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers empty into the Persian Gulf
            • Ps 137: Alongside Babylon’s streams, there we sat down, crying because we remembered Zion. We hung our lyres up in the trees there because that’s where our captors asked us to sing; our tormentors requested songs of joy: “Sing us a song about Zion!” they said. But how could we possibly sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?[6]
            • Hymn: By the Babylonian rivers we sat down in grief and wept, / hung our harps upon the willow, mourned for Zion when we slept.[7]
    • Song today starts out with similar lament: You stumble through your days / Got your head hung low / Your skies’ a shade of grey / Like a zombie in a maze / You’re asleep inside / But you can shake awake / ‘Cause you’re just a dead man walking / Thinking that’s your only option
      • Within the movie: Barnum is singing this song to those whom he’s trying to recruit as acts for his circus → The freaks and the misfits. Those who have been told and shown time and time again that they don’t fit in … that they aren’t welcome … that they are too different, too wrong, too other to belong. Cast down and cast out, these are the people who have given up on happiness and purpose in their lives. They’ve hung their heads in shame over who they are and who they have become, some through their own choices and some through no choice beyond the one made on the molecular level when they were conceived. Their days, their lives, their hearts, their spirits are drained … exhausted … dreary … dry and empty. And then … they hear it: COME ALIVE! COME ALIVE! / Go and light your light / Let it burn so bright / Reaching up / To the sky / And it’s open wide / You’re electrified
        • And there it is:
          • LIFE in the midst of the dry and deserted
          • ABUNDANCE in the midst of the parched and passed over
          • GRACE UPON GRACE … breath and breath and BREATH
    • Ezek: He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, human one! Say to the breath, The Lord God proclaims: Come from the four winds, breath! Breathe into these dead bodies and let them live!” I prophesied just as he commanded me. When the breath entered them, they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company.[8] → First, God took these dry, desiccated bones in the middle of this far-flung, forgotten valley and covers them with sinew and flesh and skin. God took what was dead and gone and long-forgotten and set it on its feet again. But not until there was breath – holy breath, sacred breath, living breath, God-breathed breath … not until there was breath did those reanimated bones truly live.
  • “Come alive! Come alive!” This is the song of that first Pentecost – all fear-filled disciples and shuttered rooms … all questions and uncertainty, doubt and disbelief … all potential and power … all suspicion and spirit … all wind and wind and
    • Acts
      • Text: When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place.[9] → But wait a minute … why were they all in one place?
        • Context within the book of Acts:
          • Acts begins with Jesus’ ascension into heaven à up on the Mount of Olives
          • Jesus’ followers return to Jerusalem – text: When they entered the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying.[10] → returned to Jerusalem for 3rd great festival in the Jewish year – Festival of Weeks: celebrated harvest as well as the giving of the 10 Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai[11] → This is significant because it meant that a lot of Jewish people would be in Jerusalem as well … including those who had just orchestrated Jesus’ arrest and persecution and death … including all those crowdspeople who had demanded out so vehemently and violently for Jesus to be crucified … including people like Saul who were determined to stamp out this Jesus nonsense (along with all his followers) before it spread too far.
            • Lonely time – Savior was really gone this time … they’d seen him taking up into heaven with their own eyes!
            • Dangerous time if you identified as one of Jesus’ followers
            • Confusing time → What were they supposed to do now? Go back to their “regular” lives? What was next?
      • Song: I see it in your eyes / You believe that lie / That you need to hide your face / Afraid to step outside / So you lock the door / But don’t you stay that way / No more living in those shadows / You and me, we know how that goes / ‘Cause once you see it, oh you’ll never, never be the same → “Once you see it, you’ll never, never be the same” … well, that just about sums it up for that first Pentecost. These were disciples who had already had their lives and hearts and spirits and faith blown wide open by the teachings and companionship of Jesus. These were disciples who had already had their expectations shattered and their preconceived notions obliterated by a Savior who first died the humiliating death of a political dissident, then rose from the grave 3 days later, not just in spirit but in a form solid enough to walk with them along the road and break bread with them and eat a fish breakfast on the beach with them just like he used to. And these were disciples who sat hunched and huddled, afraid and unsettled, insecure and wavering in that upper room that day expecting anything but a miracle … and yet that’s exactly what they got. Tongues of fire and tongues of gospel … good news in so many languages it sounded like a cacophony … a Holy Spirit that swooped down and grabbed hold not only of their tongues but their hearts and their lives as well.
        • HOPE in the midst of fragility and frustration
        • ABUNDANCE in the midst of utter lostness and loneliness
        • GRACE UPON GRACE … wind and wind and WIND
    • Acts: Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak. … [Those who saw this] were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”[12] → There were those who couldn’t see just how powerful … just how special … just how blessed those disciples were because what they were doing was too different, too wrong, too other to make sense … to fit in. And they were right because in that moment – that moment when God reached down into their lives and lit their spirits (and maybe even a little bit of their hair) on fire, they didn’t fit in. They weren’t meant to fit in. Their different-ness made them exactly who and what and how God needed them to be to spread the good news of the gospel: bold, distinctive, conspicuous … ALIVE! Instead of letting them hide away in that upper room, sitting on their hands and the good news they were meant to proclaim, God stirred them up and sent them out to stand out so that the message of the grace and love of Jesus Christ could stand out in a world in need.
      • Song: When the world becomes a fantasy / And you’re more than you could ever be / ‘Cause you’re dreaming with your eyes wide open / And we know we can’t go back again / To the world that we were living in / ‘Cause we’re dreaming with our eyes wide open / So, COME ALIVE!
  • Breath … breath … breath. Wind … wind … wind. Both powerful elements of inspiration and change in our texts this morning. And the crazy-amazing thing is that in both Hebrew and Greek, they’re the same word. Ruah … ruah … ruah. (Hebrew) Pneuma … pneuma … pneuma. (Greek) But these words both mean something else, too: SPIRIT.
    • SPIRIT and breath that brings life to bones long dead
    • SPIRIT and wind that stir up disciples too afraid to move or speak
    • SPIRIT and breath and prophecy
    • SPIRIT and wind and testimony
    • Spirit and Spirit and SPIRIT that forever changes us … that brings us back to life … that encourages us out into the light … that lights a fire in our souls and sets our weary feet to walking again because as the church, that is what God has called us to do. So friends, hear these words loud and clear this morning: COME ALIVE! Amen.

[1] The Greatest Showman, released by Twentieth Century Fox, Dec. 2017.

[2] “Come Alive” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Sony/ATV Music

[3] Ezek 37:1-2.

[4] Kathryn Pfisterer Darr. “The Book of Ezekiel: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 6. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), 1075-1076.

[5] Ezek 1:1-3.

[6] Ps 137:1-4.

[7] “By the Babylonian Rivers (Psalm 137)” in Glory to God. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), #72.

[8] Ezekiel 37:9-10.

[9] Acts 2:1.

[10] Acts 1:13a.

[11] Margaret P. Aymer. “Acts 2:1-21 – Day of Pentecost: Exegetical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 15.

[12] Acts 2:2-4, 12-13.

Sunday’s sermon: Wishes and Visions and Dreams … Oh, My!


Texts used – Joel 2:18-28; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16





  • We don’t talk about dreams much in church, do we? I mean, dreams are a funny and fickle thing, aren’t they? Many people report not remembering any of their dreams. Ever. Scientists believe that as much as 95% of our dreams are forgotten almost immediately after waking up, and while our dreams are all nuanced from one person to the next, we all share certain universal dream themes – falling, flying, showing up late, and so on.[1] And thanks to Freud and those who came after him, dream interpretation is a multi-million dollar industry from books to websites to YouTube channels to webinars. But like I said, we don’t talk about dreams in church. We don’t often or easily link our dreams to our faith … which is funny because throughout Scripture, dreams actually play a pretty big role.
    • God speaking to people through dreams/visions
      • OT dreams
        • Abraham
        • Jacob
        • Joseph, the great dream interpreter
        • King Solomon
        • Elijah the prophet
      • NT dreams
        • Joseph
        • Mary
        • Paul
        • John (writer of the book of Revelation which is itself a dream)
    • Visions (non-sleeping dreams)
      • Ezekiel’s dry bones (which we’ll read next week for Pentecost)[2]
      • Isaiah’s vision of the Seraphim with the 6 wings (“two covering their feed, two covering their faces, and two to fly”)[3]
      • Peter’s vision of the traditionally-unclean animals lowered down in the sheet[4]
    • The point is that God is actually far from being removed from dreams. That doesn’t mean that God is trying to say something to us in every dream that we have. But overwhelmingly throughout Scripture, God uses the medium of dreams to convey messages to God’s people. → just as the particular details of our dreams differ from person to person but the overarching themes are the same, the particular details of God’s message differ from person to person, but the overarching theme is the same: God speaks of dreams through dreams – God uses dreams to convey God’s plans and desires for the Kingdom of God
      • Last week: talked about how we desire for God and God’s Kingdom to be our “greatest show” – magnificent, awe-inspiring, riveting, an eye-opening, life-altering, mind-blowing experience
        • Words of the song that we used last week – “The Greatest Show”[5] – were sort of like words from the mouth of a prophet: not spoken by God, not necessarily spoken by us, but a hope and a prayer voiced by a third party → “It’s everything you ever want / It’s everything you ever need / And it’s here right in front of you / This is where you wanna be”
      • This week: talk some more about that Kingdom → not our idea of it, but God’s idea
        • Doing it using the next song from The Greatest Showman[6] soundtrack, “A Million Dreams” → not a prophet’s voice that I hear this time, but God’s voice
        • So let’s listen to it! [PLAY “A Million Dreams”[7]]

  • This was one of the first songs that, when I heard it, I thought, “Yeah, this could definitely be a sermon” because there are so many similar stories throughout Scriptures.
    • Song context = young P.T. Barnum telling the girl he loves about the dream world that he wants to create for them → through the course of the song, Barnum grows up, marries the girl, and still clings to the dream of “the world we’re gonna make”
      • Fanciful world
      • Spectacular world
      • World of abundance (in contrast to the poverty and longing that Barnum experiences in his own life)
      • World of comfort and familiarity – lyrics: “But it feels like home”
    • How I hear God speaking to us through this song = not so different
      • Words spoken with passion and enthusiasm and love
      • Speaks of creating a beautiful world, a spectacular world, a world full of blessing and promise and joy
      • Hear a burning desire to share that dream with others → God’s desire has always been to share that dream of and work for the Kingdom of God with the world
      • Reality/creation of this world requires faith in the face of doubt – lyrics: They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy / They can say, they can say we’ve lost our minds / I don’t care, I don’t care if they call us crazy / Runaway to a world that we design[8] → It’s this faith in the face of doubt that ties most strongly back to Scripture. Let’s look at our passage for this morning.
  • OT – Joel passage
    • Context
      • One of what we call “the minor prophets” (12 skinny little books toward the back of the OT that are hard to find)
      • Scholars are in a disagreement about the specific date when Joel was written → clues within the Scripture itself make it clear that it was written[9]
        • After the Babylonian exile (so later than Isaiah)
        • After the Jews had all been returned to Jerusalem
        • After the rebuilding of the 2nd Temple
        • After the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem
        • Time of relative peace and calm when “no external unrest threatens the community”
      • As a prophet, Joel borrows heavily from other, previous prophets
        • Wording
        • Images
        • Overarching themes (e.g. – today’s passage: “the day of the Lord”)
      • Elizabeth Achtemeier: Joel draws on centuries of Israelite tradition in the framing of his message. … But Joel’s prophecy is not a stereotyped word from the past. Rather, it is a forceful, something eloquent testimony to the continued working of the prophetic word in history.[10]
    • Much of today’s text = speaks of the blessing and promise and abundance of that “day of the Lord”
      • “Day of the Lord” = sort of the OT equivalent of the “Kingdom of God” from the NT
      • Speaks of abundant harvest
      • Speaks of peace
      • Repeats 3 key phrases again and again → ideas that are key in the creation of the Kingdom of God
        • “Don’t be afraid”
        • “Rejoice and be glad”
        • “The Lord is doing great things”
      • Beautiful illustration of this – God’s Dream[11] by Archbishop Desmond Tutu – [READ God’s Dream]
    • Promise that we hear at the end of the text speaks to more wonderful dreams and visions to come – text: After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.[12]
  • So that’s the faith part of it … but what about the doubt? Especially in this post-Enlightenment, post-modernist world in which we live – a world in which we are taught to question everything and to investigate everything and to prove everything … a world in which it can increasingly feel like the majority of people no longer find religion to be “relevant” (that’s the buzz word, anyway).
    • Can be challenging to cling to faith
    • Can be frustrating in the face of so many naysayers
    • Can be daunting to cling to faith when indeed we cannot “prove it”
    • This is where our NT text comes in → God knew that there would always be those who didn’t believe – those who tried to negate the word and dreams that God was trying to give to the people, those who would mock and ridicule and even try to hinder the working of God in the world.
      • E.g. – those who laughed at Noah for building the ark
      • E.g. – evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel who sparred with prophet Elijah time and time again
      • E.g. – Pharisees that attempted to uphold and entrap Jesus with the strictest, most legalistic interpretation of the law
    • NT passage today speaks words of encouragement in those times
      • Paul speaking to the church in Corinth[13]
        • Church full of people who had been gentiles – not only new to the idea of Jesus (who he was, what he did, what he meant) but also to this God and even the idea of just one God instead of a full pantheon → church full of people who probably felt like they had more questions than answers
        • Church in a city that was steeply divided across socioeconomic lines: small class of wealthy, ruling elite and a large amount of much, much poorer people → church full of people who felt disempowered, unimportant, and underprivileged
      • And to this church full of people who must have been filled with trepidation and doubt and uncertainty, Paul spoke today’s words. – text: What we say is wisdom to people who are mature. It isn’t a wisdom that comes from the present day or from today’s leaders who are being reduced to nothing. … We haven’t received the world’s spirit but God’s Spirit so that we can know the things given to us by God. … Spiritual people comprehend everything, but they themselves aren’t understood by anyone.[14] → (lyrics): They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy / They can say, they can say we’ve lost our minds / I don’t care, I don’t care if they call us crazy / Runaway to a world that we design[15]
        • Words of reassurance and encouragement
        • Words of clinging to those promises and that dream of God’s Kingdom
        • Words that reaffirm the importance of being a part of the work that God is doing → God wants us to be a part of it. We have only to say yes.
          • (lyrics – Barnum’s wife: However big, however small / Let me be part of it all / Share your dreams with me / You may be right, you may be wrong / But say that you’ll bring me along / To the world you see / To the world I close my eyes to see / I close my eyes to see)[16]
    • God’s Dream: Will you help God’s dream come true? Let me tell you a secret … God smiles like a rainbow when you do.[17] Amen.

[1] Kendra Cherry. “10 Interesting Facts about Dreams” from Very Well Mind, Updated May 15, 2019, accessed May 30, 2019.

[2] Ezek 37:1-14.

[3] Is 6:1-8.

[4] Acts 10:9-22.

[5] “The Greatest Show” written by Ryan Lewis, Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[6] The Greatest Showman, released by Twentieth Century Fox, Dec. 2017.

[7] “A Million Dreams” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[8] “A Million Dreams” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[9] Elizabeth Achtemeier. “The Book of Joel: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 7. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 301-302.

[10] Achtemeier, 302.

[11] Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams. God’s Dream. (Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press), 2008.

[12] Joel 2:28.

[13] J. Paul Sampley. “The First Letter to the Corinthians: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 10. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002), 777-778.

[14] 1 Cor 2:6, 12, 15.

[15] “A Million Dreams” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[16] “A Million Dreams” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[17] Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams. God’s Dream. (Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press), 2008.