I dreamed a dream. John 5:1-9, Acts 16:9-15
I’ve always thought that Jesus was fairly clever; there are loads of places in the new Testament where it looks like people were out to trap him and with a clever turning of the question around he was able to turn the tables completely and make his accusers look and feel rather stupid. There was the time when he was asked the politically very embarrassing question about taxes that was a real hot potato at the time and in showing them a coin and asking whose face was on it, and therefore to pay to Caesar what was Caesar’s but adding the proviso that they should also pay to God what was his. Or when he was asked about John the Baptist and he reversed the question putting his questioners into a more difficult position than they had tried to place him in.
This sort of cleverness and gift with words and questions makes Prime Minister’s Question Time and political leaders debates seem rather pedestrian and tame. The Gospel writers certainly seemed to make Jesus look very clever with his responses to people and the questions he asked them. So what on earth was going on in our gospel reading today? Jesus is walking through an area full of sick people where they congregated in order to get into the pool when the water was stirred up so that they might be healed. Jesus came across one man and it says that he knew that the man had been lying there for 38 years, presumably not well and apparently not well enough to to get into the pool. So what does Jesus ask him? What is the matter with you? Can we give you a hand? No, it wasn’t any of the obvious questions, he asked him “Do you want to get well?” what a stupid question don’t you think. The man had been lying there sick or disabled in some way for 38 years trying to get into the water and Jesus asked him “do you want to get well?”
You may wonder what the picture that has been up on the screens has been doing. With all the problems that you have graciously put up with while we do battle with the technology over the last few months you probably thought this was just another of those technical faults that we have been learning to live with, but actually it represents what I’m wanting to talk about this morning, I think it’s something to do with what Jesus was asking the man by the pool. I think what he was asking him was “what are your dreams?” what is it deep down in you that you are longing for, what would you most like to see to see happen? After 38 years of nothing happening may be the man had settled down into a steady way of existence that he had got used to and although maybe it wasn’t the best way of existing he was able to survive and it could have been possible that he had got so used to it that he wouldn’t actually have been prepared to change.
But Jesus asked the question and after his response when he explained has been going on preventing him from getting better Jesus told him to pick up his mat, and to walk, something he had been completely unable to do before but had been longing to see happen. He then did what he was told and despite the fantastic occurrence he immediately got into problems with the authorities for carrying his mat on the sabbath. I suppose there is no pleasing some people.
So Jesus dealt with this man by asking him what it was he wanted, to find out what it was he was hoping to see happen in the future. I wonder if you were asked the same question what your answer would be. Do you like this man have a long-standing unfulfilled dream or hope or desire that somehow has never come to fruition, do you see areas of life that you wish were different, on whatever scale, within our families and friends or at work or in our local community, nationally or even internationally. As you may well have noticed there was an election this week, we have spent the last few weeks being bombarded by people’s dreams, their dreams of a fairer, better run and usually more prosperous for their supporters type of society. We have been invited to see whose dreams that are on offer are closest to our own to see which ones tally with our dreams of a fairer more just and peaceful society and world. Maybe your dreams are not on such a large scale but these are no less real but I would like to suggest that we need to nurture these and work on them. or maybe you have never dared dream of a different life, of things changing and being different maybe that’s been too scary to even contemplate and you don’t feel you can give yourself the luxury of spending time doing this. The gospel reading today suggests we may have more time than we think but maybe we won’t need 38 years to develop some sort of dream. In the other reading we see Paul responding to a dream and it may be worth just following this through to show what happened and see if we can learn anything from the process. I do at this stage have a small visual aid which I’m sure will become instantly clear when you see it. So that’s easy isn’t it? Maybe I just take it at one stage at a time. Paul was stuck not knowing which way to go in his travels. He had just travelled through modern-day Turkey and was at the coast. He wanted to know which way to go, the dream that generally motivated him was of travelling and sharing the gospel wherever he went and in this situation he was open to possibilities, so initially he was prepared to think about it, he then had a question, “where did he want to go?” And in this situation he didn’t have to wait 38 years but then the answer came to him literally in a dream as he slept. And as he awoke he made plans to go over to Macedonia which is part of Greece. We are not told how long this process took and whether there were any other factors at work in helping him make his decision but I think that the possibility of being open to dream dreams and to follow them was really important. Whether or not the dream occurred at night or asleep is less important as developing these things may take longer. I ought to make it clear that when I talk about as having dreams I’m not just talking about what goes on in our subconscious overnight. From the little I remember of the dreams I have the world would be a much stranger place even than it is now. I’m talking about our deepest desires and longings, the things that motivate us and keep us going through times that may well not fit in very well with our ultimate hopes and dreams for the future. I think it’s also worth pointing out that Paul’s vision is translated into several versions of the Bible as a man from Macedonia calling to him. He responds to this and it goes over the sea and ends up in Philippi where as we read he went to find the worshipping community and when he found them he discovered they were women. Another detail that I must say I’m not quite sure what to make of is that the person that is mentioned in the text is the main person he meets is Lydia, who is not only a woman but comes from Thyatira which was back in Turkey the direction from which Paul had just come. We need not dwell on that now but it may be that our dreams will change as they move on.
So I ask again, what are your dreams? In this congregation this morning. What dreams, hopes and desires do you have for your life, for our communal life as a church, for our neighbourhoods and town, for our country and world. I would like to encourage you to spend some time thinking about what you would most like to see happen in all of these areas to let that guide our plans and our actions, to be in touch with what it is that motivates and challenges us, so that as Jesus asks us what is it you really want we will begin to have an answer.
I’d like to finish by reading a blessing from John O’Donohue’s book Benedictus on longing.