April 26, 2020
The following was presented in an internet worship meeting April 26, 2020.
Blessings, Chuck Williams, Pastor
Houghton Grace and William Paine UMCs
Opening Prayer Our heavenly Father, you graciously accept and work with us according to your covenant relationship with us through Jesus. We have gathered online in these moments so that we may be better inspired and equipped to fulfill our commitment to Christ, for he has done so much for us. Amen.
Song Intro Last week, one of the primary images of the message was of God as a painter who never gives up or lets go of us, but always uses his creative brush to take the sins, the splotches and splatters and runs on the canvas of our life and world to recreate something newer and better than before. This song speaks directly to this theme, and today’s similar theme, in which Isaiah paints a vision of what that newer and better creation looks like. David often writes about the order and beauty of nature and sees it as declaring the glory of God. Imagine and meditate on the best and most beautiful people, scenes, or events you have experienced as you listen…
Hymn The Artist
You paint the skies in their brilliance
lighting the stars in their millions
creating the landscape from nothing
with every word that You say
The works of your hand beyond counting
from each grain of sand to the mountains
your brush always moving with purpose
your perfect design on display
can make the beautiful,
sings my soul
You fill every canvas with wonder
You cover the white space with color
I can’t always see what you’ve started
but I put my faith in the Artist
You craft something perfect despite my mistakes
my failures are met by the full force of grace
your blood hit the canvas with one final stroke
the cost of redemption, your life for my own
Message Happy Dreams
An old pop song declares:
Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world and the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something (1)
It sounds like optimistic encouragement to dream well and keep pursuing your dreams. There is a literal dream machine (which never caught on as far as I know). You put a photo or image of your desired dream into the machine’s picture frame. You make a voice recording of key words describing your wishes, and you put an aroma pack into its fragrance dispenser, and you select your favorite type of soothing music. A few minutes before bed, you concentrate on the image, and then the machine helps you to drift off to sleep with soft lights and serenades. During your REM sleep, the machine is at its most active with music, fragrance, and recorded phrases inundating your senses. If all goes well, you'll end up with your most heartfelt hopes and hungers.
Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury had already dreamed up “The Happiness Machine” in 1957. 2 Leo Auffmann, driven by his obsession, made everyone around him miserable by his neglect. But now his machine is completed. His wife sits inside while he pushes the start button and closes the door. The machine fills her mind and body with joyful images, sensations, and sounds. She laughs in amazement and delight... but then begins to sob. Leo stops the machine. She explains, “It lies, that sadness machine! because someday we've all got to climb out of that thing and go back to dirty dishes and unmade beds. You want everything to last while you are in there, but outside, [six] children wait on lunch and clothes need buttons.” Bradbury teaches us that not only is happiness elusive, our prioritized pursuit of it may lead us down paths that actually hinder our goal and hurt those around us.
No musical lyric or magical machines can transform us or the world we wake up to each day. At best, they, or we, can create for ourselves a respite (an important rejuvenating break) from some of the harsh realities we face. What we really need is a dream machine that can change our days, not our nights, a device that can transform real life, not just our dream life. Listen to this abbreviated paraphrase of Isaiah 65:17-25's God-given dream for his people’s real life…
- God says, "Pay attention: I'm creating a new heaven and earth. Weeping and crying will be heard no more for all your troubles, chaos, and pain will soon be a forgotten past. Look ahead with joyful anticipation of what I am creating: Your life will be sheer joy and pure delight as I rejoice over you. You will live long, full lives. You will settle in your own houses and eat your own food. Outsiders will not drag you from your homes or confiscate your food. You will enjoy the productive work of your own hands. Your children will not be doomed to be born in misfortune; for I will bless them, as well as their children and grandchildren. I’ll hear before they speak and answer before they pray. Natural enemies will peacefully co-exist. No animal or human will hurt another anywhere in my presence and place.” (Isaiah 65:17-25 my paraphrase leaning on NIV and MSG)
Dream casting turns cynical
I'm fascinated with language, and in this case, how popular phrases can turn on us. Someone once told me about a trip they were taking, and I responded, "That must be nice". He responded, “No, no one is going to make me feel guilty, I earned and deserve this”. He took my sincere attempt to rejoice with him as a spiteful, envious retort. That wasn't my intent at all...
Popular phrases like “That’d be nice”, "you wish", and "if only" used to be inspiring dream-casting type of phrases -- but now they have turned to the tone of bitter, biting sarcasm -- much like my one of my son's sayings: "Yeah right", and he often adds the clarifying phrase lest anyone mistake him: "like THAT is ever going to happen"
These phrases turn on their head because too many too often become frustrated with unmet dreams and lack fulfilled living, leading to insecurities that result in selfish, envious, competitive-ness feelings. Thus, it becomes hard to rejoice with others, or to imagine that someone beyond our best friends and family (and sometimes even them) could sincerely rejoice with our successes or blessings or happiness.
Dreams are seen as mutually exclusive
This is, in part, why Isaiah's dream hasn’t yet come completely true. Too many people pursue their own dreams not with; but at the expense of the dreams of others... When we go back to that sweet dream pop song, we discover that the sweet dreams are about the desire to use and abuse, to be used and be abused. To thrive or survive by playing bully and/or victim in a competitive world. Not that sweet a setting or song after all... When we sacrifice other's dreams for the sake of our own, (and vice versa) we will never have a realistic shot at creating a world where “natural enemies” do not compete.
But Isaiah’s dream is of a unified hope
Isaiah is trying to give hope against some of the worst common tragedies of their ancient world -- distress, disease, hunger, famine, war, people who die before they really have a chance to live, working the land hard only to have produce and property stripped away from them, where future generations were doomed to devastating circumstances.
In the old TV show Taxi, mean spirited taxi-dispatcher Louie, (played by Danny DeVito) becomes alarmed about the fragility of life after watching a television show predicting all the different ways life might easily be destroyed. He converts the taxi company’s tool supply room into a make shift preservation bunker, filled with supplies to help a small select number of people survive while the world outside is destroyed. They ran a practice drill and Jim who was not a part of the selected few was found in the room. If he remained, supplies would not last long enough and they would all perish. Unable to kick him out, Louie declares the drill a failure. He reflects on it later with taxi driver Alex, saying: I was done in by a soft heart… I couldn’t throw [Jim] out… when the end comes, I’ll be nothing but a charcoal briquette.”
Alex replies, “Oh what a shame, Now you’ll just have to take your chances like the rest of us… Louie, it is not going to be what you think. You couldn’t throw Jim out [because] you couldn’t turn your back on him. And if the time came, you wouldn’t be able to turn your back on… anyone else, for that matter. And that is where our hope is. Not in radiation suits and fallout shelters, [and cruelly looking out just for ourselves and hoarding what we think we need to survive], but in compassion [that goes beyond ourselves]. If we don’t give up on the future, we can make it. We don’t have to be afraid of tomorrow, we can look forward to it…3
Isaiah envisions a peace and wholeness that would break out so powerfully in God's new world that not only are God's people saved from common uses and abuses, but all of creation… In turbulent times, Isaiah intends for us to see and feel and most importantly, to work with hope for this God given vision to come to pass. A vision that implies that with God there are no limits, and that this dream is not meant to be a nighttime fantasy of escape, but what God desires for the wide-awake world in which we live every day.
Think about how far Isaiah's God dream has come! Medical and healthy lifestyle advances have not overcome all tragedies -- fairly obvious right now -- but in the ancient world, 40 was old, 80 was rare. Irrigation, preservation, micro-businesses, farming, forestry, river diversion, transportation, and education are just a few of the strategies that are eliminating economic and environmental devastations in many places of the world. We still have a long way to go, but we have come so far that those original listeners to the dream would have looked at our current world and thought they were in Bradbury’s dream machine. A world in which those ancients might have said, even as they may well have said to Isaiah in their own style of current popular phrases:” "Yeah right, as if THAT would EVER happen”, “You wish”, and “If only."
Keep moving forward
Yet Isaiah continues to cast his God given vision. As the pop song goes on to tell us more positively -- in spite of the disappointments that come we are to keep and hold our heads up and to keep movin’ on. Aristotle said, Hope is a waking dream. On the other hand, TS Eliot said he didn't go to movies because they interfered with his daydreams.
I sometimes wonder if too many people in our current culture have invested so much time in activities helping them escape reality that they don't have time to pursue their God-given dreams. Maybe if we make the time to pursue God’s dreams and create a better reality, we wouldn't have so much reality from which we feel the need to escape.
All this progress has already begun to happen - primarily by God's determined grace working through a vision he has given to people. Isaiah’s vision offers us a choice - to survive by circling the wagons and hoarding the supplies to ourselves -- or to thrive by compassionately caring for all people to the point where they are no longer a threat because we are all together “in the same room”. Who is to say what the next days and years may bring if we cooperate with God's vision for His creation?
1 Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Annie Lennox / David Allan Stewart:
Universal Music Publishing House, 1983.
2 Ray Bradbury, “Dandelion Wine” New York: Doubleday, 1957. (cc 8-13)
3 Glen and Les Charles, “Taxi” Season 4 Episode 11: I Wanna Be Around, January 1982.
Prayer Lord, remind us that when Christ’s kingdom comes to full fruition, that the world will be so blessed that harsh realities of the former world will not even be remembered. While we wait and work for that fulfillment, breathe in us your peace and strength, cast out our fear with your presence, accept us as yours, forgive our sins and our failures, and conquer the darkness by the light and word of Christ. Empower and guide us to obediently serve your vision so that what you teach us will come to pass in our lives. Amen.
Much of what I just prayed is also sung in the last song -- Christ conquers fear by winning the victory over death by his work on the cross and through the grave to resurrection. Listen.
Closing Song Won the War
Breathe, breath in your peace
be the calm my fighting soul needs
when I’m weak you are strong
and you say that I am yours
Fear, fear has no place
and the darkness cannot remain
as you speak over me
and you say that I am yours
The battle rages but you have won the war
you’ve seen my sin still you have called me yours
and there is no fear now
that you haven’t conquered
and all these demons they run at your command
all of my shame falls away in your hands
and there is no darkness
where you don’t shine brighter
Break, break forth the light
with a word you silenced the night
from the dark I will rise
and I will say that I am yours
My cry in the battle
my strength in the war
is Jesus my Savior and death is no more
I stand on the promise of all that you’ve done
so I fight from the victory you’ve already won
and there is no darkness
where you don’t shine brighter
Let’s pray… (For prayer requests http://www.houghtongraceumc.org/prayer-lists.html
Lord, in this Easter season, assure us that you won our victory for us by overcoming death. You proved it in your Son who revealed himself again and again to convince his followers of his glorious resurrection, caring each other into harmony with you and with all creation. Grant that we may always draw closer to Christ’s risen presence.
In the same way, assure us of your gracious love and overcome our failures again and again, convincing us of your forgiving and healing grace, renewing and equipping us to serve you to the end.
Blessing Now as we prepare to sign off, may we continue to keep ourselves open to him that he may enter and fill us. May we rest in him that he may work in us. May we empty ourselves to others that he may fill his world with his loving goodness. Amen.