Sunday 23rd July – Rev Hugh Perry

I grew up in a time of polio, measles, whooping cough epidemics and suffered from chronic hay fever.  I lost a whole year of schooling becase of sickness which included some home quarantine.  As time went by vaccines were created and I noticed that there were no longer kids at school with irons on their legs becase of limbs damaged by polio.  I also read about Sonja Davies surviving tuberculosis because of the discovery of antibiotics and I read Dr Murray Laugesen’s book about the widespread vaccines he carried out in India.  Furthermore, as a Christian Thought and History major, I am aware of the devastating pandemics that have killed people in the past.

Therefore, when I saw a news clip of a man racing to get out of the heat from multiple funeral fires of covid victims in India I certainly believed we had a worldwide pandemic. 

Our government announcing quarantine measures were certainly restrictive but seemed reasonable in the face of a new pandemic and I was inclined to believe that Covid was real. 

I also expected science to produce a vaccine and in this world of rapid communications and sharing of information I expected that to happen a lot quicker than such discoveries had been made in the past.   

What I didn’t expect was that people would claim that the pandemic was a hoax and vaccination was a plot to insert microchips into the population so they could be monitored and controlled. 

It seemed like the news media, the world health organisation and governments had sown good information and strategy into our world.  Then when nobody was looking, an enemy, or several enemies had sneaked into the internet and sown weeds. 

I am reminded of a Larsen cartoon where a heavenly master-chef, obviously with a perverted sense of humour, is shown seasoning a newly created world.   ‘This will make it interesting’ he thinks as he shakes the seasoning from a container labelled ‘jerks’.

In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus tells a parable with a very similar theme that begins:  

‘He put before them another parable: The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.’  (Matthew 13:24,25)     

Those tending the crops are instructed not to try and pull out the weeds becase the risk damaging the intended crop, and my amateur efforts at gardening have proved that risk on numerous occasions.  As has the unfortunate instances when I have been drawn into an argument with someone convinced of their point of view no matter how silly it seems.  

In fact the book of Proverbs tells us ‘It is better to meet a mother bear robbed of her cubs than to meet some fool busy with a stupid project.  (Proverbs 17:12)

The important point of the parable however is that Jesus is explaining, for his unique time, which we can see has many similarities with our own time, that God has liberally seeded the human population with good people. 

Through greed, self-centred carelessness or whatever some of those seeds have grown into weeds.  Matthew blames ‘the evil one.’

But the real message of the parable is that the divine realm comes into being in a world of chaos, a world like ours, where good people and jerks exist alongside each other.  We must also remember that no matter how universal the parable’s message is, it is set in Jesus’ time and place.

Burton Mack writes that ‘the attractiveness of early Christianity is best explained as one of the more creative and practical social experiments in response to the loss of cultural moorings that all peoples experienced during this time’.[1] 

Mack goes on to explain that the temple-state as a model of civilisation had been honed to perfection by three thousand years of fine tuning clashed with the collapsing Hellenistic or Greek age.  That confrontation of cultures was stabilised by the brutal efficiency of Imperial Rome which was also evolving.  We can therefore see why the idea of the ‘Kingdom of God’ was so attractive to the people buffeted and disillusioned by change.  Mack writes of Jesus in his prologue: 

His followers did not congregate in order to enhance their chances of gaining eternal life for themselves as solitary persons.  They had been captivated by a heady, experimental drive to rethink power and purity and alter the way the authorities of their time had put the world together.[2]   

Reading of the clash of cultures, decay and disruption of long-established civilisations and the chaos of different ethnicities and languages it is understandable that there would be experimentation with alternative ways of ordering society.  What is both encouraging and challenging however is that that first century clash of cultures also sounds very like our own time. 

Jesus dream for such a world, the dream that lead him to speak to his disciples is spelled out in in the first chapter of Marks Gospel. ‘Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying ‘the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.’ (Mark 1:14)  

Dreams are important, dreams for a better world or the dreams for a vaccine for a deadly pandemic.  Dreams are the beginning of change.

The prophet Joel wrote about dreams:

Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  (Joel 2:28) 

That statement is also quoted in Peter’s speech in Acts (Acts 2: 17) after the apostles receive the Holy Spirit at the festival of Pentecost.

In a more contemporary setting in the musical South Pacific Rodgers and Hammerstein have Bloody Mary sing ‘If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?

Our reading from Genesis tells us of Jacobs dream and, like our own weird dreams, it comes at a time for Jacob of fear, chaos and apprehension.

Jacob’s deceit of his brother turns dangerous as Esau threatens to kill him and he is forced to flee.  But isolated from his family and fearful of his brother he has a dream that assures him of God’s presence.  The dream also reinforces his father’s dream that they will be fathers of a great nation. 

Jacob later wrestles with God in another dream and is the father of Joseph of amazing Technicolor Dream Coat fame.

Dreams are what pulls this family out of intergenerational domestic violence and abusive family relationships and opens the future to successive generations.  Dreams are the first step in new beginnings and dreams are the first step in making dreams come true.

Jacob marks the place of his dream as a ‘thin place’ a place where heaven and earth meet.  However, the main point of Jacob’s dream is that we can be forced to move away from where we are comfortable but that does not move us away from God.  That is a hard lesson to grab hold of and when the descendants of Abraham and Isaac are taken into exile in Babylon they sang ‘How could we sing the LORD’S song in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:4)

Throughout history people have seen God as their god belonging to their territory. 

People who, like Jacob, have had an experience of God in a dream or vision have, like Jacob, marked the spot where that happened and then people have made pilgrimages to those places in the hope of having a similar experience. 

In similar hope people have built spectacular buildings in the hope that God will come and live in them.  Another descendant of Jacob, King David wanted to do that.  But Nathan had a dream in which God told him to ‘Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?  I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle’. (2 Samuel 7:5,6): 

Of course, David’s son built the temple because he was politically astute and had a vision of stable government held in tension between sacred moral values symbolised by the temple and his absolute monarchy symbolised by the Palace. 

Special places are also good for religious tourism and if you Google ‘thin places’ you will quickly get several lists of places where people have felt the presence of ‘the other world’ even without a ladder.  Places where the barrier between this world and the spirit world is so thin that visions and theophanies can pass through.

The whole point of Jacob’s dream was that leaving home did not separate him from God.  Even cheating his brother did not separate him from God.  

We need to also remember the divine realm does not come into being through a violent revolution or even a landslide victory in an election.  The divine realm comes into being by the dreams of people and the thoughts provoked by the parables and teaching of people.  In seeking the divine realm we must recognise that good and bad lives alongside each other.

The divine realm comes into being in a world of chaos, a world like ours, where good people and jerks exist alongside each other. 

Different personalities like Jacob and Esau struggle for their place in the world and their understanding of power, authority and inheritance.  But even Jacob and Esau can be reconciled through dreams and wrestling with God. 

God’s realm continues to move towards reality, God’s realm is always at hand as the good seed of the human condition dream dreams and wrestle with their own vision of God.  That is how people become the truly human citizens of God’s Realm.

Our dream must always remain to be the good seed called to struggle and grow amongst the weeds of our world. 

We must dream because if we don’t have a dream, how we gonna have a dream come true?  Above all, our dreams must open our minds to possibilities beyond our wildest expectations.   

[1] Burton L. Mack Who Wrote The New Testament: The Making of the Christian Myth (New York: HarperOne 1989) p.19.

[2] ibid. p.12