The Visions of the Young, the Dreams of the Old
by Tim Mooney
“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.”
Today is the birthday of the church. We celebrate the impact the Spirit had upon the disciples, inspiring and empowering them and those who came after them to live a life of faith and love. To explain this dramatic in-spiriting, Peter drew upon the words of the prophet Joel. His ancient prophecy captured the heart of what this in-spiriting signified: The outpouring of the Spirit causes the young to have visions and the old to have dreams.
Do you find that a bit surprising? I’m not sure visions and dreams are in our top-ten list of Christian attributes. The Spirit, rather, is supposed to produce the fruits of the Spirit, such as peace, patience, temperance, meekness, and self-control. And we Presbyterians have tried, to refine that even further. We’ve distilled the fruits of the Spirit down to a fruit salad called: decently and in order. That seems to be at odds with visions and dreams.
Ever since Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, and wherever it has held a dominant position in Europe and the Americas, the Church has moved toward doing things decently and in order. Don’t get me wrong. Decently and in order is a very important way of getting things done. Even our federal government is based on a Presbyterian model. Okay, maybe I need to think of another example. Decently and in order has its place, but it was never meant to be in the first position. Decently and in order is the servant to the heart of Christianity – visions and dreams.
Perhaps a brief review of salvation history will show you what I mean. “Noah, you’re going to build an ark in the middle of dry land.” “Sarah, you’re going to give birth to a whole nation.” “Joseph, you’re going to be the leader and feeder of my people.” “Nehemiah, you will rebuild Jerusalem.” “Peter, you will spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.” “Paul, you will offer the Gospel to the Gentiles.” “Patrick, you will take the Gospel to Ireland.” “Francis, you will include the poor and all creatures in God’s love.” “Hildegard, you will see the greening effect of the Spirit in the health of the environment.” “Rosa Parks, you will sit on the bus anywhere you like, because all our equal in God’s sight.” “Martin Luther King, you will have a dream for peace and justice.” “Gustavo Gutierez, you will help liberate South Americans from oppression.” “Habitat for Humanity, you will eliminate poverty housing.” “George Floyd, by your last breath you shout loudly that Black Lives Matter and the world will finally hear it.”
Every one of these visions and dreams, at their inception, were not decent or in order. More than likely people thought they were crazy. But they were, and are, of the Spirit.
What would it mean for the young to have visions of a better future? The young tend to be idealistic dreamers caught up in their own world. So it’s not a stretch for the prophet Joel to suggest they will have visions. But the word vision has a broad context. The outpouring of the Spirit on the young moves them out of their narrow world and into a wider circle of concern. Greta Thunberg comes to mind.
What would it mean for the old to dream dreams of a better now? In 2002 my father turned 79. He struggled with Parkinson’s disease, he’d lost 40 pounds in 4 months, and he was aging before my eyes. He admitted life was difficult. But he still had dreams. He dreamed of reconciliation within our family, of living the rest of his life with grace not bitterness, of passing on the essential elements of his faith and family heritage, of being a blessing, as he became more of a burden. And he was a blessing.
The outpouring of the Spirit is a call for young and old to use our imaginations. But not all that we imagine is of God.
Now more than ever we need our young to have visions, our old to dream dreams.
A long time ago there was a series of commercials that depicted a team of Budget employees imagining how to help their workers load and unload trucks faster. One guy says, “Rollerskates!” The commercial then shows the collective imagination of the team, and you see overweight, scantily-dressed, middle-aged men on rollerskates, dancing and spinning to 70’s disco music. They made the Village People look like the Bolshoi Ballet. The team snaps out of their imaginative reverie and say, “Naw, that’s not such a good idea.” But Spirit inspired visions and dreams are marked by some common characteristics that help us discern whether or not they are from God.
- They depict an outcome that is preposterous or unbelievable from a human standpoint. The fulfillment of the dream relies on God working behind the scenes.
- These visions and dreams cause a crisis of faith. They challenge us to take a risk, move beyond our comfort level, put into practice our spoken trust in God.
- They come to imperfect but pliable human beings who are willing to be shaped and used by God. No one is ever “qualified” to receive or work toward one of these visions. But receiving and working towards the dream shapes us as we go along. The visions and dreams transform us.
- These dreams and visions are persistent and become contagious. They start small, local, often experience resistance, won’t go away, and overtime become the dream of many others.
- Finally, these visions and dreams display the heart, character, and desire of God. They are redemptive, encouraging, reconciliatory, compassionate, they make for peace and justice. They are consistent with the character of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Frankly, it’s dangerous to have visions, to dream dreams. They stretch us beyond what we think we’re capable of; they demand risk, trust, energy; we might be accused of being impractical, naïve. But without visions, dreams – we shrivel up and die. We might live on, going through our daily routines, but inside we slowly die, life becomes flat. What is the saying? “Without dreams the people perish.”
Now more than ever we need our young to have visions, our old to dream dreams. We are living in a post-Christian world. Christianity is not in the driver’s seat in our culture. Most people believe in God, but rarely darken the doors of a church. But we keep doing things decently and in order. For the mainline traditions, that hasn’t worked very well. That’s why we’re tearing apart part of this church to manifest a vision, a dream of outreach and inclusion of the community around us. But I’m glad the construction crew is doing it decently and in order.
Is God more of a “yes” or a “no”? If God is a yes, then we must dream together. How can we be the beloved community for one another, for those around us? What impact can we have on the world? What holds us back? Only our fear, our lack of vision, our dearth of dreams, our unwillingness to be available to the Spirit’s fire.
Let me leave you with some of the visions our own youth have. From Sean: My vision for the church – To explain and help; my vision for the world – to love and understand. From Ellen: My vision for the church is that we come back in person as a connected community, with strong youth programs focused on volunteering and learning about how we can apply the bible to our modern lives. For the world, I hope to see an end to violence and hatred and solutions to systemic problems that prevent equality. From Hugh: My vision for the church is for it to help people to be happy and love themselves. That sense of community is very important for a lot of people and a lot of people don’t have that right now. My vision for the world is to see the progression and obviously less violence but especially moving past problems and large-scale issues. From Remi: My vision for the church is that people of all ages will see the importance of having a Godly community to grow with, having a personal relationship with Christ, and the importance of reading and understanding scripture as His Living Word (especially in terms of current events); and my vision for the world is that people understand and value the beauty of the diversity of our world. People learn to listen not just to argue, and people are encouraged to learn from those who are different than they are.
May we listen to the visions of our youth, may we encourage the old to dream dreams, and in doing so, may we let the fire of the Spirit fall on us, and make the world a better place.