Both readings used today, John 13:31-35 and Rev. 21:1-6, suggest as a theme, “The Future.” The future is important because it dictates what we do and how we feel in the present. Psychologist George Kelly understood our perception of the future as fundamental to understanding human behaviour. Kelly believed we continuously are constructing an images of the future that, in turn, determine our actions in the present.
In other words, we act in response to the future. In many cases, because we expect a particular future, our subsequent actions help to bring about this very future. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the world of economics. All that it takes to bring about a recession is the belief that there will be one. Business people, expecting a recession, decrease investment, reduce stockpiles and cut back on overtime. Share markets react in sync with business. With all the talk in the media about a recession coming, the average person reduces spending so as to save for the coming ‘rainy day’. The overall decrease in business activity brings about the expected recession.
In the gospel of John, Jesus announces his departure: “I shall not be with you much longer.” Imagine the sense of desolation and loss in the hearts and minds of the disciples. Perhaps you have experienced similar feelings when you faced the loss of one you loved and leaned upon, one from whom you received direction; perhaps one like Jesus, who didn’t always make life easy, but who made it worthwhile. Suddenly they are gone, along with everything that was associated with them. And the future? Well, it’s pretty bleak, and unless one can imagine a path through the bleakness, there is not much motivation to go on.
But Revelation gives quite a different future. We are given a grand vision: a new heaven and a new earth. It’s all there: a heavenly throne, flashes of lightning, peals of thunder, heaven and earth quiver and shake for God is present. There is no more death nor grief nor crying nor pain. All that is old has disappeared, and there is even a free drink for the thirsty.
Each of us is driven by a dream whether we know it or not. If you didn’t have a dream, you wouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning. There are big dreams, little dreams and dreams of every size in-between. The affect that any given dream has upon us depends in part, how close it is.
The Gospel reading presents the disciples with an immediate future, hence its depressing impact on the present is great; whereas the future presented in Revelation – a much more encouraging one – will not have much impact if it is viewed as distant. However, the common perception of Revelation’s future as a distant one is mistaken.
Certainly, there is a tendency to believe that the dream of John in Revelation is about the distant future. But look at the language. Does God say, “I will make all things new.”? The language is not future tense; it is present tense: “Behold, I make all things new.”
John was addressing a dispirited, disheartened church – people who were being persecuted – not to console them in their suffering, but to announce that God is acting today; not that God will act next year, but today. Now the Holy City is descending. Now God is making all things new. Right now God is wiping tears and easing pain and overcoming the power of death in the world. Now!
There is nothing other-worldly about this vision; it’s happening now in the midst of our worn, torn, broken world. And with the eyes of faith, you can see it happening.
And yet this good news comes to us as a dream, because it is difficult for us to see the reality of it in the world. The present is just too full of emptiness; too full of violence and inhumanity and injustice; too full of pain.
You may well say, perhaps disparagingly, the vision is only a dream, but what is a dream? The great Zionist, Theodore Hertzel, was fond of saying to those who thought his dream of a nation for the Jews was only that, just a dream, “If you will it to be so, it is not a dream.”
Dreams become the stuff of revolutions. Look what a huge change ensued from Martin Luther King’s dream. “I have a dream!” he proclaimed, and though that dream has not been fully realised, he saw it well on its way, and changes came about that would have been considered unlikely a few years before. If only King could have been around to witness the election of an Afro-American president.
When our dreams are wedded to our will, they become reality. The tears of dreams can be real enough to wet the pillow, and the passion of them fierce enough to make the flesh burn. There are times we dream our way to a truth so overwhelming that is startles us awake and haunts us for years to come. No matter how you may interpret dreams, it cannot be argued that they do not matter.
The present can be so entrenched, so desperate, that most people’s despair and helplessness paralyse them. Whether the issue is drought or poverty or war or climate change, it is as if people struggle under the persistent pull of some kind of spirit-depressing gravity, falling into the habit of ignoring the worst, and making the best of a bad situation. This attitude virtually guarantees no change at best and disaster at worst.
Too often when approaching an issue that cries out for change, e.g., climate change or other issues that call us to ministry ‘out there’, people choose to put their heads in the sand and pretend that everything is okay. The art of dreaming of a better world, a better humanity, has become lost amid faithlessness and self-centred despair, and the revolution required is just too much work. Fortunately there are, and have always been, a few who do hear the gospel, believe in its dream and act accordingly. No matter how long it takes for people to see the dream, that dream will change the world.
There is a story about a desperately poor black woman in Louisiana who had raised over a dozen children, most of them adopted and foster children. When a newspaper reporter asked her why she had done this, she replied, “I saw a new world a’comin’.”