Here’s God’s Vision. What’s Yours?

table setting
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tracyhunter/133891501/">Tracy Hunter</a>

Isaiah 25:6-9

On the mountaintop, God will prepare a huge feast, with the finest wines and the best delicacies – the best of everything. And everyone is invited.

On the mountaintop, God will lift the pall that is over us all. God will forever banish death. God will wipe all the tears away. God will remove everyone’s shame.

Then people will say:

Look! This is our God. We relied on God, and God rescued us.
This is the God we were waiting for.
Let’s celebrate and enjoy our release!

All because God will be with us on the mountain.

People have parties all the time. You can read about them on the society page. You can get the “exclusive coverage” from the nightly entertainment magazines on the TV. How many millions did Kim Kardashian make on her wedding feast from the exclusive coverage alone?

If this were just another VIP occasion this feast of God would be completely unremarkable. Even in Isaiah’s time. Everyone knew the kings and merchants – the 1% of their day – had these kinds of parties all the time.

But the difference with this party is that everyone is included.

Everyone. No exceptions. That’s the goal. That’s the vision. Everyone gets to sample the $250-a-bottle Cabernet. Everyone gets a place at the table where the fillet mignon is being carved. At God’s table, nobody goes hungry, and nobody goes home at the end of the night in tears.

It’s not just a nice sign on the front of a church lawn.

That’s God’s vision, as Isaiah tells it. What’s yours?

A Vision from God

man walking into vortex
Image credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/h-k-d/6431002755/">Hartwig HKD</a>

Galatians 1:10-12

┬áSo, whose approval do you think I’m looking for: people’s or God’s? Do I sound like I’m trying to win a popularity contest? If I were trying to suck up to people, I wouldn’t be working for Jesus, would I? Friends, I want you to know that the story of Jesus I tell doesn’t come from other people. I didn’t get it from some storyteller who taught it to me. I got it in a vision, straight from Jesus himself.

I admit that when someone tells me he or she has had a vision from God, my first impulse is to be a little bit skeptical – no very skeptical. The problem with visions from God is that they’re impossible to confirm or deny. There’s no proof one way or the other. All you have to go on is what the person who claims the vision says. Even if that person is someone you like and generally have a high regard for, you still might wonder if their “vision” is a sign that they’re coming unhinged. Should you be concerned for them?

Still, you can’t disprove it either. Nor should you try. I’d suggest that the basis for buying someone’s claim about a vision from God (or any kind of vision, for that matter) is by watching to see if it makes any real difference in the life of the person who had it. Do they change their course of action. Do they take action change their life’s trajectory? Do they change their priorities? Do they focus in a way they hadn’t before?

In other words, even though you can’t duplicate their experience, or experience it vicariously through them, or see exactly what they saw, do they live as if what they saw was really real? If they do, then even if the way they describe it seems far-fetched, there’s probably something to it. Otherwise, take it with a grain of salt.

Paul may not have been perfect. He may not have been always able to implement things in an ideal way. He may have been abrasive. He may even have had some of the details wrong. And he was a terrible theologian. But what he says he saw changed his life. There was something to it, and his passion for it changed the world – maybe not precisely the way Jesus had in mind, and probably beyond what even Paul himself had in mind – and he pursued it without regard for what anyone else thought of it.

For better or worse, and probably both better and worse, Paul was, if nothing else, a visionary. Like all visionaries (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Adolf Hitler, John Kennedy, George Washington, Ronald Reagan, Albert Einstein – the list goes on) he’s not perfect. Visionary does not imply “good.” What makes them visionaries isn’t their goodness or perfection, it’s their vision that leaves the world a different place, for good or ill or both, behind them.)

The Meeting Nobody Wants to Have

matches
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/marfis75/3930978328/">Martin Fisch</a>

Galatians 1:6-9

I’m simply astounded that, just like that, you’re abandoning me, the one who brought you into Jesus’ good graces, to run off after someone else’s version of Jesus. Mind you, there really isn’t any other legitimate version, but certain people (whose names I won’t mention) are taking you in. They want to make Jesus’ story into something else.

Nevertheless, even if we ourselves, or even a messenger from heaven, ever tell you anything different than what we first told you – well, to hell with them. I’ll say it again: if anyone ever tells you something other than what we’ve told you, to hell with them.

We can cut Paul a little slack. He’s feeling betrayed. He’s feeling like he’s losing his grip, and certainly his influence over a project that he was involved in from the beginning. Emotions are running high.

This is the point at which the partners in a start-up business have to tell the lead partner, “You’ve made this project too much about you. You’re a great go-getter, and you love the product like nobody else we know, but you just don’t work well with others, and you’re too controlling of the rest of the team. We’re sorry, but you’re fired.” You expect him to get a little upset. You expect him to tell you to go to hell. You expect him to write an open letter to the employees, and publish it on Facebook.

The truth of the matter is, we owe Paul a great deal. If it hadn’t been for him, most of us probably never would have heard of Jesus. Christianity would have remained an obscure little enclave of disaffected Jews and a few curious folk from other ethnic backgrounds. Jesus would have remained an historical footnote. But Paul wasn’t perfect.

Paul’s version of Jesus was, at the time, not in sync with what most of the people who had known Jesus personally were saying about him. At the time, Christianity was a Jewish fringe movement. It was tied to a few people’s experience of a single man.

Paul’s experience, and his version of Jesus, was visionary. It had the advantage of not being tied to the human experience of Jesus. It wasn’t parochial, geographically or ethnically, in the way the Jerusalem group was. It could spread. But the down side was that without the anchor of the real person, Jesus, the man who started the movement, Paul was free to envision all kinds of things that just weren’t part of the story. Since he claimed his visions came from the risen Jesus, who could argue?

Except that at some point, common sense takes over, and you have to let the lead partner go. It’s not easy. Never is. But you’ve got to do it, before the whole thing falls apart.

What Will You Do with What You’ve Got?

blind man
Photo credit: Rollan Budi

Mark 8:22-26

When they landed at Bethsaida, the folks there brought a blind man to Jesus and hounded Jesus about healing him. So Jesus took the blind man and led him by the hand out of town. Jesus rubbed some spit on his eyes and asked, “Can you see anything?”

The man looked around and said, “I see people. They look like walking trees.”

So Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes again, and this time when he looked again his sight was restored, and he saw clearly.

“Now, don’t go back to the village,” Jesus said, and sent him directly home.

First, the Pharisees (legalists) wanted a miracle. Then the disciples (students) wanted a miracle. Now, as they disembark, the village people want a miracle.

Unlike the first two cases, though, Jesus obliges here. Why?

In the first two cases, there was no point. Either it was an obvious setup, or it was ignorant selfishness. And, in this case, too, it’s pretty clear that all the people really want is to see a show. Bread and circuses.

In this case, there really is a point. The blind man. The villagers regard him as nothing but a nuisance on most days, and today perhaps their ticket to see something entertaining. A pawn. An expendable person. But to Jesus, there is no such thing as an expendable person.

But. Jesus takes him out away from the town to do this. He refuses to satisfy the crowd’s lust for entertainment. Just as it’s not about bread, neither is it about circuses. So, the blind man sees, but the villagers who wanted to see miss out. And, the blind man sees clearly, as opposed to Jesus’ own students who he has just chewed out for being too blind to see what Jesus was doing.

Adding to the impact of Mark’s assertion that he saw clearly, for the first time in the gospel someone who has been healed and ordered not to tell, doesn’t. He doesn’t just see. He gets it.

For the third time, it’s not about the miracles. It’s about what you do with what you’ve got.