I have some friends that claim to not dream. I have other friends that keep a journal beside their beds so that they can record their dreams as soon as they wake up. I don't record my dreams in a journal because, well, someone might find that journal and read it. Most of my dreams are harmless, mundane variations of my real life. For instance, one time I had a dream in which I only wore red clothes. Hat, shirt, belt, pants, socks, shoes, everything was red. I was adamant in that dream about the particular shade of red I wore, and that red could only be found at one store. And the dream consisted of me annoying a bunch of people with this idiosyncrasy, and by the end of the dream, I lost all my friends. Could there be some truth buried deep within my unconscious regarding the color red? Maybe, but when I woke up, I didn't bother to explore that possibility, I just laughed and wrote it off as an absurd and impossible scenario.
But not all my dreams are laughable. Some of them get a little too close to the truth. Recently, I had a vivid dream that included real people in my life and some unfortunate events that were my fault. The dream was so believable, that for a few seconds after waking up, I was in a state of panic and regret. I soon realized it was a dream, and I was relieved, even proud of myself for what I then knew I had not done. I resolved to tell no one and do nothing about the dream.
When the recipient of the apocalyptic vision we call the revelation of John woke up, he had to tell someone, he had to record his travel to the heights of heaven in a dream journal and hope that someone would find it.
- That they would find it and know that the dream imagined a reality that is and was and is to come.
- That they would find it and be able to trace a portrait of the truth that superseded time, space, and the material world we inhabit.
- That they would find it and know that it wasn't supposed to be like this and it wouldn't be like this forever. It is, it was, and it is to come.
This dream, this revelation of a heaven where seven spirits are before the throne, and beside them is Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, who loves us and freed us from our sins, and made us to be a kingdom of priests serving God.
This dream, this all-access pass to the serenity of heaven where everything appears to be put together, from beginning to end, and nothing is left to chance, not the alpha or the omega, and God is in complete and total control because it all is, it all was, and it all will be.
This dream, this revelation from heaven of eternal completeness that runs concurrently with the confusion, chaos, violence, and apparent absence of God down here on earth.
The rest of John's vision is an expansion of the themes introduced to us here in the first chapter. The most prevalent of those themes is the possibility of wholeness, that the separation between heaven and earth will disappear, and that time represented by the past, present, and future, will be erased by the emergence of eternity. Or as it is stated here in our reading, God is, was, and is to come.
Jesus is coming again, and in between there are seven spirits, seven golden lampshades, seven stars, seven torches, seven eyes of the lamb, and seven angels who stand before God. The revelation is addressed to seven churches, and if you draw a line between each of the seven churches, you'll notice the appearance of a circle. The dreamer of Revelation was informed by the apocalyptic visions of the Hebrew Bible. And in the Hebrew Bible, seven is a symbol of completeness, and circles are symbols of unity. The dream has its moments of incomprehensible allusion. Some of the stuff is symbolic in a way we may never understand. But here in the beginning John's revelation, and again at the end, we are reminded that the dream is about the parallel tracks of heaven and earth, and that whatever is traveling down one, will soon intersect with the other. It is, it was and it will be.
A couple years ago, I was traveling back from Washington DC, riding one of those moving sidewalks in the airport at Reagan International. In the terminal beforehand, I'd seen the news on CNN that the government had issued a travel warning to US Citizens urging them to avoid France. The chaos in France was on my mind as I was automatically transported by the mechanical sidewalk solemnly down the long hallway towards my gate.
The magic sidewalk seemed like it was made to move you slow enough to read each of the ads plastered on the walls all the way down the hall. One of the ads was for some consulting group that promised to remove all the inefficiency out of your business and simplify things through a combination of data analytics and fancy technology. The ad featured the tag line, "the future is now". As I was standing on the sidewalk that moved about to get on an airplane that would flies real fast like a bird through the air and would get me home in an hour, I almost believed that the future is now. But then I remembered the travel warning and the terror that was engulfing the city of Paris, and I hoped that the business consulting people were wrong about the future being now. If the future is now, I thought to myself, I'll trade a moving sidewalk and airplanes for the promise of no more senseless violence in the name of radicalized religion. I'll walk home, if this is what the future looks like.
The philosopher John Gray, writing in his book "The Soul of Marionettes" said, "Humans have too little self-knowledge to be able to fashion a higher version of themselves." I think he is right and in the book, he argues that we need the dreams, stories, and myths of faith to make sense of a world that seems to resist our attempts to unilaterally impart a future that is an improvement on the past. The future is not now as long as the dreams descending from heaven, the ones with alphas and omegas, beginnings and ends, seven strange spirits, and Jesus by their side, don't get recorded and retold as a counter-narrative to the reality of a world where schools are filled with gun-fire, church prayer meetings end in bloodshed, planes full of innocent people fall from the sky because a bomb was snuck on board. But John's dream will not relent. The God who is, was, and will be isn't beholden to this future. This is not God's future.
The curious among us might ask how a kingdom can at the same time be present but not yet fully realized. It's an honest question deserving an appropriate response considering the contradiction is apparent in more than just the academic sense. A few years back, the cover of our local newspaper highlighted the already, but not yet, reality of the kingdom of God on its front page.
On that front page, there were articles about a shooting of a South Carolina sheriff's deputy, a report about a woman that killed her boyfriend then herself, an Orangeburg County house fire that killed a 62-year-old man. And right beside these articles about a future that wasn't now, was a story about an army sergeant that escaped death after a roadside bomb exploded under his Humvee in Iraq while he was out on a routine patrol. Twenty months after the explosion that burned his entire body and singed the pigment of his face, Sergeant Terry Fleming testified to the Kingdom of God in the present as he offered these words: "I don't have all of my fingers, but I have my arms and legs. My face is going to be ok. Thank God." Side by side, the senselessness of death, the miracle of life. God is, was, will be."
But you don't have to keep up with the news to detect the tension between John's dreams and reality. A close examination of your own life would witness to the kingdom of God which is already coming but not yet fully come. In the same breath, we manage to disparage one friend and love another. In seemingly the same motion we act out of prideful self interest in one moment and serve willingly in another knowing that our contributions cannot be repaid. With one foot in the kingdom of God and another in a world that Jesus promised is passing, we are portraits of contradiction.
But please don't take this tension for granted. It, too, shall be reconciled. This is not a cynical exercise of collective defeatism. God's entry into this world in the person of Jesus Christ did not inaugurate a cosmic battle to be fought into eternity. The kingdom of God has come near and with this inauguration comes a guarantee signed in the blood of Christ that our present pain will be transformed into healing. The kingdom of God has come near, and with this inauguration is a promise that the redemption song of army sergeants will be sung by each of us. God is, was, and will be.
Hold on to the dream that descended down from heaven. The future is not now. It is, it was, and it will be. The God we worship has given us a glimpse into the heavens through the revelation of John. What we see there is better than what we know now. Go, try to dream like John with your eyes wide open, leave them open so that you can see Jesus coming every day like a cloud.
I told you, I've got some friends who claim they don't dream. They are the same ones that think the future is now. If we stop dreaming, eternity will stop speaking. It is, it was, it will be.