Sunday 3rd November – All Saints/In Memoriam – St Petri Church
Transcript of Message by Pastor Noel Due
Bad Dreams, Big Ideas and Butterflies
Good morning everyone this is a very special morning. We have come through a year where one way or another, we have all suffered losses and finally we approached death itself through 1000 losses. We lose one thing after another and then finally we lose the connection altogether. It is really good to be able to take the time, a specific time and a special time like this in the church year, to be able to remember the significance of what has been and what also we are yet to face. Sometimes we get so stuck looking at what has been, that we never actually come to move into what is.
I want to speak about a few things this morning that you’ll all be very familiar with. The first is bad dreams. Daniel was having some. We have three readings today, which all in their own way and each specifically emphasise, not just the bad dreams but a big idea that trumps all the bad dreams. Daniel experienced that.
Then there is something else in all of those readings, something which is truly gospel, something which is promise. That thing is best represented by a Butterfly. It is just coincidence today that that Pastor Adrian put his stole on and I put on my multi-coloured Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat stoll, and they both have butterflies on them. So, in case you feel like you need now go to sleep – we’re talking about bad dreams, big ideas and butterflies. I think we have had a bit of experience each with those things. Anyone here ever had a bad dream? You sometimes can think your life is a bad dream – probably not that. Dear Daniel wasn’t really suffering bad dreams, not in the way that we understand bad dreams, not nightmares, but he was suffering very troubling dreams.
When we face a loss we generally face the loss of something in a personal sphere. The loss of a person who is very close to us, even the loss of a pet who is very close to us touches us very deeply. A loss of our livelihood. A lot of our farming communities in the drought stricken areas of Australia, the loss of their farm. Some have been on that property for five generations.
When we face loss, we can go into an emotional turmoil which is represented by darkness, it sometimes feels as though the darkness is pressing in. Sometimes like with Daniel’s dream, it feels like the winds of heaven are stirring up all of the breakers and the sea of the world and out of that turmoil are arising beasts that would seek to devour and consume us. We face that loss personally in one or other of those ways that I’ve mentioned.
Daniel had faced the loss of all things. His people had lost everything and were now in captivity and Daniel, through a remarkable series of events, was being raised by God to serve the ruler of that new country in which he lived, and also to be a prophet for his own people who were in exile. Daniel’s dreams were not bad dreams in the way that we understand nightmares or bad dreams but they were deeply troubling dreams because when you come through a time of suffering loss, one of the greatest issues is – Why? How did we end up here? Why did this happen? We can become unceasingly afflicted by, what I call the “if only” or the “what if’s”. If only I had … If only we had noticed earlier. If only I had gone to the doctor a month ahead of time. If only I had been home instead of away and what if? What if I had been there? What if that person hadn’t died alone? What if? and in the turmoil and the trouble we can sense that things or it feels like things are spinning out of control. But Daniel’s troubling dream (I won’t call them bad dreams any more). Daniel’s troubling dream was not the last word because the counterpoint for that is also a triumphant exalted vision of God on his throne. One like a son of man coming up to receive from him a kingdom which cannot be shaken. One of whom it said later “all authority is given to me in heaven and on the earth” and it is also said in Daniel that those who share in that kingdom receive a kingdom themselves which cannot be shaken.
The writer to the Hebrews takes that up. He says at one point, “once more the Lord will shape heaven and earth” quoting Habakkuk. But he says when that shaking happens, we believe, we know, we experience that we have a kingdom which cannot be shaken.
In other words the bad dreams, the troubling dreams. The wind which seems to rise out of nowhere to create havoc, the dark images of destruction that come in the person of those beasts in Daniel’s vision. They are not the last word. They have to be faced. You don’t make any progress in life by making out that they don’t exist. But they have to be face in faith. In faith, based on the revelation of a far greater and more exalted vision which is of the Lord himself who is in control of all things. Even it seems, in control of the darkness. That we are not spinning out of control, the world is not spinning out of control and that is the big idea which is at the centre of all of the readings. That big idea can be summarised in one phrase – it is the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is the big idea which runs all the way through the scriptures. The kingdom of God means God’s reign and God’s rule. We say at the end of the Lord’s prayer; for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Interestingly enough, that phrase, that little segment, is not in the earliest versions of the Lord’s prayer in Matthew and Luke – but the church felt it was so important to be memorialised in the context of that prayer that for 2000 years or so we have included that phrase or that paragraph. It is a testimony to what we, as God’s people, have held and believed and which has kept us as a whole church over thousands of years, in the faith.
There are bad dreams, there are troubling dreams, there are deeply perplexing things, there are deeply painful things – but they do not have the last say. There is a bigger idea, a bigger reality, a bigger truth beyond all of the trouble. And that is the utter assurance of the sovereignty, the kingdom, the rain and rule of God. And if you want any evidence that that is so, you only need to look at the cross. Because in that place, through the person of Jesus Christ, you see once and for all, enacted in human history – the inescapable reality that God’s kingdom trumps everything. Even death itself and God himself in the person of his son went through the valley of deep darkness so that we might participate in the surety and the security of being in his kingdom.
I don’t know if you picked up from the reading in Ephesians that it talks about the holy spirit being a “deposit” and a “seal”. Do you remember that bit in the reading? Now, those two words come from the language of the marketplace,, and we are a little bit familiar with them in our own way of doing business. In those days when you put a deposit down it was the absolute guarantee that that thing against which you place the deposit; be it a jar of olive oil, one of those amphora of wine that you see being carried up from the bottom of the Mediterranean,Sea at archaeological digs or a big jar of olives or a couple kilograms of grapes. Whatever you put your deposit on, and then you went off to the other parts of the marketplace – that was yours no matter what.
God has made a deposit in us of the Holy Spirit. We are His, no matter what.
The other word that is very close to it conceptually is the word seal. He has placed a seal on us, and again that’s from the language of our ancient Greco-Roman markets. When, let’s say it was a barrel of herring or something really wonderful like the fish sauce that the Romans used to prize so much. When a seal was placed on that by a trader it had his mark on it. That barrel of goods or container of goods could not be touched by anyone else except with the express permission of the owner. It had to be presented in a written document to say “I give permission for Joe Bloggs to touch this thing and move it” but apart from that, that seal meant that the item was sacrosanct and no one else could get near it. That’s the way God relates to you! He has put a deposit within you of the Holy Spirit which says that you are his is no matter what. And He has put a seal upon you, which means that nothing can come to you except if it first come through God. You might think of the dreadful suffering of the old Testament person called Job. Even all that happened to him, could not happen without the express permission of God to say “you may touch this one even though he is sealed”.
For us, therefore this time of perplexity and pain and confusion, this darkness, this raging of the wind in the rattling of the shutters at night time and the trouble that gets us like Daniel turning on our beds. (A bit like a rotisserie chicken 2 o’clock in the morning?) All of that we actually now face by faith, because if we had to face it in our own strength and with our own resources and just in the life span that we have – and nothing beyond it, nothing under it, nothing over it, then we of all people would be most to be pitied. It would be truly hopeless.
God is granted as a great assurance of a kingdom which is an everlasting kingdom which cannot be shaken and which goes beyond death itself. Which takes me to the butterflies.
Now, this is probably a question you might not want to put your hand up for, but the first part is okay. Did any of you have silk worms growing up? They were good fun. They were not butterflies, but at least they hatched into a moth and that’s close. Did any of you growing up see? Do you still get them here? Those wanderer butterflies which came in the beautiful blue and silver chrysalis?
Now this part is probably what only boys are going to put their hand up for. Did anyone ever try and cut one open to see what was inside?
Well, I had a friend. I still have a friend. He ‘fessed up to me during the week. He said he found one and him and his dad and his brothers, decided to cut one open and see which bit had turned from the caterpillar into the butterfly.
Now, what happens? How does that process take place? Getting from the caterpillar to the butterfly. Does it happen bit by bit? Do you have half caterpillar and half butterfly? or do you have some butterfly feelers and caterpillar legs? How does it happen?
Well, my friends said they cut this one open and to their surprise it was just all grey mush inside. They said – and their dad agreed – “This is probably a dead one, it has gone off” ‘cause they couldn’t see any butterfly bits. In fact it wasn’t a dead one, it hadn’t gone off, because the way in which those transformations happen – from caterpillar to butterfly, is a complete and utter undoing of one thing and an entirely re-doing of a new thing out of the soup that is in the chrysalis. It’s not as though it changes bit by bit from the top down or from the bottom up or from the legs outwards. The whole lot is dissolved and then the whole lot is reconstructed. So why am I telling you that?
Welcome to your life! It’s not just a picture of death and resurrection in the physical sense. Most of us, if I may say looking around this congregation this morning. Most of us have lived long enough (that means we are over 21) to have had an experience where the whole of our lives seem to be broken down – true? It’s not just that sometimes we lose a loved one and we wonder what’s happened to them, but in the midst of that loss it seems as though within our own selves everything is deconstructed. You think, can anything ever come back out of this again? and what comes back out of that again is a new thing but it is connected to the old thing.
I’m convinced that we don’t get over grief. What happens is that that grief is used under the hands of God to bring as into a new future which is connected to all that has been. But it is not the same as all that has been, and in the process coming through that chrysalis phase, it seems as though everything is just dissolved and you wonder, can anything good ever come out of this? and the answer is “yes” because something good came out of that cross. When everything seemed to be dissolved, and they had suffered the loss of all things, and the disciples and the others scattered into the night. Their internal life and their spiritual life and their sense of God’s presence and their love for Christ was totally destroyed – and out of that a whole new thing emerged. That’s why throughout the history of the iconography, (the sacred art of the church) the butterfly has always symbolised not just resurrection but new hope.
The word that I want to bring to us today is that if you are still, or have been in that place where it is still bad dreams, don’t fear, because there’s a bigger idea beyond that. The reign and rule, the personal presence of God and the assurance that out of that which you have lost, God will bring a new future. That person whom you have lost is already experiencing it now.
We’re sort of stuck in the chrysalis waiting for it yet to happen but it will happen. Personally and corporately.
I serve in the Department of the church which works with churches which are suffering the loss of all things. Many on the verge of closure, some wondering if they have a future. I don’t know whether God will want to keep the Lutheran Church of Australia going, we are a bit of a funny bunch. But I am absolutely convinced that he will keep the church going and revive it!
We all live in that hope and it’s not just a wish – it is a sure and certain future. It’s a promised future. It has a deposit and a seal and you can be absolutely sure that God is bringing you into it even today.
So may the Lord be with you, particularly now, as we come from a time of remembrance and to share the Lord’s supper together in Jesus name. Am