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Only A Dream?
May 21, 1995

REVELATION 21:10, 22-22:5

After the completion of Disney World in Florida, someone remarked, "Isn't it too bad that Walt Disney didn't live to see this!" Mike Vance, creative director of Disney Studios replied, "He did see it--that's why it's here." Walt Disney was a dreamer. He had a vision of Disney World. He also had a dream about Disneyland in Anaheim. I heard a radio interview with Art Linkletter several years ago. Linkletter and Disney were good friends. One day Walt said to Art, "Let's go for a ride." They left Los Angeles and drove and drove through orange groves to the middle of nowhere, according to Linkletter. They stopped, and Walt Disney said, "This is where Stanford Research Institute says I should build my dream which I will call Disneyland. Why don't you buy some of the surrounding property?" Art Linkletter replied, "Way out here? Are you crazy?" Yes, Walt Disney was a dreamer, but was it only a dream?

John was a dreamer. He wrote about his dreams, his visions, in a letter to seven churches, a letter which we now call the book of Revelation. The mysterious book of Revelation has long been difficult for the church to understand. Revelation has had a marginal place in the Bible. As late as the fourth century, it was listed as both accepted and disputed. Half the churches accepted Revelation as part of the Bible, and half the churches did not. Martin Luther, in the sixteenth century, did not include Revelation in his personal Bible. And John Calvin, founder of the Reformed and Presbyterian movements, wrote commentaries on every book of the New Testament except Revelation.

Revelation still gives us trouble. There are those Christians who foretell the future with it, and look for signs in our own day that they say were predicted by Revelation. On the other hand, there are those Christians who don't know what to do with Revelation, so they do nothing with it. Both extreme positions miss the whole point. Both miss the obvious. Revelation is a dream, not to be taken literally; but to be taken seriously. When you interpret dreams you look for the meaning behind the meaning. Dreams are expressed in poetic language, and poems are not to be interpreted literally.

Mark Twain had a problem after he learned how to be a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River. He wrote,

Now when I had mastered the language of this water, and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, and beauty, the poetry, had gone out of the majestic river!...All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat.

Mark Twain analyzed, studied, and mastered the river, but lost his sense of mystery, awe, and majesty of the river. He knew too much about the river.

We do the same with the Bible. There's something about the mind of Americans that make us excellent engineers and scientists, but lousy poets and dreamers. The Bible was written by a people who excelled in dreaming, imagining, story-telling, worshiping, and experiencing awe and mystery. Look what we try to do with the first chapter of Genesis. There are those Christians who try to make a science out of it, analyzing every word, dissecting, construing and misconstruing, trying desperately to make something out of it which was never intended. Relax, read the first chapter of Genesis with a creative, poetic mind. Let the majesty, the poetry, the beauty of the chapter wash over you, and fill you with awe before the mystery and majesty of God's creation.

We have similarly missed the point of Revelation. There are those who try to analyze, dissect, and apply it to our future, not understanding that Revelation was written in a specific time and place, and talking not about 1995 but 100 A.D. And, we miss the point that Revelation is John's dream. He is very clear that he is sharing his visions. He was imprisoned on the island of Patmos as a political prisoner, imprisoned for being a Christian, and he writes words of hope to fellow Christians who are likewise being persecuted or afraid of being persecuted for their faith. He dreams of the triumph of God, how God will conquer evil, how God makes everything new, how God wipes away tears, eases pain and overcomes the power of death. John dreams about the holy city, the new Jerusalem, a city of splendor, a city of light and healing, a city of worship and majesty. The American slaves understood Revelation. They, in their poverty, dreamed of a future where

I got shoes, you got shoes, All of God's children got shoes.

When I get to heaven, gonna put on my shoes.

I'm gonna walk all over God's heaven.

Do you see how we moderns spoil it? There are those who are upset at the idea that Revelation is not factual to be taken literally, but a dream. On the other hand, there are those who understand that Revelation is a dream, but they discount dreams, as if dreams and visions do not have validity. They say if it is only a dream it is not worth much.

Only a dream? We must get into our little modern heads that nothing is only a dream. Dreams have power. Remember Walt Disney! In Revelation, John gives us a dream, a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. From such dreams, the people of God receive hope, courage and resolve. A few years ago, a few dreamers in Merced dreamed of a campus here, a campus of the University of California, here in Merced. Many scoffed. Many sneered that it was only a dream. Only a dream?

Everything in life that we use or hold, eat or watch, wear, sit in or listen to--in other words, everything that is a creation of human ingenuity--started out as a dream. Before anything can become tangible, it must first become a reality in the mind of its dreamer. Only when the dream is real for one can it become real for all. Zippers, Christmas tree lights, quadruple bypass heart surgery, combustion engines, cotton candy, x-rays, air conditioning, flush toilets, matches, eyeglasses--all these were once dreams in someone's minds. And they were probably called crazy, idealists, dreamers. Someone said, "Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done."

What brought their dreams to fruition was the belief of the dreamer in the dream, and the action the dreamer took. The dreamer acted on his/her dream. Without hope, there is no action. Action springs not from guilt, but from vision. Feeling guilty about some deed or misdeed rarely causes action. But, a vision of what could be is what causes action.

Today, especially, Christians are called to dream, to dream big dreams, dreams of justice, peace, and goodwill to everyone, dreams of everyone eating, living in a house, dreams of children enjoying happy childhoods. We need big dreams today. How puny our dreams have become, how puny our hopes, how puny our ambitions, how puny our faith. There is a Peanuts comic strip where Charlie Brown says, "I've developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time."

Don't discount your dreams. Don't dream puny dreams. Dream big dreams, wild dreams. Dare we dream again the dream of John, as he wrote in Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth...I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband...God himself will be with them; God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more... I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it...The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon."

Dream on, dreamer. From dreams come visions, from visions come belief, from belief comes action, from action comes accomplishment. What are some of your dreams for the world, our city, and our church?

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris