October 31, 2021 – “Noticing God’s Dreams” by Rev. Cody Sandahl

First Reading

Genesis 32:24-31

24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Introduction

We are still dreaming with God. Two weeks ago we talked about writing down and committing to God’s dreams. Last week we heard about seeking God’s dreams. And this week we’re going to figure out how to notice when God responds when we want to know his dreams.

As a reminder, we have our dream board out by the elevator in Chandler Hall. And we placed the dream cards in the pew racks in front of you, so hopefully you’ll write down your dreams and pin them to the board. Last week we focused our dreams on the children and youth of the church. This week we are focusing our dreams on mission and service. What are God’s dreams for us in terms of how we bless our community? What are God’s dreams for us as we demonstrate and share our faith around us? What are God’s dreams for our big missions like the Community Dinner, Thanksgiving Deliveries, Whiz Kids, and others? Write down what you sense and pin it on the dream board.

We heard in our first text how God got Jacob’s attention. God had to literally come down and wrestle him all night. While that seems a bit extreme, sometimes I wouldn’t mind it if God were that obvious with me, too. But usually it’s a bit more subtle, and so let’s hear how the early church noticed God’s direction and God’s dreams. In this section, we’re following along with Paul’s missionary journeys after his conversion to following Jesus. Paul has taken up the mantle of spreading the good news about Jesus to Gentiles – Greeks, Romans, anyone who will listen. Let’s hear how they notice God’s dreams for them.

Sermon Text

Acts 16:6-15

6They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 8so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. 11We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Noticing Your Spirit

Did you ever play with magnets? Perhaps the better question is, why aren’t you still playing with magnets? Magnets are certifiably fun for any age.

In case you are a bit rusty on your magnetism, remember that magnets have two sides, called poles. If you try to push two bar magnets together, in one direction they will snap together quickly and strongly as their poles attract. If you try to push the two bar magnets together from the other poles, however, they will repel each other and stay apart.

That’s where the phrase “magnetic attraction” comes from – you’re just inexorably drawn to something as if by the unseen force of magnetism.

And by carefully watching those magnets, you can do remarkable things. Magnets can lift trains. Magnets in motion can become electricity in generators. Magnets can provide navigation in compasses. Magnets can contain the forces of the sun in fusion reactors.

But the key to working with magnets and magnetism? You have to pay close attention to little details. A little bit out of balance, and the train is finished, the generator is broken, the compass is useless, or the reactor is down. You must pay careful attention to the magnets.

And the same is true of the spirit within us.

In our text today, Paul had two interesting interactions with his spirit. He paid careful attention to the spiritual magnet within him that was pushing and pulling him along God’s dreams.

The first example was actually a repulsion, not an attraction. Verse 7 says, “When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” Isn’t that surprising? The Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go to Bithynia to spread the good news about him! Isn’t that shocking?!?

And we never get an explanation for that. They just pass on by to Troas. We don’t know exactly why the Spirit of Jesus prevented them from going to that town when Paul wanted to go. But we do know that Paul and his companions picked up on this opposition from the Spirit, and they passed on by.

The second encounter with the spiritual magnet was an attraction. Verse 9 says, “During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

His spirit was denied in Bithynia, but his spirit was drawn to Macedonia. Noticing this spirit within, Paul and his companions went to Macedonia “immediately,” the text says.

Do you know how to notice the magnetism of your spirit? Do you know how to notice if God is repulsing or attracting you toward something? Paying attention to your inner spiritual compass is one way to notice if God is leading you toward or away from something. Of course, like a compass, it’s best partnered with some other things to make sure it’s not just your own preferences talking.

Noticing Your Purpose

Paul and his companions took their spiritual compasses and partnered them with their sense of purpose. Paul knew he was called to reveal the good news about Jesus to the Gentiles. His ministry was not focused on Jerusalem. It was focused on everywhere beyond Jerusalem. His purpose was about starting new churches.

Armed with that sense of purpose and direction, Paul and his companions could more easily sense God’s dreams. And they could more easily sense when the Spirit of Jesus was telling them something wasn’t part of God’s dreams for them right now. They knew their #1 thing for that season of life.

What’s your #1 thing right now? If you could only have one sentence, one most important thing, one top concept, what would it be?

Does it have something to do with your family? Your grandkids?

Does it have something to do with your inner self? Your spirit?

Does it have something to do with your work? Your school?

Does it have something to do with your community? Or your church?

What’s your #1 thing right now? If you know that, you’ll be better able to notice God’s dreams.

And your purpose can also serve as a companion to the compass of your inner spirit. If you have followed along with Paul’s journeys at all, you know he persistently risked life and limb for his purpose. He probably didn’t look forward to that. In fact, his journey to Jerusalem and his imprisonment is a long-running story arc in the book of Acts. He wept about it. Yet he went anyway.

His inner spirit did not want to go, but he knew it was part of his purpose. That’s how your purpose can partner with your spiritual compass. Because some things are worth some pain. Some things are worth the effort. Some things are worth displeasure and annoyance and hardship and challenge. The right things, God’s things, are worth it.

Noticing the Overlooked

The final way Paul and his companions noticed God’s dreams was by intentionally noticing those who others overlook. This was one of their common tactics whenever they were starting new churches. When someone is accustomed to being ignored, giving them attention is attention-grabbing!

In our text today, they found a group of women who had gathered outside the city. Not the halls of the powerful. Not the mayor. Not the college. Not the center of the market. Not the garrison. Not the cathedral or synagogue. Just some overlooked women outside the city.

And that’s where the good news of Jesus found its root. With the people who needed good news and knew they needed good news.

Very often, God works out his dreams among people whom others overlook. So noticing the overlooked is another way to notice God’s dreams. God’s beauty is often found where things aren’t beautiful.

A missionary was preaching in the village market, and some of the people were laughing at him because he was not a very handsome man. He took it for a time, and then he said to the crowd, “It is true that I do not have beautiful hair, for I am almost bald. Nor do I have beautiful teeth, for they are really not mine; they were made by the dentist. I do not have a beautiful face, nor can I afford to wear beautiful clothes. But this I know: I have beautiful feet!”

And he quoted the verse from Isaiah: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation(Isa. 52:7).

Do you have beautiful feet? Do you bring good tidings to the overlooked? That’s part of God’s dream.

Dream Focus: Mission

And that’s why today is a good day to focus our dreaming attention to our mission and service.

When we are able to resume the Community Dinner, it will resume our focus on the overlooked. When people can again be noticed and valued and fed and served and welcomed, it will resume our focus on the overlooked.

When you bring in your Operation Christmas Child boxes over the next two Sundays, you’re providing gifts and a Gospel message for a child who would otherwise be overlooked.

Our Thanksgiving meal deliveries provide food on a day when so many other places are closed, serving the overlooked. And remember that our leader, Stacey Ryan, is in her final year and looking for some people to walk with her so we can provide for the overlooked next year. This ministry has been handed from person to person, group to group, so that we can continue to bless people in the name of Jesus. Would you be part of the next hand off? Let’s not drop that baton!

We are also exploring something new and time-sensitive in our community. If you rewind the clock to the years after World War II, First Presbyterian Church of Littleton responded to the massive displacement of people by working with two refugee families from Eastern Europe. Some in our church have felt God stirring them that First Presbyterian Church of Littleton should do the same for Afghan refugees today.

There are now agencies that do this, so we wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel or out on our own. Maybe we can partner with other churches. What we are doing right now is calling for a meeting of any who are interested in exploring the idea. What would it look like for us? We have some contacts, but we need someone to track down the info. Come up with a proposal. And do it quickly.

The letters “p” and “q” might be next to each other in the alphabet, but Presbyterian and “quickly” aren’t usually associated. This would have to be pretty fast, and there would have to be a fair number of people interested, and there would need to be someone to spearhead it just as Lynda Kizer does for the Community Dinner, just as Stacey Ryan is for the Thanksgiving Dinner this year, just as Roberta Wheeler is for Whiz Kids, just as so many others do for other missions.

If you have interest, we’ll gather after church next Sunday on November 7 in Ayers Parlor. We’ll see if there are enough people and the right leadership and the right quickness to make something happen. We’ll see if this is part of God’s dreams for First Pres Littleton today. God moved in our midst after World War II. Is God moving in our midst in a similar way today for Afghans?

Summary

Sisters and brothers, Paul and his companions showed us three ways we can intentionally notice God’s dreams. We can pay attention to the compass of our inner spirits. We can know our purpose, our #1 thing right now, and that can help us know where to go, when to say “no,” and when to push through difficulties. And we can also intentionally notice the overlooked, because God’s dreams often start there.

What God dreams will we notice this week? Amen.