Ki te ingoa o te Matua, o te Tamaiti, o te Wairua Tapu. Amine.
First of all, I would like to acknowledge the Iwi of this land on which I am but a guest. They and their ancestors have hallowed it with their presence and lives. I honour them: All our relations!
My name is Markus Dünzkofer and I am one of the members of the conference so wonderfully hosted by your vicar. Helen and Stephen are providing an amazing experience for us who have travelled from Paris, London, Hong Kong, Sydney and Edinburgh. It’s been amazing, as we strengthen our bonds of affection across the worldwide Anglican Communion. Thank you to all here at St Matthew’s for the hard work of organising this conference and thank you to Trinity Church New York for their generosity.
I am the rector of St John’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh and I bring you greetings from Scotland, a nation which has much in common with New Zealand. And I am not just talking sheep and the Crown. But we share the experience of living with a considerably larger neighbour that sometimes makes all kinds assumptions about us and easily takes us for granted. And with all due respect to my Australian, English, US American, and German friends, but let me tell you, I very much understand that Kiwis are unique and different and that you can cope on your own quite comfortably, thank you very much!
Let me thank Helen also for inviting me into this pulpit to once and for all clear up the all-important question: What does a Scot wear underneath his… cassock? Well, a kilt, of course.
The great Jewish theologian Martin Buber tells this story:
Isaac Ben Jekel of Krakow in Poland after years of hardship had a dream one night. In the dream, God, baruch haShem, suggested to him to search for a treasure under a bridge in Prague in Bohemia. Isaac did not re-act immediately. But after he had had the same dream three times in a row, he packed up and wandered the long road to Prague.
He arrived in Prague and found the bridge. But there were guards protecting it. Isaac did not dare start digging. But every morning he would walk to the bridge and linger about.
Finally, the sergeant of the guard approached Isaac, and asked in a friendly tone: “What are you looking for?” Isaac replied: “While in Poland I dreamt that I should look for a treasure under this bridge.” The sergeant laughed and said: “You poor man. You left your home and journeyed to a different place, a different city, a different country, to please a dream? Who trusts dreams anyhow?” And the sergeant laughed again.
Yes, indeed, who trusts dreams anyhow?
Nobody in this difficult era of human history!
This is not the time to trust dreams! We live in a world, where we don’t need dreamers, right? We need practical people, we need do-ers, who can deal with the issues before us. Dreamers with their crazy ideas of globalisation and human interconnectedness have brought us to this point of crisis. Brexit. Christchurch. Sri Lanka. Rising nationalism and racism. Incompetence in sustaining the biosphere. All these ring out in our ears and dismantle the prevalent ideologies and philosophies of the past 50 years!
We live in times of anxiety and fear. And dreamers are needed no more! Rather, we defer to those, who can provide easy, practical answers. We embrace do-ers, who continue to operate within our experiences, within our limits, within our familiar understandings. We now trust those who connect to the populous with plans for swift, if short-sighted, narrow, and exclusivist actions.
Who trusts dreams anyhow?
No-one it seems.
Who trusts dreams anyhow?
The apostle Paul did.
Well, actually, this is not quite true: Initially, it wasn’t really a question of trusting a dream. Remember, he was knocked off his high horse by a dream, by a vision of something that was so removed from his experience that it shook and blind-sighted him. It was as if his entire religious memory bank, indeed, his entire identity was re-set, erasing fundamental understandings of the world and deep held convictions about God.
Saul, the do-er, who thought he had exclusive access to the divine and then thought he could translate God’s will into action, this Saul turned into Paul, who, despite being limited by his own time and culture, was a dreamer, who had a broader vision for God’s wandering people, a wider vision to move forward in the journey into the mystery of our triune God. Once Paul’s egomaniac and zealous facade had been dismantled by the Risen One, whose empty tomb to this day remains an implausible dream challenging our do-er culture – once Paul fell off his high horse, he saw as in a mirror something that he had never seen before: He saw himself naked and bare, frail and fragile, finite and imperfect, held captive by fear and rebellion against God, a puppet of the religious, political and economic elites as much as of his own self-righteousness and arrogance. And, yet, he saw something else. He saw himself at the same time as beloved and cherished: held close to God’s heart, redeemed by Christ’s blood, and infused with grace by God’s Spirit.
God caught him as he fell of his horse.
And God turned everything around, forcing Paul to broadened his vision of himself beyond imagination.
And it forced Paul to broadened the vision of God’s people, too: no longer was the church to be limited by rules and regulations, but what matters are the living and loving relationships with God, with one another, and with creation as a whole. It was a dream, and not just any dream. It was God’s vision and this vision proved to be the lifeline not just for Paul, but also for the church and indeed for creation. The Macedonian in today’s reading from Acts is more than just a man from across the border, longing desperately to hear and be given the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. The Macedonian also stands for all those throughout history who reveal to the church that the familiar and the comfortable, whatever that might be (including our liberal theology), blinds her and makes her incapable of recognising God already at work in surprising and unusual ways.
Ironically, once the church’s eyes are open, she can dream up a new reality: a broader, deeper, and bolder vision of what it means to be witnesses to salvation and redemption in our Lord Jesus Christ and of what it means to be a prophetic people from every nation, tribe, people and language, and from every gender identity, sexuality, and socio-economic background.
The sergeant of the guard in Martin Buber’s story had too limited of a view of the world. He was a do-er, who guarded the status quo. He stayed put unwilling to be moved. And nothing life-giving would come of it.
Life, however, is brought about by people, who anchor themselves firmly in God’s self-revelation and who also are willing to dream dreams that move them to discover God beyond the confines of the familiar. People like Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Ruth and Naomi, Mary and Joseph, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Evelyn Underhill, Florence Nightingale, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr, and the apostle Paul himself. They let themselves be enticed by God and became God’s dreamers, willing to explore new shores fully expecting to discover God waiting there with the fullness of God’s grace.
A few days ago, I visited the Auckland City Mission with our group. What an amazing organisation! Obviously, somebody had a dream that has been life-giving ever since. What will stick with me for a very long time, though, wasn’t the history or the operational practices, but it was a series of photographs of streeties on the walls. They hit me over the head with a two by four, calling me to be a dreamer again. They became my Macedonian reminding me to trust God’s unique self-revelation in Jesus Christ and to dream up visions that will move me beyond the familiar and that will bring God’s healing not just to those hurting in body, mind, and soul, but that will bring healing to me as well. And I trust there are Macedonians waiting for you too.
Isaac Ben Jekel of Krakow in Poland was one of God’s dreamers. And Martin Buber’s story needs to be concluded:
The sergeant of the guard continued talking to Isaac after he had laughed at him.
“Who trusts dreams? If one were, I would have had to also pack up my things some time ago and go to Krakow to look for a Jew called Isaac Ben Jekel. In his kitchen under his stove there supposedly I should have found a treasure! Yeah right!” And the sergeant laughed again.
Isaac, however, bowed down deeply, went home, dug underneath his stove, found the treasure and used it for the good of God’s people.