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Roberta Green Ahmanson

Dreams Become Reality

Citizens of this world—and of the New Jerusalem.

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In the 1930s, the precocious Jewish New York intellectual Delmore Schwartz wrote a story called "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," the title of which he borrowed from the poet William Butler Yeats. In Schwartz's story, the dream turns into a nightmare, loaded with irony. But that resonant title has implications that transcend Schwartz's intention. It suggests, among other things, that when what we dream becomes reality we become responsible for its future and its outcomes. My aim is to remind us of the Dream that became Reality in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and of the New Jerusalem.

From the 4th century on, Christians understood their churches to be outposts, embassies of the New Jerusalem on earth. Their physical beauty and glory was offered to God in praise and to their communities to give a vision of the Homeland, the New Jerusalem scheduled for the end of time. On Sunday, Christians worshipped on home territory. There they were refreshed and restored. There they learned the principles of the New Jerusalem. There they learned God's structure for a healthy culture, a healthy world. When they left, they sought to put those principles into practice. They built almshouses for the poor, hospitals for the sick, schools for the ignorant, and beautiful churches filled with art and music to bear witness to the glory and the beauty of God and our eventual home.

Christians had been persecuted, sometimes brutally, in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th centuries. Though Christianity became legal in the 4th century, persecution has plagued the Church in various places and times up to the present—in Japan in the 17th century, for example, in Muslim lands off and on from the 7th century to the present, and in Communist countries in the century just past.

Today we are seeing the revival of Muslim persecution not only of Christians but of heretical Muslims and those within their faith who criticize their actions. Our brothers and sisters in ancient Christian communities in Syria and Iraq are being slaughtered or forced to flee for their lives. A leader of ISIS has warned that he is coming after Rome—meaning by that the Christian Church.

In Egypt, the ancient Coptic Church is experiencing what Coptic scholar Sam Tadros has called the worst persecution since 1321. In Nigeria, Christians have been slaughtered by Boko Haram, who have bragged about their capture and forced conversion of young Christian women. In America, historic Christianity is under increasingly intense threat from the courts and from intellectual élites who see our faith and our practice as, if not outright evil, the next thing to it. Times to put us on our knees. Times to spur us to act.

My aim this evening is to remind and challenge each of us to remember and to take up the responsibilities of our founding Dream that became Reality—the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of the New Jerusalem, our template for how to live and work on this earth.

The Grammy Award-winning band Mumford & Sons has a song that goes:

You are not alone in this.
You are not alone in this.
As brothers we will stand.
I will take your hand.
You are not alone in this.

Indeed. We are far from alone in our endeavors—either horizontally across the geography of the world today or vertically through time and eternity. I hope to give you a richer sense of how very not alone we really are.

"Think Different." With those two words, Steve Jobs created a vision, not only for his then-faltering company but also for every person who buys an Apple product. People who buy Apple think different. And, different is cool. But, the verb in those two words is where I want to start. THINK. How we think matters. The way you think got you here today. But the way we think also matters eternally. Perhaps more than we know.

We become what we worship. Our vision shapes our concrete future. The Bible is very clear on this. Today we live in a world languishing for lack of genuine prophetic vision, based in reality, a world threatened by false visions. This affects our lives, our nations, and our world. God has given us a heavenly vision, the New Jerusalem. Christians in the past understood that they were citizens of two countries—this world and the New Jerusalem. We need to reclaim and live in that vision—for our own sakes and for the sake of the world.

In 2008, when American novelist David Foster Wallace died a suicide at the age of 46, the New York Times' obituary described him as "a titanically gifted writer with an equally troubled soul." In 2005, the author of Infinite Jest had given the commencement address at Kenyon College. Wallace said:

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