Cecilia had a dream. She didn’t dream to live among the aristocracy or to be adorned with the finery of high society, she already had tasted of that lifestyle, but it left her cold and empty. Cecilia, who lived in the second century, was a child of the aristocracy, the elitist class in Rome, but she turned her back on her place of privilege and chose to align herself with the despised followers of Jesus who had been persecuted in her city for more than one hundred years. Cecilia, when she accepted Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of her sins, pledged herself to be a virgin for the rest of her life so that she might be “wed” to the message of her Lord. As a result of her commitment she gave her entire life to getting the message of salvation out to the masses.
Cecilia’s father was a man of honor and high societal standing, so he could not stand for some fanatical decision made by his daughter to ruin his reputation. Cecilia’s father pledged her hand in marriage and she had no choice but to go along. A young man named Valarium, another member of the aristocracy, married Cecilia but didn’t know what he was getting into. Valarium had a brother with whom he was very close and not long after Valarium married Cecilia, the young man and his brother accepted Christ.
It would be a wonderful story if it all ended there, but sad to say the Emperor ruled that Valarium and his brother should be put to death with Cecilia looking on to try and detract her from her fanatical faith.
Shortly after the death of Cecilia’s husband and brother-in-law, Cecilia became even more of an activist for the Gospel of Jesus. The word got out that Cecilia hadn’t quieted her fanaticism so the Emperor ruled that she too should die. Cecilia’s home was nice, maybe beyond nice, as within her home Cecilia had a modern-day sauna room called a caladarium. The caladarium operated by having a fire blazing in a room underneath the room to be used as the sauna. The fire would heat the floor of the upper room and thus create great heat. The Emperor decreed that the heated room should be heated seven times hotter than normal. When the targeted temperature was reached, Cecila was to be placed in the caladarium to be suffocated. The room was heated for a day and a night before Cecila was placed inside the room that would be sealed.
The next day when the Emperor’s men arrived to unseal the room they found Cecila seated and singing wonderful songs of praise to her Lord. That would be another wonderful ending, but Cecilia could not escape the death sentence of the Roman Emperor. He ruled that she should be decapitated by the executioner’s sword.
The day arrived and Cecilia faced execution with everyone looking on. The sword was drawn back and then finally brought down upon her fragile and frail neck. The first blow didn’t sever her head so the executioner brought his sword a second time — and then a third, but to no avail. Roman law forbid him from trying a fourth time so the Emperor told the men to let her die a slow death. Cecilia’s neck was mangled and she was left bleeding. She lived for three long days and during that time she told everyone who came around about her Lord and Master. Finally, Cecilia became so weak that she could not talk. At that point she held out three fingers on one hand and one finger on the other to show every passerby that there is but one God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Finally, Cecilia turned her head away from the world and died with her fingers still protruding to proclaim the dream she was willing to die for. Evidently the dream captured the imagination of many because today you can still go to Rome and visit St. Cecilia’a Basilica. Deep beneath the ground lies the original home of this committed dreamer who witnessed to the glory of the dream until her last breath.
Society has always been amused by dreamers. They have captured our fancy because dreamers are different than most of us. Dreamers possess some characteristics which most of us don’t give much thought to in life. Dreamers refuse to accept the traditional way of doing things when there might be a better, more effective way. In a world which constantly screams out at us, “You can’t,” “We’ve tried that before,” and “It won’t work,” dreamers never say die! Dreamers possess an almost irritating passion which drives them in every aspect of their life. There is an urgency at hand at every moment for the dreamers which presses them to be diligent and daring even when caution may be a more logical approach. Whether it be a Martin Luther or a Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Sunday or Billy Graham, Polycarp or Paul of Tarsus, for thousands of years society has possessed an intriguing curiosity about those who dare to dream.
It is not that society has taken dreamers seriously because most of society hasn’t. Quite the contrary, those who would rather carry on business as usual and never allow God to stretch them have been trying to squelch the voices of the dreamers for centuries. The Pharisees thought they could shut Jesus up by hanging Him on a cross. Nebuchadnezzar tried to set ablaze the message of the dreamers, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but he only started a wild fire. Nero thought he could silence the Kingdom by beheading the Apostle Paul. Herod tried to still the tongue of James, but he only loosed the message of the Gospel. The Pope thought he could quiet the dreamer by excommunicating Martin Luther, but he only gave birth to the Protestant Reformation. An assassins bullet tried to silence the dream of Martin Luther King. Stalin and Marx quieted the storm for seventy years, but the dream has resurfaced. Ceausescu held the thunderous roar to a quiet whisper for awhile, but today the roar has returned.
Today, all over the world, there are cynics and critics with their own self-centered agendas and self-consuming ways trying to quiet the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom, but the dream lives on! The dreamers live on! Driven by the dream of their Lord, dreamers all over the world are continuing to hold to the promise of a coming Kingdom, a land in which all people, from all nations, and all walks of life will join together in glorious, thunderous praise and adulation to their Risen King!
Hudson Taylor was a dreamer. In 1832 a boy was born to Amelia and James Taylor, an obscure Yorkshire druggist. James Taylor was a Wesleyan lay preacher, but at the age of seventeen his young son had already decided that he didn’t want anything to do with his father’s faith. The young boy had been influenced by a free-wheeling, free-thinking clerk in the local bank in which young Hudson worked for a time. Hudson’s skepticism remained for awhile until one day he was reading about a sick coalman who believed his sins stopped him from reaching Christ. Finally, some of his friends read him the Bible verse which said, “Who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” The coalman cried, “Then it’s done — my sins are gone!
Contrary to all of Hudson’s expectations, the words struck him with force. Underneath his rebellion he had been longing for friendship with Jesus, but he had given up the struggle to reach Jesus. Suddenly, as he read the story, he realized that Christ had opened the way for him by dying on the cross. God could not deny His own promise — all that was necessary was to repent and trust Him. This he did instantly, on the warehouse floor.
Hudson realized at once that he had been called to serve God, but he had no idea what the upcoming years would hold or where his service would be needed. Hudson’s dad was a prolific reader and one day while he was reading excitedly to his son about the “Celestial Empire” called China it dawned on Hudson that this would be the land where he could best serve his Lord.
China was a land in which no foreigner was allowed to go. In 1842, the “unequal treaties” was signed giving Hong Kong to Great Britian and forbidding any missionaries to work in the mainland of China.
Seven years later, in 1849, Hudson felt called to go to China and preach the Gospel. He moved to the seaport of Hull to learn medicine and prepare himself to go to China. In September of 1853, at the age of twenty-one, Hudson Taylor set sail for China as the new agent of a nondenominational missionary society. His medical course at the London Hospital was unfinished, and the girl he had hoped to marry was left behind because she refused to come along. He arrived in Shanghai in March of 1854, needing to learn the language and finding the city under siege.
Hudson Taylor began preaching along inland canals, in defiance of the ban on foreigners, knowing that he could be arrested or murdered at any time, but his desire to reach the Chinese people with the Gospel was greater than his fear of the authorities.
A monumental change occurred early on in his ministry as he was preaching one day in his normal European wardrobe which was so different from the clothing worn by the natives. One year after he had arrived, Taylor was preaching with conviction when all of a sudden a Chinese man asked not about his teaching from the Bible, but about his wardrobe. Immediately, Taylor was convinced of the absurdity of western dress in a foreign land and so he bought an oriental teacher’s robe, shaved the front of his head, dyed his hair black, and attached a pigtail. His minister friends back home were disgusted that Hudson would go “native,” but as a result of his change he was able to move about much more freely and his message was heard with no barriers.
Hudson Taylor was willing to do whatever was necessary to proclaim the cross of Jesus to the Chinese. It may have been foolishness to the others who had joined him, but it was nothing more than a burning passion to see all people come to know Jesus as Lord which drove him. These were lonely daysfor Taylor. He was a foreigner in a strange land where he was not accepted and at the same time his friends back home thought he was crazy for going. Taylor wrote in a letter to his family, “At home you can never know what it is to be absolutely alone, amidst thousands, everyone looking on you with curiosity, with contempt, with suspicion or with dislike. Thus to learn what it is to be despised and rejected of men…and then to have the love of Jesus applied to your heart by the Holy Spirit…this is precious, this is worth coming for.”
Four years after Taylor arrived in Shanghai he moved his base to Ningpo. It was here that he met and later married Maria Dyer, a young English orphan who was a teacher’s assistant in a school for Chinese girls. In January of 1858, Hudson and Maria were married and it was a perfect match because Maria shared her husband’s burning passion to see the Gospel carried throughout the provinces of the Chinese Empire.
During the many years of their laboring together Hudson vacillated between depression and ecstasy. In the summer of 1865 he came to the brink of having a nervous breakdown. Finally on June 25, 1865, Hudson Taylor had a breakthrough as he wrote in his diary, “Well, if God gives us a band of men for inland China, and they go, and all die of starvation even, they will only be taken straight to heaven. And if one heathen soul is saved would it not be worth while? If we are obeying the Lord, the responsibility rests with Him, not with us!” Taylor continued to press on. He worked on revising the Chinese New Testament, and on May 26, 1866, he led a group of ten women and seven men from London to the Celestial Empire to help with the China Inland Mission.
The first several years of working with the others in the mission was hard. There was some resistance to his leadership, Hudson and his wife lost their oldest child, Gracie, from water on the brain, and then Hudson’s beloved wife, Maria, died in childbirth. Hudson Taylor was not yet thirty-eight years old. He could not retire into selfish grief; Inland China had hardly begun to be penetrated.
Another monumental change happened for Taylor in 1874 as he experienced a serious accident on a riverboat injuring his spine. He was slow to recover, but could not get his mind off the nine provinces still untouched by the Gospel. Then, in 1876, the Convention of Chefoo took place and every part of China was opened to his efforts. Hudson Taylor seized the opportunity. One of his co-laborers wrote, “From 1876 to 1880, Mr. Taylor’s advent was like a bombshell scattering us abroad. Yet his strategies were not haphazard.” He trusted his workers and instilled within them a vision of the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom in China. His purpose was to preach the Gospel, and if other missions reaped where he had sown, he rejoiced. He was insistent on providing famine relief and in opposing the opium trade. He was before his time in his willingness to work with other mission bodies, in allowing women to pioneer on their own, and in his longing for a Chinese-led church.
By 1895, the Chinese Inland Mission was the largest single Protestant body in China. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, many of the missionaries were martyred, but it did not stop the mission. Taylor wrote, “If I had a thousand lives, China should have them. No! Not China, but Christ. Can we do too much for Him?” Finally, in 1905, the last capital of the last province of China was opened by Hudson Taylor to the Gospel and shortly thereafter, at the age of seventy-two, worn-out and used up by his King, Hudson Taylor was granted his rest. Live on Dreamer!
Where did Hudson Taylor’s dream come from? Was he some kind of psychotic imbecile who suffered from a severe martyr’s complex or was his dream of reaching the Chinese people with the Gospel authentic and worthy of the great suffering and extreme measures he undertook? 100 million Chinese Christians today will attest to the validity of his vision! He must have been pretty convinced of what he was doing to wear a Chinese robe, shave the front of his head, and attach a pigtail to the back of his head. For most of us, we get upset when someone sits in our pew on Sunday morning. Heaven forbid that we should have to adapt to a different lifestyle to reach someone for Jesus.
Hudson Taylor’s dream of reaching a nation for Christ was more than authentic, it was a continuation of the legacy of salvation, hope, healing, love, judgement, and mission to all peoples passed down to him by his Lord and Savior. Let’s take a look at Luke 4:16-21.
(16) He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. (17) The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: (18) ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, (19) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ (20) Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, (21) and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:16-21)
Jesus had a dream. No, He didn’t just have a dream, He was the fulfillment of the eternal dream of the restoration of all of God’s people to Himself. Jesus was the fulfillment. He was not the first one to speak the words, (18) ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, (19) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Those words were first spoken 700 hundred years before Jesus spoke them, but when Jesus spoke them they were fulfilled. Isaiah, 700 years before the time of Jesus, had a dream of seeing good news preached to the poor, freedom declared for the captives, recovery of sight realized for the blind, sweet release issued to the oppressed, and the proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor. In Isaiah 61:1-2, we read, (1) The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from the darkness for the prisoners, (2) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Isaiah’s prophecy was a dim foreshadowing of the fulfillment of the dream, but even when Israel was released from the Babylonian captivity they were downtrodden oppressed people. It was not until Jesus stood up in the assembly at the synagogue that the fulfillment became a reality.
The rather odd footnote on the dream is that the people didn’t like it. Folks have always been threatened by the dream, and folks are still threatened by the dream today. In Isaiah’s day it meant that he would be killed by being sawed in half by the dreaded king Manasseh. In Jesus day, well you know how folks tried to silence the embodiment of the dream — they killed Him.
Dreamers, and those who associate themselves with the dream, have always paid a high price for adhering to the dream. Dreamers have been thrown out of the Church, persecuted, and even killed for having the courage to stand up in the face of opposition and proclaim the dream to a dying, sin-sick society which needed to hear the good news of the dream.
Some dreamers have been very bold. Joseph proclaimed to his brothers that he had a dream. They didn’t like the way he phrased it so they sold him into slavery. Joseph became a servant to Potiphar and later rose to great prominence within the land of Egypt. When the great drought came and threatened to eliminate many of God’s people in the Promised Land, the dream was kept alive and salvation came to all of Joseph’s family because he never let God’s dream die. In the end, when Joseph’s brothers realized the trauma they had caused for their brother and they feared that he would have them killed, they went to Joseph and tried to con him for their very life. Joseph said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) Oh, dream on Joseph!
Sometimes God raises up some very unlikely people to proclaim the dream to society. The Apostle Paul was first known as Saul as he went about terrorizing the followers of Jesus at the beginning of the birth of the Church. Saul was there when the very first martyr was killed, Stephen. Saul held Stephens accuser’s coats as they pounded him with stones and killed him. Saul tried to silence the dream until Jesus appeared to Saul one day and imparted the dream unto him. Jesus called Saul by a new name, Paul, and today Paul is known as the greatest missionary in the history of the world. Paul was not readily accepted by the organized Church, they feared him and thought him to be some kind of kook, but Jesus used him to bring salvation to millions.
What was the dream that drove Paul to travel the ancient world and suffer as he did? It was the same dream communicated through Isaiah, it was the same message Jesus shared with the congregation at the synagogue that day He declared to them that good news at last has come to the poor, oppressed, brokenhearted, and blind. Paul was called to go to those that nobody else wanted to go to with the message — the Gentiles. The despised, hated, much maligned Gentiles who were looked down on by all of those from the Jewish world. Praise God for the faithfulness of Paul because you and I, each and every one of us who are not Jewish, are the recipients of God’s abundant grace even though we are the scorned Gentiles. Once we were no people, but today we are the people of God! Dream on Paul!
The dream is alive! He has been resurrected from the dead! Some tried to silence Him, others tried to ignore Him, still others said that He was unorthodox, not in line with traditional Judaism, but today the dream lives on! The dream lives and His message is sweeping the entire world as men and women from every race and every nation choose to embrace the cross and accept His sacrificial death on our behalf.
You and I have the opportunity to share in that dream right here at little Britton Christian Church. Just because we are a church does not mean that we are part of the dream. There are many churches who go through all kinds of rituals and play all kinds of church games, but in reality they have very little to do with the dream. There are many churches who really do not want anything more than to be able to provide a comfortable place where the frozen chosen of the pews can come and hear a sweet little four minute sermonette about how good and wonderful everybody is and how much God loves us. Well, at least they got one thing right…God does love us and because of His incredible love for us He challenges us to rise above our self-centered ways. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be a part of some little dead church where the Gospel is gathered in for worship on Sunday and then simply gathers dust the rest of the week.
If we accept the challenge of sharing in the dream, of being a lighthouse of hope to all people, then we decide to embark on a dangerous journey. Some folks don’t like what’s going on now, but just wait until the Lord really starts to use this little church. The Lord has presented us with the opportunity to be a holy set-apart vessel so as to carry the dream to all people. All people need to hear the saving message of our Lord, to feel His healing touch, to receive His free-flowing forgiveness, and to experience His enduring love. All people need to be presented with the opportunity to share in the labor of the King’s mission field, but to do that we must be equipped so as to have the tools to labor.
We have been called to be a lighthouse of hope to the city. To announce to this community that salvation has come through God’s only begotten Son, that good news has come to the poor, that freedom has come for prisoners, that recovery of sight has arrived for the blind, that release has come to the oppressed, and that the year of the Lord’s favor is here at last. Many have not heard the message, but all will hear if you and I will keep the dream before our eyes and continue to seek to be the instrument of our Lord’s mercy and grace.
I have a dream. I didn’t dream it up, I am only carrying it on. I dream of a church where all people are welcome — from the richest to the poorest of society — so that all people might come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior of their life. I dream of a church where drug addicts can find sweet release from the hellish existence they presently know. I dream of a church where children can learn to love Jesus. I dream of a church where teenagers can receive a strong Christian education so that they might be able to resist the temptations and withstand the trials of a tough, tempestuous, tumultuous world which can easily destroy them in the blink of an eye. I dream of a church where husbands and wives can find strength and encouragement so as to build a strong and lasting Christian home. I dream of a church where senior citizens are not cast off, but where their insights and experiences can be drawn upon to bless the entire church body. I dream of a church where those who are struggling to simply put food on the table can learn how to stretch a dollar and balance a budget. I dream of a church where the sick can be healed, where the broken can become whole, and where all people can witness to the goodness of our King. I dream of a church where people of all races can join hands together and work together in God’s fields so that reconciliation and right-relationships can once again roll down like waters. I dream of a church where people can really love one another rather than stab each other in the back. I dream of a church where the drug addict and the prostitute are as welcome as the well-heeled and intellectually astute. I dream… Oh, I know you may call me a dreamer, but I’m going to keep on dreaming. I’m going to keep on dreaming until every child, every woman, and every man reaches out to take my Savior’s merciful hand. I’m going to keep dreaming until those who are imprisoned behind the bars of their own defiance and self-will find their chains loosed and their spirits freed. I’m going to keep dreaming until the church really becomes what the church is called to be, rather than what it wants to be. I’m going to dream on.
We share a dream here at Britton Christian Church. This is a very important day for us as each and every one of us have the opportunity to say “yes” to the dream. Will we continue to press on and preach the Good News to all of God’s people or will we turn back and resume with carrying on business as usual? I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to go back to Egypt, I want to go on to the Promised Land which is flowing with milk and honey for all of God’s people.
Will we trust our Master for the future or will we become scared and turn back? Will we fear the future and choose the familiar rather than the fantastic? That question can only be answered by you. There have been those who have feared the glorious future promised by our King and as a result they missed out on sharing the abundance of our Lord’s blessing.
Joshua and Caleb came back and gave a report along with the other spies to all of the Israelites journeying towards God’s promised land. The other spies said, “No we can’t go on! We will get killed because there are giants in the land and they will eat us alive.” Joshua and Caleb had faith to stand up to the faithless and share the abundance of God’s rich blessings with the assembly. The spies who feared were not allowed to enter in, but Joshua and Caleb’s faith have been passed down to us today.
Stand strong all of you Joshuas who are present this morning. Few will journey out into the unknown, far more will stay in Egypt and be content with tromping mud into bricks and bellyaching because God has failed them. Stand strong, dream on! I declare to you this morning that God has a glorious future for this church. He wants to lift us up as a community of priests to a community which desperately needs to hear of the saving grace of our Messiah. Dream on.