Last Tuesday evening I came home from the Session meeting and went to sleep as I usually do. In the middle of the night I was dreaming of upcoming travel when my dream was interrupted by the loud screeching of my house alarm going off. The house we bought when we came here had a security alarm and after a recent break-in on our block we are glad to have it. The alarm wasn’t set but Wednesday morning at 3:00am it went blasting for about 10 seconds and then went off by itself. I groggily, but purposefully, walked around the house, checked the doors and windows. I couldn’t find anything wrong so I called the alarm company. The customer service person asked me if a Verizon or phone line technician was working on my house or yard because the system works over a phone line and it could cause the system to go off. I said “It’s 3am and there is a foot of snow on my yard, I assure you no technician is working on my house.” She then explained that we need to call in every month, “it’s in your contract,” she said, so the company knows the system is working or if not the system “reminds” us by going off very briefly for a few seconds to remind us to call them. I said we have had the system for a while and I have never heard of or experienced this before. I asked why it reminds us at 3am rather than during the day. She said they can’t do so during the day because no one would be home to hear the siren. I was groggy before; now I was fully awake. I asked why they couldn’t just text or call or email me during the day to remind me to call in rather than the alarm taking matters into its own hands and going off in the middle of the night. She said that wouldn’t necessarily work but asked me if I’d like to share my email to receive special offers or upgrades. I said no I just want to be assured that the alarm wouldn’t go off again so my wife and I can go to sleep. The customer service person informed me that the way to be sure was to reset the system. I said great but asked if there were any downside to doing so. She said, and I quote, “Well, the only downside is when it’s first reset, the alarm goes off for 60 seconds for so. You don’t have any young children at home do you?”
We all have dreams. Tuesday night mine got interrupted. It is the interrupted dreams we have when we are awake that God is most interested in. God has dreams for us too. Even if we’ve never noticed or have lost track of them or if the dream has changed, our task in faith is to reclaim our role as dreamers. Let us pray.
In the Hebrew Bible, dreams were associated with a close relationship with God. Joseph, Jacob, Solomon, Daniel, Isaiah, Obadiah, and Amos had dreams. In the Old Testament, their visions not only foretold the future but signaled faith in God. Israel understood God to be the author of all great visions and dreams and to have a vision for every person. The closer people looked for God, the more likely they were to see the vision.
Centuries before Christ, in Joel’s time, Israel had a dream of prosperity which was interrupted by a plague of locusts and drought. When you don’t have anything to eat, it’s hard to dream. Joel points out that the people had stopped caring about God and stopped looking for dreams. But God continued looking for them. God was merciful and restored God’s relationship with Israel. Not only did the food return but so did the Holy Spirit which brought vision. Joel tells us that God said, “I will pour out my Spirit… and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams and your young men shall see visions.”
One life lesson is that God’s association of visions and chronology is about right. Young sons and daughters dream easily. Whenever I talk with children and youth, I recognize how many dreams children have. Dreams of being warriors or movie stars or presidents or princesses. One of my children who likes basketball said last week that he wanted to be a NBA star when he grew up but asked if NBA stars make any money. Kids have lots of dreams, but not a lot of responsibilities. Rather than being constrained by the schedules or calendars or clocks, they think big.
Another thing about children is they are not afraid to share their dreams. I drove my three youngest to school on Thursday. I heard Ellie dreaming of being a cat, then a princess; Cathleen dreaming about being a dinosaur; Brenden, a ninja warrior. And they all fed off each other. Cate helped refine Ellie’s dream. Brendan helped shape the others. The cat and the princess and the ninja all lived together in the same castle, with the dinosaur coming towards them. Children teach us that our dreams become better in a group.
One of the perils of adulthood is we can stop dreaming. We have our schedules and activities that we have to keep going. We are weighed down by commitments. We go through routines. We have lots of responsibilities, but fewer dreams. I recall the mock ad on Saturday Night Live a few years ago where Tina Fey introduced the Ford Taurus with the fake tag line “The car for 30 somethings who have given up on their dreams.”
Later in life, when schedules lesson and space returns, so does an ability to see the big picture and paint a vision. That is one reason why our denomination is called Presbyterian (the Greek for elder being Presbuteros) and lifts up laity to be equal to clergy. Our founders didn’t want a bunch of young clergy deciding everything, they believed vision came with experience and wisdom. Our eyes know this. Humans become more near-sighted as they move from childhood to middle age. But then after forty, even as more reading glasses are needed, many of us over time find our ability to over distances improves as we get older.
We all have dreams in life. They motivate us to head out into the world as young adults, to study and work hard; to save and to volunteer. But as we grow, our dreams can be interrupted by commitments and schedules of life. As adults we tend to keep our dreams to ourselves. We become embarrassed to share them as children do.
The application of Joel’s prophecy is that God’s great visions and dreams are not ours to control or reject. They arrive through the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the interruptions happen because God has a new dream for us. Circumstances interrupt which compel us to have a new vision.
In Matthew’s birth narrative of Jesus, his father Joseph has dreams of having a family, plans to marry Mary and have a good life. But when his fiancé is found to be expecting his dreams are interrupted. But then Joseph is given another dream. He has a vision that he should marry Mary, and that she will bear a son who will save the people from their sins. What a powerful new dream.
Like many of you I watched the Olympics a lot these past two weeks. The Olympics are all about dreams. So this year’s games started with a dream sequence. The opening ceremony had a Russian girl rising high into the air pulled by ropes among the clouds to signify a child dreaming.
My favorite sport thus far is ice dancing where Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the gold. They started training together as children. Children with a dream. And they outlasted managers and life changes and the odds to stay together as a team for seventeen years. Their dream was interrupted in 2010 when they lost to a Canadian pair, but they returned to skate in the final this week. As they began their final routine the announcer said, “seventeen years of training for this moment.” What pressure. Afterwards Meryl Davis said that while she was skating it “felt like a dream.” And their dream of gold came true.
Some of our collective dreams as a church involve helping the world. For God not only has dreams for us as individuals. God has dreams for the world we live in, dreams of justice and peace. There are times when we play a role in a bigger dream.
Ice dancing was my favorite sport but perhaps my favorite Olympian may be Ukrainian skiing star Bogdana Matsotska. On Thursday Matsotska withdrew from the Olympics right before competing in the slalom, her best event, to protest again the deaths of anti-government protesters calling for change and peace in her country. Her dream of gold was interrupted by the need for a new, greater vision of peace for her country.
One of you was telling me recently about Betty Hansen’s dream of a labyrinth at BHPC. And how you felt your calling to change your dream for a while and adopt of vision of making her dream come true. Together many of you succeeded in doing just that.
Our dream may be to have a relationship or a job or a house somewhere and the dream may not have worked out as we wanted. It might have been interrupted by circumstances or loss or commitments and plans. Yet the dreams God has for us individually or collectively continue. God has always been dreaming about God’s people coming together to form a fellowship of faith and to dream alongside God. That was the case with Israel and it was the same with the early church. In Acts 2, on the day the church was founded, the day of Pentecost, Peter quotes Joel in saying that the Holy Spirit will allow God’s people there to see visions and dream dreams. The Spirit inspired the people at Pentecost to look for and discover God’s dream for them together.
That is the dream for us as a congregation. The Reformed tradition holds that the spirit is most present in community. In our community listening groups these past few weeks we have talked about God’s presence and shared ideas of where God is leading us. Session held a retreat to discern further this weekend.
However, some of our recent dreams as a congregation have been interrupted. Many of us have dreams of growing our lay ministry budgets, or funding youth mission trips. Of new sound systems and concerts. Of Easter music and new mission programs. Of funding ministries at home and good causes abroad. But it’s hard to dream about the programs we are most excited about when we have a roof that leaks. Like the Israelites Joel wrote about, who learned the hard way when the locusts came and there was no food, sometimes we have to stop and focus on the basics before we can fully dream.
What the Israelites realized then was that the vision was in the basics. For them just eating brought them satisfaction. When the locusts left and the plants returned, Joel writes that God said “you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel.” God was there in the basics, had given them a new dream to take care of first things first and a greater vision would follow.
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King delivered a speech at the Lincoln Memorial which called for an end to racism in America and inspired the world to action. King was familiar with the Old Testament prophets and frequently quoted from Amos, Micah, and Joel.
Toward the end of the speech, King was discussing a dream which he had had. A supporter, Mahalia Jackson, interrupted King in his speech and yelled: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” So King went off script and improvised talking in depth about his dreams of freedom and equality for all people in a way the written draft had not. This section of the speech, delivered extemporaneously, contains some of the most powerful vision and lasting impact for our nation of any speech. This speech is known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. It followed God’s global dream for justice and peace. But that dream imagery only went as deep as it did because of an interruption.
Each of us has a dream or two. Sometimes they get interrupted. When they do, we do well to adopt a child-like approach and open ourselves to the broad possibilities of dreams: possibilities that God also has dreams for each of our lives, for our congregation and for the world. Where we go and where we end up as individuals, as a congregation and as a society, depends on our visions and dreams. On our willingness to recognize God in them. And on our faith to act on them. Thanks be to God. Amen.