Where Have the Dreams Gone, part 1
Where are the dreams? Where have the dreamers gone? I remember reading that Frank Roosevelt said we had nothing to fear but fear itself and dreamed an optimistic dream that took us through the Great Depression. I remember when Jack Kennedy dreamed that we would go to the moon … and we did. I remember Dr. King’s dream that the color of our skin would not govern who were are … and slowly, ever so slowly progress has been made. I remember Bob Kennedy asking why we couldn’t do the seemingly impossible. Where have the dreamers gone?
What dreams do we have today in this current age?
Joseph, son of Jacob is the original dreamer in our faith. Our scripture today describes his life as a 17 year old teenager. It tells of his relationship with his brothers and father; how his brothers were jealous of him and his father favored him. Appropriately for this current age, there is a gap in our scripture reading … a gap that is filled by his dreams:
In his first dream which he told to his brothers, he and his brothers are binding sheaves of grain in the field. His sheaf suddenly rose and stood upright while his brothers’ sheaves gathered around and bowed down to his.
In his second dream, the sun, the moon and eleven stars bowed down to him. The sun is his father Jacob and the moon apparently his deceased mother, Rachel and the eleven stars his brothers. This one he shared not only with his brothers, but also with his father.
We can image this 17 year old reporting these dreams to his family. The ancients saw dreams as visions and not just nighttime images of the sleeping mind. So we can hear Joseph’s tone of voice saying … see I’m better than you. I’ll be running this family. It’s all about me.
Already Joseph’s brothers are jealous of Jacob’s favoring of Joseph. His mother Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife and so he favored her children. Joseph was the second youngest of Jacob’s sons. Poor Benjamin, the youngest son, and also a son of Rachel, is all but forgotten in our passage. His mother died giving him birth.
But now the teenage Joseph is so wrapped up in himself that he doesn’t pay attention to his brothers to see that his boastful interpretation of his dream just aggravates them more – and now he’s even earned a rebuke from his doting father.
Dreams become visions when they are interpreted. The interpretation determines if the visions constrict or expand the soul and the dreamer’s life and those around him or her. For Joseph, his dreams were all about him. He presumed that the dreams were predictive of his life and his glory. His vision constricted his soul and the lives of his kin.
But were his dreams constrictive? Now interestingly no where in this part of the Joseph story is God directly mentioned. But God had not gone on a fishing trip. God was there in the dreams attempting to work through this teenage boy. God’s interpretation would have been expansive.
But Joseph did what most of us do: he saw himself at the center of the earth and did not see God. And his brothers – and his dad to some extent – bought into that too. As a result their jealousy was exacerbated now by resentment and even fear that his dream was a vision and they may lose their place in the family hierarchy.
What has happened to our dreams? Has God stopped speaking to us? Does God no longer dream for us?
Joseph and his family saw the dreams in a narrow, small, selfish way – it was all about them. Their spirits were contracted by their interpretation. The dreams could not extent beyond their family dynamics. They understood the dreams to be Joseph’s dreams. And so the dreams became weapons of domination and dividers of the family. It never occurred to them that the dreams were visions from God, about God’s compassionate community.
Maybe God still is dreaming for us and we are too intransigent to see God in the dreams. Where are the dreamers in this current age? Where are the public figures who like Roosevelt, King and the Kennedys offer an embracing, inclusive vision of the future? Have our public figures – the rich and the famous – failed us by seeing the dreams like Joseph and his family: as prophecy and license that they themselves are called to dominate and prevail? Have they turned God’s expansive message of the compassionate community into the constrictive weapons of domination and dividers of the world family?
We have turned God’s dreams – for that is what they are – from being visions of the compassionate community to being nightmares of profit addiction, vengeance and empire building. Indeed God’s dreams and even God’s Word has been hijacked to serve not the compassionate community but to serve individual egos. Where is the dreamer with the courage and the faith to hear God in the dreams and not hear the echo of his or her own ego?
Are we waiting for a burning bush? A thunderous cry from the mountain top? Or do we have the faith to hear God’s cry in the quietness of peace? We have succumbed to resistant hopelessness. We have lost faith in the future. We are afraid of change – of any change whether claimed to be prosperous or austere. Joseph’s visions, despite his interpretation, are visions of hope, as we will see in Part 2 of this sermon next week. But his brothers saw only dreaded change in their lives, as hard scrabbled as their lives were. They were afraid of the unknown. We are afraid of the unknown.
Where is the dreamer? Maybe he or she has arisen but we will not listen. We will not listen to those you speak civilly and lovingly through the ever amplified din of name-calling, distorted facts, even outright lies, and demands that we constrict our vision of the future and not expand it to embrace love and care. Maybe if we listen and we look we will hear the vision that expands our souls and resists the constriction of our souls, our lives and our times.
We must have faith in God’s hope for us and for the future to hear a new voice with a new vision born of God’s love offering a compassionate community that cares not for profit or power, but for people and for God’s good creation. We must have faith to see and even demand that we be transformed into a new people.
This is what Jesus set out to do. He guided, loved, and cared for his disciples to teach them to be a new people of faith. His life was spent in refocusing people from their egos being at the center of their lives to the love and challenge of God being at the center of their lives.
The apostles were the seed of that compassionate community where one’s ego was not lost but turned to embrace all the children of God in the struggle and joy of living in this finite, imperfect world. In our passage from the Gospel of Matthew we see that Peter so much wanted to follow Jesus and live by his faith. But he, like us, was all so very human. Even he, who walked and lived with Jesus, would find faith a struggle.
Here he witnesses a miracle: Jesus walking on the waters to join the apostles in their boat. They, like us could not believe a man – or woman – could walk on water. It must be a ghost, a fiend from the dead, a sign that their deaths were imminent – for death was very close to life.
No open mind of curiosity did they have. No thought that this sight might be a wonder and an amazement. No, it must be evil. It must be frightening. But the ghost spoke and it was Jesus reassuring them. And Peter had the nerve to speak to the ghost, as the others trembled in their eerie fear. If indeed you are Jesus, let me walk on the water!
How little faith he had at last. He could not take Jesus at his word. He needed proof positive. But Jesus was compassionate – as always the model of the compassionate community – and granted him his wish. And Peter walked on the water – an act of faith both of Jesus and Peter. But Peter lost his faith even now when he himself was part of a miracle. And having lost faith in Jesus he paradoxically calls on Jesus to save him and Jesus carries him back to the boat.
Faith cannot be measured. It cannot be seen. It cannot even be properly defined. Yet it is the power, the spirit, the very binding that will permit us to break out of the constrictions of ego-based dream interpretation and to embrace God’s vision of the compassionate community.
Having faith is the willingness to risk seeing our dreams as not about our egos, but about God and God’s compassion. Faith calls us to walk forward into the unknown. Faith overcomes our fear. It will not abolish it. But it will embrace the fear and declare that God is with us and will not abandon us.
I fear and feel anxious anytime I visit a struggling family in my chaplaincy practice. I want to turn and run away to the safety of my home. But should I do so, a family would be bereft and I would abandon the vision of the compassionate community. Is it worth struggling, indeed suffering, through the throes of fear and anxiety? How constricted would be my life, should I abandon those who call upon me? Rather, the moment that I engage them, the Holy Spirit lights upon us and guides us through the struggle. We do not know where it will go, but it goes nonetheless on a compassionate path. And at the end, faith prevails and love wins out. The fear seems only a stumbling block, not a barrier any longer.
Where are the dreams? Where have the dreamers gone? God has not abandoned us. Joseph’s brothers have abandoned him – indeed concocted his kidnapping and the seeming destruction of his dreams and his life. But God has not abandoned him. Indeed God has more dreams for Joseph – and some very hard lessons.
We will see next week in Part 2 how Joseph fares and eventually allows space for God to prevail. But between now and then, look for the dreams and the dreamers. Maybe God is pointing to them for us this very moment.
Think about it …
God’s grace and love be with you …