We have a regular ritual in our home. When someone wakes up, and they stumble in the living room with their blurry-eyed glare, we ask each other, “What did you dream about last night?” And then in that half-awake, half-asleep stupor, we tell the stories of flying through a desert or falling out of an airplane with no parachute. We recall how our tedious work of painting the bathroom or pulling weeds lasted all night. Or we convey how our worst fears played out in a horrible nightmare. Sometimes, we pause, and realize that we dreamed something significant. That our subconscious mind was trying to tell us something important. And the dream didn’t fade away like an everyday, distant memory; instead, it made an imprint on os, so that we could recall it, with all of its vivid detail and the attending emotions.
I have learned to pay attention to dreams. I tried to study Carl Jung and understand some of the archetypes that come up in our dreams, but I’m no dream expert. It’s just when those startling moments happen, when our waking and sleeping interact in a dance, dreams take on a particular significance. Because we don’t always know ourselves very well, and we don’t always know God very well, and it seems that dreams can give us a deeper understanding of both.
And dreams don’t just occur when we sleep. The Bible talks a lot about visions too. When we read about them, it’s difficult to make sense of them, because they seem so hallucinatory. In fact, I’ve often wondered if John stumbled onto a bed of psychedelic mushrooms before he wrote Revelations. But even with those apocalyptic visions, the prophets still inspire us—
The lion lays down with the lamb
We beat our swords into plowshares
These metaphors reach down into us and pull out an ancient longing of who we want to be. In fact, one theologian, Walter Brueggemann, talks about the prophetic imagination, and he speaks of the Kingdom of God as the Dream of God. It is this vision, this dream, this hope, this prophetic imagination that kept the children of Israel looking on the horizon for that land of milk and honey. It is what inspired King David to imagine a beautiful temple. It was what compelled Mary to understand that, even though she could have been stoned for being an unwed mother, she was blessed by God. One of the most important things that happened on Pentecost was that the old men, young men, old women, and young women, began to dream dreams and see visions. They began to see things that were not there. They saw things that seemed impossible. They tapped into the very imagination of God. These dreams of God, these visions that seem to go against everything that we can actually see with our eyes, can make us change our entire course. It can make us imagine things, it can open us up to God’s hope for us.
We saw that, this week. On Friday, we celebrated Epiphany. The day marked the culmination of the wise men’s journey to meet Jesus. They traveled from the courts of Herod to the humble dwelling where Jesus slept. Rome had made Herod the King, and he was placed to rule over Judea.
When the wise men slept, they dreamed. And through those nighttime visions, they understood that Herod didn’t want to worship Jesus, as he had said, but he wanted to kill Jesus. And through the text we read, we saw that God also used dreams to warn Joseph and the wise men of troubles that were ahead. And because they listened to their dreams, the wise men took another road.
What if the wise men ignored the dreams? What if they didn’t pay any attention to them? Surely, history would have completely changed course.
What if we ignored the dreams in our personal lives? We have all made decisions that don’t always make sense in the light of facts, data, and job security. When we fall in love. When we choose a calling. When we go down an unexpected path.
I’m here this weekend, and I’ll be working with the church for the next year, so that we can listen to those dreams. This is an extremely important opportunity and time for this congregation to look around, and wonder, is God trying to tell us something? Should we be taking another road? What are our dreams and our visions? Can we wake up and dream?
I’ve heard some beautiful dreams so far. I have heard that this church responds to the outpouring of God’s love. That this this is a beloved community, who tries to be sure that its welcome and generosity is as gracious as God’s. I have heard that this is a community that cares for one another, but that commitment does not just include the few people who are “in,” but your hospitality extends to everyone who comes into the doors.
A mystic, Meister Eckhart, explained it another way. He said that God is like an artist, or a cabinet maker. Our perfect form lives in the mind of God. And throughout our lives, we are sanded and hammered, so that we can become more like God’s ideal. In a way, we live in the mind of God.
What is God’s ideal form for us? What is God’s ideal for this church? Can we wake up and dream?
It is my prayer that we will be able to do just that in the year ahead.
To the glory of God, our Creator, our Liberator, and our Sustainer. Amen.