Sermon: When God Has a Dream

02841_resurrection_after_chora_ann_chapin_large[Given on the Second Sunday of Eastertide, April 27, 2014 by The Rev. Fr. Marcus Halley – St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, MO]
 
“But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.”
Acts 2:24

In the name of God who is Creating, Redeeming, and Sustaining. +

The Church of the 21st Century must bear witness to the fact that the Resurrection of our Lord is not simply a good idea, not a once-a-year ploy to put butts in the pews, but an actual reality with a bearing not only on our lives individually, but our lives corporately, and our world cosmically. I want to suggest this morning that when our Lord shook off the bonds of death and hell, he did so in order to demonstrate that When God Has a Dream that dream can never be defeated.

We do know that God dreams, right?

In the beginning, God had a dream.

Out of the vast expanses of nothingness, God dreamed up a marvelous creation. In “The Creation” from God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, James Weldon Johnson writes,

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely –-
I’ll make me a world.
 
And as far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
 
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!
 
Then God reach out and took the light in his hands,
And rolled the light around his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set the sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good![1]
 

God’s dream for the whole of creation was a dream of genuine and holistic goodness, a dream of connection, and of loving relationship.

But somewhere in that goodness, sin entered and set about the diabolical task of undermining our relationships with one another, or connection to the earth, our connection to God – trying to kill the divine dream of God.

Yet, and against all odds, God continued to dream.

When the children of Israel found themselves oppressed under the heavy yolk of Pharaoh, God dreamed up a man named Moses to go down to Egypt and tell old Pharaoh, “let my people Go.”[2]

When the Israelites themselves became the oppressors, neglected the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien, God dreamed up prophets like Micah, and told the people “what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”[3]

When the Jewish people once again found themselves living under the oppression of a foreign power, this time Babylon, God dreamed up an Isaiah to declare even during the darkest, most hopeless times that “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not by weary, they shall walk and not faint.”[4]

We see throughout the Biblical record that When God Has a Dream, though it tarry, though it delay, though it even be deferred, God refuses for the divine dream to die.

It can be difficult when we look at the world around us to hold fast to the vitality of the divine dream.

When hatemongers choose to spew their vitriol from the barrel of a gun – where is this divine dream?

When we are faced the grim reality that evil is threatening the safety of our children even in their schools? – where is this divine dream?

Langston Hughes, African American poet and leader of the Harlem Renaissance, born right here in the state of Missouri, envisages the difficulty of delayed dreams when he writes,

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
 

In this iconic poem, Langston Hughes wrestled with a wrenching reality – what happens to a dream that continues to exist in the land of “not yet” and in the realm of “make believe”?

“Dreams are not real,” some may say. “Dreams are escapist, they are a waste of time.”

“Why not focus on the present,” clamor the crowds of skeptics and cynics, “why not live in the here and now?”

In some aspects, the skeptics and cynics were right. As the dream of God continued to be denied, it seemed to become less and less connected with the reality of the human condition. Hope began to fade and the light began to dim.

But one cold, Winter’s night God’s dream put on flesh and dwelt among us. In the bleak midwinter in a Bethlehem ghetto, a light was kindled in the darkness.

Howard Thurman, mystic and theologian writes this about dreams. “Our dreams must be saddled by the hard facts of our world before we ride them off among the stars. Thus, they become for us the bearers of the new possibility, the enlarged horizon, the great hope. Even as they romp among the stars they come back to their place in our lives, bringing with them the radiance of the far heights, the lofty regions, and giving to our days the lift and the magic of the stars.”[5]

You see, dear friends, when the dream “became flesh and dwelt among us” it brought with it the radiance of the divine dream. That is why no one who came in contact with Jesus ever left the same. The sick were healed. The lame got up leaping. The dumb began uttering the praises of God. The outcast was brought in. The downtrodden was lifted up. With every step, Jesus’ very life bore witness to the divine dream.

Yet our world does not like dreamers.

Dreamers challenge. We don’t like to be challenged.

We like our routine and the order of our world.

But divine dreamers point us to the reality that the best of our world is yet to come.

Yesterday, the Church celebrated the ordination of four new priests, one of whom is among us right now – Fr. Mike Shaffer. At the beginning of the ordination rite, a prayer is prayed that connects ordination with the service for Good Friday and The Great Vigil of Easter. This prayer says “O God of unchangeable power and eternal light… let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”[6]

I’ve always been perplexed that this prayer is found in these places until I realized that one of the main jobs of a priest is to dream the divine dream, to call earth heavenward even as heaven deigns to meet us where we are, and to herald and defend the divine dream even against the world.

You see, Good Friday saw humanity at its worst, frothing with deep-seated hatred and anger, choosing to kill the dreamer than follow the dream. Yet, in his non-violent shouldering of the cross of oppression, in his tender care for his mother and the other women found weeping at the foot of that blessed cross, in his forgiveness of those who were killing him, and in his invitation to the dying thief to join him in paradise, Jesus still radiated the resplendent reality of the divine dream.

But what Resurrection reassures us of is that the worst of humanity cannot kill the divine dream because three days after Joseph laid Jesus in that borrowed tomb, the Bible says that he rose from the dead with all power in heaven and on earth cradled in the crevices of his nail scared hands.

It was in the resurrection that God decided that the divine dream, though deferred, would not be denied.

The divine dream is still alive, dear friends.

I serve a risen Savior
He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living,
Whatever men may say.
I see His hand of mercy;
I hear His voice of cheer;
You ask me how I know he lives?
He lives within my heart, O yes.
He lives within my heart.
 

And not just my heart, but if you’ve been baptized into his death, he is alive in your heart too.

You ask me how I know he lives?

When I see Christians coming together with our Jewish sisters and brothers to pray, daring to dream of uncloudy day when the dark clouds of discrimination would no more abide in the skies of our world – I know he lives.

When I see Christians tutoring in our local schools, mentoring our young people, daring to dream of a world where all of our children are safe and loved – I know he lives.

When I hear of a churches opening their doors to those other have called unworthy and unclean, daring to dream of a world where all of God’s children would be loved – I know he lives.

When I see Christians daring to live their faith out loud in a world muffled by cynicism and doubt, daring to dream of a world where God is glorified – I know he lives.

Jesus lives! Jesus lives!
Christ Jesus lives today.
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
Jesus lives! Jesus lives!
Salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know he lives?
He lives within my heart, O yes.
He lives within my heart.
 

So brother, sister, keep dreaming.

Michael, keep dreaming.

And when times get rough, when the storms of life begin to beat against that dream, when the waves threaten to capsize that dream, know that God specializes in raising up things that have been cast down.

Dreams may be delayed, dejected, and even deferred, but when God has a dream that dream it can never be defeated.


 

[1] James Weldon Johnson, God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (New York: The Viking Press, 1927), 17-18, accessed April 24, 2014, http://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/johnson/johnson.html.

[2] Exodus 5.1

[3] Micah 6.8

[4] Isaiah 40.31

[5] Howard Thurman, The Inward Journey, 6th ed. (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 2007), 67.

[6] Book of Common Prayer, 528.

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