Sunday’s sermon: Wishes and Visions and Dreams … Oh, My!

dreams

Texts used – Joel 2:18-28; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • We don’t talk about dreams much in church, do we? I mean, dreams are a funny and fickle thing, aren’t they? Many people report not remembering any of their dreams. Ever. Scientists believe that as much as 95% of our dreams are forgotten almost immediately after waking up, and while our dreams are all nuanced from one person to the next, we all share certain universal dream themes – falling, flying, showing up late, and so on.[1] And thanks to Freud and those who came after him, dream interpretation is a multi-million dollar industry from books to websites to YouTube channels to webinars. But like I said, we don’t talk about dreams in church. We don’t often or easily link our dreams to our faith … which is funny because throughout Scripture, dreams actually play a pretty big role.
    • God speaking to people through dreams/visions
      • OT dreams
        • Abraham
        • Jacob
        • Joseph, the great dream interpreter
        • King Solomon
        • Elijah the prophet
      • NT dreams
        • Joseph
        • Mary
        • Paul
        • John (writer of the book of Revelation which is itself a dream)
    • Visions (non-sleeping dreams)
      • Ezekiel’s dry bones (which we’ll read next week for Pentecost)[2]
      • Isaiah’s vision of the Seraphim with the 6 wings (“two covering their feed, two covering their faces, and two to fly”)[3]
      • Peter’s vision of the traditionally-unclean animals lowered down in the sheet[4]
    • The point is that God is actually far from being removed from dreams. That doesn’t mean that God is trying to say something to us in every dream that we have. But overwhelmingly throughout Scripture, God uses the medium of dreams to convey messages to God’s people. → just as the particular details of our dreams differ from person to person but the overarching themes are the same, the particular details of God’s message differ from person to person, but the overarching theme is the same: God speaks of dreams through dreams – God uses dreams to convey God’s plans and desires for the Kingdom of God
      • Last week: talked about how we desire for God and God’s Kingdom to be our “greatest show” – magnificent, awe-inspiring, riveting, an eye-opening, life-altering, mind-blowing experience
        • Words of the song that we used last week – “The Greatest Show”[5] – were sort of like words from the mouth of a prophet: not spoken by God, not necessarily spoken by us, but a hope and a prayer voiced by a third party → “It’s everything you ever want / It’s everything you ever need / And it’s here right in front of you / This is where you wanna be”
      • This week: talk some more about that Kingdom → not our idea of it, but God’s idea
        • Doing it using the next song from The Greatest Showman[6] soundtrack, “A Million Dreams” → not a prophet’s voice that I hear this time, but God’s voice
        • So let’s listen to it! [PLAY “A Million Dreams”[7]]

  • This was one of the first songs that, when I heard it, I thought, “Yeah, this could definitely be a sermon” because there are so many similar stories throughout Scriptures.
    • Song context = young P.T. Barnum telling the girl he loves about the dream world that he wants to create for them → through the course of the song, Barnum grows up, marries the girl, and still clings to the dream of “the world we’re gonna make”
      • Fanciful world
      • Spectacular world
      • World of abundance (in contrast to the poverty and longing that Barnum experiences in his own life)
      • World of comfort and familiarity – lyrics: “But it feels like home”
    • How I hear God speaking to us through this song = not so different
      • Words spoken with passion and enthusiasm and love
      • Speaks of creating a beautiful world, a spectacular world, a world full of blessing and promise and joy
      • Hear a burning desire to share that dream with others → God’s desire has always been to share that dream of and work for the Kingdom of God with the world
      • Reality/creation of this world requires faith in the face of doubt – lyrics: They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy / They can say, they can say we’ve lost our minds / I don’t care, I don’t care if they call us crazy / Runaway to a world that we design[8] → It’s this faith in the face of doubt that ties most strongly back to Scripture. Let’s look at our passage for this morning.
  • OT – Joel passage
    • Context
      • One of what we call “the minor prophets” (12 skinny little books toward the back of the OT that are hard to find)
      • Scholars are in a disagreement about the specific date when Joel was written → clues within the Scripture itself make it clear that it was written[9]
        • After the Babylonian exile (so later than Isaiah)
        • After the Jews had all been returned to Jerusalem
        • After the rebuilding of the 2nd Temple
        • After the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem
        • Time of relative peace and calm when “no external unrest threatens the community”
      • As a prophet, Joel borrows heavily from other, previous prophets
        • Wording
        • Images
        • Overarching themes (e.g. – today’s passage: “the day of the Lord”)
      • Elizabeth Achtemeier: Joel draws on centuries of Israelite tradition in the framing of his message. … But Joel’s prophecy is not a stereotyped word from the past. Rather, it is a forceful, something eloquent testimony to the continued working of the prophetic word in history.[10]
    • Much of today’s text = speaks of the blessing and promise and abundance of that “day of the Lord”
      • “Day of the Lord” = sort of the OT equivalent of the “Kingdom of God” from the NT
      • Speaks of abundant harvest
      • Speaks of peace
      • Repeats 3 key phrases again and again → ideas that are key in the creation of the Kingdom of God
        • “Don’t be afraid”
        • “Rejoice and be glad”
        • “The Lord is doing great things”
      • Beautiful illustration of this – God’s Dream[11] by Archbishop Desmond Tutu – [READ God’s Dream]
    • Promise that we hear at the end of the text speaks to more wonderful dreams and visions to come – text: After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.[12]
  • So that’s the faith part of it … but what about the doubt? Especially in this post-Enlightenment, post-modernist world in which we live – a world in which we are taught to question everything and to investigate everything and to prove everything … a world in which it can increasingly feel like the majority of people no longer find religion to be “relevant” (that’s the buzz word, anyway).
    • Can be challenging to cling to faith
    • Can be frustrating in the face of so many naysayers
    • Can be daunting to cling to faith when indeed we cannot “prove it”
    • This is where our NT text comes in → God knew that there would always be those who didn’t believe – those who tried to negate the word and dreams that God was trying to give to the people, those who would mock and ridicule and even try to hinder the working of God in the world.
      • E.g. – those who laughed at Noah for building the ark
      • E.g. – evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel who sparred with prophet Elijah time and time again
      • E.g. – Pharisees that attempted to uphold and entrap Jesus with the strictest, most legalistic interpretation of the law
    • NT passage today speaks words of encouragement in those times
      • Paul speaking to the church in Corinth[13]
        • Church full of people who had been gentiles – not only new to the idea of Jesus (who he was, what he did, what he meant) but also to this God and even the idea of just one God instead of a full pantheon → church full of people who probably felt like they had more questions than answers
        • Church in a city that was steeply divided across socioeconomic lines: small class of wealthy, ruling elite and a large amount of much, much poorer people → church full of people who felt disempowered, unimportant, and underprivileged
      • And to this church full of people who must have been filled with trepidation and doubt and uncertainty, Paul spoke today’s words. – text: What we say is wisdom to people who are mature. It isn’t a wisdom that comes from the present day or from today’s leaders who are being reduced to nothing. … We haven’t received the world’s spirit but God’s Spirit so that we can know the things given to us by God. … Spiritual people comprehend everything, but they themselves aren’t understood by anyone.[14] → (lyrics): They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy / They can say, they can say we’ve lost our minds / I don’t care, I don’t care if they call us crazy / Runaway to a world that we design[15]
        • Words of reassurance and encouragement
        • Words of clinging to those promises and that dream of God’s Kingdom
        • Words that reaffirm the importance of being a part of the work that God is doing → God wants us to be a part of it. We have only to say yes.
          • (lyrics – Barnum’s wife: However big, however small / Let me be part of it all / Share your dreams with me / You may be right, you may be wrong / But say that you’ll bring me along / To the world you see / To the world I close my eyes to see / I close my eyes to see)[16]
    • God’s Dream: Will you help God’s dream come true? Let me tell you a secret … God smiles like a rainbow when you do.[17] Amen.

[1] Kendra Cherry. “10 Interesting Facts about Dreams” from Very Well Mind, https://www.verywellmind.com/facts-about-dreams-2795938. Updated May 15, 2019, accessed May 30, 2019.

[2] Ezek 37:1-14.

[3] Is 6:1-8.

[4] Acts 10:9-22.

[5] “The Greatest Show” written by Ryan Lewis, Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[6] The Greatest Showman, released by Twentieth Century Fox, Dec. 2017.

[7] “A Million Dreams” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[8] “A Million Dreams” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[9] Elizabeth Achtemeier. “The Book of Joel: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 7. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 301-302.

[10] Achtemeier, 302.

[11] Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams. God’s Dream. (Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press), 2008.

[12] Joel 2:28.

[13] J. Paul Sampley. “The First Letter to the Corinthians: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 10. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002), 777-778.

[14] 1 Cor 2:6, 12, 15.

[15] “A Million Dreams” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[16] “A Million Dreams” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[17] Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams. God’s Dream. (Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press), 2008.

One response to “Sunday’s sermon: Wishes and Visions and Dreams … Oh, My!

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: The Path Less Traveled | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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