Living the Dream
St. Philip Lutheran Church
22 January 2023 + Lectionary 3a (Epiphany 3)
Rev. Josh Evans
Dreams are fascinating.
According to sleep experts, our dreams can serve a variety of purposes: everything from helping us to process our emotions or recent events … to incidental brain activity that has no real purpose or meaning.
Most people dream around two hours per night, but with rare exceptions, for as vivid as some dreams might feel in the moment, we don’t actually remember our dreams for very long. For those who do remember their dreams, entire fields of psychology are dedicated to interpreting dreams, which practitioners claim can be filled with meaning.
Beyond sleep, dreams play a pivotal role in our waking imaginations. Dreams can be our visions for a better future, as Martin Luther King Jr., whom we commemorated last week, famously reminds us.
In some cases, when the dream seems unattainable, skeptics are quick to dismiss any possibility of the dream coming true: “Keep dreaming.” Translation: It’s never going to happen.
But sometimes, the dream does happen.
The season of Epiphany, as its name suggests, is a season of manifestation and unveiling. Something new is being revealed to God’s people. Put simply: “The birth of Jesus discloses the dream of God.”
Which prompts the question:
What is God’s dream?
We know that God’s people are dreamers. In the earliest biblical stories, dreams become the catalyst for salvation and reconciliation.
Take Joseph, for instance, who dreams of greatness, which in turn spurs the jealousy and resentment of his brothers who sell him into slavery. From prison, Joseph interprets the dreams of others, including the Pharaoh, thus reversing Joseph’s fortune and elevating him to a position of tremendous authority … ultimately enabling the people’s survival during a time of famine and the reconciliation of Joseph with his family.
Another Joseph, many years later, dreams of the promise of Immanuel, God-with-us, and a baby who will save God’s people. In subsequent dreams, Joseph is given instructions for securing the safety of his family amid Herod’s murderous threats.
The magi, too, dream, and in dreaming, they participate in the story of God’s salvation by ensuring the safety of the Holy Family they have come to visit.
In Matthew’s gospel, the birth of Jesus is preceded by dreams, and as the adult Jesus begins his ministry, he begins by announcing God’s dream for all: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” And he goes on to proclaim the good news, to heal the sick, and to embody and live the dream of God-with-us through his preaching and teaching and healing.
God’s dream begins with a people who dream, and Jesus calls his disciples to follow him and to live the dream with him.
Which prompts another question:
What does this dream look like for us, today, here and now, in Glenview, in the year of our Lord 2023?
Our mission and vision statements are a good place to start:
“Fed by the Spirit, we share God’s love revealed in Christ with the world.”
“We are committed to: fully including every child of God; gathering for worship, celebration of the Sacraments, and study of God’s Word; fostering caring relationships within our congregation and community; and serving as God’s hands and voice in the world.”
At its best, the early Christian community similarly captures what living God’s dream looks like, as one writer summarizes:
“They were known for their social generosity. Care for the weak instead of privileges for the powerful […] Love instead of hate. Peace instead of violence. Inclusion rather than exclusion. Generosity rather than greed. Doing justice and loving kindness.”
It’s a bold vision – when we dare to dream and to make God’s dream our reality: “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Sometimes, though, God’s dream gets interrupted by our humanness: our tendency to exercise control, to assert that we know what’s best, to try to get our own way.
Theologically speaking, we call those moments “sin” – which Martin Luther has described as being “curved in on ourselves.” Such moments cause us to focus inwardly and so intensely on ourselves that we start to overlook those around us. And when we overlook those around us, we stray from following the way of Jesus who calls us, and we forget God’s dream entirely.
In Jesus, God’s dream has been born, and Jesus himself makes the announcement: “The kingdom of heaven has come near!” …
… but not before a directive to “Repent!”
Living God’s dream begins with repentance, and we who are humanly imperfect are in constant need of repentance.
Not in the sense of feeling “bad” or remorseful – though maybe sometimes that’s a part of it – but in the sense of changing directions and altering our way of thinking. That’s what the word “repent” means here.
The good news is that the church has only gotten better in its most critical moments of repentance – of changing directions, altering its way of thinking, and making room for the new thing God is doing.
This morning, just a couple of hours ago, halfway across the world from us, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land made history by ordaining Sally Azar as the first female Palestinian pastor in their church body.
“The ordination of the first woman in Palestine is no accident,” reflects ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, herself the first woman to hold her office. “It is the result of the prayerful discernment, theological reflection, and concerted effort.”
It wasn’t all that long ago when our own Lutheran church bodies in North America celebrated their own firsts, ordaining the first women Lutheran pastors to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, just over 50 years ago.
Their ordinations didn’t happen by accident either, but were the result of prayerful, deliberate, and persistent efforts – and a dream that the church can and does change for the better.
And how much better indeed the church has been when we draw the circle ever wider to include more and more people in the work that God has already called each of us to!
This is what repentance as followers of Jesus looks like: when we who are humanly imperfect dare to change our way of thinking and indeed dare to dream God’s dream for us and to make that dream a reality for all of God’s people.
The church is called to keep dreaming, even when the dream seems unattainable, even when the skeptics (who are sometimes ourselves) are quick to dismiss the dream.
Because, sometimes, the dream does happen, and in Jesus, God’s dream has happened and is happening. The kingdom of God still is coming near!
We, too, the people of St. Philip, are called to keep dreaming.
God’s dream lived out in our ministry is not a “one-and-done” mission statement or an isolated service project.
God’s dream is a way of life that continually urges us to repentance, to change, to adapt, and to witness to the love of God revealed in Christ in new and bold ways, here and now.
“Hold fast to dreams,” the poet Langston Hughes urges.
Keep dreaming. Keep imagining. Keep listening to the whisper of the Spirit, and keep striving after the way of Jesus, who calls us to drop our nets and follow him.
Live the dream. Live God’s dream. The kingdom of heaven is near!