A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church on July 6, 2014.
Dreams are a weird business.
Cultures have been interpreting dreams from ancient days.
There are numerous dream accounts in scripture, other than this dream of Jacob’s.
There are dreams interpreted in the ancient story of Gilgamesh.
Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung made careers of dream analyses.
And you can enter your dreams into numerous websites today and have people (internet experts!) tell you what they mean.
We’re fascinated by dreams, I think, because they are so far outside of our conscious control. We can force our minds to memorize the multiplication tables, or use them to brainstorm ways to make the world better. During the day, we work to harness the power of our minds.
And then we go to bed at night, with a nice stone pillow beneath our heads, and we are no longer in control.
I can go to bed at night, hoping to dream about George Clooney and Colin Firth inviting me to join them on a yacht, hypothetically speaking, of course, but I end up dreaming about Sean Connery putting produce in my shopping cart.
No lie. I did once dream that.
There are mornings we wake up and wish we could return to the narrative of our dreams, even as the details fade away. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t return to that particular dream story. It would be easier to grab hold of a cloud or catch a shadow.
There are mornings we wake up and thank the good Lord is was just a dream. There are some scenarios we play out in our dreams that we couldn’t bear in real life.
And there are some dreams that are really really important.
I’ve only had a few of those dreams. But I’m thankful for them.
In college, during a difficult patch, I had a recurring dream that I was in a cult and needed to escape. At first I would wake up, still in the cult, often pounding against the walls. As time went on, the dream would start the same, but I’d end up running right through the glass wall and escaping. The last time I had the dream, I started in the cult, broke through the wall, ran down the street, and ended up flying.
Needless to say, in real life I wasn’t needing to get out of a cult. But I needed to know my own strength and ability to think for myself. I needed to act for myself. I needed to know I could make the choices I needed to make and survive.
Would I have gotten there without those dreams? Maybe.
All I know is I’m very thankful for those dreams, for dreaming me into myself.
Shortly after Justin and I were married, I was trying to figure out what to be when I grew up. Most days that is still a work in progress. But I was actively praying for discernment. “God, give me a sign.”
I was considering law school. I was considering getting a teaching certificate. Either of them would have worked, but neither of them felt quite right.
At the same time, the church we were attending was hiring a youth director. In the span of a few weeks, five different people asked me if I was applying for the job.
My response was instantly dismissive. “um, no. High school was horrible. Why would I want to put myself back into that hellscape?”
And then I had a dream.
I was in a college dorm room. And I heard a loud and resonant male voice calling my name. “Marci! Marci!”
I was doing other things at the time, like reading want ads for jobs, and didn’t want to go see who was yelling at me in the hallway.
But the voice was insistent.
I opened the door and looked down the hallway and there was a giant stone head at the end of the hall. Like Easter Island meets Monty Python. And it was God. I knew it. And God said, “I’m trying to answer your question. Are you listening?”
And I applied for the job the next day.
A few weeks ago, we heard the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac on the altar. In the intervening chapters, Isaac has grown up, married Rebekah, and had two children, Esau and Jacob.
They aren’t exactly a picture perfect family. There is deceit and intrigue. Isaac and Rebekah divide the family by favoring different sons. Jacob tricks Esau out of his birthright and then steals his blessing.
Makes my life seem so simple.
So Jacob flees his brother’s wrath and his father’s disappointment, and heads to his uncle’s place where his mom hopes he’ll find a wife.
On the way, Jacob had a dream.
We read the dream and think, “yeah, so God talked to you, but it was just a dream. No need to build a shrine”.
And that’s partly our cultural context. Jacob’s people believed God was a god of real estate. God’s presence in their lives was intimately connected to location. If you think I’m kidding, read the news today about the Middle East. Jacob’s ancestors are still struggling for real estate.
“Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.”
Our faith may not be as tethered to land as Jacob’s was, but we can at least recognize how important, at that particular moment of his life story, it was for him to receive divine confirmation about his journey.
If I had stolen my brother’s blessing, and tricked him out of his birthright, I’d be wondering about the validity of my journey.
Can blessing really be so easily acquired?
Is a stolen blessing legit?
Is this all going to end when Esau catches up to him and kills him as he sleeps?
We don’t know why God chooses to work through trickery and deceit and people like Jacob.
But on some reflection, I guess I’m glad God does.
Because that means there is room for me, in my broken life, to be blessed by God also.
“Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Jacob doesn’t know it yet, but he’s headed to live with his uncle who will be his match in trickery. After this dream, he wakes up in the morning with what he needs to continue on the journey with confidence.
What are your dreams?
When and how has God spoken words you needed to hear to keep going on the journey?
Presbyterians aren’t really known for being dream people. We have “decently and in order” tattooed on our souls, which is how it should be.
Yet there are times when we need confirmation about the path we’re on that is different than the confirmation we get from maps, or GPS, or other external data.
We need divine dreams,
dreams that encourage,
dreams that equip us,
dreams that point us down the road.
If you’ve noticed, I never speak about God’s will. Or God’s plan.
I ask, instead, that we discern what God might be dreaming for us.
This is partly because I worry, theologically, about the message of God planning out every moment of our lives, leaving us as puppets on a stage, acting out some divine drama.
The idea of God’s will can leave us feeling we have no agency, that we are powerless victims to the story of our lives.
If, instead, I try to figure out where my life intersects with what God is dreaming for me, then I can try to live into the best journey God could imagine for me, which I guarantee is better than what I could dream up for myself. It doesn’t take away my ability to make mistakes. But it does still allow for God’s redemption of whatever situation in which I find myself.
It is harder for a church to dream, perhaps. How do we discern together what God is dreaming for us? How do we attend to the dreams of a congregation?
Jacob woke up from his dream and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’
We’re told he rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel;
We’re about to come forward, here in the house of God, and celebrate communion, the meal that reminds us of God’s dream for our unity, God’s dream for our flourishing and health, God’s dream for a kingdom where all people have a seat at the table.
When it is time to come forward for communion, I invite you to take a rock from the bowl, take it home with you, and put it somewhere where it will remind you to listen for God’s voice in your dreams, to remind you to listen for God’s dreams in your life, and to remind you of God’s promise to Jacob:
“Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”
A poem found me this week and I want to offer a portion of it to you now. It is called
What to remember when waking
By David Whyte
In that first hardly noticed moment
in which you wake,
coming back to this life
from the other
more secret, moveable and
frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening
into the new day
which closes the moment
you begin your plans.
What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.
What you can live
will make plans
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.
To be human
is to become visible
what is hidden
as a gift to others.
the other world
in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.
(Excerpt from ‘What to Remember When Waking’ From RIVER FLOW: New and Selected Poems Many Rivers Press. ©David Whyte)
May it be so. Amen