Text: Joel 2:23-29
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” I’m wondering this morning if we still have the will and courage to dream and to believe in the beauty of our dreams? If someone walked up to you today and asked, “What are your dreams?” what would you say? Would you have an answer for them? Do you have dreams for yourself? Your family? Your children? Your community? Your church? Your country? This world?
We are living in a social and political climate that is not very conducive to dreaming. It’s hard to dream when you feel like your back is constantly against the wall and when you are simply struggling to figure out how to make it through each day—how to keep your head above water to make ends meet and to meet the daily requirements to sustain any quality of life. I would venture to guess that for many people, maybe some of you, dreaming feels like a luxury that they just can’t afford right now.
So many days it feels like the only thing we can do is react to the latest news headline that has us shaking our heads and wondering “What has our world come to now?” We read the news and think: “Did he really say that? Did she really do that?” We see the 2016 facts and figures from the American Society of Addiction Medicine and read that there were over 47,000 lethal drug overdoses with opioid addiction driving this epidemic, with nearly 19,000 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers. Over 10,500 overdose deaths related to heroin; and all we can do is ask the question “Can this really be happening here in our country?” Or just two weeks ago we read the headline “Polar Bears Across the Arctic face Shorter Sea Ice Season” and yet we are faced weekly with another climate change denier who believes his political career is more important than caring for this one planet that has been entrusted to us. Or we wake up and see yet another heartbreaking image of another boat capsized in the middle of the ocean filled with children, women and men who are risking their very lives to escape the realty and evils of war and violence. Yes, dreaming feels like a luxury when these are the realities that we wake up to each day.
With day-to-day deadlines, the pressures and responsibilities at work from week-to-week, to the monthly stress of making sure we have enough to pay the mortgage and take care of the family, to the moment-to-moment headlines that leave us with a sense of disbelief one might legitimately ask, “Where is there time and space and energy to dream?
You say to me, and rightly so, “Nancy, dreaming requires freedom—freedom from those things that have us tied up and tied down. Freedom from a life where all we are doing is reacting from one moment to the next. Freedom from always looking back with nostalgia to the good old days or to the future with fear and anxiety. Freedom from waiting for that magic moment when someone or something steps in and saves us from all our problems.” Dreaming, you say, is at best a luxury and at worst an exercise in futility. And maybe you are right. But this morning we should at least consider what the prophet Joel has to say to us about dreaming and about God’s spirit being poured out on us to free us to dream.
First the backstory. The prophet Joel writes in response to an ecological disaster, a plague of locusts that exceeded their regular breeding and feeding cycles. The story actually begins in verse 15 of chapter 2 when the prophet calls for a community liturgical response to the catastrophe: “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly.” The prophet calls everyone: all the people in general, then specifically the elderly, children, breast-feeding babies and their nursing mothers carrying them, bride, bridegroom, and all the clergy.
“The plague of locusts had adversely affected the agricultural and economic well-being of God’s people; but they were not the only ones affected. The earth was stripped of vegetation and the animals were starving. Earlier the prophet describes the failure of grapevines, wheat, barley and palm, fig, apple and pomegranate trees. In verse 17, the community loses all of the seed for the next harvest. In verse 18, the starving animals wander about desperately seeking pasture that no longer exists. All the people are called to fast and weep and beg God to reconsider their plight…” (Wil Gafney, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible, Brite Divinity School) Do you hear some parallels to our times?
“The prophet’s speech is far-reaching in its scope, [that’s what preachers do] but God reaches further still. The inclusivity of the prophet’s call is surpassed by God’s next words through the prophet to the earth and her creatures: ‘Fear not!’” (Gafney) I will pour out my spirit upon all of you—prophecy, dream, imagine.
If we begin reading with verse 23, as the lectionary suggested, we miss that Joel’s prophecy was announced to a people who had endured a great disaster, great suffering, chaos, confusion. We lose the benefit of knowing that it is the experience of disaster that makes the promise of an outpouring of God’s spirit and the call to dream so remarkable.
Think about what is going on in our country and in our world. Many days it seems like we, too, are in the midst of a disaster— there is great suffering, chaos, and confusion all around us. We are plagued with divisive rhetoric, bitter arguing, vindictive threats all the while there are people, our neighbors, who are wandering about homeless, jobless, hungry and dying because they can’t get to a doctor. There are children going to school hungry. Many of our children are struggling with meaning and belonging. Those who are trying to live authentically by living into the gender they identify with are being discriminated against here in our own state. Voter rights are being attacked all across our nation. Unarmed black men are being shot by police at alarming rates. It feels like we are in the midst of a moral disaster. But here on this Sunday, October 23, 2016, with this as our backdrop, we hear the prophet’s words: “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, your old shall dream dreams, and your young shall see visions…”
And so I come back to my question: Do we still have the will and courage to dream? For ourselves? For our families? For our communities? For our church? For our nation? And for our world?
I have dreams. I dream of owning a small farm to get away to for rest and renewal. I dream of Karla and I going to France one day. I dream for my children—that they will find what brings meaning to their lives and that they will find someone with whom to share their life. I dream of that 1963 Mercedes. I dream of a nation, a world where there is enough—enough for all people to have food and a safe place to live and meaningful work. I dream of a nation and world where every child feels loved and safe and knows a sense of belonging. I dream that everyone would have someone with whom to share their joys and sorrows. I dream that the Church universal would be the one place where nobody would be told “we can’t help you” or “you are not welcome here.” I dream that our church, Pullen Church, will continue to be that place in the Raleigh community that is known for being a safe place for those displaced by society, a place where we will do our best to help those who need help, a place where all are indeed welcome, a place where the questions of faith are honored and valued, a place where we risk failure for the sake of love, a place where like-minded people can agree to disagree and still be community to one another, a place where the wisdom and gifts of children and youth and young adults are valued and honored. I hold in my heart the dream of Abraham Lincoln “of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” But beyond that, I dream of a world without boundaries and borders and walls. A world where our worth is not in what we own but in how we treat one another in all the beauty of our diversity and difference. These are but some my dreams.
Harriet Tubman said that, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Where are the dreamers?
I was reflecting this week, eight years ago a man walked onto the national stage and inspired enough people to vote for him to be this country’s first African-American president. He did so because he had dreams for a better nation and world for us. He followed in the footsteps of other dreamers—Martin Luther King, Jr., Sojourner Truth, Harvey Milk, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy Tilly and Eleanor Roosevelt just to name a few. It is the dreamers who inspire us.
And there are still dreamers among us—people who dare to dream and imagine that we can build a better nation, a better world. Dreamers who trust that God’s spirit is still being poured out on all flesh. Who are the dreamers that inspire me? People like Michelle Obama and William Barber and Clinton Wright and Laura Foley; Pullen’s young adults, Pullen’s senior adults, Pullen’s middle age adults, and Pullen’s children and youth. Who are the dreamers that inspire me? The Pullen staff, the Pullen co-workers who are working with people experiencing homelessness, our guests who come to Roundtable each week. There are still dreamers among us.
The Bible uses language of prophecy, dreams and visions. As I was talking with Brian about this text he shared with me how he understands those words. To him, prophecy, dreams and visions might best be translated as truth telling, looking to the beyond, and then creating the beyond. Brian’s insight reminded me of Walter Brueggemann’s book Prophetic Imagination. In that book he makes the point that prophetic imagination—dreaming dreams and seeing visions—is about imagining the future, not foretelling it. It is about dreaming about a future that embodies kingdom dreams—belonging, abundance, love, justice, acceptance, openness, reciprocity and equality—and then creating it.
And so I ask again, “Do we still have the will and courage to believe in the beauty of our dreams?” What are your dreams? Think about this: it could be that your family, your church, your community, this world is waiting to hear your dreams. Do you believe in the beauty of your dreams? I hope so!