Saturday, March 27, 2010

Like a Dream

Like a Dream
Isa 43:16-21; Ps 126; Phil 3:4-14[1]
I spend a lot of time up here talking about things that the average person might think sound pretty fantastic. By definition the very language of faith must sound like so much “wishful thinking” or even “dreaming” to those who do not share our faith. Think about it—we’ve been going over the steps of faith: we confess “Jesus is Lord” because we are not our own, but we belong to God. When was the last time you used that language about yourself in everyday conversation? And another step is to embrace the faith that God is working to bring life and love and peace to all things and everyone rather than remaining stuck in the hopelessness of our world. It sounds pretty unrealistic if you take a hard look at the world. And a third step of faith is to trust in the faithful mercies of God in the face of the tragic suffering in our world. Is there really any evidence of mercy in this world? And we said last week that this whole process is a matter of the compassion of God our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer transforming us from within, making us “new” in the process of making all things new.
The very nature of what we say when we talk about our faith is such that it sounds too good to be true.[2] When I talk about these things, it must sound like I’m a dreamer. And of course in our pragmatic society, “dreaming” isn’t something that’s valuable. As a matter of fact, I’m actually quite the dreamer. I have incredibly vivid dreams—some of which I can remember from years back. I still remember the dream I had the night before I got my Ph. D. (almost 18 years ago). Graduation was always held at the largest church in town, and the graduates would line up in the lower level for the procession up the stairs and into the sanctuary for the ceremony. As we were about to “process,” the Provost and the Dean came up and pulled me out of line because, for some reason unknown to me, I wasn’t going to be allowed to graduate. Well, there’s not much mystery to what that dream was about! After 13 years of formal education, I was finally going to be out of school!
I also still remember the dream I had one night about 40 years ago. I was asleep in my bed, and all of a sudden it seemed like I was surrounded by a light so bright that it literally startled me awake! Although I remember the dream vividly, I still don’t have a clue what it meant. In earlier days I thought that I must have been visited by some heavenly messenger. I found that notion very reassuring in the midst of some of the turmoil of my young life. When I think about even now I still get a profound sense of God’s presence in my life. But I must confess that I really don’t know what it was about.
The hope of a way in the desert articulated by the prophet Isaiah must have sounded too good to be true to some of his contemporaries. Yes, they knew the stories about how God had made a path for the Israelites to walk through the sea on dry ground. But that was then and this was now. And in the “now” the people of Israel were in captivity in Babylon, separated from their homeland by a veritable ocean of burning sand! The hope that St. Paul articulated—new life through the power of the resurrection—must have sounded like dreaming to his peers who were schooled in Plato and Aristotle. And yet, the Apostle Paul says that he had come to the place where he viewed everything else in this life as rubbish compared with the “surpassing value” or the “high privilege” or the “priceless gain” of knowing Christ and experiencing the power of the resurrection in his own life.
But then I think we would have to say that many who saw and heard Jesus must have thought of him as a dreamer. The Gospel of Luke demonstrates this at the very outset by recounting Jesus’ sermon at Nazareth. Quoting Isaiah, he spoke of proclaiming “release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind” and letting “the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18). If that language is too familiar to us to hear the “dreaminess” in it, then listen to one of our recent confessions: Jesus Christ came “to set us free from sin and self-hatred, from ignorance and disease, from all forms of oppression, and even from death” and “to give us fullness of life now and forever” (Declaration of Faith, 1977). But I would go even further than that and say, to borrow the title of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s book, that “God has a Dream” as well. That same confession of ours puts it well when it affirms the faith that God is working in this world toward a day when “justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, when nations will not learn war any more, when we will see the end of cruelty and suffering in the world, and when human fellowship with God and each other will be fulfilled.”
When I talk about these things, I’m quite sure I must sound foolish to some people; but to some extent I think talking about God’s wondrous work of restoration will always make us feel “like those who dream” (Ps. 126).[3] I would say that part of our problem is that we don’t do enough dreaming. We let TV and film do our “dreaming” for us, so we have lost the capacity for dreaming. Or we simply don’t want to make room in our pragmatic lives for dreams because they push us “out of our element” where we feel safe because we can safely keep things under our control.[4] I think the tragedy in that is that our “dreams”—whether they come to us in our sleep or when we’re awake—are what motivate and inspire us. When we lose the capacity to be inspired, what’s left but sitting on the couch with a remote control firmly in one hand and our beverage of choice in the other?
Do we really want our faith to be that boring? Sure it’s safe enough when we can put God in a box and can confidently recite a creed or a catechism so that we think we have a handle on the truth. But where’s the imagination and inspiration and passion in that? Do we really want our faith to be so mundane as to be entirely predictable? Or do we want our God to do surprising things, things that we couldn’t even begin to imagine, things that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived” (1 Cor. 2:9). Do we want our faith to lead us toward something more than we already have here and now?[5] I say give me the wonder, the mystery, and the dreams, and all the love and faith and hope that they can inspire.

[1] © 2010 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 3/21/10 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Cf. John Caputo, On Religion, 7-10: he says that religion is about an “absolute future” that moves us “past the manageable prospects of the present, beyond the sphere in which we have some mastery, beyond the domain of sensible possibilities that we can get our hands on” and into “the sphere of the impossible, of something whose possibility we just cannot conceive” where “only the great passions of faith and love and hope will see us through,”
[3] Caputo, On Religion, 15, says it this way: “To have a religious sense of life is to long with a restless heart for a reality beyond reality.”
[4] Cf. Caputo, On Religion, 7-14; cf. esp. 13-14, where he says that in matters of faith “we are not calling the shots” because “we are out of our element” and in “God’s element, …, the element of the impossible, God’s realm or ‘Kingdom,’ where God rules.”
[5] Cf. J├╝rgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 25, where he says that the church’s hope “fetches its future into its present”!

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