Wednesday, August 10, 2011

“Living” the Dream
Gen 37:1-28; Ps 105:16-22[1]
Dreamers can have difficulty with the harsh realities of life. Most of you know our two boys, Zach and Michael. After years of dreaming about being musicians, they are beginning to actually get paying gigs—for actual money! Of course, the reality is that they count themselves lucky if they clear $50 a night after expenses! Their word for it is “living the dream.” The irony in that is the way they (like most teenagers) used to dream about becoming celebrities and living the lifestyle of the rich and famous! These days, I think they will be happy if they can actually make a living as musicians—by teaching, or performing, or all of the above! Dreamers can have difficulty with the harsh realities of life.
Joseph was a dreamer. Although our lesson for today doesn’t mention it, one of the first things we learn about Joseph was that he had a couple of amazing dreams—both of which seemed to hint that he would one day be exalted to a position of great authority. In the beginning, it would seem that he was in fact rather cocky about his dream. But Joseph’s dream took him to places he never counted on as a young man. The Psalmist has an interesting phrase for it—“until what he had said came to pass, the word of the Lord kept testing him.” (Ps. 105:19). I think the idea is that Joseph’s vision put him through a refining process that he would never have imagined when he had the dream.[2] When he had the dream, he must have thought he had it made in this life. The reality is that it would be much more difficult.
Initially, Joseph’s refining process was a matter of humiliation. Because of his arrogance, his brothers hated him so much that they sold him into slavery. Suddenly he went from being the favored son of a wealthy man to being a slave with no rights, no family, no home. Talk about humiliating! In point of fact, however, apparently Joseph was so good at serving in the house of Potiphar that he quickly learned how to run the whole place and was elevated to head steward. The humiliating experience of being sold into slavery refined Joseph by preparing him with skills he would need later.
Unfortunately things didn’t work out so well, because his master’s wife accused him of trying to seduce her. So the ‘word of the Lord” kept refining Joseph—this time in prison. We have to remember that prison in that day was nothing like prison in our day. There were no rights in prison. You had no right to an attorney, no right to a speedy trial, and there was no such thing as habeas corpus to compel the powers that be to be fair in the way they treated you (at least theoretically). “Prison” in the ancient world meant being thrown into the dungeon, where you may not even be able to stay alive, let alone eat or sleep in a bed or any of the other things we take for granted. But while Joseph was in the dungeon, some of Pharoah’s personal attendants spent some time there. They too had dreams, and Joseph interpreted them. When Pharaoh had a dream, one of them told him about Joseph, and Joseph wound up as the Prime Minister of the most powerful nation in the ancient world!
It was a long and winding road for Joseph from being a young dreamer to becoming the chief administrator of Egypt. Why did Joseph have to go through such a long and painful process? Why did it take years of suffering to prepare him for “living” the dream he had in his youth?[3] Besides the obvious answers, it would seem built into the nature of what it means to commit yourself to a “dream.”[4] In a very real sense, this is part of how we truly “live” our dream for the world. It’s how the dream gets inside us. Until that happens, until it gets inside you so that you live, eat, and breathe it, you’re in no position to try to go out and see that vision realized in life.[5] We cannot hope to bring compassion to the world if we don’t have compassion in our hearts for other people—all of them. We cannot hope to bring peace to the world if we haven’t yet become peace—towards everyone.
Like Joseph, we may have to go through a refining process to get there. It may be frustrating for us to continue to try to hold on to our dream, only to keep being disappointed with the way life actually works. One of the lessons we learn when we’re undergoing this refining process is that the first step toward “living” the dream is to surrender our expectations of what that’s going to look like and to accept life, the world, and others as they are.[6] That’s the only way we can ever hope to learn how to respond to real human beings in a real world with compassion and peace.
It’s not easy being a dreamer in this world. Dreamers can have difficulty with the harsh realities of life. When you stake your life on a vision for the way things can be different, it will “keep testing you.” It may take years for the vision of the God’s compassion and peace and justice and freedom to really get inside us. But when it does, when we become the compassion and peace we long for in this world, then we will be truly “living” the dream.

[1] © 2011 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 8/7/11 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Although it would seem that most scholars think this is a reference to his interpretation of the dreams of Pharoah’s attendants (cf. H.-J. Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 311), I think there is merit in the idea that it includes Joseph’s initial dreams (cf. Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-150, 58).
[3] Cf. Charles Spurgeon, “Trial by the Word,” a sermon delivered Feb. 6 1876 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle; accessed at, where he says, “visions tarry, and we must wait for them.”
[4]John Caputo, On Religion, 15, describes it as “longing with a restless heart for a reality beyond reality.”
[5] Cf. Paul F. Knitter, Without Buddha I Could not Be a Christian, 183-85.
[6] Cf. Knitter, Without Buddha, 185-86.

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