Monday, 11 November 2019

Dreams and Visions

Dreams and visions.
There is a Hasidic Jewish story that goes like this.

One morning a group of students asked Reb Yerachmiel,
"What is the point of human life?  Why are we here?"
The Rebbe replied, "If a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound?"
The students debated this for a while and then the Rebbe replied,
"Here is my understanding. Without an ear to register the vibrations of the falling tree no sound is produced. Sound is not a thing but a transaction between things.
For there to be sound, there must be a falling tree and an ear to hear.  Why are we here?
We are the other half of the transaction.
We are here to hear."
"But other beings hear!" a student said. "And dogs can hear sounds humans can't hear.  Are dogs more important than us?"
"True," Reb Yerachmiel said, "dogs can hear what we cannot.
But we can hear what even dogs cannot.
We can hear the cry of a broken heart.
We can hear the outrage of injustice.
We can hear the whisper of empathy.
We can hear the silence of death.
“You are here to listen not only to what everyone else can hear,
but also to that which only you can hear."
Why are you here?
You are here to know God.
You are here to know God, and through your knowing, to
transform the world with justice and compassion  (ILawton TCPC 2008).

On Sunday I preached on a reading from the book of Joel which is amongst the most challenging works of the Hebrew bible. Sitting in the center of this reading is a phrase that caught my eye and which is also used by Peter in his sermon at Pentecost.
‘Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.’
It connected me with memories of Martin Luther King Jr. and his inspiring "I Have a Dream" speech. With his vision of the future, he raised the conscience of the nation before God and the judgment seat of racial morality. With that speech, Martin Luther King Jr. changed expectations in America, maybe even the world. He gave the world a new vision.
A vision, dream, or plan of the future is vital to the life of every living human. Visions and dreams guide our life and invite us into the future.
The bible is full of dreams and visions. The people of Israel were liberated from Egypt and guided in the wilderness by a vision of the promised land. Jacob dreamed of wrestling with God and winning. The prophets guided God’s people in dark times with God’s visions of what could be, even in the face of despair and oppression. Mary dreamed of the birth of jesus. Jesus’ ministry was one guided by a vision of the kingdom of God, a place of radical justice, divine peace and resurrection hope. The bible as we have it concludes with the grand vision of the Revelation of John in which we are shown a grand dream of justice and hope, a world united and embraced in the love of God.
Today, now, we are invited to continue to dream and to have visions, both young and old, men and women together, male and female slaves! (this is another wonderful element present in Joel’s dream).
We live in a world where people do dare to dream that things can be different and work to enact that divine dream; a dream of a world where human beings live sustainably and in harmony with the natural world and in harmony and compassion with each other. The recent climate action protests were and are motivated and sustained by a passionate vision. When we act to try and being compassionate action to refugees we are motivated and moved by dreams which I believe have a divine source.
And you do not have to be a prophet or a hero or a public figure to have a dream. The prophet joel gave a promise from God that the gift of dreams and visions will be given to daughters, sons, old and young, even slaves. It is an inclusive dream.
We all have dreams and visions of our future, it is what calls us on into that future. It is that vision which gives us hope. But there is often a difference between our normal dreams and the Divine dreams that we have in partnership with God. The dreams and visions that Joel was promising were of the type that call us into God’s future. When this church burned to the ground 15 years ago a vision was required for something new to happen. And some of you dreamed that dream and worked through the sometimes-difficult challenges that brought this place into being ten years ago.
As a church we are called to continue to dream and vision together about how this place can be a part of God’s vision for us and for this community. And when we dream, we are called to use what I have heard called ‘divine imagination’. An imagination inspired by God’s grace, mercy and compassion.
When we vision and dream, we need to ask ourselves What difference does our vision make in the lives of others?
As the story I quoted at the beginning said, we are called to transform the world through justice and compassion, and we are called to do that in the company of and with the imagination of the divine. When we share in that bit of God’s inclusive, compassionate ‘dream’ we can truly count ourselves blessed.

Dreams        Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.