The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
January 14, 2018
Whatever dreams may mean, Frederick Buechner notes, they unquestionably mean two things: “One of them is that we are in constant touch with a world that is as real to us while we are in it, and has as much to do with who we are, and whose ultimate origin and destiny are as unknown and fascinating, as the world of waking reality. The other one is that our lives are a great deal richer, deeper, more intricately interrelated, more mysterious, and less limited by time and space than we commonly suppose.
“People who tend to write off the validity of the religious experience in general and the experience of God in particular on the grounds that in the Real World they can find no evidence for such things should take note. Maybe the Real World is not the only reality, and even if it should turn out to be, maybe they are not really looking at it realistically.”
There are of course both the dreams that come to us, and take control of us, during the REM moments of our sleep, and those that, while they might arise in unconscious moments, we decide to encourage or discourage – and so determine the degree of their influence upon us. These are the dreams that drive us to imagine possibilities beyond the present and to pursue bringing about what does not yet exist.
As a very little boy, I dreamt of saving the pretty TV weather reporter from a lion because I didn’t know how else to express my great love for her. As an older boy, I dreamt of becoming a star player in the NBA because that’s what I then wanted more than anything else in the world. As a man and a minister, I have dreamt of rapid numerical growth for the church I love.
Today’s scripture tells us that when God pours out His Spirit upon His people, the Spirit enables them to receive dreams from God and to follow up on them with powerful perseverance. The Spirit, Joel says, inspires the sons and daughters of the faith to “prophesy” – that is, to pick up the messages God sends and to pass them on to others. He inspires the old ones to dream dreams and the young ones to see visions – that is, to perceive the possibilities God wants to bring into reality and to apply themselves to making those possibilities come to pass.
In a few moments we are going to ordain and install elders and deacons who will promise to serve with love, energy, intelligence and imagination. They and any of us who mean to carry out our Christian calling do well to employ our imaginations, not to indulge unrealistic fantasies or wishful thinking, but to put before our mind’s eye vividly and constantly what God wants to see happen.
The dreaming the Spirit inspires helps us to hold on to the holy aspirations God has put into us. It fuels the fires of holy passion that sustain our pursuit of those aspirations. As we picture their fulfillment in our minds, they energize us and draw us along with the hope of making better a significant difference. Unless we in some sense conceive that, we will not achieve it.
Albert Einstein achieved the fulfillment of his aspirations by a dream that captured his imagination.
When Einstein was a small boy, his father gave him a compass. The mysterious power that emanated from the magnetic pull on its pointer made his mind spin with possibilities and pictures of forces out of view. Years later, Einstein wrote, “I can still remember…how this experience made a deep and lasting impression on me. Something hidden had to be behind things.” As a teenager, the intrigue and wonder of physics crept into his dreams. One night, he dreamt that he was sledding down a snowy hill faster and faster, until he approached the speed of light and the stars radiated a rainbow of colors. Young Albert was entranced. When he awoke, he knew he had to understand and serve that dream.
Toward the end of his life, Einstein said that his entire scientific career was a meditation on that dream. Though at 13 he couldn’t make sense of it, something inside him kept him pondering and pursuing it his whole life.
God dreams dreams about the possibilities of each of our lives. He wants us to dream His dreams after Him. God wants us to seek their fulfillment with Him.
How do we contribute to their fulfillment? We choose to harbor them in our heart; we choose to allow them to capture our imagination and thereby impel us forward. We also choose to let go of some other dreams that we might fulfill those that matter most.
God has had to disabuse me of dreams that were a drag on my pursuit of His unique dreams for me – dreams that were anyway just bringing me to disappointment, distraction and sense of defeat. God has done that in order that I might realize the dreams that were my destiny and that would give me deeper delight than those I left behind ever could.
Do you remember how in Frank Capra’s classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey – played by Jimmy Stewart – tells Mary how he’s going to erect skyscrapers a hundred stories high, build bridges a mile long and even lasso the moon?
Of course, his life turns out to be pretty much as commonplace as anyone else’s. His falling short of those big dreams blinds him to the big impact he’s having. For all the ordinariness of his life – his getting up and getting to his job, his putting in a decent day’s work, his coming home and having dinner with his family, his scraping together enough to pay the bills – he cannot see the magnificence of his life. He shares deep love with his wife and children, enjoys friendships that bring out the best in those around him, and uplifts his community’s spirits day in and day out. He just has to have his eyes opened to what is right before him: the fulfillment of a beautiful dream he should have been relishing all along.
God’s understanding of which dreams are the greatest is different than ours. Basil, the brother of the 4th century church father Gregory of Nyssa, had arranged for Gregory to be made bishop of Cappodocia. Gregory objected that he didn’t want to be stuck in such an out-of-the-way place. His brother told him God didn’t want Gregory to obtain distinction from his church but to confer distinction upon it. Is that not what God wants from all of us? To put away our lasso, and to pursue what is ours to contribute in the perhaps unremarkable ways and in the small circles of influence which God has chosen for us? To give ourselves greatly to what might not seem great at all in our eyes – and to dare to dream that, though the path to glory is often an obscure one, it is one that brings us before a great and glorious God who will celebrate with us the fulfillment of His dreams for our life through all eternity. Let us pray!