January 13, 2013

Rev. John Watts

NampaFirst UMC



Matthew 6:7-15


It’s hard in January for me to let go of the things I wish I’d said in December.  I could have preached an Advent sermon about dreams.  There are five dreams in the Bible’s story of Christmas, all in Matthew.  Joseph is told in a dream that Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit (1:20), the wise men are told in a dream not to report back to Herod (2:12), Joseph is warned in a dream to flee with his family to Egypt (2:13), Joseph is told in a dream it’s safe to return (2:19), and finally, Joseph is told in dream where he is to settle with his family once they return from Egypt (2:22).

It is Biblical to expect God to speak to us in dreams.  I’ve had some dreams I was pretty sure wasn’t God speaking to me.  I think it was just all the pepperoni on that pizza.  But I have had other dreams that left me wondering.   Was there something in that dream that God wanted me to pay attention to and learn from?

Of course, we use the word dream in another way.  It’s not just what happens when we are sleeping.  We can also dream dreams when we are awake.   We can imagine a future the way we would like that future to be.  We can create in our mind a vivid picture of that future.  People who dream in this way are often called “dreamers”.  And it’s not usually considered a compliment to be a called a dreamer.  You’re a dreamer as opposed to being a doer.  You’re wishing that something might  happen instead of doing something to make it happen.

I’m not sure who said this, but I like it.  “Many of us spend half our time wishing for things we could have if we didn’t spend half our time wishing.”

Some people dream of being a famous singer, but it’s never more than a dream.  Other people do more than just dream.  They do the hard work to develop the gift God gave them, determined to become a great singer.  I think of someone none of us had heard of who suddenly became very well known singing a song about  dreaming dreams.  I know you’ve seen this before, but this is a video that never gets old.

(Youtube video of Susan Boyle singing “I Dreamed a Dream”)

By the way,  this particular video has been viewed over 115 million times!  It’s inspiring when someone does the hard work to make a dream come true.   It’s been noted that the best way to make a dream come true is to wake up.  Wake up and go to work.  Don’t just dream about it.  Do something about it.

Our scripture lesson doesn’t even use the word “dream”.  So what does the Lord’s Prayer have to do with dreaming?  I think it has a lot to do with dreaming.  But first, a little explanation.

Jesus tells us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  But how do we understand these opening words of this prayer?  When it says, “Thy will be done”, what does that really mean?  Does it mean that God is a dictator who imposes his will upon his creation?

We have a couple of dictators right now on the world scene who are likely to fall any day now — Bashar al-Assad inSyriaand Hugo Chavez inVenezuela.  One is about to die.  Well, truth is they probably both are about to die.  Does God rule as they have ruled?  God decides what will happen in this world and then makes it happen, by force if necessary?  No, not at all.  God has given each one of us free will.  We are perfectly free to reject God’s will and do our own thing.  So when we pray “Thy will be done” we really aren’t praying for God to take away our freedom and to start ruling over us like a dictator.  But then what are we praying when we pray “Thy will be done”?

How about this?  We are praying, “May all your dreams come true”.  And since the prayer is addressed to God, what we are really praying is, “May all God’s dreams come true.”   God’s will is God’s dream for us and for our world.  It’s God’s vision, if you will, of our lives and our world the way God wants it to be.  And the simple truth is, sometimes that dream comes true and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes that dream is in the process of coming true, but it’s taking an awfully long time.

A mother has great dreams for that little baby she holds in her arms.  She knows she will have a lot of influence on the way this child’s life unfolds, but she also knows the ultimate control over whether her dreams for her child come true is not in her hands.

A coach has great dreams for his team.  This coach can see what this team is capable of and also what it will take in terms of hard work to get there.  Tom Landry said, “My job is to get a group of people to do something they don’t want to do, that they might achieve something they’ve wanted all their lives.”  The coach will have a lot to do with this team’s success, but great coaches don’t always have great teams.  Sometimes either the talent or the commitment just isn’t there.

A teacher has great dreams for her students.  She can see the potential and she can also see the pathway that will get them there.  But the teacher can’t do the homework and take the tests and put in the effort and commit to the career path.

It’s like that with God.  God’s will is God’s dream, and that dream is very, very good.  But just because God dreams it doesn’t make it happen.  God doesn’t force his dreams on us.  God invites us to dream the same dream and then, with God’s help, to make that dream come true.   Make it more than a wish.  Make it a reality.

If God’s dreams are always good, it would follow that all the bad things that happen that are contrary to God’s will are God’s nightmares.  We live in a world with plenty of nightmares. Newtownwas a nightmare.  What’s happening inSyriais a nightmare.  What’s happening inChicago, where in 2012 there were 10 murders every week, is a nightmare.  But when God created this world, God wasn’t dreaming of murders and wars and prisons and child abuse and racism and poverty and pollution and greed.  God was dreaming of freedom and creativity and kindness and justice and generosity and peace and diversity and harmony.

Our dreams often oppose God’s dreams.  When that happens, our dreams become God’s nightmares.  But when we dream the same dream God is dreaming, when we offer ourselves to be used of God to make that dream come true, that’s when God’s will is done, on earth as in heaven.  That’s when heaven rejoices.  That’s when the earth begins to resemble what God had in mind when God created the heavens and the earth.

One man who dreamed God’s dream is the man we honor each year in January.  Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been 84 years old on Tuesday.  August 28 of this year will mark 50 years since he spoke those words from the Lincoln Memorial:  “I have a dream.”

The reason those words still speak powerfully 50 years later is because it wasn’t just his dream.  It wasn’t just something he thought would be a good idea.  It’s a dream as old as Moses when he said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.”  It’s a dream that resonates with what God says throughout the Bible.  Dr. King was a preacher.  In his speeches he was always quoting the Bible.  I’m not sure a modern-day leader would get away with quoting the Bible as much as Martin Luther King did.  God’s Word was the foundation of his dream.  It wasn’t just his dream.  It was God’s dream.

It was God’s dream that one day the descendants of former slaves and the descendants of former slave owners would sit down together at the table of brotherhood.  It was God’s dream that our children would grow up in a world where we would be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.  It was God’s dream that little black boys and black girls would be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.  It was God’s dream in other words that God’s Kingdom come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  And Dr. King in that famous speech was simply saying, “May all God’s dreams come true.”

This speech, 50 years ago, was given on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.  That means this year is the 150th anniversary of this document Abraham Lincoln signed to free the slaves.  Now if you’ve seen the movie “Lincoln” (and you must if you haven’t) you know that it took more than the Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves.  It took the ratification of the 13th amendment to the constitution to do that.

Last Tuesday and for the next two Tuesdays, Public Television is broadcasting a series called “The Abolitionists”.  We’ve all heard of Abraham Lincoln, of course, but have you heard of Angelina Grimke?  I hadn’t.

She was born into a life of privilege inCharleston,South Carolina.  Her father was a judge.  Her family owned many slaves.  But even at an early age, Angelina knew deep down that slavery was wrong.  She was raised in the Episcopal Church.  Her faith was always important to her.  But when it was time for confirmation at age 13, she refused to join a church that supported slavery.

Angelina ended up moving to the north.  She felt she could do more to end slavery in a more friendly environment.  But she never forgot her roots.  One of her most famous writings was “An Appeal to Christian Women of the South”.  She took on the arguments southern clergy were using, taken from the Bible, to support slavery.  She made the case that slavery is wrong because slavery is contrary to God’s purposes for his children.  God created us to be free.  All of us.  Regardless of color.  Regardless of gender.  Angelina Grimke was also a pioneer in the long struggle that eventually gave women the right to vote.  She appealed to the women of the south as one of them.  She knew the southern way of life.  She understood more than many of the northern abolitionists how entrenched slavery was in southern society and in the southern economy.  She understood the fear felt, even by those who agreed with her, of the consequences of emancipation.  But she wrote convincingly, persuaded that if the women of the south were to turn against slavery, the men soon would follow.

Of course it wasn’t that easy.  As it turned out, it would take a terrible war to free the slaves.  Angelina Grimke’s “Appeal to Southern Women” was publicly burned in her hometown.  Her family felt great shame over their wayward daughter.  But time has proven Angelina right.  Not because her dream was such a good dream, but because it was God’s dream.

In her “Appeal to Southern Women”, she told the story of an angry mob inBoston.  Even inBoston, the abolitionists had their enemies.  This mob had entered the offices of the “Anti-Slavery Society”.  They were throwing books and papers out the window.  As a Bible was about to be thrown out the window, someone spoke up.  “Do you realize that’s a Bible in your hand?”  He looked down at it, thought for a moment, and then said. “Oh! It’s all one.”  And out went the Bible along with all the other offensive literature.  Angelina Grimke wrote these words:

We thank him for his acknowledgement.  Yes, “it is all one,” for all our books and papers are mostly commentaries on the Bible, and the Declaration of Independence.  Read the Bible then, it contains the words of Jesus, and they are spirit and life.  Judge for yourselves whether he sanctioned such a system of oppression and crime.

It’s a good thing to dream a great dream.  It’s a better thing to dream God’s dream.  It’s best of all to dream God’s dream and then to wake up and go to work, God being our helper, to make that dream come true.


Dear God, thank for those who came before us, who with courage and with faith did more than just dream.  They were your arms and your legs to get things done that needed doing.  Help us today, in the world in which we live, to see what is wrong.  To not look the other way, or minimize, or make excuses.  But to see the wrong as you see it.  To see the nightmares.  To recognize them as such.  And then to respond, with faith, with courage, with resolve, to do your will.  In Jesus’ name,  Amen.