Tag Archives: Dreams

Jacob, the Dreamer

A Sermon for 23 July 2017

 

A reading from Genesis 28:10-19a.  Listen for God’s word to us as we continue our summer readings from Genesis about our ancestors in faith.  Listen.

“Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran.  11 He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set.  Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.  12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  13 And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.  15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”  16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”  17 And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”  18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.  19 He called that place Bethel.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

 

It’s so amazing that Scripture gives us not just the stories of our faith ancestors, but also their dreams.  In the bible, we’re told of waking dreams, or visions, as often they are referred to.  We hear of messages from God which were heard and seen.  And we’re given insight into God’s relationship with God’s people as we learn of the wisdom that came to them in their nighttime dreams.  Along with cultures from the beginning of time, Hebrew belief in God’s messages through dreams was common.  And it’s not just through Jacob, Joseph, and others like the Hebrew prophets.  If it hadn’t been for another Hebrew man paying close attention to his dreams, Jesus would have been born to a young divorcée – if pregnant Mary would have been allowed to live had Joseph gone through with his initial plan.

“In the third century (CE) in the East, Origen wrote that God provided dreams ‘for the benefit of the one who had the dream and for those who hear the account of it’” (Our Dreaming Mind, Robert L. Van De Castle, p. 74).  In the third century in the West, Tertullian declared that “’Almost the greater part of mankind get their knowledge of God from dreams’” (Ibid., p. 78).  Then, in the fourth century in the West, Saint Jerome had what’s often referred to as a big dream.  One which he unfortunately understood literally so that it shook him to the core.  In the dream, he was dragged before a judgement seat and asked to profess his identity.  You see, Saint Jerome was an avid reader who had been born to a wealthy family.  He treasured reading what was considered the pagan classics.  In the dream, a merciless judge orders Jerome scourged.  He awakened from his terror only after vowing never to read anything but the books of God.  Later in life when he was called upon by the Pope to come translate the bible into Latin, Jerome mysterious mistranslated a Hebrew word three out of ten times in his manuscript known as the Vulgate.  It remained “the authoritative Latin version of the bible until the twentieth century” (Ibid., pp. 78-79).  So, for sixteen hundred years, the Western Church’s understanding of dreams has rested on what seems to be a deliberate inaccuracy.  We’ve been robbed of the treasure of God’s messages to us that come when we know how to listen to the wisdom of our dreams.  Thanks to the work of folks like Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and a whole host of others; Christians in the Western world finally are re-discovering God’s wisdom that comes to us every night in our dreams.

Take, for instance, the wisdom from God in Jacob’s dream – a dream we can take on as our own to see how its truths resonate in us.  I’m not sure what Jacob would have entitled this dream if he were writing it in his dream journal:  Angels on the Ladder?  Sleeping on Holy Ground?  Or maybe Zepplin’s famous phrase:  “Stairway to Heaven.”  We do know the date he’d give:  the family mess of his waking life context when his dying father sent him away from home with the stolen blessing.  This is the brother who engendered favor not in the eyes of his game-loving father but in the eyes of his more introspective, homebody mother Rebekah.  This is the brother that swindled his older twin out of his birthright.  This is the brother who by his mother’s plan again stirred up trouble between him and his elder twin Esau.  When their father was on his deathbed, Rebekah overheard Isaac’s charge to Esau to go hunt game to prepare him dinner that he might confer on his beloved eldest son his blessing.  By the way, the blessing ensured abundance for the eldest male heir who was supposed to receive it.  It gave every wealth of the father to his eldest boy.  And in this case, Isaac gave the blessing for God to make his son’s life sweet with the bounty of the land, the service of all other nations to the blessed, and the rule of the blessed over every other sibling.  After igniting the hatred of Esau and likely the anger of his father, Jacob was sent away to get for himself a wife from the descendants of his mother’s father.  Way far to the north and then east he was to travel, beyond the other end of the country, where his grandfather Abraham first stopped when he was called from Ur of the Chaldeans.  Whether Jacob knew it or not, his fate-filled night ended near the same spot where his grandfather had built a second altar (Gen. 12:8) and where after returning from Egypt, Abraham had to part ways with his nephew Lot (Gen. 13:1-9).  As surely as rocks carry in them the history of the earth, Jacob finds the sun setting for the night in the land where his grandfather pitched his tent, built an altar, and invoked the name of the LORD (Gen. 12:8).  There Jacob finds a rock for his pillow and lays down alone for the night.  If this were a movie, the music would crescendo for the audience to know something big is about to take place.

In this dream, a ladder is set up on earth.  It reaches straight up into the sky.  On it are angels, supposedly hovering up and down which seems to indicate presences that already were here on the earth and others that were on high.  And they’re all just covering this ladder – why?  To get the dreamer’s attention?  To herald the Presence of another?  What does a ladder grounded in the earth reaching straight up into the sky symbolize?  If this were my dream, I would be curious about the mundane parts of my daily life needing to come together with the loftier parts of the Beyond.  Like maybe how to allow the Spiritual to guide the regular parts of life like getting along with a brother and being honest with parents.  As earth often reminds us of mother or the feminine, and sky traditionally has been known as the masculine or father; if this were my dream, I would wonder how the energies of feminine and masculine need to come together in my life.  How the balance of receiving and giving truly is holy.  God shows up in this dream – though we don’t get any description of how God looks to Jacob in the dream.  It’s interesting that the words spoken by God to Jacob mirror closely the words with which his father Isaac blessed him.  If this were my dream, I would wonder about the parallel between my earthly father and this Divine father-like Voice.  For the one had just coldly sent Jacob away after the blessing.  While the other clearly covenants never to leave him until all that has been promised is done.  It’s significant too, if this were my dream, that the One doing the blessing in the dream evokes the name of the ancestors (my how we could use their wisdom and courage and inspiration!).  “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham,” Jacob hears as he’s sleeping on ground once trod by his family’s patriarch (Gen. 28:13).  And note exactly the words used in the dream:  “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac” (Ibid.).  If this were my dream, I would be in awe that the Divine is tying my destiny to the same given to Abraham – the father of offspring more numerous than the stars of the skies.  If there was any sorrow over the brokenness remaining between Jacob and his earthly father Isaac because of Jacob’s conniving against his brother; well, it would seem this dream is engrafting Jacob back into the family’s original, God-given plan.  It would seem any sense of separation from God or others that Jacob might be carrying from the guilt of his actions; well, doesn’t this dream give a beautiful vision instead of a Holy One that sticks closer than any earthly father.  A Holy One who knows how to re-work a broken life for purposes that will bless the ends of the earth.

Whatever ah-has come to Jacob from his dream – the awareness that the very earth on which he lays is holy – is the site of encountering the LORD; he carries the dream into his waking life.  Early in the morning, he rises.  He takes the stone – that stone upon which he laid his head to be open to such wisdom; that stone from the same land where grandfather Abraham built an altar.  Jacob takes the stone and sets it up as a pillar.  Anointing it with oil perhaps as a sign of healing, or maybe like an act of coronation; Jacob calls out Bethel:  House of God – the home in which the banished son now knows he is welcome.  The story goes on to tell us what he does next:  “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will surely give one tenth to you.’  Then Jacob went on his journey” (Gen. 28:20-29:1a).  Thanks to the wisdom of his dreams, he knew the next steps to take.  Thanks to the wisdom of his dream for us, we too know the One with whom we are home.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

 

Visualization

A Sermon for 4 June 2017 – Pentecost Sunday

 

 

A reading from Acts 2:1-21 (N.R.S.V.).  Listen for God’s word to us.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”  12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”  14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.  16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:  17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.  19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.  20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.  21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

The first day of volleyball practice the summer before my senior year of high school was strange.  We all gathered and got ready – knee pads in place, shoulders loose, fingers ready.  Coach blew the whistle to call us over and said:  “Everybody spread out and sit down.”  Sure she was about to lead us in the stretching she did every practice – at that point in our lives, she seemed to care more about the future of our muscles than we did.  Next she said:  “Close your eyes.  Open your imagination.  See yourself here in the gym.  Now, zero-in on one skill – the one for which the team most relies on you.”  Allowing time for our minds to catch up with her instructions, she left long periods of silence between each statement.  On and on it went like that as she had us SEE ourselves doing each movement of our most valuable skill.  It was almost an exercise to feel the success of the move in our bodies.  Have our minds train our muscles to do exactly what was needed in order for our team to function beyond our peak performance.  The exercise was called visualization and it became the opening ten minutes of every practice from that first one on.  Coach wanted us to get in our minds a vision of ourselves doing our absolute best.  As time went on, we moved from individual skills to whole plays of games, until one day one of us visualized our team playing for and receiving the coveted gold medal awarded each fall to only one division champion in the state.  It was kinda strange because we weren’t the team that was supposed to be able to dream that dream.  The powerhouse hitters of our high school had graduated along with the most successful team setter in the school’s history.  We were a little ban of pretty good players without any outstanding giants.  Imagine everybody’s surprise when just a few months after that teammate visualized our gold medal success, we found ourselves loading up the bus and heading to the state championship tournament in order to do what we could to make the vision of our success a reality.

I begin with this story today, not to tell you the reason why I had to have shoulder repair surgery a year and a half ago, but to lift up the amazing practice of visualization.  Some of you might know it well.  Perhaps you’ve been a practitioner of visualization all your life.  Daily, or every now and again when you have a life challenge you really need that extra umph to make it through, you get yourself quiet.  Open your imagination.  And see happening that which you hope to have happen in your life.  All the right words coming as you talk with your child about a really difficult topic.  The calm you need to confront your boss on another direction for your company’s work.  Step after step of a routine or a song or a race that you hope to perform well.  Visualization can be a powerful practice for just about anything in our lives.  Something in our brains needs to SEE the desired outcome before we set out.  I can’t really explain how it all works – maybe it just alters the constant inner critic that can stifle our best efforts until we don’t even try because we’re so convinced it’s bound to fail anyway.  Maybe it just widens our vistas to view possibilities something inside us CAN imagine when we open ourselves to what could be.  . . .  The prophet Joel is quoted that Pentecost day when the Spirit of God mightily stirred among Christ’s disciples.  “Your young shall see visions, and your old shall dream dreams!” (Acts 2:17b).

The practice of visualization didn’t start with my volleyball coach.  In fact, as Presbyterians, we’re invited into a visualization exercise every time our attention moves over to the Lord’s Table.  In the invitation we hear:  “scripture reminds that they will come from north and south, east and west and sit together in peace in God’s kingdom.”  That’s a vision – a vision of God’s intended way.  . . .  “Then, at last, all peoples will be free,” are typical words during that long prayer of great thanksgiving when most of our minds might be wandering, wondering when the pastor is going to say Amen so we can get on with it.  “All divisions healed, and with your whole creation, we will sing your praise through your Son, Jesus Christ” (PCUSA Book of Common Worship, 1993, p. 145).  That’s a vision – to spur our hope, guide our actions, and daily direct our lives.

“The young shall see visions,” we are promised on Pentecost.  “The old shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17b).

When we get quiet.  When we allow our hearts and minds to be open, the Spirit of God gives us visions.  We see in our mind’s eye what God wants to bring to reality.  . . .  What do you see when you visualize – for this church?  . . .  It’s easy to stay focused on the past.  To see, as you visualize, what used to be 20 or 30 or more years ago.  Even though every one of us knows from personal experience that we cannot do what we did 20 or 30 or more years ago.  Nor would we really want to with bodies that are a bit older now, hearts that know better now, and wisdom that has come from the challenges we have faced.  . . .

I know it’s a little outside the box, but its Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Spirit that goes as it will.  So we’re going to try it now – a little visualization for the ministry of this church.  Get yourself quiet – don’t worry about how much longer this sermon or this service is going to go on.  Just settle in to your pew right now.  Put your feet flat on the floor to let yourself be well grounded right where you.  Then close your eyes – yes:  a preacher is instructing you to close your eyes during a sermon, so go ahead!  Take advantage of it!  Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.  . . .  Don’t worry about anyone around you right now, just listen.  Listen deep down in your guts – where you know because the Spirit of God is there in you.  . . .  What do you see for this church?  . . .  What is happening?  . . .  Who is a part of the picture?  . . .  What are you hearing?  . . .  What are you seeing?  . . .  What is being done – alone and together?  . . .  As God is being served by serving others, what exactly do you see?  . . .  Let God’s Spirit guide you as you visualize.  . . .

Getting ready to come back to the present moment, first express to God by verbalizing in the quiet of your mind whatever you are stirred to express.  . . .  Then when you are ready, wiggle your toes or tap your heels into the ground under your feet.  As you are opening your eyes, remember what happened in these few moments – whatever visualization you received from God.  And make sure you take the opportunity to let me or one of the session members know whatever came for you that we need to know.  Maybe plan to do this exercise again at home this week or in the weeks to follow.  And even pay attention to your nighttime dreams to see what God gives there.  . . .  Peter’s Pentecostal words from the prophet Joel told us it would be so – God would guide God’s church.  “Your young shall see visions,” Peter said.  “Your old shall dream dreams!” (Acts 2:17b).  For such gifts, thanks be to God!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

The Disruption of Christmas

A Sermon for 1 January 2017

A reading from the gospel of Matthew 2:13-23. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now after they (the wise men) had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” 16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” 19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.””

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

This text leaves me wondering if Joseph and Mary had any clue about how disruptive the birth of Jesus was going to be. What parents-to-be ever do? If you’ve had children – or maybe just had a few grandchildren stay at your house over the holidays – then you might know how such sweet little ones can absolutely turn your world upside-down, inside-out, and backwards all at the very same time! Little ones come into our lives as such vulnerable gifts. When first they are born, they can’t do anything – you remember, don’t you? They cannot do one little thing for themselves. But they sure can cry. They sure can let out plenty of nasty stuff from the other end too. And they sure can make their presence known – especially when one of their mysterious needs is not being met! I remember when first my sister brought my nephew here for a visit. He was crawling around by then and nothing could be left in its regular spot. He reached for it all. And had a little schedule all his own to which us grown people just had to adjust. And he came with so much stuff! Blankets and bottles and sit-up chairs and special beds. Not that it’s not totally worth it, but man do little ones entirely disrupt life! Again, if you just had one or two of your precious grandchildren or other special little ones in your life – if you just had a few of them around for the holiday week, you might find your house still completely out of order and yourself totally exhausted! But, of course, it’s absolutely worth it!

Which is why we’ve got to wonder if Joseph and Mary had one inkling of an idea of how disruptive the birth of little Jesus was going to be! Look at how their lives change – especially according to the gospel of Matthew’s details regarding the story. For something like the first four years of his life, keeping him alive meant incredible disruption. From Bethlehem to Egypt they have to move. Flee, actually. This little one is a perceived threat to the whole kingdom. Herod goes nuts – as was a routine Herodian response. He absolutely losses it when this little one is born, and the wise ones from the East fail to return to smoke-out where the precious darling is being kept. In a dream, Joseph is warned and doesn’t waste one minute, moving himself and Mary and the baby all the way cross-country to a foreign land. It’s kinda unbelievable because Joseph knew the land of Egypt was the land of enslavement. There his people had been treated terribly way back when. Of course, others had fled there over the years too. Some escaped exile in Babylon by returning to Egypt. Joseph had to trust that it was going to be ok. They had to hope that one day they’d also be able to return home. . . . It might have been nice, though, to remain in Egypt his whole childhood long. You know, get him started in the right pre-school, then kindergarten through twelfth at least in the same school system so he’d grow with his childhood friends. And Joseph and Mary would be known in the PTO to have the support of the other parents too. But another dream comes; and just about the time they’ve settled in as a family: disruption once again. Back to Judea they head. Until Joseph realizes Herod’s son now rules and is known as being more brutal than his father before him. They don’t want to chance it and another dream confirms it. So instead of heading back to the place of the child’s birth; they make the trek to Nazareth, way far north in the district of Galilee. They must have surmised that nothing big ever had come from there – certainly the family would be safe. . . . The gospel of Matthew tells it as if Joseph and Mary had never before been to Nazareth and just randomly chose the sleepy little town to set up shop. The gospel of Luke locates them there from the start – with relatives to be built-in family support. However it might have been, it could not have been easy moving around that much the first few years of the child’s life. Re-establishing themselves all along the way. Trying to protect this little bundle of joy God had given. Wanting to be able to feed and clothe him well. Teach him all he needed to know for the special work instore for his life. It couldn’t have been easy to have given over control of their own life plans for another way to be made. Indeed, this little one born to them in Bethlehem was a disruption from the start!

For most of us, these past few weeks have been a disruption from the regular routines of life. We spend the whole season of Advent preparing – if not our hearts, at least our homes and refrigerators and rituals of the season. For many of us Christmas disrupts our diets and our bank accounts and our sleep patterns. Hopefully we’ve had a little time out from our typical daily tasks and have been able to relax a bit with family and friends. Work can wait until the celebrations are over and everything gets back to normal. . . . But I wonder: how will his birth disrupt the days that lie ahead? Wouldn’t it be an absolute shame if we let all the preparations for his birth disrupt our Decembers, then leave us heading into a new calendar year tucking the little one tightly into a box along with the shepherds and wise men and animals of our favorite nativity scenes? It really would be terrible if we rolled right back into tomorrow without anything at all in our lives being much different. If we let the celebrations of a birth disrupt us more than the actual child. . . . He wasn’t meant to be relegated to holiday moments. He was meant to truly open us to the re-birth of God in us. He’s meant to disrupt the way we’d like things to be, in exchange for the wild adventure that Christ’s Way gives to us.

It starts with our baptisms, which we’ll be remembering next week when we gather for Baptism of the Lord Sunday. From the moment our lives are given over in the sign and seal of that sacrament, we no longer belong to ourselves. We are engrafted into a new family – children of the covenant, members now of the household of God. Disruption, disruption, disruption! We promise to work against evil and all its powers in this world. To take on the ways of Christ – which are summarized best in willingly living the path of self-giving love. We’re ambassadors, after baptism, for the very ways of God. Here to live peace. And joy. And hope. Which means not just in our thoughts, but in the actions of our lives too. We are to model the actions of that disruptive little baby! Posing a threat to those who want to live by force and fear and corruption. We’ll go wherever we must, according to the disruptive Spirit of that child, to protect the goodness that is to emanate from us out into this world. We set up shop among strangers, turning those we’d never otherwise encounter into family because that’s the way of the disruptive baby born in Bethlehem. We’ll learn new ways and adjust to what’s around us now so that the Spirit of God within us has an opportunity to be seen by all. That’s how disruptive Christmas is to be for us – leaving us, alongside Joseph and Mary, to give up our own life plans in order to nurture in us the one of Love. Disrupting, disrupting, disrupting the regular ways of this world for the ways of God instead. . . . And you know what? Whether we realize it when first it begins, it’s likely we’re going to find it’s worth it. Like the disruptive little baby himself, absolutely worth it! . . . Welcome to life disrupted, brothers and sisters of the covenant. Get ready to experience the bundle of joy God gives!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

 

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All Rights Reserved.)