What Kind of Dreamer are You?

July 23, 2017 Sermon by The Rev. Jacqueline C. Thomson

Proper 11 A

Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

 

What kind of dreamer are you?  There are two kinds of dreams, I would suggest – the dreams we think about consciously when we’re awake and the dreams we have when we’re sleeping and can’t control our thoughts.  The waking dreams can help us set a path for our lives.  Through middle school and high school, I dreamed of being a teacher.  To help make that dream a reality, I knew I had to study hard and work hard to save money so I could go to college.  Martin Luther King, Jr., had a much grander, more famous dream, summarized in his well-known “I Have a Dream” speech.  Martin dared to dream of a different and better way of life for our nation.  He dreamed of a time when his four young children would no longer be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  Martin dared to put his very life on the line to help bring his dream to reality.  Dr. King was arrested, his home was bombed, he was imprisoned and abused.  Still, he was committed to nonviolent means of realizing his dream of correcting the injustices of racism and segregation.  What have been your dreams?  What is your dream today?  How have your waking dreams – past and present – made a difference in the way you’ve lived your life?

The second type of dream is interesting in that we have no conscious control over what we dream.  They say we all dream, some four to six times a night for those of us who are older than ten.  It’s curious that some of us seem to remember our dreams while others don’t.  One of my friends was once part of a group of seven women who called themselves “The Dream Team.”  They got together once a month to share the dreams they remembered.  Being part of the group raised Connie’s awareness of her dreams.  She said what she treasured about the group was their feedback on the dreams she shared with them.  They reflected her dreams back to her and, grounded in their knowledge of her, suggested possible meanings.  They did this with incredible tenderness.  When the Dream Team began, Connie was Senior Warden at her parish.  Her most memorable dream that year was one of the rector showing up at Connie’s door carrying a large, very heavy suitcase.  Remembering that our dreams are more about us than about others, the Dream Team suggested the suitcase was about Connie’s extra baggage and not the rector’s.  This dream changed her interactions with the rector.

As we meet Jacob this morning, up to this point, he’s been acting on fulfilling the first kind of dream, his waking dream of ambition: getting all he can get from his father Isaac, even at the expense of his brother Esau.  Earlier, in a parallel story he had claimed the birthright that rightfully belonged to his older twin.  We may not regard his action as just, but there was nothing deceitful about it.  Esau was starving, and Jacob had cooked a really good stew.  “Do you want some?” Jacob asked his brother.  “I’ll happily give you a bowl for a price – your birthright goes to me.”  And so, Esau agreed to “sell” his birthright.  Jacob’s taking of their father’s blessing a little later on was deceitful.  Their mother Rebekah, who favored Jacob, heard that Isaac, by now old and blind and near death, was planning to bestow his blessing on Esau, who was his favorite child.  She summoned Jacob, told him to bring her two kids from their flock so she could prepare Isaac’s favorite meal.  She then dressed Jacob in Esau’s clothes and put the sheepskin on Jacob’s smooth skin to trick Isaac into thinking Jacob was his hairy brother.  Rebekah sent him in to receive the blessing intended for the first born.  Their trickery worked.

Jacob is now running for his life.  Esau is so outraged he has threatened to kill Jacob.  Rebekah tells Isaac she’s tired of Esau’s Hittite wives and wants Jacob to marry “one of his own.”  She proposes sending Jacob from the promised land back to Haran, the land his grandfather Abraham came from.  Jacob will make the same journey Abraham made, a journey of about four hundred miles, – in reverse.  He’s to go to her brother Laban and take one of his daughters as his wife.  With no other option, Jacob leaves his home.  As darkness falls, Jacob is aware it’s no longer safe to travel.  He must have been exhausted because he selects a stone for his pillow and falls into that deep sleep made for the second kind of dreams.

Jacob doesn’t deserve the dream he dreams.  He’s a two-time double crosser who’s robbed his brother of his birthright and his blessing.  (I was curious about the difference between a birthright and a blessing, so I did a little digging.  Both were intended for the firstborn male.  The birthright gave the elder son the role as head of the household with the authority to rule over the clan.  The father’s blessing gave him a double portion of the inheritance.)  Jacob is an accomplished deceiver, who’s pulled the wool over his own smooth hands and his father’s blind eyes in order to steal what he wants.  He’s a con man on the run, owing his compromised life to his conniving mother’s love.  It seems Jacob has no relationship with God at this point.

It is here in that previously unknown place that Jacob’s dream begins.  His dream is of a ladder – or staircase or ramp (there’s some discussion about the best translation) with its bottom step firmly planted on earth, and subsequent steps extending to heaven.  Angels, God’s messengers, are ascending and descending the steps.  God stands beside Jacob and speaks to him.  “I am the God of your grandfather Abraham and your father Isaac.”  God goes on to make promises to Jacob, nine of them in all.  God repeats the promises made to his forbearers, the promise of land, the promise of many descendants, the promise that all people will be blessed through Jacob.  God then continues with promises that are new to Jacob.  “I will be with you and keep you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land.”  “I will be with you.”  Jesus’ lineage can be traced back to Jacob, and his name Emmanuel means “God with us.”  At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ parting words to his disciples are, “I will be with you always, to the ends of the ages.”  The promise made to Jacob is a promise God continues from generation to generation.

Jacob awoke from this dream a changed man.  “Surely, the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!” he exclaimed.  This place is the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”  What an unexpected place for God to show up and to an unexpected person!  This is a place where heaven and earth meet, where God comes to meet us.  Jacob consecrated the stone he had slept on, pouring oil on it, making it an altar and naming the place Bethel – “the house of God.”  Ever the wheeler dealer, Jacob responds to God’s promises to him, offering God a conditional covenant.  “If you will be with me and feed me and clothe me and bring me back to my father’s house, then you will be my God.  This stone will be your house, and I will give you one tenth of all you have given me.”  Jacob wasn’t out looking for God.  He didn’t deserve the dream; he didn’t deserve all God promised him.  But God sought him out.  God chose him despite what he had done.  Jacob believes God’s dream, and he accepts God’s gifts as pure grace.

In a similar way, Jacob’s grandfather Abraham encountered God in a dream; his dream involved a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch.  Because of that vision, Abraham made a covenant with God, and his life and the lives of his people were changed forever.  A dream formed Abraham; a dream formed Jacob and their people, and they became dreamers, too – first Abraham with his fire pot, then Jacob with his ladder, then Jacob’s son Joseph with his dream of sheaves, then Mary’s husband Joseph, who dreamed his holy family to safety in Egypt and back home again.  We, too, are a people of the dream, formed from their dreams and our own, grounded in our openness to believing in the dream and in our courage to follow the dream and birth it into being.

What kind of dreamer are you?  What difference do your dreams make in the way you live your lives?  How do you listen for God speaking through your dreams?  How do you share that dream and bring it to reality?  This year marks the 200th anniversary of Henry David Thoreau’s birth.  I read an article by an English teacher in this week’s paper.  Thoreau was his favorite author, and he tried to make him a favorite of his students, too.  He shared a favorite quote, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”  Thoreau, too, commends our dreams to us, compelling us to pay attention to them and to follow them.

During your time of transition, I’m imagining you’ve done some dreaming about who you as a congregation will be under the leadership of your new rector.  As you anticipate the announcement and arrival of your new leader, you’re probably beginning to dream of some of the things you will work on together.  As a people of the dream, may you discover again and again, “Surely, the Lord is in this place!”  May God continue to bless you through your dreams!  Amen.

 

The Rev. Jacqueline C. Thomson

St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Herndon, VA

July 23, 2017