THE CALL TO DREAM
There are so many reasons not to dream. There are so many people who will tell you that dreams are for children, that we should get our heads out of the clouds, accept how things are, and do the best we can. Maybe you have those voices in your own head telling you to grow up, stop being stupid, and get real.
It’s true, some dreams are futile, or childish, or selfish. But just because we sometimes dream inadequate dreams doesn’t mean that we should give up dreaming altogether. In fact, even if we tried, we couldn’t do it – we are hard-wired as human beings to dream – to long for more, for better, for a future which is abundant, and joyful, and peaceful, and meaningful and whole.
How many of you made New Year’s resolutions last night? Or at least went into this New Year with dreams that this year would be better than last year? As you stood on the threshold of 2017, didn’t something in you long for a world that is less violent and divided, less unjust and corrupt, less full of grief and pain? I believe that longing comes from a divinely inspired dream for a world that is one and whole. If we don’t take that dream seriously, 2017 will be no better than 2016. But, if we allow that dream to take hold of us and change us, then who knows what 2017 could become?
I am reminded of one of the most famous and often quoted speeches of all time. On August 28, 1963, 250 000 people marched on Washington DC in support of jobs and freedom for oppressed African Americans. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Martin Luther King Jr. stood up and said these words: “I have a dream today!”
And I am reminded of a little known pastor in the Bahamas named Clint Kemp whose church decided to clear out a garbage dump on their island. For two years they carted away old fridges and machinery, garbage and mess. Then they asked local artists to come in and turn the old, broken trees into works of art. And after two years, they transformed a garbage dump into what they called “Sacred Space” – a beautiful oasis for prayer and meditation that is visited by people from around the world.
As followers of Jesus it is not just possible to dream dreams like these, it is mandatory! It is part of our calling, and our witness to the world. But what does it mean to be Gospel-inspired dreamers, and why is it so important? Let’s turn to the Scriptures.
TWO ORDINARY OLD DREAMERS
Simeon and Anna were both prophets, and that meant that they were both dreamers. They had both spent decades waiting for a dream to be fulfilled – not their own dream, but a dream of God that they had learned about in the Bible, especially in the prophet Isaiah. It was a dream of restoration, liberation, justice, and peace for their nation, Israel, and through Israel, for the world. It was an audacious dream, a glorious dream. And they had longed for, hoped for, and clung to this dream for most of their lives – Anna, who would have been married as a young woman, had lost her husband after seven years. And since then, she had basically lived in the temple, until, at the time of this story, she was eighty four! In the big scheme of things, they were both insignificant – no priestly credentials, no royal connections. Just very ordinary, old dreamers.
But, in the law any matter was proved true by the testimony of two witnesses. And God chose these two ordinary dreamers as witnesses to the birth of the Messiah! It was no coincidence that they encountered Jesus. The Temple was 35 acres of buildings and open courtyards, with thousands of people moving through it each day – including women coming with their purification sacrifices, and babies being dedicated, like Mary and Jesus. It would have been far more likely for Simeon and Anna to miss Jesus than to see him and recognise him for who he was. But, Luke loves talking about the Spirit’s work in the lives of God’s holy dreamers, and so he tells us that Simeon was moved by the Spirit and so he found the one he had been waiting for.
Of course, seeing Jesus was not the fulfilment of Simeon and Anna’s dream. It was just the first glimpse of a fulfilment, the beginning of the beginning. And, judging by Simeon’s prayer, he never got to see Jesus’ ministry. But, just seeing this glimpse was enough.
And Simeon was dreamer enough to know what impact Jesus would have, and how people would respond. His dream was not unrealistic, or a pipe dream, or a nice motivational cliche. Simeon knew that Jesus would test people’s hearts, that the powerful would oppose him, and that Mary would know the grief of watching her son die.
These are the kinds of dreamers God is seeking. Ordinary people who have fallen in love with God’s promise of a new world of justice and love, and who have learned to see glimpses of it in unlikely places. Because the world needs dreamers like this if it is ever to become one and whole as God desires.
LIVING AS GOSPEL DREAMERS
In 2017, the world is going to need Gospel dreamers – those who can see glimpses of God’s restoring, saving presence and power and bear witness to it. And God is calling us to be those dreamers – because dreamers like this are used by God to make God’s dream come true!
So, how do we live as Gospel dreamers in 2017? Here are two suggestions from Simeon and Anna’s story that can teach us.
Firstly, we need to develop what theologian Walter Brueggemann called a “prophetic imagination.” When I think of a prophetic imagination I am reminded of the words of Robert F. Kennedy: “Some [people] see the world as it is and say ‘Why?’ I see the world as it could be and say, ‘Why not?’”
A person with a prophetic imagination is one that is sees the world for what it is, but is so immersed in God’s dream of justice and love that they can see what the world could be. A person with a prophetic imagination is like Simeon and Anna, always waiting for the signs of God’s salvation, and ready to bare witness to it. And, they are people who reject the unimaginative solutions of our world – the lottery is an unimaginative solution to economic challenges; violence and war are unimaginative solutions to the conflict in our world; voting in divisive and aggressive leaders like Donald Trump is an unimaginative solution to terrorism – and terrorism is an unimaginative solution to religious and political difference.
So, in 2017, can you immerse yourself in the promises and dreams of God in the Scriptures? And can you allow that to shape your imagination so that it becomes prophetic – able to see the world as it could be and say, ‘Why not?’
Then, once our imagination has become prophetic, we need to live the dream before it comes true. Both Simeon and Anna were so convinced of God’s dream that they gave their whole lives to it. It shaped all of who they were and what they did. Dreams are not just ideas. They are ways of being, ways of thinking, of seeing, of speaking, of acting, of believing.
Like a woman I met in Knysna who saw children in the township who were sick and struggling in school because they weren’t getting enough food or nutritious food. She dreamed of a world where children could be fed well so that they would grow strong and learn well. Then she discovered ePap, and started making it available in the townships. Fast forward a few years, and she had developed a network of supporters, servers, and suppliers that ensured that every day 3000 children got fed ePap. And the children got healthier, and stronger, and started learning better. She saw the world as it could be and didn’t just say, ‘Why not?’ she changed the world to conform to God’s dream.
Let me end with this quote from D.H. Lawrence:
“All people dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake in the morning to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people. For they dream their dreams with open eyes. And then make them come true.”
As we go into 2017 let’s not let the fear and struggle of 2016 cloud our vision. Let’s immerse our imaginations in Scripture until they become prophetically enflamed. And then let’s live this year as those who live God’s dream, even when all we see is the tiniest of glimpses.
Let’s not see the world as it is and say, ‘Why?’ Let’s see the world as it could be – as God desires for it to be – and say, ‘Why not?’