Un-Prepared: Dream God’s Dream
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
December 4, 2016
Matthew 1:18-25 18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah[a] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;[b] and he named him Jesus.
Science tells us that we all dream; its just that some of us don’t remember our dreams as well. In our home, I often dream big and cinematically. Lauralee, my wife, can’t remember hers. My favorite dreamers in my home have been my dogs. Maybe you’ve seen it. They’ll be asleep and start dreaming. My favorite dreaming dog was my beloved Sam, who’s crossed the rainbow bridge. He was a retired hunting dog, a French Brittany. I adopted him when he was pretty old. But often, I would watch him dream. I’d imagine that he was dreaming being young again; pointing, flushing and retrieving game. He was in some competitions and even in a magazine. In his dreams, I believe he was still in the game. That literally happened to me once in my senior year of high school. My dad was the United Methodist District Superintendent, so we attended the cathedral of United Methodism in Paducah KY. Late in the summer, two a day football practices had exhausted me; the cool AC and the drone of the minister put me to sleep in their staid worship. I started dreaming of being in a line to hit a football blocking sled. My time came, and I exploded out of my stance in my dream and in the worship service too. I made a loud noise and threw my arms and shoulder into the sled. I don’t think too many folks had heart attacks.
Dreams have a rich place in the Judeo-Christian tradition. While the scientific world view teaches that dreams are the result of our inner selves and thoughts, in Judeo-Christian tradition, the Holy Spirit stills works on us even while we sleep. CUMC even recently completed a small group studying an Episcopal priest’s work, claiming with an ancient church father that dreams are unopened letters from God.
We also commonly use the word “dream” to describe our hope for the future; what we dream we will be; our family will be like, or how our future unfolds. And we do whatever we can to make those dreams come through.
Sometimes though, our dreams seem to turn into nightmares. You know how this is: I’d dreamed for a life where my mom could be with me for a long time, but she died 30 years ago; as I mentioned last week, I’d dreamed that my dad would live a long rich “with it” life, and now he has progressive age-related cognition issues and is with us physically but not how he was formerly. And there are so many more of these kinds of dreams that turn into nightmares: the couple that gets married and dreams of a wonderful relationship but winds up in divorce proceedings; the eager new hire that dreams of a great position only to lose it because of office politics; the parent who loves their child more than they love themselves, only to hear their precious child is being bullied and doesn’t fit in; the person who is just “that close” to retirement and gets a call from the doctors office about a deadly lab result. So often, no matter what we do to prepare and “work” our dreams, they can turn into nightmares.
That happened to Joseph. He’d found the love of his life, Mary. Here’s something I found interesting, because of the dream we’ll read in our passage and the Hebrew Scripture saying “old men shall dream dreams” the legend of Joseph being much older than Mary was born. So let’s go with that; Joseph, an older man finally, after a long life of being single, finds his love, Mary. What a life of dreams coming true he must have been living!
And then, I imagine that he must have proposed to her and she accepted, with the agreement of her family in those days. And engagement, betrothal, some translations called it, was akin to being married but with no intimate relations. It was taken so seriously that it could only be ended by divorce. So, year long plans were being made for the wedding festivities. Josephs dream of his life was coming true! How full of joy he must have been!
And then, one day she came to him and said, “Joseph, I’m pregnant." In that instant, his dream turned into a horrible nightmare.
But God is the God who turns nightmares into dreams! God took Joseph’s nightmare and turned it into the beautiful dream of raising Jesus!
That’s how God is! God is the God who turns devastating floods like Noah experienced on the ark into rainbow dreams of hope; who takes a man like Peter who denied Jesus at his greatest time of need and makes him the rock of the church; who takes someone like Saul who was killing Christians and makes him Paul the greatest builder of the church; who takes the nightmare of the cross and makes it into the eternal life giving reality of the Risen Jesus. This is God, who takes the nightmares of our lives and turns them into dreams; who takes the failures of the church and redeems the world through it; who will take the mess we’ve made of the world and will one day make it into God’s dream.
The reality is, our God is the God of turning nightmares in God’s dream for us, the church and the world. And, God is doing this even when we can’t muster the faith to see it or believe it; it’s just how God is and nothing can halt God’s transforming love.
And we gain this faith when we study and hear with Joseph and others the words of God’s, Gabriel, when he spoke to Joseph, Mary and others always saying, “fear not."
But how can we “fear not” when despite our best preparations our dreams crumble into nightmares? Because God is with us. God is for us. God is on our side. Our Bible lesson today tells us this: Jesus will save his people. He is Emmanuel, which means, God is with us.
If we think back, if we remember and reflect on where we’ve been and where we are now, we can often say, “this is true!” Think of a time, when despite your best preparations your dreams became like a nightmare and God turned it back into a dream again. I can laugh and praise God for it now, but when it happened it was traumatic. I worked as a student pastor to finish divinity school. I finished in three terms – three presidential terms! I did most of my work at Vanderbilt and then finished in Berkeley, California. You probably know that Berkeley is likely the most progressive area in the nation. And one year after finishing at Berkeley, I found myself serving a two church circuit in the mountains of North Georgia, despite having trained for and requesting an inner city church. Lauralee was “great with child” and because of some problems, put on a bed rest regime. The parsonage was filled with fleas; next door to a tire recapping business. It was so poorly insulated that in the winter, the water in the toilet froze and we had to sleep in the living room next to the gas logs, with our little newborn. The folks were good, but I didn’t understand them, and they didn’t understand me. My dream of ministry had become a nightmare. I seriously began to question my calling. But God turned it around – not in my timing – it took waiting – but it happened. I was appointed to a failing little suburban church in Memphis and God did wonderful things! Taking the worship attendance from 36 my first Sunday to over 300; building a staff and a building that became the center of the community. I couldn’t see it at the time; I couldn’t always feel it in that cold little flea infested parsonage, but God was always with me; Immanuel – God with you; us.
Think back and I bet there have been times in your life where despite your best preparation, your dream became a nightmare and Immanuel, God with us, turned it to a dream again.
But this isn’t only for us but also for the church and the world.
Sometimes, by outward appearance it seems like the church overall is in a nightmare. Church membership is shrinking. Church attendance is as well. Giving to the church is at an all time low. For the first time, the majority of people, when asked about their religious affiliation say, “none." In our own denomination, we’re threatened with a split over “who loves whom” while children die of starvation, while the world wants Good News, we argue. It’s a nightmare.
But Immanuel, God with us, will make it a dream again! I’m certain of it! Phyllis Tickle, the late Episcopal theologian and church historian says that every 500 years the “church has a rummage sale." It rids itself of everything it doesn’t need anymore and is reborn. She cites Constantine in the first 500 years, then the Western and Eastern church dividing in the second 500 years of the church; then Protestant Reformation 500 years later. And guess what? This year is the 499th anniversary of the Reformation. Immanuel, God with us is about changing how we do church. I’m excited; I have some trepidation too. But I see signs. I see signs we might even join with out of and from Christ Church.
For instance, there is a great movement of churches forming what are called “new monastic communities." Places where people live together with agreed upon Christian rules for life. Often, in a distressed community these folks serve, honor and live with the poor.
Or, the Fresh Expressions movement. Out of England, this movement has a large anchor church get out of its walls and establish small worshipping communities with people who would never come here. David Hockett’s church has a number of them: one that meets Sunday nights in a bar; another that worships in the county jail; another that worships in a rough, impoverished, drug-infested trailer park. Ken Carter is starting them in Florida using lay servants. How many could we start? Where? And, could God be calling you to lead one?
Immanuel loves the church. The bible says its his bride. He’ll never abandon it. He’ll turn its nightmare into a new dream for a new day.
And God is doing the same for the world, right now. The world is nightmarish isn’t it? Violence in homes, our communities, our country and the world. War is waged with weapons of destruction and with words. Problems like hunger, addiction, homelessness, global warming and refugee crises seem un-solvable. Yet, even still God is at work. Transforming the world in ways that will never make the news cycle. Some of you are a part of that; those of you who repair homes in Lumberton; build houses with Habitat; serve with the people of Dominican Republic and Guatemala; who collect food and serve at Greensboro Urban Ministry and so much more. Through you and millions of others, God is building God’s dream of a world of fairness and shalom for all.
So, as we live life, maybe in the midst of a nightmare of sorts, even now, let us live with the blessed assurance, that God is in the dream making business and because of who God is and because of Immanuel, God with us, we too can “fear not." Amen.
1) Share a moment when God's plans have disrupted your plans.
2) Share why you think Joseph may have been afraid.
3) Share how you think we can come to know God's dreams.
4) Share one thing you think that God dreams for Christ Church.