UnPrepared: Dream God’s Dreams
Rev. Louis Timberlake
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.
One of the things you do in high school is take Driver's Ed. Now, I’m not sure how you do it here in North Carolina, but in Athens, GA, we had to give up a week of summer vacation to go sit in a classroom, watch videos that are about fifteen years out of date, and take an exam. Not the ideal way to spend your summer. In addition to the class, you had to log six hours of time behind the wheel with an instructor. And, as I think back on it, I have a lot of respect for the courage of the Driver’s Ed instructors. They spend the whole day getting driven around by teenagers that have spent little to no time actually driving. That is putting yourself in harm’s way.
I remember getting into the car with my instructor for the first time, and she asked if I wanted to go to Dairy Queen. High school boys don’t turn down food, so of course I said yes. But, it wasn’t until we got through the drive-thru and I got my ice cream cone that I realized it was a trap. She wanted to see how I could handle driving and eating ice cream at the same time. I couldn’t. At that point, I was still trying to figure out how to stay between the lines with two hands on the wheel. There was no way I could do it one-handed. It took her all of fifteen seconds to realize this. But, the great thing about those Driver’s Ed cars is that you have two steering wheels and two sets of pedals, one for the student and one for the instructor. So, she told me to let go of the wheel, take my feet off of the pedals, and just focus on eating my ice cream.
Once I finished my ice cream and could take the wheel again, we drove all over north Georgia for three hours, picking up milk, buying lottery tickets, getting gas. And, most of that time, we listened to the Dream Doctor on the radio. Have you ever heard of the Dream Doctor? He’s deceased now, but Charles McPhee was the Dream Doctor. He hosted a nationally syndicated radio show where people would call in and share their dreams, and he would interpret them on the air.
We’re talking about dreams today. About what is means to dream as God dreams.
I was thinking this week, I wonder how the Dream Doctor would interpret Joseph’s dream? I can almost imagine Joseph calling in. “Yes, hi Dream Doctor. I had this strange dream last night, and I was wondering if I could get your help. You see, I’m engaged and my fiancée is pregnant, but not by me. She claims that it was the Holy Spirit, but, well, you can understand my skepticism. I was planning to quietly end the engagement, until I had this dream. In it, an angel appeared to me and told me not to be afraid to marry her, because the child is truly from the Holy Spirit. The angel said that it would be a boy and that I should name him Jesus, because he will save the people from their sins. And then he said that it would fulfill a prophecy and that they would call the boy Emmanuel, or “God with us.” Now, I really hope you can help me with this one, Dream Doctor, because I don’t know what to do. What do you think it all means?”
He might tell Joseph to stop eating spicy foods before bed.
Now, when we talk about dreams, sometimes we’re talking about something that happens in our minds as we sleep, revealing what is happening beneath the surface of our consciousness. It can relate to our fears, our hopes, our desires, our burdens. But, “dream” has another meaning for us. When we talk about our dreams or God’s dreams, we are often talking about an aspiration, about a hoped for reality. A dream, in this sense, offers a glimpse of a better future.
I think that Joseph’s dream is a bit of both. It reflects the anxiety and confusion that he is experiencing, but it also points towards a future, his future and our future, that is radically changed by the birth of Jesus.
Now, Joseph's assumption is that Mary has done wrong. No reasonable person could think that she was telling the truth. So, with that safe assumption, Joseph must decide how to proceed. Proceeding, in that day and age, meant that he would end the relationship. Staying together isn’t an option. The question is how to end it. By law, he should make sure that Mary faced consequences. By law, the punishment for someone being unfaithful would be severe and humiliating. But, it tells us that Joseph is a righteous man, which seems to mean that he’s a gracious man. He doesn’t want to make a scene, he just wants it to be over.
But, the passage tells us that, as soon as he resolves to do this, he has this dream. In the dream, the angel doesn’t engage the surface level decision of how Joseph should end it, the angel challenges the underlying assumption that Mary’s not telling the truth. God doesn’t question Joseph’s decision, God questions Joseph’s assumption.
This dream is about challenging the assumption of what is possible.
I wonder if we live our lives, at times, based upon a set of assumptions or preexisting conditions that we rarely take the time to question?
I read a story of an old, very traditional brewery that decided to install a new canning line to help modernize its distribution and get its products into supermarkets. At the event to celebrate the unveiling of this new feature, the current distribution manager happened to connect with his two predecessors. Together, they represented around seventy years of distribution management in the company. They were swapping stories, when the current manager remarked that his job was becoming more stressful due to company policies. They were required to make long-distance deliveries on Mondays and Tuesdays, short-distance on Fridays, and all others mid-week.
"It's so difficult to schedule things efficiently - heaven knows what we'll do with these new cans and the tight demands of the supermarkets..." The other two men nodded in agreement.
"It was the same in my day," sympathised the present manager's predecessor, "It always seemed strange to me that trucks returning early on Mondays and Tuesdays couldn't be used for little local runs, because the local deliveries had to be left until Friday..”
The third man, the most senior of his predecessors, nodded and started thinking hard, trying to recall the policy's roots many years ago, when he was coming up in the department. After a pause, he smiled. "I remember now," he said, "It was the horses. During the Second World War, fuel rationing was introduced. So we mothballed the trucks and went back to using the horses. On Mondays the horses were well-rested after the weekend - hence the long deliveries. By Friday the horses so tired they could only handle the short local drops.”
Over six decades later, trucks had replaced horses, but the policy never changed. Because no one questioned it. After realizing this, the current distribution manager pushed to change the policy.
We do this, don’t we? We make and perpetuate assumptions that may or may not be good ones.
Where in our lives do we limit what is possible by not questioning what is assumed about the present reality? In this passage, God is the one who challenges the assumptions. I wonder if learning to dream as God dreams, to see as God sees means challenging the assumptions that limit our vision of what is possible?
I was listening to a great podcast interview the other day with the pastor of a historic, sixty year old church in the suburbs of Atlanta. When he arrived there, it was a good church, a healthy church, but it wasn’t what it could be. They had certain assumptions of what it meant to be the church, to be in ministry. And, those assumptions limited what was possible for them. The surrounding community had grown more diverse, but the church had not. The church did a lot of good things, but, if it had disappeared from the community the next day, they weren’t sure whether they’d be heavily missed. And so, under the leadership of this pastor, they began challenging assumptions about what it meant to be the church and do ministry. They focused on community partnerships. They began going to other groups in the community and asking, “What needs do you have? How can we help?” They built relationships and worked with other groups to transform the community. And, over time, it transformed their church. They went from a church that was largely focused on what went on within the walls, along with a few annual mission trips, to one that had a tangible presence throughout the community. As their presence in and passion for the community became visible, they became more diverse, they connected with new people, their opportunities to be in ministry increased exponentially. All because they began to challenge the assumptions that defined for them what it meant to be the church. As they did, they began to dream as God dreams. The limits of what was possible were broken.
In this dream, Joseph finds his assumptions challenged. God rips him out of a narrow view of what is possible and opens his eyes to what is truly possible, when God is involved.
What assumptions is God challenging in your life?
What assumptions is God challenging in our church?
It’s interesting, Joseph doesn’t wake up from a dream and call a Dream Doctor. No, he wakes up and is obedient to God. And, through that obedience, through that “yes” to the disruptive, unbelievable thing that God is doing, the entire world is transformed.
May we respond likewise.
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.