"Dream, Dream, Dream"

December 6, 1998 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon Matthew 3:1-12, Isaiah 11:1-11, and Romans 15:4-13

You remember the story of John the Baptist. He preceded Jesus as a prophet "preparing the way." The picture scripture paints of him is rather strange, but he was a straightforward kind of guy. His basic theme song was repentance, and he sang it over and over. His were cutting words, calling people to the waters of baptism, bringing them to their knees before God.

John had a vision which directed his earthly journey. Someone is coming, he saw. Power is on itís way. That power, that person of God who will soon be here will be like an axe ready to slice through a forest. The garbage trees, that is those among Godís people who have lost the ability to bear good seed, the fruit of repentance, will be tossed into the fire.

Yes, John had a vision for the future, expressed with many metaphors. Someone is coming, he said. That power, that person will be like a farmer with pitchfork in hand, tossing wheat into the air on a windy day, gathering in the good grain that falls to the floor and burning the inedible chaff that floats off on the breeze.

Like Jeremiah before him, Johnís dream involved "plucking up, pulling down, destroying, and overthrowing." However, unlike Jeremiah, itís not plain whether John envisioned the "building and planting" that would follow (Jer. 1:10). When the Baptist dreamed of this coming One whose sandals he said he was not worthy to carry, he saw fire; but that fire was primarily of the destructive variety. His dream only went so far, beyond which he could not see.

Itís important to be able to envision the future. While we do need to walk step by step, day by day toward tomorrow, we also need to have a dream of where weíre headed. We dare not get lost in the clouds of it, but without such a vision we become lost along the way. Where are we going, and why? Without a dream we havenít a clue.

Long ago I discovered that I am unable to do something that most people can. When you close your eyes, can you picture something in your mind? For instance, if I asked you to envision the place where you live, could you see it now? How clear? Some folks can draw up a pretty vivid picture in their mindís eye. Others can see something a bit fuzzier, but still can envision something that comes close. A small percentage of us, or so Iíve been told, cannot.

Some types of prayer are visually oriented. We picture ourselves with our Lord ("in the garden," for instance, as that old gospel hymn invites), and walk and talk with Jesus along the way. No matter how hard I tried, I never could get a hang of such kinds of prayer. It has frustrated me because I am a visually oriented person. I learn best when I can see something, although some of my greatest insights over the years have not come from this route. Iím still growing in trusting my intuition, which is like an inner sight, but one which arrives in a roundabout fashion.

If you ask me about my nighttime dreams, I canít tell you exactly what they looked like, for the same reason. I donít "picture" things in my head. I do dream, however. What I do remember is often attached to a feeling rather than to a picture. The same could be said of my dreams for the future, whether they are my own pipe dreams, or what I might be so bold, or so foolish as to claim as a vision from the Lord.

Dreams are important. Without them, as the old proverb goes, we perish - especially visions that come as a "word of the Lord." John the Baptist lived with a vision, even though it fell short of the reality of the One whose way he paved. Isaiah, likewise, was quite a visionary. Much of the New Testament, in fact, connects up with this particular prophetís vision, and takes it in directions that Isaiah and those around him would not have dreamed.

That bit about John the Baptist being "the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ĎPrepare the way of the Lord,í" thatís appropriated straight out of Isaiahís dream. Actually, to "prepare the way of the Lord," is to make room for a new dream, to envision a new possibility. Johnís task, whether or not he saw it as such, was to help Godís people let go of old human pipe dreams, in preparation for Godís dream, a dream that was becoming reality in Jesus.

Letís journey just a bit with the prophet Isaiah, especially that part of his vision read earlier. We heard of a shoot growing out of a stump. Perhaps those of you who can do what I cannot, might see this in your mind. Iíll assume that if your eyes close as I preach that thatís what youíre up to - envisioning the Word. Either that or youíre getting something else you need on this day of rest and renewal.

Anyway, Isaiah envisioned a cut-down tree (thatís what a stump is, isnít it?) with something new growing out of it. The stump had a name, Jesse, the father of King David. The stump was the family of David, which at that point was not much of a tree. Like the mighty cedars of Lebanon, which Davidís son, Solomon, clear-cut to build his lavish Palace and Temple, the family of Jesse was something spoken of in the past tense. They were "has beens," who soon would cease to exist. In Isaiahís dream, however, from this stump would sprout something new. God has a habit of doing that, you know, growing something new out of that which has died - at least on the surface.

In this portion of Isaiahís dream, a Messiah is pictured. Can you see him in your minds eye? Donít grow frustrated if you canít. Iíve learned at least that much - not to get too frustrated. This shoot from Jesseís stump, Isaiah dreamed, would become a real king, ruling with justice and righteousness, unlike the majority of Davidís descendants. What follows in this prophetís vision is a dream of a world gone right. Animals we consider predators on the food chain coexist peacefully with creatures usually thought of as prey. This portrait of what has been called "the peaceable kingdom" is far from realistic, thatís for sure. Dreams are always a step beyond our touch. Thatís what makes them so valuable, especially visions we are so bold or foolish as to claim as a word from the Lord.

Did you catch Barbara Walterís interview with Michael J. Fox last Friday night? Heís the television and movie star who recently announced that he has been battling Parkinsonís disease for several years, unbeknownst to anyone but his family and doctors. With Parkinsonís, a person gradually loses control over their muscles. As yet there is no cure, though there are short term treatments which take care of certain symptoms. Eventually Parkinsonís disease is fatal.

A couple things stuck out for me in that interview, aside from a mention of faith in God, which is not always an assumption in Hollywood. Michaelís wife has stuck by him through it all, also not a foregone conclusion assumption in that tinsel town. She stepped into the interview toward the end and mentioned two things she has learned from her husband. One is his ability to live in the present. The other was his optimism. Fox has a dream that there will be a cure for Parkinsonís before he reaches age 50. Having walked with a few persons who also suffered from Parkinsonís, I pray Foxís vision is not just a pipe dream.

Dreams are powerful. The future flies upon them, even the ones that donít seem terribly realistic. Take Isaiahís vision. This whole bit about wolves living with lambs, leopards lying down with baby goats, along with lions and calves - is a tad absurd, even if you can picture it in your mind. And then (horror to any parentís heart) thereís that item about a baby playing near a poisonous snake, or an older child actually putting its hand in the den of a pit viper. I donít need to see it in my mind to recoil from it. Whatís so strange is that itís a vision of peace. There is safety in a place we think most treacherous.

Amid his all-too-realistic visions of destruction of the way things were in Israel, Isaiah also walked with a vision of a peaceable kingdom brought into being by this shoot growing out of Jesseís stump. I may not be able to picture it when I close my eyes, but I know it by feel. I think we all do, donít we? In a crazy, mixed-up world, our hearts yearn for things to be rightside-up, just as hearts have longed for this peace for thousands of years. This vision of Isaiah has powered countless generations to step out into the future. The best dreams are like that.

The apostle Paul lived with a dream, one he felt came directly from Jesus. In his vision there was a possibility that the followers of Jesus could live together in peace. "May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 15:5-6) Anyone who has worked in the church long enough knows that this dream of Paulís is as unrealistic as the vision of Isaiah. Whenever two or more are gathered in Jesusí name, yes, he is in their midst; but so are all the wolves, leopards, lions, and poisonous snakes, alongside the lambs, kids, calves, infants, and toddlers. The food chain is all present in the church, predators and prey alike, though we wonít sit down and define who is who on that list.

And yet, we also live with that dream of Paulís that harmony can come out of this choir instead of cacophony. We dream it for the local congregation, but also for the larger church as well, though itís not so popular anymore to think in such bigger terms. Liberals and conservatives have been fighting with each other for so long in the church that weíve almost forgotten what the battles were over. In many cases weíve allowed the agenda of the left or the right to cloud over the vision we have received, and to keep us from glorifying God with one voice.

Dreams are powerful. They are the angelic wings, if you will, upon which the future flies. Speaking of angels, these are the things of which dreams are made. "Peace on earth and goodwill toward all," they announced to whoever would hear long ago. A human pipe dream? Hardly. Unrealistic? You bet. The best dreams are always beyond our reach. But not Godís.

Someone is coming, John the Baptist dreamed long ago. His dream became a reality, even if his dream wasnít quite big enough for Jesus. Someone is coming, thatís the dream of Advent. Itís not just a matter of looking back at what already has happened, but of realizing that the dream isnít finished yet. There is more, a great deal more. We need to keep dreaming of a world gone right, instead of complaining about one gone wrong. Can you see that in your mindís eye? Or, if youíre like me, can you catch the tune of the angels and sing along?

©1998Peter L. Haynes

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