Dream a Little Dream

Preached at the Middlebury Congregational Church

Readings: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Matthew 14:22-33

When we imagine stories from the Bible, we tend to see them in what I like to call “Precious Moments vision.”

Precious Moments, is that line of cute, small figurines of angels and children praying that either you or possibly your grandmother kept in the curio cabinet.

They’re designed to make us go, aww, when we think about God and that by itself might not be a bad thing. God is our heavenly father, our eternal parent, who cares after us like a mother eagle protecting her chicks.

Yet the Bible isn’t all stories that make us go, aww. Indeed, the Bible often isn’t cute at all.

I believe that the Bible, is a very human book. Now, when I say this, this doesn’t mean it hasn’t been touched by God, but rather that the Bible reflects the human experience in its breadth, depth, and complexity.

Our stories today are full of tension and drama, almost cinematic in quality. These are some of my favorites to preach from, because we can imagine long ago, these stories having been told orally, maybe around campfires in the desert, the learned old wise one telling a story long memorized from his youth. We can imagine hushed gathering of the earliest Christians, meeting in secret, hearing the proud testimony of those who got to see Jesus first hand.

Recognizing the tension and drama in our bible stories makes them all the more helpful and useful to us; after all, our lives are not always Precious Moments. Our lives are full of tension, contradiction, drama. Sometimes things don’t make sense to us, except perhaps in hindsight.

Indeed, I believe that the ability of our characters in the Bible to dream big, to be faithful, even to fail, in the midst of this tension, in the midst of hard times makes their faith all the more relatable, and points ever more to the goodness of the God among us, a God who is not distant from us in heaven, but who has dwelled with us in the flesh on Earth as Jesus Christ, and who continues to dwell in our communities and in our hearts, and who is there to pick us up when we fall.

Let’s take a look at how this plays out in our stories.

Our first story is the story of Joseph, he of the Amazing Technicolor Dream coat fame. To remind us of the story, this is the point in the sermon where I might bust out into a line from the musical, but unlike your pastor, I’m one of those ministers who sings with the microphone off, so I will spare you and your ears that indignity.

So instead I will remind us that Joseph is one of Jacob’s sons. Joseph was a strange young man. A papa’s boy, he ratted out his brothers, for what offense we are not told, but we can surmise from the rest of the story that it was some sort of scheme.

His father returned that love, and Jacob’s affection for Joseph made Joseph’s brothers jealous.

You may have noticed that we have a small break in our reading, and in that break, Joseph has a series of troubling prophetic dreams, where he sees a future in which his kin will bow down to him.

This was something they could not abide, and so they began to scheme. This scheme plays itself out in the second half of the reading and we don’t need to go over it in full, but there’s a couple of things I would like to point out.

The first is the way that they talk about Joseph, ““Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”

My mind goes to so many places when I read this. After all, one of the ways we’re supposed to read and encounter our Bible stories is to imagine ourselves as them.

How many of us have thought outside the box, dreamed big, and then been ridiculed, lambasted, or even, in many cases, the object of physical violence because of it?

Maybe it was when we were children, and our imaginations ran just a little too wild for refined company and good taste.

Even if we were like this as children, many of us stopped doing as we got older. Our inner critics, those voices that tell us that the things we imagine can never come true, that to dream boldly is to be the subject of violence and ridicule, that our dreams are nothing more than fantasies, began to rule over us and constrict how we see the world.

Instead of aging broadening our horizons, we see our field of vision and activities narrowed and shrunken.

Why is this important to us as Christians? After all, we aren’t a ballet studio or an artist’s colony. Why might the ability to dream be important to us?

This is important to us because the ability to dream is an integral component to the life of faith we are called to as Christians.

The prophet Joel said that one day we, the sons and daughters of God, the children of the most high would dream dreams and prophesy.

We would be able to imagine, as the Prophet John of Patmos in his Revelation would, hundreds of years later, of a world where there are no more tears, for the home of God is among is among mortals.

Joseph dreamed. The prophets Daniel and Joel and Amos and Micah and John and more recently Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Rep. John Lewis all dreamed.

And if we’re listening to this and thinking, “Oh, I can’t dream, I’ve never had an imagination” or “Oh, that was so many years ago”, I will tell you now that the apostle Peter struggled with it at first, but he got better.

To dream isn’t something that we should expect to come naturally to us. Sure there are prodigies, but there are also prodigies of music and math and art and language and football. For the rest of us it takes work. This does not make the work we do without value.

Indeed, as we improve at these skills, God delights with us, for they allow us the ability to draw closer to God, and there is nothing that God delights in more than our closeness to him.

But yes, as I said just now, Peter struggled with it too.

Our second story is a famous one, also fill of tension and drama, of Jesus walking on water. The water, we ought to understand, occupied a special, almost mystical place in the hearts of the Hebrew people.

This is similar to how mountaintops tend to symbolically function in our Bible stories. Mountaintops are where we go to encounter God directly- Moses and the Ten Commandments, Elijah and the still small voice, the transfiguration story, all take place on mountaintops.

Likewise, to the Hebrew people, the waters were representative of something primordial, or possibly chaotic. At the very beginning of our Bibles, in the first verses of Genesis with God forming the heavens and the earth take place over the ocean, with the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, moving over the face of the deep.

So the waters, even though, we must remember, that some of the disciples were fishermen, had at best a healthy respect for the sea. After all, even today, fisherman is the most dangerous job in America.

Peter, Andrew, James and John, all fisherman, very well might have had friends or family who drowned in the sea.

So it’s not surprising that there’s a little bit of trepidation and tension in the story.

For it’s not as though this is a calm summer day on Long Island Sound with a 30 foot sailboat, tooling around with a beverage in hand.

It was early morning, and the men had spent the night on the boat. The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed, and it was being battered on the waves. The wind was against them. Remember that this was no clipper ship which could tack close to the wind. This was a simple fishing boat, probably not meant for overnight sailing or being at sea in a storm at all. This must have been terrifying.

We can imagine the sun rising, light creeping into grey stormy skies and tempestuous blue green waters with that that misty space in between sky and water. It is out of that misty space that the image of a man appears.

Yet it is not so clear of an image. They think this vision is a ghost, and they are sore afraid of it.

Until the voice cries out, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

It is their master, Jesus.

Peter is well, I’m not sure what, when he responds, still not entirely sure of the identity of this apparition.

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus does, and Peter starts to walk toward Jesus on the water.

He is doing it! He has this faith thing down!

Until the wind picks up, and he realizes just what the heck he is doing, and, frightened, he begins to sink.

How often is our faith going well enough until something out of our control happens and fear takes over? Until we begin to those voices of the inner critic, the inner doubter, the inner scared and hurt side of us.

It’s not a bad thing to have those voices, as they have their place.  Sometimes they really do keep us safe. If Peter had tried to walk on water before he knew Jesus he might have drowned.

Peter does dream. Peter has faith.  It is still a relatively young one and that’s ok, because when Peter starts to sink, Jesus is at his side, steadies him, and takes him back to the boat.

That’s an image to remember.

Not just Jesus walking on water, but Jesus helping Peter back into the boat, when his faith fails him.

For as we dream, as we have faith, and as often happens, that faith fails us, Jesus is there with us, steadying us, pulling us back into the boat.

Thanks be to God,