August 20, 2023
"Dealing with Dreamers”
Rev. Scott Landis
There is a plaque outside the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, just below room 306 where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was staying the night he was assassinated. The inscription on the plaque comes from the text we read today and is both relevant and pertinent to my mana’o this morning. The inscription reads, “They said to one another, ‘Behold, here cometh the dreamer. Let us slay him and we shall see what will become of his dreams.’”
Room 306 of the Lorraine Hotel was never rented again since that night – April 4, 1968 – and the hotel is a now part of the National Civil Rights Museum. I suppose that answers, in part, what becomes of dreams when they are needed, and offered in determination and humility, and in some cases when the dreamer is martyred long before his dreams come to fruition. But it doesn’t answer the question – why? What is our issue with dreamers? What causes us to resist their dream – especially when they advocate for justice – or insist on freedom and equality for all? And why do we believe that eliminating the dreamer will also extinguish the dream?
Dreamers are sometimes thought of as prophets. And prophets also tend to get a bad rap. We may erroneously believe that a prophet’s role is to predict the future, but that is not what they do. Prophets are not fortune tellers or soothsayers, rather they foretell or forth-tell what will happen based on what they see in front of them. To use and oft heard expression today – the prophet knows how to “read the room.” Prophets have the unique ability to assess and feel the current situation and then they warn or forth-tell what WILL happen if we continue down the path we are currently on without question or reflection. Unfortunately, prophets are often thought of as crazy – threatening the status quo, and they are too often summarily dismissed or gotten rid of.
Joseph found all this out the hard way. It’s clear he was a dreamer. His story, as recorded in the Hebrew scriptures, is a long one that spanned many years and it’s why his dream was so difficult to comprehend except for his brothers who seemed to understand immediately. They already despised his "fair-haired boy” status and saw his dreams as a threat.
In today’s narrative we catch a glimpse of his complicated family situation and of the jealousy that had damaged the relationships between his half-brothers and their father, Jacob, who favored Joseph over all the others. In one sense the entire scenario was a set up for failure. Jacob did not help matters by sending Joseph out into the wilderness of Shechem and Dothan to check up on his other sons. Even if he just wanted to ensure that his sons were safe, he put Joseph in a very vulnerable position – and one that did not end well.
The sons of Jacob were the ones who originally uttered those words now inscribed on that Memphis plaque. “Let us get rid of the dreamer – and then see what will become of his dreams.” They expressed a sentiment that is still with us today.
Joseph naively told them of his dreams which seemed innocent to him. After all, he wasn’t making this stuff up. The messages just came to him while he slept. He simply reported what was revealed. In his youthful naiveté he just wanted to share his experience. Or perhaps he really DID understand their prophetic nature and wanted his brothers and his parents to grasp the fact that changes were on the horizon. Life would one day be different, and, in fact, they would be dependent on him for their survival. But I doubt Joseph understood his dreams at that point (but we’ll get to that in next week’s story). And yet what happened to him demonstrates a tragic flaw in human nature.
You’ve heard the story and perhaps have formulated your own conclusions. Joseph obeyed his father, went out in search of his brothers, and they seized the opportunity to get rid of him – first through a plot to kill him – but eventually simply by making some money by selling him to the Ishmaelites for 20 shekels. They killed a goat and drenched Joseph’s prized coat in the goat’s blood, took the tattered coat back to their father and claimed that Joseph must have been mauled by a wild animal.
With that, they felt they had taken care of the problem. The dreamer was gone – out of their lives forever and his dream along with him. Jacob was inconsolable but his brothers could not have been more pleased. Problem solved. Perhaps not.
Remember that plaque at the Lorraine Hotel. It suggests a poignant reality that is so evident in our day as dreams are often squashed or extinguished out of jealousy, or the fear that our slice of the pie might be reduced, or that the dream may require something of me that will entail cost or sacrifice. It may even force us to question our assumptions or our values.
I believe this story from Genesis has an important message for our situation today — right here at our church. Keawala’i is at a very interesting and precarious time in its history. The financial blow we took during the pandemic was really only the tip of the iceberg. That long period of lockdown forced many to stay away from our island for years and some have never returned. Couple that with an extended interim ministry period for the church and we are now witnessing a new normal. We can see it didn’t take long for patterns to change in people’s lives the results of which are being demonstrated in ways people participate in body and in their bank accounts. Some are even questioning the relevance of church as we know it.
Keawala’i (and all congregations like it) are learning a hard lesson. We will have to be light on its feet. We cannot cling to the past nor try to preserve what was at the expense of listening to the dreamers or to the prophets in our midst. The ideas for a renewed vision will not come solely from my mouth (or even from your next settled pastor ) though we may have a thought or two. But it needs to be a collective vision as together we learn to “read the room” to pay attention the needs of our community, and our rapidly changing world as we listen carefully for the dream being given by God.
As I have said before, it will not require that we throw the baby out with the bathwater, which includes all of our prized values and traditions, but the bathwater needs a change from time to time. This is one of those times.
All this may sound far more trivial than Dr. King’s dream or even that of Joseph. It may even seem rather inconsequential against all that is happening in Maui right now, but I think not. To really be the church that Jesus had in mind is to be willing to give it all up in order to do what is right – to offer what is needed with little regard to the sacrifice required. To dream requires risk as we insist on and work toward justice and compassion for all.
But it does require a dream – a bold vision for the future, our future, Maui’s future – and beyond our shores.
We need to keep in front of us what CAN be, and what SHOULD be, without focusing on all that might get in the way.
The naysayers will always want things to remain the same. Do you realize how many disagreed with Dr. King and told him so on a regular basis? And do you realize how long it took for Joseph’s dream to become a reality – one that eventually restored what could have been a broken ‘ohana forever? Dreamers can’t help themselves but to keep talking about the dream. They see a new day, a better day, a day where all live pono and aloha is our guide.
Many in this world will do whatever they can to get rid of the dreamers – but if the dream is of God – it will never die. So I say, let us be bold in our dream for our church, for our island, and for the world.