Sunday, August 9, 2020
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
"Behold the Dreamer Cometh"
Rev. Dr. Scott Landis
Outside of Room 306 at what used to be the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, there is a plaque that quotes a line from Genesis. Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel is where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spent his last night on this earth in April 1968. So, you might expect the plaque to have an excerpt from his “I have a dream” speech, or the words that are on his tombstone, “Free at last.” Instead, what is written there is much more haunting – but very real. It is a verse from today’s story of Joseph in the book of Genesis, the taunt of his brothers who say, “Behold, here comes the Dreamer. . . Let us slay him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”
The two stories – one from Genesis and the other from Memphis – have absolutely nothing in common. Thousands of years separate these distinctly different situations. One setting describes a leader who had a dream to which he gave his life – lifting his prophetic voice in support of those – especially of his own race – who were being denied basic human rights. Rights that were supposedly given to all humans as outlined in our Constitution. But, most of us are old enough to know that was not the case – AND we’ve been around long enough to realize that it is still not so.
The other setting involves a young man who had a different kind of dream – equally controversial – and a dream that also raised the ire of those closest to him – namely his half-brothers who wanted nothing more than to get rid of him because it was a dream they could not abide.
Both dreams challenged their hearers to a new way of being – a way that was not in keeping with the status quo. Both dreams called for change that was seemingly intolerable, so the listeners thought the only way to avert the dream’s demands – was to get rid of the dreamer. Hummmm, maybe these stories have more in common after all. [Pause]
Let’s review for a moment what we have read over the last several weeks in the Hebrew Scriptures. Abraham and Sarah, at a very old age, were finally blessed with a child – Isaac – who later married Rebecca who subsequently had 2 sons Jacob and Esau. Jacob, the favored son of Rebecca, helped him outwit his father by cheating Esau out of both his birthright and his blessing. In the end the two brothers were first estranged and then reconciled but at a deep cost to both of them. Jacob (renamed Israel because he has striven with God and with humans in an all-night struggle) went on to father 12 sons – but he also had a favorite (Joseph) who the other half-brothers hated and conspired to kill. There are many more details, but you get the idea – these were highly dysfunctional families.
Beyond the description of their obvious pathology, the biblical story seems to be quite repetitive – demonstrating the danger of favoritism and the lack of wisdom that accompanies the youth and young adulthood of both Jacob AND Joseph.
In today’s story, we have a perfect example of what I mean. The favoritism offered Joseph by his father (Jacob) led to some of the same behaviors Jacob participated in when he deceived his own father (Isaac). Jacob’s favoritism of Joseph kept Joseph close by his father’s side. A loyalty any father would be proud to receive. Jacob dressed his son in a “coat with long sleeves” (which is the truest translation). The Message translation says, “An elaborately embroidered coat.” It was Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber who took that up a notch changing it to an “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Inaccurate – but it worked perfectly for Broadway.
It was the long sleeves (not the fabulous color) that were the issue here. Wearing a coat like that was NOT conducive to work of any sort – and that was just fine as far as Joseph was concerned. He didn’t want nor need to work. He had plenty of brothers to take care of all that. Brothers who were terribly envious of him and his relationship with their father. They hated his privileged status.
But it wasn’t just the long coat that Joseph’s brothers resented. They also hated him because he appeared so arrogant to them. His dreams – which he could not keep to himself since he was so proud of them – were suggestive of his eventual dominance over them. They could think of only one thing to do. They HAD to get rid of him – one way or another. To their thinking – “To get rid of the dreamer was to get rid of the dream.”
And here is where our two stories begin to converge begging the question, “Is the dreamer and the dream one in the same?” Can one ever be separated from the other?
Dreams are funny things – aren’t they? Their origin does not always feel rational and sometimes we don’t even want to pay any attention to them. They may seem crazy or outside the realm of possibility. Our dreams sometimes embarrass us as they emerge from a place that is beyond the rational – but that doesn’t make them any less important or that we should dismiss them too easily.
Psychologist Carl Jung contended that our dreams are nested in our unconscious – and even though he was not a religious man – he felt that the unconscious was the place of God in our lives. John Sanford said that our dreams are the primary means by which God communicates with us today. Dreams – he said – are God’s forgotten language.
The dreams of both Joseph and Martin were prophetic and guided them to do what they felt compelled – called to do. They could not ignore them even though to act on them brought them face to face with their own mortality. [Pause]
It was Victor Hugo who said, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea (or we could substitute in, a dream) whose time has come.” It can neither be ignored nor obliterated – it HAS to live – and it WILL live – even if the one who offers the dream does not. [Pause]
I believe we are at such a time in our lives. It is a time when the dream of a better world – a more just and equitable world – is fighting to emerge EVEN while so much is trying to squash the life out of that possibility. For too long the dream has been closely monitored, highly controlled, and forced to fit within the confines of the privilege many of us have consciously AND unconsciously maintained. The murder of George Floyd changed all that. There is nothing more powerful than a dream whose time has come. Sometimes it takes a tragic incident to reawaken us to the dream’s power.
George Floyd’s death breathed new life into the dream offered by Martin Luther King so many years ago – and the new expression of that dream – just like in the 60s – has made many uncomfortable. We might even hear the echoes in our own unconscious saying, “We’ve gotta control that dream. We gotta put a lid on this thing before it gets out of hand. Before it impinges on our lives in ways that may make us uncomfortable – or force us to give up things we have held tightly for a long time.
Well, I think, it’s high time for those of us who are “melanin compromised” to be a little uncomfortable and to listen very carefully to those calling for change – demanding the dream gain new life. [Pause]
After the protests subside, and the name changes on professional athletic teams occur, and other outward signs of change take place – the real work must begin – work that gets at the core of the problem – and that work must continue for generations. Just like those families in the Hebrew scriptures – our nation is highly dysfunctional at this point. It took years for us to get here AND it will take years for us to change and to heal. And that can only happen if we are willing to do our respective work individually – to become increasingly aware of how we have been complicitous with and/or contributing to racism in America. Only when we have done our work of self-examination can we come together – to build relationships of mutual care and respect and truly embody the spirit of aloha. [Pause]
The other evening, I watched on the Apple TV+ channel a new series hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Emmanuel Acho entitled “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.” I was fascinated by the content – but even more so by the vulnerability it began to bring out in me as I listened and thought of myself participating in the conversation. It is so important for us to realize how much we do NOT know and how much we MUST learn if we are ever going to walk together – affect change – and begin to form that “beloved community” that Dr. King referred to so often.
Doing so is particularly difficult in our day when as we hear daily words of hatred and division coming from the highest office in the land. But that is no excuse for us to follow suit. We have a responsibility to, as former first lady Michelle Obama has said, go high when others go low. [Pause]
Dreams of merit. Dreams of wholeness. Dreams which desire nothing more than the good of all can never be obliterated. They may kill the dreamer – as they did in the case of Martin – and nearly did in the case of Joseph – but there is nothing more powerful than a dream whose time has come.
May we be so blessed to receive the dream, steward the dream, and do everything we can individually and collectively to fulfill the dream as we embody aloha with our whole being.