Here Comes That Dreamer

Sermon preached at St Mark’s Episcopal Church, Seattle, WA
August 10, 2014

[The brothers] said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; … and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”  – Genesis 37

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Today I want to talk about dreams – the kind of dreams that change the world. The kind that show us how life could be. The kind we struggle to believe in.

Today we read the story of Joseph – the passionate, precocious, slightly annoying youngest son of Jacob.  Joseph, the favorite child, spoiled by his father, loved more than all the others.  Joseph, whose Amazing Technicholor Dreamcoat got himself thrown into a pit, left to die, and then sold into slavery in Egypt.

This story is partly about jealousy; partly about brothers who could not stomach their father’s un-equal love.  But the story is also one about dreams. Dreams that Joseph had about himself, his brothers, their future.

“Here comes this dreamer” they sneered at him, during his visit to the flocks at Shechem; a not-so-subtle mission from his father to check up on the other brothers. But what were these dreams of Joseph? What made the brothers so mad? Our lectionary leaves these verses out, but I’ll read them now:

“Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more.

He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.”

His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.

He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?”

What kind of dream is this that you have had, Joseph? What world do you live in, Joseph? What makes you think that the oldest would ever bow to the youngest? What makes you think these dreams might come true?

And yet, they did come true. Joseph, annoying younger brother, sold into slavery, thrown into prison becomes not only a dreamer but an interpreter of dreams, advisor to Pharoah, ruler over the land, ruler over his brothers.

Joseph’s dreams of bowing wheat and bowing stars seemed to have no basis in reality, seemed to be a far-fetched fantasy of a spoiled, self-important, disruptive seventeen-year old. But in those dreams was revealed the plan of God.

They were, in the end, not so much about Joseph, his fancy dreamcoat or delusions of grandeur. They were a glimpse into an unlikely series of events that would, in time, save his people from famine and disaster.

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Today, I have the honor of visiting St. Mark’s with Kids4Peace: an interfaith youth movement of Christians, Muslims and Jews; a community of young dreamers from Palestine, Israel and here in Seattle (a few from St. Mark’s), who are gathered for a camp this week in Mount Vernon, Washington. Fortunately for all of us, their dreams are a little different from Joseph’s.

Dreams not about ruling over others, but about living together–

Dreams that Muslims, Christians and Jews can partners in healing this world

Dreams that children of the holocaust and children of the Nakba can lead the way to a different future.

Dreams that violence will one day cease.

Dreams that hope will one day prevail.

Dreams that truth can be spoken in love.

Dreams that enemies can be friends.

Dreams … that one day Jerusalem will be the city of peace, again.

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But this summer, as violence rages across the Middle East – as rockets fall and bombs drop, as death and devastation seem to be the norm, these dreams of peace can appear as naïve and far-fetched as Joseph’s sheaves of wheat.   For nearly a month, I was glued to Twitter — restless in my sleep, haunted by images of suffering, waking up way earlier than I usually do, to check the latest live feeds from Gaza and Jerusalem.

For nearly a month, I heard broken-hearted stories from our Kids4Peace Jerusalem staff and families.   Stories of vengeance unleashed in the streets, stories of homes raided in the West Bank, stories of peace activists assaulted on their way to demonstrations in Tel Aviv, stories of Palestinian family friends killed while calling for justice, stories of parents tearfully sending their soldiers – their children – off to war.

The pain, the fear, the injustice of it all can be so overwhelming that we lose the ability to dream. 

And yet, we must dream, because these dreams of peace are from God. These visions of hope are from God. And these dreams are good for our soul.   In addition to a week at camp, we bring our Kids4Peace groups to a church, a mosque and a synagogue. For many campers this is their first time to set foot in the house of worship of another.

A few years ago, at our camp in Atlanta, we visited a synagogue where we had been for many years. This year, though, the Rabbi did something different. He invited three children, one from each faith, to speak during the Friday prayers, each in their own language: an Israeli Jew, an American Christian, a Palestinian Muslim sharing their dreams for peace. It was the first and perhaps only time, that Arabic was spoken from that pulpit, that a young Muslim was the spiritual teacher of the day.

And as he explained this choice to his congregation, the Rabbi said this: “All year long, every day, I struggle to change in the world as it is. With Kids4Peace, I get to experience the world as it should be.”

Dreams are not enough, for sure. Change will come only through hard work and courageous action. It will take advocacy and activism, pressure as well as dialogue.   But we must dream. We must remain in touch with our deepest hopes, our wildest visions.

For if we live only in the world as it is, we risk not only endless frustration and despair, but also doing violence to one another because of our pain.   We risk become captive to our present reality, enslaved to our past. We can spend a lifetime blaming ourselves and others for what is and what might have been. For wrong decisions and missed opportunities, all clear in hindsight. We need to learn from the past, to acknowledge its power, to heed its lessons – but we need no less to be moored to the future, propelled forward by a powerful hope which keeps oriented to God’s true vision for this world.

Dreams draw us into and through uncertainty. Joseph, I’m sure, had no idea what his sheaves of wheat and bowing planets would ultimately mean for his family and his people. Our understanding of dreams is always imperfect, yet our challenge is to take the next faithful step along the path that God is unfolding for us.   And as we go, to listen to the dreamers: to hear in them the heart of God, the hope of the Spirit.

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And so this summer, as violence spread through the Holy Land, as calls for vengeance became the norm — every parent of our Kids4Peace Jerusalem community — Jewish, Christian and Muslim, Palestinian and Israeli — more than a hundred strong.

Every parent chose to continue meeting, chose to send their kids to camp.   As rockets fell and bombs dropped, they reached out to one another, they spoke together, face to face, in the pain and the anger and the tears, amid despair and hopelessness.

They knew there was at least one place in their life that still held a dream, and they would not let it go.   Because of that dream, a new reality is coming into existence: a new creation.  Where Muslim, Christian and Jewish children grow up together. Where trust and respect, understanding and equality, dignity and justice are the foundation for the future. Where a new generation can dream their dreams.

Earlier this week, our camp facilitator Pam asked the kids this question: “what kind of world do you want to live in?” And so the dreams began….

  • I want to live in a world where everyone cares about each other
  • Where there is no starvation, and no war.
  • Where everyone is equal.
  • Where each person can wake up in the morning and choose what to do
  • Where poor people have opportunities
  • Where we all care about the environment
  • Where people can live without harming each other
  • Where there is no violence
  • Where there is freedom.

Among our campers is our very own Joseph (Yusuf from Jerusalem), and his dream is one I share: for a world where everyone can go to a camp like Kids4Peace.   It’s not because I love Kids4Peace so much, though that is true. It’s because I believe that we all need this chance to see and live in the world as it should be.   We need to experience this new reality for ourselves, to come close and discover that it is more possible than we ever imagined.

  • What if every child of Israel and every child of Palestine had the chance to see each other face to face, to hear each other’s stories and know each other’s pain.
  • What if thousands upon thousands of young Kids4Peace grew up together, in the Holy Land, and in our land, side by side in security and freedom.
  • What if prejudice and injustice melted away in the face of powerful relationships of love that would not tolerate anything less than full dignity and freedom for all

What if we let ourselves believe, just for an instant, that this dream might come true?

Probably we would find ourselves, like Joseph, the object of hatred. They may say of us, as they did of him, here comes that dreamer.  We may find ourselves in our own pit of isolation, we may lose friends, suffer ridicule, loss and even more pain.

Buy we may also find other dreamers, unlikely friends, partners, companions who share a vision of the world as it should be. Because we know in our heart that these dreams of peace are true, that they come from God, and so we continue to dream, to listen to the dreamers, and to live – for a while – in those places where dreams come true.

For Joseph, his dreams changed the lives of his family and his people. May our dreams do the same, this day and always.