Over the past few decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in Native American art and customs. Nothing symbolizes this fascination with all things “Indian” more than “Dream Catchers.” You can hardly go to any art show in America without having the opportunity to purchase beautifully decorated hoops filled with a web of strings, and adorned with feathers, beads, and other trinkets. While today these have become decorative items in many homes, they originated in the Chippewa Tribe, and are central to their belief system.
In Chippewa tradition, grandparents would make a dream catcher when a new baby was born. They would suspend the dream catcher over the crib. The Chippewa believe that the night is full of dreams, some good, others bad. When dreams passed though the dream catcher, the good dreams would cause the feathers to quiver as they descended to the infant, giving him or her peaceful sleep. Bad dreams, however would get caught in the web, trapped until the light of dawn caused them to vanish. A beautiful custom.
While not all cultures include dreams as part of their belief system, people of all civilizations throughout history have been fascinated with dreams. Who hasn’t had a vivid dream, and wondered what it might mean? People as divergent as the famous psychologist Sigmund Freud and the psychic mediums living in Cassadega, Florida have attempted to decode the dreams people have – to try to interpret their meaning, or to predict the future. With very mixed results, I might add. Yes! Everyone is intrigued with dreams.
This morning, we are beginning a new sermon series as we consider the life of a dreamer. Throughout the scriptures, we come across all kinds of people who had dreams – dreams that changed their destiny, and even the destinies of entire empires. There can be great power in dreams – for good or for ill.
Perhaps the most familiar “dreamer-catcher” in the Bible is the Old Testament character, Joseph. Beginning in the 37th chapter of Genesis, we have one of the longest narratives about any biblical personality that we find anywhere in scripture. For 14 chapters, we follow the life of Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob, whose dreams got him into a great deal of trouble with his family. He irritated his brothers so much that they sold him into slavery in Egypt, and then led their father to believe that Joseph had been eaten by wild animals.
Then, in a remarkable twist of fate, Joseph’s ability to interpret the meaning of dream became his ticket out of slavery, and even brought him to a position of privilege and power as the chief advisor to Pharaoh himself. And like all good stories, there is a happy-ending – a dream-come-true (if you will). The story of Joseph is an epic story – better than any Hollywood screen-writer could dream up. (Intrigued? Don’t believe me? – go to your Bible and read it for yourself!)
This morning, we are going to think about dreams in the context of our faith. Joseph was a dreamer because he was a man of faith. He was open to hear the voice of God speak, guiding his life. And even though, as a youth, he didn’t understand the meaning of his strange dreams, and was very immature and foolish in the way he shared his dreams with his family, his dreams did turn out to be accurate. At the end of the story, not only do the Egyptians bow down to Joseph, so do all his brothers, and even his father. Thankfully, at the height of his power and influence, Joseph had learned humility. Instead of getting even with his brothers, Joseph uses the occasion of the fulfillment of his dream as an opportunity for forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation.
Yes, the dreams of Joseph came true. Joseph had received a vision from God, which was God’s plan for his life. But more than that, Joseph “lived-into” God’s dream. Because he was obedient to God’s will, he fulfilled his destiny, and his life became a blessing to others.
You know, when you stop to think about it, the people we most respect throughout human history are those who were “dreamers…” people who caught a vision of God’s plan for their life, or for our world, and were faithful in living into that dream – to make it a reality, and to become a blessing to others.
The history of our faith if filled with dreamers who lived into God’s dream. The Bible is really the story of God’s dream for our world, and the men and women who dared to dream God’s dream. And there are still dreamers in our day and age. If we had the time, I’m sure we could come up with a long list of “dreamers” who have dared to dream God’s dream.
Perhaps the most well-known dreamer of the 20th century was Martin Luther King, Jr. He articulated God’s dream for his life and for our nation in his powerful and eloquent speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In the midst of strife and racial hatred, he was able to name God’s vision for America: “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood… I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”
Martin Luther King discerned God’s dream for his life and for our nation. He lived into that dream. And even though those who didn’t share the dream ended his life with a bullet, the dream lived on. And it lives even today, although forces of hatred again are trying to stamp out God’s dream for our world. But God’s dream can never die, so long as there are dreamers willing to live into that dream.
Joseph and Martin were dreamers, that’s true. But the reality is that within every person of faith, within you and me, God has placed a vision, a destiny – a dream God intends for us to live into, if we are to fulfill his purpose for our lives. Someone has said it succinctly and beautifully: “There are two great moments in life: 1) when you were born, and 2) when you know why you were born.”
Do you know why you were born? To live God’s dream, that’s why! Along with Joseph and Martin, you and I are to declare, “I have a dream…” and live to make that dream come true. Are you a dream catcher? What is God’s dream for you?
If you and I are supposed to live God’s dream for our lives, we need to reflect on what the nature of that dream might be: A few observations about godly dreams:
First, God’s dream for you is unique.
Joseph had a unique dream and a unique destiny. No one else could have shared that dream, nor lived it. It was chosen for Joseph by God himself.
In the Book of Joel in the Old Testament which we quoted in our call to worship, God says through the prophet, “Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.” All people of faith are given a dream by God, but each dream is tailor-made. When we discern God’s dream, it will fit us like a glove.
Every believer has been assigned a dream – but sadly, many people never discover God’s dream for their life, much less live into it. There are countless Christians just going through the motions of religion, with no direction or purpose for their existence. They need to be a dream catcher! Without a dream to live into, their life is being wasted. They will never know the joy and fulfillment God intends for their life. And they will never fulfill the destiny God has prepared for them.
The second insight of Godly dreams is that they always benefit others, rather than ourselves.
Most people, even in the secular world, would agree that it is important that we have dreams. But most of the time, the dreams people have are selfish in nature: They dream of finding Mr. or Mrs. Right; They dream of being successful in their career; They dream of winning the lottery and quitting their job. Now, there isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with those kinds of dreams – they are natural.
But if the only one who would benefit from your dream coming true is YOU, then it isn’t really God’s dream. Dreams that come from God always benefits others first.
In Philippians, Chapter 2, Paul writes these wise words: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”
Consider for a moment the dreams you have for your life. Who would benefit if that dream were to become a reality? Yourself, or others? If all your dreams are for you alone, you have not yet discovered God’s dream for your life – and your purpose for existence.
The third observation follows the second: Living into God’s dream MAY benefit you as well, but more often than not, it won’t. In fact, if the dream is truly from God, the likelihood is that you will face opposition, and even persecution, because you insist on living into God’s dream.
In John 15, Jesus says this to his disciples, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first… I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you… Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.” It’s dangerous to dream God’s dream, because the world doesn’t share it.
Think of all the great men and women of the Bible – people who devoted themselves to living into God’s dream for their life. How many of them benefited from their commitment to remain faithful? Only a handful. Most paid dearly for answering the call of God on their life. Yet it was all worth it! What a blessing their lives were to others! God’s dreams are always the ones that are a blessing to others, and they are worth the price we may have to pay.
But the good news is that, if the dream is truly from God, ultimately it will prevail.
In John 16, Jesus offers this assurance: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
And in Revelation, at the end of the Bible, we see how God is victorious, and how God’s Dream becomes reality.
That’s the promise of God through all of scripture: If we will catch God’s dream for our lives and our world, and answer God’s call to live into that vision, we can be confident that, in the end God will make that dream come true. As Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Tim. 1:12) “I am not ashamed of (the Good News), for I know the one in whim I trust, and am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” We can have confidence to dream big when the dream we’re dreaming is God’s dream!
My friend, God is a God who dreams big dreams for our world – big dreams for our church – and big dreams for each one of us – a dream that is part of that larger dream of the day when all will be as it should be. You and I are called to become “Dream Catchers” of God’s dream – to live into that dream – and to trust God to make that dream a reality.
Lucy MacDonald has put it like this: “Each person is born with a calling. It is your task to discover what that calling is and find a way to make that calling a reality.” What is God’s dream for your life? What part of God’s dream are you supposed to catch? Have your discerned it? Have you been resisting it? Have you lived into it?
No one can tell you what God dreams for your life: Perhaps you are hearing God’s call to help others in need or become an advocate for those who are hurting. Maybe God is giving you a dream to get involved with a ministry or even to launch a new ministry of some kind. It could be that God is giving you a passion to share the good news of salvation with others so that they can begin to catch the dream God desires for their life. It could even be that you are feeling the nudging of the Holy Spirit to answer the call to full-time ministry. God has a big dream with your name on it – have you caught it?
You know, sometimes stories and movies created for children contain profound truths that speak to all generations as well. In “The Muppet Movie,” Kermit the Frog sits on a log in a swam and sings about the power of dreams. He wasn’t referring to God’s dream, of course, but through his words we can hear God’s voice calling our name, if we will just listen:
Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that called the young sailors.
The voice might be one and the same.
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it.
It’s something that I’m supposed to be.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.
My friend, let me tell you the truth. Until you know God’s dream for your life and live into that dream, your life will never be complete. Be a dream catcher!
Let us pray:
Lord, in the stillness of the night – or even right at this moment – we hear you call our name. We’ve heard it too many times to ignore it – it’s something that we’re supposed to be. Someday we’ll find your dream for our lives – Lord, may that someday be today. Amen.