I usually don’t post my sermons because I found that they’re so long that people rarely read them on the blog. But, I had some requests, so here we go.
Text: Acts 2:1-21
Hagar was Sarah’s slave. Abraham and Sarah are characters from the Old Testament. Abraham knew that he was to be a father of a great people. Except something was going awry in the plan. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were getting older, and they still didn’t have any children, and so Abraham forced Hagar to have his child, Ishmael. Then when Abraham and his wife finally did have a child of their own, Sarah and Abraham forced Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert. Abraham sent his own son out into the wilderness to die. Hagar was given a small bit of water, and that was it.
So, Hagar was wandering in the desert, with no place to go. The sun was beating down upon her. And I imagine her, walking with that sheer determination that a mother has when her child is in danger. But then the water ran out, Ishmael’s cries were getting louder and as much as she tried, she could no longer soothe him and it became clear that her sweet boy was going to die.
Hagar had no idea what to do. So, she placed her child under a bush, and then she called out to God, and pleaded that God would not allow her to look upon the death of her child, and somehow, there in that desert, she received a glimpse of God’s dream, she got a taste of God’s imagination, and she realized that she would become a mother of a great nation.
How did that happen? How did Hagar, a slave, who was forced to conceive her master’s child, stand in that barren desert, with no water and her small child crying, how did she suddenly imagine that she would become the mother of a great nation? I think it was because she caught a bit of the dream of God.
After she realized this, she looked up, and she saw a well of water on the horizon, and she and Ishmael were saved.
The Scriptures are full of stories like this.
There was Moses, who led the people of Israel out of slavery, and into the desert. They were wandering out there for forty years. And yet, all of that time, during all of that nomadic traveling amongst the dry and dusty sand, when the people were looking longingly back to a period when their children were killed or enslaved, Moses was not willing to go back. And in that desert landscape, Moses kept telling them stories about a land flowing with milk and honey.
How could he imagine it? How did Moses have the vision to see milk in honey, when his mouth and nose were full dry dust? I think it is because he somehow caught a glimpse of the dream of God.
And think about Esther. Esther was Jewish, in a land where she was an oppressed minority. Her parent’s died when she was a child, and so a relative, Mordecai, took care of her. When she was a young woman, she became a member of a harem, for a particularly vile king.
The king had gotten rid of his wife because the queen wouldn’t display her beauty (whatever that means) before his drunk friends. The king was humiliated and decided that if he let his wife get away with not obeying him, then it would be license for women in his whole kingdom not to obey their husbands. So he dismissed her, in order that every man would know that he was the master of his house.
Of course, shortly after he did get rid of her, he missed her and started looking for her replacement, so he gathered all of the most beautiful women in the land, of which Esther was one. After a year of intense beauty treatments, Esther was chosen to be the new queen. Yet, from what I can tell of the story, I’m not sure that it was much of a promotion. Esther was the victim of terrible violent threats. She could not reveal that she was Jewish, and she was not even allowed to enter the same room with her husband without the fear of being killed.
And yet, Esther, in spite of the years of racial discrimination, sexual victimization, and physical peril, somehow Esther realized that she was placed in her position at a particular time for a particular reason. She began to understand that she would be the savior of her people.
I wonder how, with her background, with her history, and with the terrible threats that she was under, how did Esther begin to see herself as the savior of her people? How did she have the courage to overcome the years of being violated and threatened? I believe that Esther, somehow, caught a glimpse of the dream of God.
And what about Mary? Imagine her, this young unmarried teenager, looking down at her bloated tummy, trying to swallow back her morning sickness she realized that if anyone found out that she was pregnant, then an angry mob of people would surround her, they would pick up stones and throw them at her, and they would keep pelting those rocks at her until her body was so bruised and broken that she would finally die.
And yet, somehow, as her ankles began to swell and her skin began to stretch, she reminded herself that she was the most blest among all women.
How did it happen? How did these people, in the most disturbing, violent and oppressive circumstances, how did they begin to see living water in the desert, milk and honey in a dry land? How did they begin to see themselves as mothers of great nations, saviors of a people, and the most blessed among all women? How did they leave their lives of bondage, slavery and abuse behind? How did they have the imagination to begin to see themselves as something different? How did they begin to envision a life without gender discrimination, sexual slavery, and racial oppression?
I think it was because each one of them became open to the dream of God. They began to see visions that were far removed from their actual settings, from their present environments, and they began to imagine the most extraordinary things.
When our family wakes up in the morning, often times we ask each other, “Did you have any interesting dreams last night?” And the most fascinating conversations follow. We can usually remember our dreams, and after we explain the long detailed story, we try to figure out what they mean. I don’t know how to interpret dreams. I don’t know the particular symbolism that people have developed around dream archetypes, but it is interesting to wonder what our subconscious has been working hard on during those dark hours. I often realized certain emotions that I was feeling, that I didn’t know existed. Or I realize that my concern about a particular situation, something that I was trying to blow off, looms large in my mind. Sometimes, I allow myself to dislike a person or a job in my dreams that I would never admit to disliking while I was awake.
Dreams are so common. Experts, who have studied brain activity and eye motion, say that we all dream, whether we recall the images or not, we all dream. We all have that ability. I wonder if we have all have the ability to wake up and dream.
Pentecost is such an extraordinary event, full of wonder and miracles, and yet, it is also filled with such ordinary things. The disciples were together in one room, praying, trying to figure out what to do next. They felt quite abandoned and confused. It had not been long since Jesus, who was killed in a brutal public display, began appearing to different people in very random places: on the beach, on a road, in a locked room.
Then, after getting his followers’ hopes up, Jesus gathers some disciples onto a mountainside, and ascends into heaven, leaving the disciples in physical danger, scared and bewildered. Until Pentecost.
On the Sunday of Pentecost, they were all in a room together, praying, and trying to figure out what to do, when suddenly they heard the sound of rushing wind, and tongues of fire appeared on each person’s head. People began to speak in different languages, when they never had that ability before. The old and the young began to dream dreams, and see visions.
And, as God so often does, the Holy Spirit moved in those common, ordinary things—fire, wind, words, dreams, and visions to make something miraculous happen.
When I was in Sunday school, I was confused by the idea of a vision, and so I asked my teacher what visions were. And she told me something interesting. She said that they were dreams that happened when we were awake. I like this idea. Visions are dreams that we have when we are awake.
And perhaps that is the promise of the Holy Spirit which has been poured out upon all of us. The Spirit allows us to wake up and dream. The Spirit gives birth to us, so that we can begin to see ourselves as new creations. We can begin imagining a world where men and women are no longer enslaved, where peace reigns.
Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of God. But the metaphor doesn’t make that much sense in our current context. It was a powerful image in the Jewish context that Jesus moved and taught in, but it is a bit foreign to most of us. Most of us are seeped in democracy. We’re more used to the idea of a president, and we chafe a bit when we think of being subjects of a king.
So theologians try to think of other words to use. Often they talk about the reign of God, to at least get past the Patriarchy of it. Or it’s the reign of God. Recently, I heard a theologian use the term the Dream of God.
The dream of God! What a beautiful concept. The dream of God is that the hungry will be full and there will be peace. And here, at this Pentecost moment we have a group of people get a glimpse of the dream of God.
When this miraculous moment occurred, it became clear to so many that the grace of God was no longer just for the Jews, but it was poured out upon men and women, young and old, of every language, of every ethnicity, of every socioeconomic background. That is the dream of God. And the church was formed, by God sharing the dream with a handful of people.
It is the dream that allowed men and women to imagine an underground railroad, so that slaves in the United States could escape to freedom. It is that vision that wakes women up from years of abuse, and allows them to create a way out of the violence. It is the hope that stirs within men and women who suffered from abuse or discrimination as children, and allows them to look into the mirror and see the image of God staring back at them.
Pentecost marks the fact that the dream of God runs through us. It flows through this sanctuary. It is that imagination that so captures a dying church to become a place of feeding and hospitality for homeless guests. It is the Spirit that stirs so boldly within us, until we can begin to imagine living water in the desert, milk and honey in the wilderness. And it is what encourages us to go out from this place, and to live boldly, into this Pentecost Spirit.
To the glory of God our Creator,
God our Liberator,
and God our Sustainer. Amen.
photo by PhotoSock-Israel