I May Be a Dreamer... But I'm Not the Only One
By Pastor John J. Pawloski - August 13th, 2023
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 (NRSVue)
Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. These are the descendants of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives, and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children because he was the son of his old age, and he made him an ornamented robe. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.
Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.
He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the ornamented robe that he wore, and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
Then they sat down to eat, and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
The world has a natural disdain for dreamers–people not tethered in reality, who see things as they could be, and not as they are. Nowhere is this more clear than in today’s scripture reading about Joseph. Of course, Joseph did kind of bring condemnation on himself with the dreams which implied that his brothers and family would bow down to him. But public relations issues aside for a moment, Joseph’s gift of dreaming of the future is what put him on the map. He became Pharaoh's right hand, and in the process, was able to warn of the impending drought in time to allow grain to be stored so that famine throughout the region (and not just Egypt) could be avoided.
As distasteful as Joseph’s dream was to his brothers, he wasn’t wrong. With the gift of prophetic dreaming, I am sure that Joseph was destined for greatness regardless of what his brothers did. (Imagine what he could do with lottery numbers if that was available back in Joseph’s day?). I am not sure God planned on his brothers faking his death and selling him into slavery, but God certainly made the most of it once Joseph was placed into this precarious situation. I do not think God brings us suffering and adversity, but when the world brings it to us, God is there to make a new way out of no way. To make lemonade out of lemons. I have often described God affectionately as being like a Divine Janitor who comes behind humans when we make a mess of things, and cleans up the suffering and harm we humans have caused. There is no doubt Joseph’s brothers made quite a mess here, but what a powerful story about God's ability to make triumph out of tragedy, and in such a way that all benefited from Joseph’s gift.
What is it about dreamers that people find so hard to accept? Perhaps they are perceived as fanciful and frivolous. Perhaps because we no longer believe dreams come true. Maybe, however, we are afraid of dreams because they reveal how far off the mark we are from what we could be. Maybe we disdain dreamers because they show us the ways we have sold out to the ways of life of normal acceptance. Worse still, maybe we do not like dreamers because they reveal how little faith we have in God to make the world a better place.
Professional athletes and Olympians often employ the services of motivational psychologists to help athletes envision higher performance. Implicit in the use of this visioning process is the belief that seeing something in our mind will help us perform that well in real life. Conversely, if you cannot even dream of something, what hope do you really have to accomplish it? Seeing is believing, even if it is only in our minds. Even if it is only in our dreams. I was looking through medical literature in preparation for writing this sermon. A new thing I discovered (besides the fact that most of us have dreams, but do not remember our dreams), is that some people have a degree of conscious awareness of their dreams. These people are kind of asleep, but sort of awake at the same time. They are aware that they are dreaming.
The finding that humans can have a conscious awareness of their dreams is significant because it suggests we may have the power to control or at least have some input into our dreams. Consider that for a moment. Imagine, for example, you are a superhero. Imagine instead of paying farmers not to grow food, we bought the food they could otherwise grow and gave it to starving people? What if we could train our dreams to see a world where we celebrated the differences of people, instead of mocking those that are not like us? What if we could train our minds to see the importance of human connection for kids who spend their free time in front of violent video games? What if we could train our dreams to see people addicted to drugs as people trying to escape from hurt and trauma instead of loathsome creatures to be avoided?
We Christians are usually a humble lot, and for the most part, that is a good thing. But what isn’t good about it is we believe that we are ordinary. That we possess no special powers or gifts. That the world is the way the world is, and the best we can do is to nibble on the edges and make a little improvement. But we are wrong. We are powerful beyond our imagination. We have the capacity to change the world, if only we have the courage to dream it. How do I know this? Because twelve cowardly men who ran from Roman authorities after Jesus’ crucifixion, only to emerge at Pentecost as evangelistic savants, changed the world. They dared to dream of a Christ-centered world where the weak would be cared for, not exploited. Where the powerful would be held to account for their cruelty and apathy towards the plight of the needy. A world where we are blessed to serve and love each other. Where kindness is revered, not ridiculed. Where no one says pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. I dream of this kind of world. I may be a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Won’t you dream with me?