Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
August 10, 2014
During our time together, I have witnessed God awakening First Christian Church from discouraged doldrums to a dream of boldly bringing Jesus’ radical hospitality to the people of Odessa. As I soaked in today’s story of Joseph’s brothers selling him as a slave, I was drawn into the driving force of Joseph’s dreams, though they were omitted from the reading. For summer Sunday school the church I served in Illinois used intergenerational family clusters. Each week a small group of singles, couples and families with children planned and led a learning experience for everyone. One summer when the theme was Old Testament characters, a family with five children was in the cluster assigned this story of Joseph. Those children immediately identified Joseph, not as a hero, but as a snotty, little brother tattletale. We still must ask, “How are we supposed to understand Joseph’s dreams?”
The text never identifies Joseph’s dreams as oracles from God, yet they foreshadow the events by which God would rescue them and the people of Egypt from severe famine. Given the sibling rivalry and parental favoritism Jacob brought into his family from his relationship with Esau, Joseph would have been wise to have kept his dreams to himself. But at least ten years later, when his brothers unknowingly came to him in Egypt for famine relief, he remembered his dreams, which seemed to prod him to “teach them a lesson.” (Genesis 42:9) Though Joseph had no further dreams, interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh’s cup bearer and baker and of Pharaoh himself put Joseph in the position of famine relief czar.
Joseph’s brothers’ reactions to his dreams are regrettably understandable. Beyond sibling resentment, they were the archetypical pooh-poohers of dreams. Without imagination they couldn’t see beyond their work.
I can’t say for sure whether God gave Joseph his dreams as prophecy, yet, God clearly was engaged with both Joseph’s annoying arrogance and his brothers’ distain.
I am convinced that God is the source of the dream of boldly bringing Jesus’ radical hospitality to the people of Odessa that can define this church’s future, much as other dreams of our time have defined our culture.
On September 12, 1962 at Rice University, President John Kennedy spoke of the dream of going to the moon.
Why, some say, [go to] the moon? Why choose this as our goal? … We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.
On August 28, 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his I Have a Dream speech at the Lincoln Memorial.
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 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. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and before the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
On October 11, 1971, John Lennon’s Imagine was released. Though it names religion, nationalism and wealth as what prevents the world from becoming one, it became the anthem for a generation. I believe the appeal of this dream calls for a more compelling dream from all of us who trust and follow Jesus.
You may say I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one.
I hope someday you will join us,
And the world will be as one.
As we witness God awakening First Christian Church to a dream of boldly bringing Jesus’ radical hospitality to the people of Odessa, we ask, “Who are the dreamers of First Christian Church?” I would suggest that the Search and Call Committee dared to dream boldly about the future of this church as they interviewed candidates. As spiritual leaders, the Elders have prayed to have a dream from God for this church. The Merger Committee that became the Mission Task Force has brainstormed myriad ways to live into the dream of God’s exciting future mission. The Board has acted with faith to proceed with bold steps into God’s future for this church.
For what are these dreamers dreaming? You know they are not dreaming of going back to the 50’s and 60’s. Nor are they dreaming of copying the mega-churches. Rather, this church’s dreamers are dreaming of becoming a unique community of faith extending Jesus’ hospitality to the people of Odessa. They are dreaming of God making a connection between specific people and resources of this congregation with specific people and opportunities in the community. They are dreaming of more than a collection of programs that help people but of a complete identity and mentality of becoming the means of Jesus’ hospitality transforming the fabric of Odessa.
Just as Joseph’s brothers ridiculed and discounted his dreams, attitudes are the greatest obstacles to realizing these dreams for First Christian Church. Some of the most disabling attitudes are those that discount the church’s capacity to realize the dreams: “We’re too few.” “We’re too old.” “We don’t know how.” “We’re not strong enough.” Some of the most debilitating attitudes turn the focus inward. “We have all we can do to take care of ourselves.” Anxiety about how new people will change the church can also interfere with reaching out into our very diverse society. “Those people are not like us.”
Whether Joseph’s dreams were prophecy or not, they clearly came from God, and God saw to it that they were realized. I believe these dreams for First Christian Church also come from God, and God is the driving power for their realization. Attitudes of faith, daring, courage, risk-taking all open the way for actions that bring the dreams into reality. Like all of us, Joseph went through many hardships and difficulties on the way to the realization of his dreams. Nevertheless, passionate devotion to a dream that comes from God is unstoppable.
During our time together, I have witnessed God awakening First Christian Church from discouraged doldrums to a dream of boldly bringing Jesus’ radical hospitality to the people of Odessa. My last pastoral word to you is, “Dream on! And follow your dreams!” You are well on your way to answering, “How do we discern God’s dream for First Christian Church?” Your Search and Call Committee, Elders, Board and Mission Task Force have an abundance of raw materials from which God is building your unique dream.
Some of you may know that a little over a year ago I had received simultaneous offers from this church and another to serve as interim pastor. Perhaps the most significant reason we decided to come here was the confidence and hope the Search and Call Committee conveyed that they believed this church could have a future they had barely begun to dream about. While I know my work is done here, I am anticipating with excitement to see how your dreams come true. I’m dreaming of spiritually hungry people getting to know Jesus because of you. I’m dreaming of all of Odessa knowing you as those who practice Jesus’ radical hospitality. I’m dreaming of a multitude of interlinked community service missions that make a difference in people’s lives. I’m dreaming of people engaged in vigorous Bible investigation and energetic worship. I’m dreaming of people of all ages, all socio-economic levels and all ethnic backgrounds gathered in the name of Jesus by this congregation.
A few weeks ago, the slip of a couple of small details cued me that Joe and Dawn Weaks were the Search and Call Committee’s pastoral candidate finalists. Since I know them, it took some discipline to say nothing and avoid influencing the process. Now that you as a congregation have made that decision, I enthusiastically affirm your choice! I have had some interaction with them and know that the dreams for what this church can become were central and to their enthusiastic willingness to accept the call to come as your pastors. I know none of us are infallible, but I encourage you to follow their lead as you pursue God’s dreams for this church.I know that some people are leaders and some are followers. I know that some are dreamers and some are doers. Finding the place that fits you in making dreams come true is one of life’s most exhilarating and satisfying experiences. I also know that some people are like Joseph, annoying people by blabbing their dreams. And some people are like Joseph’s brothers, squelching dreams at every turn. If you are feel inclined to be either a Joseph or one of his brothers as the new era of mission for First Christian Church gets underway this fall, I encourage you to make a personal appointment with Dawn or Joe to listen to each other and pray together. I will no longer be your pastor, but if you welcome them as you welcomed Candy and me, they will be wonderful pastors for you.