Do you ever recall your dreams? If so, are some of them kind of strange? How about nightmares? I usually recall my dreams when I wake up in the morning. Some of them are like movies--in color with lots of action and a large cast of characters.Every once in a while I dream in German or Hebrew, which I find humorous, as I haven’t taken a German class since the 1970’s and I only took one year of Hebrew while at seminary. Ever since Dad passed away in 2019, I have had numerous dreams that include him, in which I am usually searching for him; evidence that I am still in the process of grieving.
There is a type of dream people are having these days, called ‘pandemic dreams’. Weird, science fiction types of dreams. Evidently, these dreams are ways our brains are trying to cope with job loss, food insecurity, or of the footage we view on the evening news of medical professionals trying to revive a COVID19 patient in the ICU. These pandemic dreams may serve a purpose, but are not of the type any dreamer would recall with fondness.
The Bible is chock full of stories about people who have dreams--dreams that have a divine purpose. Whether a warning to King Abimelech not to take Abraham’s wife, Sarah, as his own wife (Genesis 20) to Daniels’ visions of the Four Beasts (Daniel:7), to the warning to the Magi not to return to Jerusalem after visiting baby Jesus (Matthew 2:12), God speaks through dreams to a variety of biblical characters.
In last week’s Church Notes article I talked about Jacob wrestling a man (God) during a dream , in which God torments Jacob as a way to help this ne’er-do-well turn back to his God (Genesis 32:21-32). Thankfully, Jacob changes his ways, and spends the rest of his life as a faithful servant of the Lord, setting in place his standing as a Patriarch of the Jewish faith.
God is not finished though with this important family that traces its roots back to Abraham and Sarah. God speaks to Jacob’s son, Joseph, through a couple of strange dreams, in which Jacob is portrayed as a mighty leader (Genesis 37: 1-28) . Unfortunately, Joseph has a tendency to put his foot in his mouth (talk about a chip off the old block!), and makes the mistake of sharing the dreams with his eleven brothers. The brothers, who are already jealous of Joseph because he is his father’s favorite son, end up selling Joseph to a group of travelling nomads in the hope that this trouble-maker of a brother will disappear forever from their lives. Naturally, this is not the end of the story. Joseph’s divine dreams become a reality with a happy ending that includes forgiveness, prosperity, and the family of Jacob reunited.
In spite of their faults, Jacob and Joseph were dangerous dreamers who turned their lives around and became faithful servants of God. In spite of their faults, Dietrich Bonhoffer and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were 20th century dangerous dreamers and great martyrs of the Christian faith. I believe all of us, in spite of our faults, have the ability to be dangerous dreamers. Within this chaotic time when pandemic dreams are part of the human struggle to make sense of a new reality fraught with uncertainty, pain, and grief, I believe that God is at work in the dangerous dreams of ordinary folk, moving the world forward toward a place of healing and hope and peace. The question I now propose is, are you a ‘dangerous dreamer’?
Have you ever known a person who always seems to get away with bad behavior?
I inherited an old-fashioned phrase from my mom for how you wish that a ne'er-do-well would get their just reward: getting their ‘comeuppance’. While my boys were growing up, whenever the family watched a movie together in which the bad guy always seemed to get away with causing trouble, I would turn to my kids and say, “I hope this guy gets his comeuppance!” They would respond like typical kids who think their mom is a little weird with a roll of their eyes. You know what I mean.
Jacob, one of the Patriarchs of the Jewish faith, is such a character who needs to get his comeuppance; he has cheated and manipulated his family and is way past due for receiving his just reward! So when Jacob meets God in a dream, one would assume that God, the ultimate Judge, will dole out Jacob’s well-deserved and overdue punishment. But recall that Jacob is a born wrestler literally; during the birth of Jacob and twin brother Esau, he grabs his brother’s heel as Esau heads out of the womb first for fear that Esau will be given their father’s birthright (Jacob eventually steals Esau’s birthright, causing such hatred in Esau’s heart that he vows to kill his brother). Jacob is a formal opponent--even for God. As dawn breaks, the man (God), weary of wrestling Jacob, slaps him on his hip, causing it to go out of joint. Jacob leaves the wrestling mat with a permanently damaged hip. But he also receives something much more important: the divine blessing of a new name (Israel, or ‘One who strives with God and with humans’).
We know that God’s power is so mighty that God could have meted Jacob’s comeuppance in a manner much more severe than a permanently displaced hip joint. We also know that God’s ways are beyond understanding; God, divine Judge, is also the God of mercy and love. This wilderness dream-fight turns Jacob’s heart around, and the rest is history. Jacob makes up with his brother, Esau, and his offspring become the twelve tribes of Israel.
I find this story humorous, as with many stories in the Hebrew Bible. But it is also a message of hope for sinful humanity; if God took time to wrestle with a scoundrel like Jacob, God has time to wrestle with us. God, the ultimate Judge, is also the God of mercy and love, and will wrestle with us as an invitation to redemption and new life. So the next time you feel as if you are wrestling with your faith, know that God is there within your pain. Don’t count on getting your hip slapped out of joint, but something much more life-changing!
“He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;
it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and
make nests in its branches.’ He old them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in
with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’” (Matthew 13:31-43)
The morning was sunny but cool as I began my daily walk on the path behind the parsonage. As is my habit, I was meditating on scripture to the rhythm of my steps, opening my mind to the voice of the Spirit within the text. As I rounded a bend of the forest trail and entered a sunny meadow, the wild fragrances of late July awakened me from my reverie; pungent yet sweet, and bursting with the essence of life. As it happened, I was meditating on Sunday’s gospel scripture from Matthew in preparation for leading Children’s Sermon, and was focusing on two short parables that point to God’s Kingdom: the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Woman and the Yeast. These parables describe the mystery of the Kingdom, which often seems to be invisible, and yet is present and ever-expanding within the world. We tend to get so caught up in the busyness of our lives and of the heartaches and misery of the world that we forget about the good news of God’s Kingdom, brought into the world through the birth of Jesus Christ. So simple. And yet, so easy to forget.
On that morning walk, as I meditated on God’s Kingdom, the Spirit awakened me to the nearness of the Kingdom through the sensory delight of breathing in the fragrances of a sunny meadow in late July. The Kingdom, as invisible as it may seem, is all around us, whether in the pungent fragrances of a summer meadow, or in the smile of a passing stranger in a Fairway Grocery aisle, or in the cheerful voices of Storm Camp youth pulling weeds in someone’s yard. But it is up to you and me to be aware of the Kingdom, which seems to be as small as a grain of yeast, and yet abounds, ever growing and expanding--like giant mustard shrub, or a round of bread dough, waiting to be baked and savored!
May you find delight in God’s Kingdom!
Ever since the pandemic turned the world upside down, every person I have talked to--whether a family member, friend, or parishioner--is stressed out. Parents are stressed out about getting work done while having kids home 24/7. Children I know are stressed out because they can tell that their parents are stressed out. Stressors during the pandemic, ranging from job insecurity to wondering if the strangers standing with you in the checkout line at Target are contagious, is adding to the generally stressful life of the average American.
Psychological stress can manifest itself in many ways. It affects a person’s body: “According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. And more than 75 percent of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.” Chronic stress also affects a person’s behavior, such as eating too much or too little, having trouble sleeping, or increasing one’s use of alcohol and tobacco.
I know from experience that when I am stressed out, I am more prone to having joint pain (from being tense) and developing sinus infections (usually after Advent/Christmas!). I am a good sleeper, but tend to have more nightmares when I am anxious about something. I’m the type of person who likes to plan ahead, and with the uncertainties of this ‘new reality’, I am already stressed out about planning fall worship (will we be able to worship in the sanctuary when the weather turns cold?) or even planning when my mom will be able to come to Stewartville for a short visit. Being aware of the effects of stress though, is helping me cope during these uncertain and scary times--making sure I take walks and limiting my time watching the news and consuming pizza.
Thankfully, as a person of faith, I believe that God is journeying with me during these stressful times. I make time every morning to read my devotionals (Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours and Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation ) and to sit quietly in my favorite chair, centering myself on the presence of the Divine. And, of course, I ‘talk’ to God throughout the day.
One helpful and inexpensive way for relieving the stress valve is to have conversations with someone you trust. Although I am new to this community, please trust that I am a good listener and that I too, am struggling with extra stress during the pandemic! Please feel free to contact me if you ever need someone to talk to.
Peace in Christ,
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)