Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dreaming at 9 AM

Acts 2:1-21

When I stop to ask directions and someone says something like “turn right at the big cedar tree, and then go a little way and turn left at the third warehouse and go two miles and just before you come to an intersection it’ll be on your right.  You can’t miss it,” I know that they may be giving me accurate directions but they are telling me a lie.  I definitely can miss it and I surely will.  It never fails.  So if I were to say today, “Pentecost Day.   It is the biggest Day between Easter and All Saints.  It’s just so big you can’t miss it,” I would be, well, as my mother used to say euphemistically, “telling a story.” 

Good for you that you are here today, for whatever reason. But chances are, you are not celebrating Pentecost by putting up a tree, cooking a turkey, giving gifts, hanging decorations, sending greetings.  If you have been hanging around the church for awhile, the odds are that you have some idea of what Pentecost is—you might even look forward to it—but guess what?  Pentecost may be more than you have ever dreamed.

Pentecost is about dreams.  It is about visions. It is about elderly people who have one foot in the grave suddenly having the other foot in a street demonstrating for change.  It is about young people who have little power and clout suddenly cutting loose and envisioning possibilities that are beyond any ideas that society could have fed them.  Pentecost is about dreams and it begins in the death of a dream.  Within a bare three years or less, Jesus had articulated and lived a dream of a radical new life: welcome for the stranger, forgiveness for the sinner, inclusion for the outcast, healing for the sick, liberation for the oppressed.  One never dreams such dreams for free.  The powers that shape the world to their advantage—and they never ever go away—will see to it that dreamers are cut down to size.  Dreams threaten reality, no matter what kind of dreams, what kind of reality, or what kind of dreamers.  Much as Fantine sings in Les Miserables,

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hopes apart
And they turn your dreams to shame…[1]

Jesus was murdered, and with him the dream that he called the Kingdom.  Except that the dream, being a dream, couldn’t be murdered because you can’t nail dreams to wood or bleed them to death.  Dreams have a life of their own, quite apart from the dreamers.  So the story of the fifty days following the crucifixion is the story of a community struggling to catch the dream anew.  They, these disciples, had not understood the dream very well during the couple of years they followed Jesus around.  And they certainly didn’t grasp it much better when he rose from the dead.  Nor did they have it all figured out when he parted from them in what we call the ascension into heaven.  Ten days later they were in a sense still stuck in the room, possibly the same place where they had shared the Last Supper together with their master.  If there was a dream they were not dreaming it.

But suddenly on the first day of the week, as they were gathered not knowing what the next steps would be, there came from some place a rushing wind that blew open the windows and caused the whole house to shake with a wild power.  And all heaven broke loose, something that looked like tongues of fire licking the heads of these eleven.  Some extraordinary craziness crashed all restraints and, like water bursting a dam, unleashed a torrent of words in a cacophony of languages which strangely could be heard and understood by the international tourists filling Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks and the ex-pats living there from all over the Mediterranean.  “No, they are not drunk,” Peter exclaimed in a raised voice.  “It’s only 9 AM!”  He quoted Joel the prophet, saying that these words had been fulfilled:  “ I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your youth will see visions and your elderly will dream dreams.”

 Pentecost is not exactly, in the words of Joseph of Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat fame a matter of “any dream will do.”  No, the specific dream of Joel, of Jesus, and of the Spirit on Pentecost is the dream that the dawn will break upon us, revealing  the glory of the Lord, and all flesh shall see it together.  This is not the dream of an afterlife.  Nor is it the dream of a somewhat rearranged and sanitized planet.  It is the dream of justice, the dream of peace, the dream of right relationships.  It is an impossible dream, because no future is worth dreaming if it is merely an extension of the present.  The dream of Pentecostal people is disturbingly apocalyptic.  It is a dream that embraces the human body as good; that sees a humanity not doubled over in shame; that sees races living harmoniously; that envisions police officers and minority youth walking hand in hand along streets where police officers have little to do but reassure and strengthen the populace.  It is a dream (you have heard it before) that one day this nation will rise up, 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 sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the tale of brotherhood."

Impossible.  Yes.  Gloriously impossible are the dreams of Pentecost.  And to dream impossible dreams is what human beings have evolved to do.  We might even dream that we would come to the place of actually living, as the rest of the animal kingdom does, in the belief that life is to be enjoyed.  We might even dream that we might hear the rustling of the Spirit of God and go out to meet God, unafraid.  The world is tired and hurting. Like that band of disciples on a Sunday morning long ago, we have come to what seems like an impasse.  Leaderless, champion-less, no way to see the road ahead of us with no foggy idea of where it will lead.  But that is why mortals keep writing and singing these songs, like “To dream the impossible dream” and “I had a dream” and “Any dream will do.” 

The irony is you have to do nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Just be open, still, receptive.  God will come upon you, and the Spirit of the Most High will overshadow you, and the dream to which you will give birth will be the very Life of the Most High.  All you have to do is to let God dream God’s dream in you.  It is, after all, God’s dream.



© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2015

[1] “I Dreamed a Dream,” from the musical Les Miserables, English libretto by Herbert Kretzmer, online at, accessed May 23, 2015.