Father of Dreams…Joseph reconsidered.

Like most of you I suspect, I never gave Joseph too much attention or credit in the Christmas story. There is so much there to grab our attention; angel choirs, stars, kings and shepherds. This year, I was ready to pack Joseph away after his perfunctory fifteen minutes of homiletic fame, when I came across a commentary by Dr. Leonard Sweet. Thanks to Dr. Sweet, I’m seeing old Joseph in a whole new light this year.

Dr. Sweet points out that Joseph was so much more than some inarticulate tradesman. Joseph was a big time dreamer! He was fluent in what’s been known as “God’s forgotten tongue;” the language of dreams. What marks Joseph’s life and sets him apart is his ability to invest in some pretty big dreams.

Today, we have such a collective tin ear when it comes to dreams. Most of us, studies show, don’t even remember our dreams in the morning, let alone trust our dreams enough to hang our hats and our lives on them.

And yet, look at Joseph. His willingness to invest in some pretty fantastical dreams lie at the heart of his faithfulness and his trust in God. How would you have responded if your dreams told you:

  • your pregnant fiancée’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
  • that despite all social and moral requirements you should marry a pregnant woman.
  • that you should leave the land of your family and relatives, the ties of your community and kinship, just when you had a new baby and a questionable future?
  • that you should pack up a newborn and your wife and take a long journey into a foreign land because a dream angel told you it was unsafe at home.
  • that you should remain in exile until another dream called you back home?

Most of us would have a couple of questions, I think. For Joseph though, faithfulness was fundamentally about investing in dreams. Not just any dreams. God dreams. Joseph reminds us that an essential part of the life of faith is being open to dreams. As Christians, we are called to be big time dreamers too!

What if we understood our congregation, Epiphany Lutheran of Mount Vernon, as a place where dreamers come together to embody and enact God’s dream for this world? What a wonderful and liberating way of seeing ourselves. We’re not a church, we’re a DreamScape!

Dr. Sweet points out that to live as a DreamScape community, we need to be sure of three things:
1. We must make sure we are following God’s Dream. God’s Dream is not the American dream. It is not the celebrity dream. God’s Dream is never self-serving or self-congratulatory or self-glorifying.

2. We must make sure our dreams are Big Dreams, dreams we can give our lives to with a full heart and whole soul. For Matthew the Dream and the Dreamer were one. The Dream became Law under Emperor Constantine. Centuries later, under Martin Luther, the Dream became a New Reformation of God’s message. A few centuries after that, the Dream became Enlightenment learning and light, conviction colored compassion. Abolition, integration and civil rights, have all been God-given Dreams.

3. A Dream that is a genuine God Dream will always extend beyond our own lifetimes. Our focus must be on the Dream God has given us. Our Dream, our God-given Dream, should never be influenced by the impossibility of achieving it in our lifetime. Maybe not even in the lifetime of our community.

Joseph’s witness and reminder to us is that God wants us dreaming big dreams! Dreams about peace on earth. Dreams about “making disciples of all peoples.” Dreams about loving one another.

Jesus calls us to a dream life. Dreams that drive us out of the familiarity of Israel and home, and into Egypt. Once we have found the Messiah, we can’t remain the same. To meet Christ is to dream a new dream. Did you ever notice that in Matthew every one who encountered the Christ child was changed by the meeting? They couldn’t carry on as usual.

For the Magi, “they returned home another way.”
For the shepherds, they returned “glorifying and praising God.”
For Mary and Joseph, they had to leave Bethlehem.

Where will our God dream in Christ take us?

About Charles Oberkehr

I am the pastor of Epiphany Lutheran Church of Mount Vernon, an ELCA congregation of the Metropolitan Washington DC Synod.
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