Experience truly exceptional music, preaching and prayer as Calvary celebrates the installation of Rev. Joann Haejong Lee as Associate Pastor of Community Formation.
Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.’ His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?’ So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.
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.”
“Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him…and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”
Sounds like you should be careful about who you share your dreams with, especially your siblings.
We know that when one refers to a dream, it may mean those that occur while we are asleep. They are the ramblings of our subconscious mind. Much has been written about the meaning and interpretation of our dreams.
There is also another dream. Ones that occur while we are awake. And they have more to do with our hopes, our wishes, our desires and aspirations.
Joann, I do not know if you dreamed of one day pastoring in a church like this one. I imagine that while in Minnesota you dreamed of winters like ours….
I can tell you that I dreamed one day churches like Fourth Chicago, and House of Hope and Calvary San Francisco would have women of color installed as clergy.
Back to the text…
While Joseph’s dream sounded like the sleep kind, it plays out like the vision kind.
The 11th son of Jacob but Rachel’s firstborn, Joseph is popularly known as the one with “the coat of many colors,” though the text is unclear on this. What is clear is the hostility the brothers had for Joseph even before the dream is mentioned.
Verse 4 tells us:
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.
He was a young man with a dream. The dream was a reversal of fortune; that those in positions of power, his brothers, would no longer be in those positions. And his dream challenged the status quo, business as usual, represented by the brothers and father.
Feelings and emotions were already set. And when jealous turns to hatred, can thoughts of murder be far behind. Though the actual killing is averted, the coat that represented the preferential treatment of the father, was then used as the principle element of the deception. “Here is the bloody coat of your son…must have been wild animals.” Life spared, Joseph is sold to Midianite traders who in turn sold him in Egypt.
Through it all, God seems hidden, except as perhaps the Creator and source of the dream itself, but that is left to the reader. Throughout the story, our verses and beyond, God is silent, not at all visible. But this story is not about God. It’s not about Joseph and his brothers. It’s about the dream.
The dream is everything. Without the dream there is no dreamer, no narrative. Without the dream there is no conflict with the brothers. Without the dream Joseph does not go to Egypt. And the Hebrews do not go to Egypt. Without being in Egypt there would be no Exodus. No Moses. No liberation. The dream is everything. The dream sets the course. The dream upsets the balance of power and authority. Notice the language of the brothers, “are we to bow down…are you to reign over us…have dominion over us?” These are ruler and subject images and words. The dream was not controlled by family tradition. The dream was not subject to the norms of society. The dream was not subject to hatred and jealousy.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, in his commentary on this passage writes this about the dream and power:
“Power is so concrete and earthly. Dreams appears to us so remote and hidden. We must ask about the power of dreams. We must see that in this presentation, the dream is a political power. In recent experiences of liberation, the political power of dreams is evident. A dream is a power which neither tradition nor force can finally resist.” i
And if the political power of dreams is evident, then one cannot help but draw comparisons with others who have dreamed.
For Joseph, the threat of killing the dream and the dreamer did not come to pass. For Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, whom we honor this weekend, the dreamer was killed, but not the dream. Even our current realities, as harsh as Ferguson MO or as mundane as the Academy Awards notwithstanding, the dream for justice and equality remain, though at times seem more dreamlike than concreate reality. Even something as ridiculous as a poorly conceived Presbyterian offering poster (#not my one great hour of sharing) reminds us that the dream though disturbed, lives on. ii
I am not concerned that the dream dies. I am concerned that it is co-opted. We’ve seen it happen before.
Comedian Chris Rock satirized that it won’t be long before 9/11 is just another excuse for weekend shopping sprees, because, as he said, “Hey, I’m not joking about 9/11, but we live in America and in America there are no sacred days because we commercialize everything.” As evidence, he said look what we’ve done to Christmas. iii
And while I thought no one really uses Dr. King’s birthday to sell stuff, but… I brought a few examples to share. You look like smart people, so I don’t think you would be surprised if I told you I Googled MLK image for commercials…several ads appeared, from consultants to surf shops all using the image of Dr. King. The dream is co-opted, a great speech reduced to a sound bite, a national hero reduced to a caricature. Yet somehow the dream lives on. I was powerfully reminded of this recently.
If you have not seen the exhibition @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, you need to. The artist and activist has numerous pieces, all revolving around themes of freedom of conscience. The sound installation “Stay Tuned” takes place in 12 cells in A block. Inside each cell, visitors hear spoken word, poetry and music, by people who have been detained for the creative expression of their beliefs, some created under incarceration. The diverse selection includes a Tibetan singer who calls for his people’s independence, a Chilean songwriter and guitarist, and the Robbin Island singers, imprisoned during South Africa’s apartheid era. Also included, is Dr. King and a recording of his speech entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”. It was recorded at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, one year to the day before they killed the dreamer, to see what would become of the dream.
The installation reminds us that Dr. King was jailed at least 30 times for nonviolent activism. While his “I have a dream” speech is better known, and more often heard, this speech is more controversial, more universal, and more revolutionary.
Dr. King states:
“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly being the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” iv
He was criticized for that speech and the links he made between the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. In response he said:
“To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know the good news was meant for all – for communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?” v
Read Dr. Kings speech Beyond Vietnam, or any of his speeches. Visit @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz.
One can kill the dreamer, but you cannot kill the dream. The dream lives on when another sees it, hears it, remembers it, lives it. Amen.
i Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis, Interpretation, (Atlanta, John Knox Press, 1982) pg. 302
ii One Great Hour of Sharing campaign was roundly criticized and revised (see pcusa.org news Jan. 12,2015 “Special Offerings Revise Promotional Campaign”)
iii Chris Rock opening monologue, Saturday Night Live, Nov. 2, 2014
iv Beyond Vietnam. Address given at Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967, sponsored byClergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam, reprinted 1986, pg.15
v Beyond Vietnam, pg. 10