Dare to Dream by Rev. James C. Ramsey (in recognition of the MLK Holiday) Texts: Genesis 37:17b-27 Preached: 1/14/18 Acts 2:16-18

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1 Dare to Dream by Rev. James C. Ramsey (in recognition of the MLK Holiday) Texts: Genesis 37:17b-27 Preached: 1/14/18 Acts 2:16-18 Your old men (and women) will dream dreams exclaimed the Prophet Joel, and your young men (and women) shall see visions. Centuries later, on the day of Pentecost when the flames of the Holy Spirit came down and rested on Jesus disciples and the crowd was astounded by the power and energy of heaven -- Peter addressed the crowd with the Prophet s words, Your old men (and women) will dream dreams. Such dreaming surely indicates God s presence in a community and in the world! Last Sunday we met Simeon and Anna two old dreamers who were waiting for God s anointed Messiah. When they spied the infant Jesus, being carried in the Temple by his parents, they could not contain their dreams. They burst forth in spontaneous praise of God and God s salvation for the world. Their dreams were really a celebration of God s own dream. But before the scripture was read last week before the sermon, I posed the question in the Children s Chat, what holiday were we celebrating? I was, of course, looking for the answer Epiphany. Christians in the country of Cyprus, and many other parts of the world, have elaborate ceremonies in celebration of Epiphany. We barely recognize the holiday, let alone have the bishop toss his processional cross into the harbor for the youth group to retrieve! Before my name this holiday question was barely out of my mouth, Nathaniel Tarbi blurted out, Martin Luther King Day! I smiled. I wasn t expecting that answer. Of course, Nathaniel wasn t wrong. He was just a week early! You might say he was Looking Forward Like Simeon. Tomorrow, we know, is finally Martin Luther King day. I think it remarkable that we have a national holiday honoring a Christian minister. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and social activist, who led the Civil Rights Movement in our country from the mid- 1950s until his death by assassination in Among his many efforts, King headed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He played a pivotal role in ending legal segregation of African-Americans in our country. Through his activism and inspirational speeches he was a major contributor to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of He received the Nobel Peace Prize in Of all King s powerful speeches, the one that is most-remembered concerns a dream you might even say the dream.

2 It was one of the biggest speeches of his career, and he knew it. Martin Luther King Jr. was already widely recognized as the spiritual leader of the civil rights movement. Multitudes, 250,000 strong, had journeyed to the nation's capital to join the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The eyes of the nation were on the keynote speaker. Dr. King had labored to prepare his text. He'd asked for suggestions from his trusted advisers. He'd gone through several handwritten manuscript drafts -- unusual for him, because he rarely used speechwriters and often spoke extemporaneously, from only a few jotted notes. Originally his title had been "Normalcy, Never Again" -- but, by the time he'd finished multiple edits, the papers he clutched in his hand were still not what he wanted them to be. The most famous line from the speech -- "I have a dream" -- wasn't written on paper at all. That ringing refrain had been a feature of several speeches he'd delivered in other places at a high school in North Carolina almost a year earlier, then in Detroit two months prior. The beloved gospel singer Mahalia Jackson was sitting behind Dr. King as he struggled to find words to connect to the audience. She was not only one of the most influential gospel singers in the world, she was a woman of deep faith and, like King, a civil rights activist. She said about her gospel career, "I sing God's music because it makes me feel free It gives me hope. It was Jackson who suggested the theme for the speech, impromptu, calling out, "Tell them about the dream, Martin!" Dr. King heard her and he did just that. He told them about the dream. It wasn t just his personal dream, but clearly part and parcel of God s own dream. Dr. King's riff on the phrase, "I have a dream," has truly gone down in history. The most famous of those improvised lines is this: "I have a dream that my four 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." There were many in our country back then who said that he overstated the problem of racism.

3 There are some today, who say similar, foolish things. When I attended seminary in Atlanta, Georgia, I worshiped for three years, every Sunday, at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church. I still receive the Oakhurst newsletter. It came this week. The church shared the following update: The letter-writing campaign that our youth initiated after experiencing racism at Montreat Conference Center last summer has yielded results. (This is the first I had heard about the incident.) I ve been to Montreat, a retreat center of our denomination, multiple times for Study Leave. It seems a beautiful place, a beautiful setting. The newsletter s update continued: the Conference Center s policies now explicitly state that racism will not be tolerated, and each youth has received a handwritten letter from the Conference Center s president, Richard DuBose. Separately Aliya Epps is on the Youth Conference s 2018 Planning Team and it was she who came up with the conference s title: Lift Every Voice. Dr. King s dream, which he claimed as his own, was certainly not just his but God s own dream. King dared to dream it. Others have, too, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. We must dare to dream it, too, in our own way, on a national scale, but on a personal, communal scale, as well. Some still see King primarily as a Black man, and this day primarily as a Black holiday. I take King as a fellow minister of God and this holiday as a religious one. If you have any doubt that King s speech that day was a deeply religious address (a sermon, really) -- or that the civil rights movement was a deeply Christian movement -- then just listen to where Dr. King went, a few lines later:" I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together." Dr. King continued: "This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope." Many people that day and since have said it was one of the most significant speeches of the 20th century. But not everyone.

4 An FBI agent by the name of William Sullivan, head of the Bureau's domestic spying operations, wrote this in a memo to then Director J. Edgar Hoover: "In the light of King's powerful demagogic speech yesterday he stands head and shoulders above all other Negro leaders put together when it comes to influencing great masses of Negroes. We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security." He was a dreamer, Dr. King. And, as a dreamer, things did not go well for him. Then, as now, dreamers make the powers that be -- the powers that fear change -- deeply uncomfortable. Visionary leaders do not fear to dream of a better tomorrow for all God's children. As a consequence, those who fear change sometimes do desperate things to try to bury the dream. The biblical Joseph s brothers did just that in response to his dreams. They tried to bury them, literally, in a pit. They first imagined leaving Joseph for dead, but then changed their mind and sold him to passing slave traders. Joseph s dreams extended over a lifetime. His early dreams foreshadowed a time when his family would bow to him. He was not afraid to share these with his 11 brothers. His dreams predicted that he would not only rule over his family, but would also one day save them. We know how the story turns out. Through a series of amazing adventures, Joseph ends up in Egypt where he is still dreaming. Eventually he becomes Pharoah s chief of staff. In a time of terrible famine, the sons of Jacob (his brothers) come and grovel before him, begging for food so they will not starve (thus fulfilling the very dream they'd found so offensive). Only then does Joseph reveal his true identity. He had every right to exact a terrible revenge upon them, but his heart was full of forgiveness. And he invited them to a feasts. Never did he gloat, nor did he complain about his past treatment. Joseph was not a complainer; he was a dreamer.

5 Reflecting on Dr. King's famous speech, Jim Wallis of Washington, D.C.'s Sojourners Community makes this same point about complaining. Looking at the speech, he has observed that something's missing from it. It's the phrase, "I have a complaint." Wallis continues: "There was much to complain about for black Americans, and there is much to complain about today for many in this nation. But King taught us that our complaints or critiques, or even our dissent, will never be the foundation of social movements that change the world -- but dreams always will. Just saying what is wrong will never be enough to change the world. You have to lift up a vision of what is right." Are we teaching our children to dream in this way? Are we inspiring our oldest members? Do we ourselves dream do we dream God s dream of justice for all God's children dream of a world made new through the grace, mercy and resurrection power of Jesus Christ? We need such dreamers today. We don't need complainers. There are plenty of those already. There's a whole culture of complaint that threatens to drown us all in its bitter swill. You and I are called to be dreamers, who dare to dream God s dream. And we must nurture and encourage those around us, both our old men and women and our young women and men. I close today with words from the song Dream, by the Jazz Duo, Tuck and Patti. Look it up it s a great song. These amazing musicians say their number one secret weapon is Dedication of every aspect of our music and business to God Tuck plays the guitar, while Patti sings in her distinctive low, breathy voice: I've been thinking (yes I have) -- Some call it wishful thinking (I don't) 'Bout the way this life could be -- So much sadness (seems like) Not enough gladness (seems to me) -- Lack of vision is a dangerous thing If you can see it -- Then you start to feel it -- The next thing you know, you believe And that's when dreams begin to come true -- So with all your heart and your soul - Start right now -- really take control -- Turn our dreams into reality

6 Everybody dream Dream of peace and Dream of justice - - Dream of healing -- Dream of loving Dream -- Everybody dream -- Turn our dreams into reality -- Dream of caring -- End of hunger -- Dream of sharing -- With one another Everybody dream Dream of spirit -- Dream of glory -- Dream of the ancient Old, old story end of hatred Dream -- Dream of love and Dream of glory -- Everybody dream!

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