Rev. Dr. Ron Patterson
Plymouth Congregational, UCC
Fort Collins, CO
I Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
This morning I want to talk about dreams. I am not an interpreter of dreams, and I am not a psychologist or a mystic, but I am a dreamer and I believe with my whole heart that when I trust my dreams and listen to them, I am healthier and that when I ignore them and don’t pay attention to my dreams I am in a bad place. I believe that dreams are important for our emotional health and for our spiritual vitality and for our physical health as well.
Several years ago, I began to fall asleep in meetings. Now I know that church meetings can be sleep inducing and that there is no end to jokes about people falling asleep in church, but I was really sleepy until one afternoon I actually fell asleep at a traffic light. I finally went to my doctor and I expected him to poke around and do some tests, and instead he asked me a simple question: “How are you sleeping?” and when I said to him, I get eight hours of sleep every night, he asked me: “Are you dreaming?” and it suddenly occurred to me that I had stopped dreaming, that instead of waking up and remembering for a short time sometimes complex and convoluted dreams, I hadn’t dreamt for months. He sent me for a sleep study that revealed severe sleep apnea and when that problem was solved, the dreams came back and I recovered my energy and my vitality and the sleepy’s went away.
The Bible is full of dreams and dreamers. The lives of the patriarchs and matriarchs are driven by dreams. Dreams get Joseph of the coat of many colors in trouble, and dreams ultimately save him. The Wise Ones dream sends them home from Bethlehem by another route. Joseph the father of Jesus saves the savior by listening to his dreams. Herod, the wicked king is a man without dreams and he dies a terrible death because power without a dream or a vision is deadly. Haven’t we learned that the hard way in this country?
Pharaoh, Job, Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, Jacob, and many more are warned, guided and sustained by dreams. And then there’s those words spoken by Peter on the Day of Pentecost quoting the prophet Joel about the promise of the “kingdom” of God, about the time when justice and truth and peace will prevail on this good earth, the time when the old will dream dreams and the young ones will see visions.
So today I want to talk about dreams and dreaming and my text is from the book of I Kings, the story of God coming to a very young King Solomon in a dream.
Now in this this dream, God asks King Solomon what he wants. Well, what do kings or for that matter, most politicians normally want? They want long life or at least perpetual re-election and lots of power and lots of money.
But this young King is not ordinary. He doesn’t ask for wealth or power or money—he asks instead for an understanding mind, he asks instead to know the difference between right and wrong, he asks instead for the presence of God to guild him in his life. And he gets his wish. Solomon receives from God an understanding mind. He receives from God the knowledge of good and evil. He receives from God a full measure of wisdom. And as a bonus, because from God’s point of view he asked for the right things, all the rest: long life, wealth and power were given as well. Now this is a great story and one I hope you will remember the next time you mark a ballot or listen to the yammering of a politician or a talking head.
Now, let me talk just a bit about power of dreams. To begin with not everyone believes that dreams have any meaning. I do.
As I said, I’m not a psychologist and I am certainly no psychiatrist. But those I’ve read disagree about dreams. Some of them say dreams are important and some of them say they aren’t. Some of them say that dreams are just random encounters with bits and fragments of the unconscious mind, totally without meaning. Others believe that dreams are much more meaningful. One of them, whose work I really admire has said that we do not sleep to rest, rather, we sleep to dream—that dreaming is the purpose of sleep and that emotional and spiritual health are not possible without a dream life. (C. G. Jung)
That’s pretty close to my own belief about dreams—except that I would add one more layer to the idea that we sleep to dream. I not only believe that we sleep to dream, but that dreams are the gift of a loving God for the purpose of healing and wholeness and wellness. And that sometimes, in fact many times, God speaks to us in our dreams. And that listening to our dreams is one way you and I can listen to the voice of God.
Did you ever have a dream that repeats over and over again? Let me tell you about a dream I have many Saturday nights. I dream that you are all here and that I arrive late at the church building just as you are singing the first hymn, sometimes I’ve had a flat tire or sometimes I get lost but when I finally get here, the doors are locked and I go all around the building trying to find a way to get into the church. But I can’t find the door or because you are singing, you can’t hear me knocking on the locked door once I do find it. Or sometimes I get locked in the bathroom and can’t get out as the service starts or sometimes I dream that I get up in the pulpit only to discover that I have forgotten to bring my sermon with me and I’m suddenly standing up here with nothing to say. I’ve even dreamed that I show up at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Now that is a preacher’s nightmare and dreams of that type are what are referred to as classic anxiety dreams.
Do you remember a dream like that? Do you remember that dream from when you were in college and it was the last week in the semester and you suddenly discovered that you had forgotten to go to a particular class and that you were confronted with a final exam for which you had not prepared? Do you recall how relieved of stress you were when you woke up and found out that it wasn’t true? Or how about a dream when you are embarrassed in public—that you arrive someplace with no clothes on or the wrong clothes? Anxiety dreams like these are healing dreams.
They heal us because they gather up whatever it is that worries us or troubles our hearts or makes us afraid and the dream maker—our own spirit under the inspiration of God’s love, I believe, lays out the very worst possibilities in life, reviews those possibilities, and causes us to live through them in our dreams. And while sometimes they are full of the most graphic detail and sometimes, they are terribly painful, we wake up relieved of the burden.
I believe that when we lay down to sleep the one who keeps your soul and mine sends us dreams to deal with those things in our lives which trouble us and worry us most. The way I picture it, our anxiety dreams are like someone working the night shift on our behalf, first with a push broom and shovel, cleaning up the clutter of our harder days and dealing with the day’s worries, while helping us reduce our anxiety and our fears.
And then when the mess is cleaned up that same still small voice of God the giver of dreams, can become a wise teacher and guild helping our unconscious mind to heal and to think new thoughts and consider new possibilities. Did you ever have a dream which helped you make a decision? Did you ever have a dream which gave you a new idea or a way forward in your life journey?
Part of my nighttime routine is a ritual I call “giving it to God”. When I lay down at night, I gather up my worries and the things that might be keeping me awake, or the things I am working on and all my prayer concerns and mentally put them in a little bundle and lay them up on the head board. Then I say to God—would you work on these things tonight so I can get some rest? And the blessing for me is that so many times, some of those concerns or some of the things I am working on get taken up in my dreams and new ideas and ways of looking at my present reality emerge. And that is a gift from God the giver of dreams.
Am I allowed to talk about Christmas at an outdoor service in the middle of August? My favorite Christmas story—aside from the Christmas story with Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus is the one written by Charles Dickens. Dreams moved the action of the first Christmas story, but do you remember the role that dreams played in the Dickens classic?
In each of Ebenezer Scrooge’s dreams his uneasy conscience took his personal pain, his smallness of mind, his greed and his secret regret over his shriveled heart, and held those broken places up to the searching light of God’s love in ways that would have been a daytime impossibility. Dreams converted Scrooge. Dreams converted him from death to life, from darkness to light, from despair to hope, from misery to love. He was saved in the night kitchen of his dreams.
Now, I’ve only touched the surface of this whole subject of dreams, but one last thing: There is no record that Jesus ever dreamed. The gospel writers and Paul are completely silent about his dream life. But let me suggest that dreams heal our past and open the way to the future. Dreams take our pain and open the path of possibility. Dreams clean up what is old about yesterday and enable us to face tomorrow.
That’s exactly who Jesus was. That defines exactly what Jesus does. He looks at this world as it is and invites you and me to embrace what might be. He looks at hate and invites us to love. He stares fear in the face and invites you and me to hope and confidence. He confronts our fear of death with the power and the promise of abundant life. He was and is quite simply a dreamer inviting all of us to embrace his dream.
In our waking, in our dreaming, Lord may that become the truth about our lives! Amen.
This service was held outdoors at Rolland Moore Park, so there is no recording.