Dreams

chi rho aureole, Call of Paul window, FPCEFriedrich August von Kekule is the German chemist who discovered the hexagonal structure of benzene, the organic compound based upon a ring of carbon atoms. Many years after his discovery, he described in a speech how it happened.  He said: “I turned from my chair to the fire (after having worked on the problem for some time) and dozed. Again the atoms were gamboling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly to the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by repeated vision of this kind, could not distinguish larger structures, of manifold configuration, long rows, sometimes more closely fitted together; all twining and twisting in snakelike motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke …. Let us learn to dream, gentlemen.”[1]

Long before von Kekule, the people of God had learned to dream, and the Bible tells us about many of their dreams. Some are like von Kekule’s dream, surreal dreams full of fantastic events and symbols.

  • There are dreams like that of Pharaoh (Genesis 41) who saw seven fat and sleek cows followed by seven scrawny and lean cows, portending seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine.
  • There are dreams like that of Paul (Acts 16) who saw of man of Macedonia asking for help, whose appeal changed the course of Paul’s second missionary journey.
  • Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 11:1-18) records a fantastic dream of Peter: about beasts of prey, reptiles, birds of the air, coming down from heaven on a large sheet, signifying that what Jewish codes had called unclean, God had rendered pure.
  • Today’s reading from the Book of Revelation (chapter 21) paints a picture of a heavenly city, glorious in its construction, and enormous in its scope, symbolizing the indescribable beauty of our destiny, and the magnanimous mercy of God who prepares so much room for those who love God.

If you step back from all of these dreams to examine them, then you realize that there are certain things that most biblical dreams seem to hold in common.

  • Dreams in the Bible often have little to do with comforting the afflicted, and much to do with calling the faithful to action. Pharaoh’s dream leads Joseph to institute a national program of grain stores for the lean years. Paul’s dream prompts him to take God’s message into a new land. Peter’s dream expands the boundaries of the gospel message to Gentiles. John’s dream rests in the context of a larger challenge to remain faithful while subjected to persecution and pain.
  • Dreams in the Bible usually hold a promise that reaches beyond the individual experiencing the dream. The point of the dream is not just the well being of an individual, but rather the good of a larger community.  In other words, a biblical dream usually inspires active trust in God that serves the common good.

In a broad sense, we might say that there’s an all-encompassing dream at the heart of the gospel message: the dream of God’s kingdom, and the desire for it arrive in all its fullness. In some parts of the Church, that dream manifests itself in calls to more evangelism that more and more people might hear the good news and so come to know the love of Christ. In other parts of the Church, that dream manifests itself in calls to greater inclusivity that more and more people might be accepted within our circle of concern, and so come to know the love of Christ.

As we pursue the dream of God’s kingdom through life in the Church, there are surely times when we will recognize how fragile the dream is. One of the great tasks of life for those who love God’s kingdom is to keep pressing forward in spite of apathy or opposition. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, we must “be the change we want to see in the world.”

The old New Zealand preacher Franklin Boreham once wrote about a dream experienced by a member of his church, a powerful dream about God’s kingdom, and the choices we face in embracing it. During a life-threatening illness, the man was visited in a dream by six versions of himselAt the table to his left were two versions of “The Man I Used To Be,” one with the best qualities of his youthful self, and one with the worst.

  • At the table to his left were two versions of “The Man I Used To Be,” one with the best qualities of his youthful self, and one with the worst.
    • While the second was clearly a lustful boy …
    •  the better of the two was not a lover of comfort or money. He would have agreed to nearly any adventure, and given his last dollar to help a friend.
  • Across from the dreamer sat two versions of “The Man I Might Have Been.”
    • One was a man who had neither entered a church, nor encountered the grace of Christ, and the dreamer was ashamed to sit near him.
    • The second one in this pair was as different as could be. This “Man I Might Have Been” was one who combined the wisdom of experience and benefit of hard work with the graceful, giving, openhearted qualities of his younger self. It was like looking at a master painting of yourself, then realizing you were living only the pencil drawing.
  • To the table at his right, the dreamer recognized two versions of “The Man I Shall Be.”
    • The first strongly resembled the dreamer, older, but content to take life as it is, and go with the flow. He would go on that way for a few more years until the sluggish drift slowed down to the stillness of death.
    • The second was a much finer man. He was old, but there was a grace and charm about his age, an openness to new ideas, a desire to try new things, a draw to dare new ventures to glorify God and serve others.

The man’s startling dream was followed by a slow return to health. And, as Pastor Boreham observed, it seemed the dreamer embraced the challenge his dream presented, aging into that nobler self that he had so graphically described.[2]

That dream was grace to the dreamer, and his life would never be the same. It’s the grace that comes to all who experience the full meaning of Christ’s resurrection that we celebrate in this season of Easter. Grace calls us to action; grace calls us to serve the common good. Grace calls us to be the best version of the man or woman God has called us to be. People of God, let us learn to dream.


[1] From “Creativity, Beyond the Myth of Genius,” by Robert Weisberg, W.H. Freeman, 1992.

[2] “We Are Seven!” Part III, Chapter 1 in Rubble and Roseleaves, Franklin W. Boreham, New York: The Abingdon Press, 1923, pp. 169 ff.

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~ by JohnH1962 on April 28, 2013.

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