How does God communicate with you? How do you most often hear God’s voice? How can you tell the difference between God’s voice, and your own voice in your mind? One of the questions I’m asked regularly as a pastor is “why doesn’t God speak to us today like God spoke to people in the Bible?” After all, in the scriptures, we read about God speaking out from a burning bush, or God walking through the garden where Adam and Eve lived, or speaking from an overshadowing cloud – all these very dramatic ways of getting someone’s attention. And yet, I’ve encountered very few people who have said that they have heard God’s voice in this way. I don’t know, of course, why God chooses to speak to us in the ways God does, but here’s what I think: What if someone today told you that they heard a voice come to them from, say, a tree, and that they were going to listen to what the voice told them to do? Well, we’d probably suggest that person seek counseling. Immediately. I think as our knowledge and understanding of the world around us has changed, our understanding of what is believable has changed too. It would be hard for us to believe for ourselves and for anyone else that God would speak in these crazy ways. I think God, then, speaks to us in ways that we are able to hear. And for most of us, that means that God might speak to us in some deep, yet insistent, internal ways. I’m not saying God won’t call out to you in some surprising way. But I’m saying: I don’t try to email Janet Norris when I know she doesn’t use email! I’ll give her a call, or meet with her face to face, in a way I know she can receive. I think our Creator is certainly capable of doing the same!
Still though, I think we can learn from and explore being open to hearing from God in some of the ways we witness God at work in the scriptures. Throughout the scriptures, one unique way God communicates with people is through dreams. Sometimes we see people dreaming of God’s future plans for them. Other times, the Bible tells about people who were not Israelites dreaming, and seeking interpretation of those dreams from one who was a servant of God, and then was able to use that opportunity to teach them about the God of Israel. Our Christmas story is shaped by dreams, with Joseph learning about God’s purposes through dreams, while Mary hears mostly from God’s messengers, angels. On the day of Pentecost, at the end of May, we’ll hear that God’s vision for the church is that, through the Holy Spirit, young and old, men and women, “see visions,” and “dream dreams.” Dreams are important in the Bible: a method through which God communicates.
Is that still true for us? Do our dreams mean anything? Most of the time I hardly remember mine. When I do: well, some of you saw on facebook recently that I had a dream about swimming in a river with Patrick Stewart. I don’t think God was trying to tell me anything there. Once I had a strange dream with trains and climbing into windows and coins on the ground, and for fun, I looked up what each part of the dream meant according to a “dream interpretation” guide – and every part of my dream supposedly meant I was thinking about money and wealth. I think most of the time, our dreams are the result of all the things we’re thinking about in the background during the day. Our minds are amazingly complex things, and they never stop, and I think our dreams are a way we process everything we are experiencing and considering. But can they be more? One dream I will never forget happened in the last year or two. My grandfather, Millard Mudge, who was so dear to me, died when I was 19. But sometimes it seems like just an instant since he’s died. He was very ill and frail for the last couple years of his life, after always being a robust, jovial, smiling man. And I dreamed that he was alive, happy, so healthy, with me again. And he gave me a big hug. And I said to him “I have missed you so much.” I woke up with tears in my eyes when I realized I had been dreaming. But I’m convinced it was more than just a dream. Maybe it wasn’t a vision, exactly, a confirmation of my grandfather’s eternal well-being. But I do believe it was a very precious gift from God of one more hug from Grandpa. I think maybe, just maybe, in the vulnerability of our sleep, sometimes God can speak to us in ways we’re not ready for in our waking hours, when our skeptical, logical minds won’t let us experience things that seem too good to be true.
Too good to be true. As we’re thinking about dreams and dreaming, I want us to consider the other way we think about dreams. Not only do we talk about dreams that represent our wandering thoughts during sleep. We also use the word dream to describe our hopes and visions for the future. Young people might talk about what they dream about being when they grow up. Parents and grandparents might talk about their hopes and dreams for their children and grandchildren – all the blessings they wish their loved ones would experience. We think of the hopeful dreams for the future articulated by visionaries and prophets through the ages, like Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom where the lamb and lion lie down together, or where Martin Luther King Jr. imaged a world where racism and inequality wouldn’t mar the lives of black children. And I wonder, when we talk about dreams like this, our daydreams, our visions, our hopes – are we so used to thinking of our crazy dreams in sleep that mean nothing much, that we can’t put any stock in our hopeful waking dreams ever becoming reality? Are dreams and reality irreconcilable? Do we put any stock in our dreams ever coming true? Or are dreams coming true just the stuff of fairy tales?
Over the next several weeks, we’ll be exploring what it means to dream with God. In worship, we’ll be looking at several dreams and dreamers in the Bible, and see how God used their dreams to communicate something important. And in our book study, we’ll be looking pretty seriously at what God is dreaming about for us, for each of us, and for Apple Valley. If you haven’t committed already, I really encourage you to consider signing up for one of our sections of the study – Monday afternoons or Wednesday evenings starting next week. We want all of your voices, all of your dreams, to be a part of the conversation in the weeks ahead.
Today we heard from one dreamer – Jacob. We talked about Jacob back in January, when we studied people who received new names from God in the Bible. Remember, Jacob is a schemer, a swindler. He takes his twin brother Esau’s blessing. And when we meet him in our text today, he’s been on the run, avoiding meeting up with Esau again. In his travels, he has a vision of a great ladder, reaching to heaven, with God’s messengers going up and down between heaven and earth. And he hears the voice of God, drawing him into the promise that was made first to Abraham, the covenant. God promises to be with Jacob, and his offspring, saying that they will be like the dust of the earth. And God says to him, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” And when Jacob wakes, he says, “Surely God is in this place – and I did not realize it! How awesome is this place!” He decides that if God will be with him, he’ll claim God as his God, as his fore-parents had. He marks the place by pouring oil on the stone where Jacob laid his head in sleep. But despite this dream that Jacob has, it isn’t yet that the deepest changes begin in his life. It’s just a first step. A baby step, even: an acknowledgment of God’s presence. But it is enough, of course, on which God builds something wonderful for Jacob, for Israel, for us.
That’s where I want us to start today. Maybe some of you are already dreamers. But I think many of us, myself included, spend so much time trying to deal with reality that we forget to dream. We forget that God promises again and again that anything is possible. And so when we try to dream with God, we dream such small, tiny things, when God wants to give us such an abundance, such a future, such love, beyond our imagining. We need to practice a bit, and remember how to dream, and to dream big, to dream with God. So we’re going to do just that – practice. I’m going to ask you to try a little bit of journaling this week. On a scrap paper, or in a diary or a plain notebook or on a keyboard or on some app on your phone – however works for you. I want you to try to pay attention and remember, as much as possible, what you dream about this week – dreams that come to you in sleep – and the things you find yourself daydreaming about. Whether they’re crazy, or unrealistic, or illogical, or seemingly impossible, I just want you to write it down. For now, that’s all. Just keep track. And perhaps we, like Jacob, can just take one small step this week: remind ourselves that God is always present, always here, in our sleeping and in our waking. It’s a good place to start. God can build on it. God can dream on it. Amen.