Sermon 1 The Bible and Getting Ready
Every night we have strange visitors. We sleep, we dream, but often we are puzzled and even confused. Do we think about our dreams or forget them? I will argue that they can be like angels, who sometimes bring messages from God.
The Bible reflects the way people valued dreams as a way that God spoke to a pharaoh, pagan kings, prophets and apostles. In the 20th century psychoanalytic thinking saw dreams coming from the unconscious with important implications for daily living. I will preach four sermons on how to understand your dreams from a spiritual perspective. Then I will offer a Saturday afternoon workshop for you to share a dream with others – perhaps gain further insights.
Early in the year we had some study groups on dreams, but I thought that there might be wider interest in the topic, hence this series of sermons and a workshop.
Dreams were important in the Bible. This is obvious in the Genesis passage of Jacob’s dream, “There was a ladder set up on earth, the top of it reaching to heaven and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” (28:12) My first thought is of Bath Abbey and the portrayal of this dream in stone on the west face. (overhead image) But Jacob was given a more spiritual interpretation with the land as a promise to him and his descendants. God said, “I will not leave you until I done what I have promised to you” (28: 15). However, I am not the only person to remain puzzled at the link between this dream and that promise. Jacob at least understood “this is the gate of heaven”.
Perhaps like Jacob we have mysterious dreams, but find it hard to make any sense of the experience, and somehow find any relation to ‘everyday reality’.
Illustration When I was a young man, before my conversion to Christianity, I broke off an engagement as a result of a dream. Has a dream ever influenced your actions?
Abraham Herschel had a dream in the late 19th century of the Jews returning to the promised land. This led to establishing the Zionist movement and the eventual Jewish state.
Bible and Dreams
Dreams are mentioned over 50 times in the Bible. There are many insights, for example, we dream when stressed, “for dreams come with many cares.” (Ecclesiastes 5:3) Dreams are a way that God talks to humanity, God appeared to Solomon in the dream “Ask what I should give you.” (1 Kings 3:5). Dreams were important to kings, for example Pharaoh was troubled by a series of dreams which only Joseph could interpret (Gen 41). The same happened with Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel who credited the Almighty, “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” (Dan 2: 27). Five dreams were associated with the birth of Jesus. In the NT Paul was guided “a man of Macedonia pleading with him, ‘come over to Macedonia and help us’ in a dream (Acts 16: 9-10).
Dreams were associated with the ‘end times’. The prophet Joel foretold, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams and your young men shall see visions.” (2: 28) Well, at 72 which qualifies me as old and I certainly dream – have we arrived?
Now you may respond, “So what?” You might forget your dreams as soon as you wake up. Maybe dreams are ‘out of fashion’ by about 2000 years! And almost everyone would agree with you, except for a handful of Freudian and Jungian analysts (and there’s not too many of them left!). However, I have found that dreams provide meaningful guidance at significant transitions in life. Two examples of when I found either reassurance or a disturbing realization:
- In 1982 I had been accepted as a graduate student at Boston University. I was worried about the financial implications of taking a wife and four children to live in Boston. I knew the city was expensive, clergy jobs almost impossible to get and a leading minister told me “Don’t go!” In this time of transition, I had a strange dream in which the diocesan Bishop Cecil Warren was playing a child’s game jumping over the backs of other people. I worked on the dream and came to the realization that I had an overly masculine view of the church and its hierarchy. I was challenged to believe in a more feminine and nurturing side – one that would care for me and my young family. I felt reassured and it worked out well with both a university scholarship, to cover some of the fees, and successive clergy jobs to support my family.
- In 1994 I had returned to further parish ministry but after five years in a busy parish, Holy Covenant in Jamieson, I was completely burnt out. I was planning to teach part-time at St Marks and to work as a psychologist. But I was conflicted about leaving parish ministry. In a dream I was drinking wine from a crystal chalice and it broke in my mouth. I was wounded in my vocation as a priest and concluded with a healthy measure of self-care that I needed a break from parish ministry (which has lasted 25+ years!).
I am not saying that all dreams have such significance. Some dreams seem to ‘clear the clutter’ of daily life. But some are important. I am aware of my dreams and I can sense when one has an important message for me – maybe once or twice a year. So how do we begin to understand our dreams?
Discuss: Have you ever had repetitive dreams? Or dreams seem so vivid that you can’t forget them.What sense did you make of it? Discuss for 5 minutes.
I had a person keep returning in my dreams: Ian George who was at St Johns, Reid when I worked there a total of 6 years (in two shifts) in the 1980’s. I think he was presemt in my dreams for about 20 years because he was so significant as a father-figure to me.
TO DO THIS WEEK
- Be Ready: Place a notebook and pen beside your bed. The ready to record even a fragment of the dream. Even a brief, seemingly insignificant dream will try to tell us something we need to know. Dreams never waste our time. (Johnson, 1986, 44)
- Invitation: Say to God, yourself or your unconscious, before going to sleep “I am willing to listen to you. Send me an important message through a dream.”
- Respond: Challenge yourself to remember a fragment or a dream in the next two weeks. Record it. And think about what it could possibly mean.