Tell them about the Dream

February 16, 2020

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC

6th Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 5:21-27

Listen here (transcript below):

Sermon Transcript:

On the Thursday before annual convention, Mary Parmer had a workshop about the Invite*Welcome*Connect work she’s doing. One of the aspects of that is the importance of using imagination as a tool for strengthening and deepening our faith. She used the term sanctified imagination, which was something that Martin Luther King Jr. also used quite often. As I delved into this further, I learned that in the famous, “I Have a Dream” speech, which he gave in 1963 at the March on Washington, did not include the phrase I have a dream in the text at all.

What he had provided to the press included none of what we remember of that speech. In his speech, he talked about the Bible, and he talked about the American Constitution, and he talked about the Declaration of Independence. It wasn’t until he was near the end of his speech when he wanted it to go in a particular direction, but he wasn’t really sure how to take it there. Then, Mahalia Jackson, a gospel singer who had just provided a couple of songs before Martin Luther King spoke, sitting off to the side, called out to him, “Tell them about the dream Martin” and we know where he went from there.

I contend that today’s gospel contains a portion of Jesus telling the disciples his dream, more specifically, God’s dream. It’s hard for us to hear this dream because we get the Sermon on the Mount in snippets across multiple Sundays, instead of reading the entirety of Matthew’s gospel, chapter 5 through 7. These three chapters encompass the whole message of God’s dream. It’s helpful to know who Matthew’s audience was.

This gospel was written 70 or 80 CE. It was written to a Hebrew audience. The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, and the Jews had been expelled from their holy city of Jerusalem. They were living with others in the diaspora – among those who understood the world and God very differently than the Hebrew people. And as you could imagine, there was a feeling of being displaced and disoriented. It is in this context that the author of Matthew’s gospel writes the words of Jesus.

They begin with a message to not lose hope. Those of you who are poor in spirit, those of you who are meek, those of you who mourn, don’t lose hope. You are part of God’s dream. You who hunger and thirst for righteousness, you who are merciful and the peacemakers, even those who will be persecuted for Christ’s sake, don’t lose hope. You are part of God’s dream.

More than that, you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. It is up to you to make this dream happen, so don’t hold the light under a bushel basket, but put it on the lamp stand so that the whole house is filled with light.

Then going further, Jesus also says to these Hebrews, to not compromise who they are.

“Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

Then in the cadence of the I have a dream speech, Jesus sets forth a series of, “You have heard it said… but I say…”

“You have heard it said you shall not murder, but I say if you are angry with your brother or sister, if you insult your brother or sister, if you say “You fool,” to your brother or sister, you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

I’m in big trouble.

In this message, if we don’t allow ourselves to get angry, or to insult, or to name-call, we can never get to a place where we will commit murder. If we don’t allow ourselves to look at someone in a lustful way, we can never get to adultery. If we are aware that our brother or sister is holding something against us, it’s only then that we can go and reconcile with that person, and it won’t blow up into something bigger than it needs to be.

God’s dream is for harmony, not division. Harmony for the Hebrews in the diaspora, living among people that are unfamiliar to them, and harmony for us in this time, and in this place.

Harmony. When you look it up in the dictionary, the definition is a pleasing combination. Blending the difference, is what harmonizing is about. When we think of it musically, you have the melody, and then the harmony blends other voices, other ways of being, other sounds, to create a pleasing combination.

It doesn’t always work the first time. Sometimes you have to play around a bit to get it just right.

  • Being reconciled, harmonizing with one another, is God’s dream.
  • Speaking truth, sticking to our principles, letting our yes be yes, and our no be no – that is God’s dream.
  • Not taking revenge, but turning the other cheek. That is God’s dream.

Within those words, that Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,“You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” That is God’s dream.

Like the Hebrews, there are times that we feel displaced and perhaps disoriented, but if we are to be the change we want to see in the world, we must be the salt. We must be the light.

It’s not enough to just hear the dream.

We are called by Jesus to live the dream. Amen.

 

 

Source: [1] Drew Hansen, “Mahalia Jackson, and King’s Improvisation”, New York Times Op-Ed, August 27, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/28/opinion/mahalia-jackson-and-kings-rhetorical-improvisation.html, Accessed February 15, 2020.

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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