Dream a Little Dream (Sermon)

A sermon preached by
Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, September 10, 2017

Text: Romans 13:8-14 (NSRV)
8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Last night I had the strangest dream I’ve ever known before
I dreamed that all the world agreed to put an end to war
I dreamed I saw a mighty room
The room was filled with men
And the papers
They were signing said they’d never fight again.

And when the papers
Were all signed, and a million copies made,
They all shook hands and
Bowed their heads and grateful prayers were prayed

And the people
In the streets below were dancing round and round
While swords and
Guns and uniforms lay scattered on the ground
Last night I had the
Strangest dream I’ve ever known before
I dreamed that all the world
Agreed to put an end to war

Lovely dreams, comforting dreams, erotic dreams, strange dreams, anxious dreams, nightmares – we all dream, whether we remember our dreams or not. How many of you remember your dreams? Anyone want to share a dream you’ve had? So, we have all sorts of dreams.

But dreaming is also used as a metaphor. The dictionary describes a dream as “a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep“. But, it also says that to dream is to “contemplate the possibility of doing something or [to imagine] that something might be the case”. In this sense, dreams represent our hope that something might work out in just the way we imagine – that she might love me, that he thinks I’m cute, that I’ll do well on my exam, that she will recover from cancer, that he will find a home, that everyone we love will come through the storm intact, that the world had all agreed to put an end to war.

Back in the day, when Sister Corita’s beautiful graphic prints adorned the walls of college and seminary dorms alike, there was one that featured a quote adapted from George Bernard Shaw. It was especially popular because Bobby Kennedy had used it memorably in a speech. “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” Ironically, in Shaw’s play, Back to Methusaleh, these words are uttered by the serpent to Eve. But, for Bobby Kennedy, these words expressed hope for all the bright possibilities that lay ahead if people would come together to work for the well-being of the world. His was a vision of what might be if we would give ourselves to serve the dream.

You might have guessed from the cover of today’s bulletin why dreaming is on my mind. The news this week has been full of the current administration’s ill-advised decision to rescind President Obama’s executive order that created the program known as DACA. Obama took this step in 2012, after the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, commonly known as the DREAM Act, failed to gain support in the U.S. Senate. As I’m sure you are aware, Obama’s order makes it possible for young people, born in a different country, but brought to this country at a young age and raised here, to live, go to school, and work here without threat of deportation. More than 800,000 young people have benefited from it.

You may not agree with the young woman’s placard that proclaims, “No one is illegal,” but this a place where I dream a little dream and ask why not? Why not a country where no one is seen as alien, illegal, illegitimate? Why not a world without borders? Oh, I hear the arguments. When I was in college, I studied “interest group” politics and “balance of power” government with the people who wrote the books. But then I went to seminary where they taught me that “God so loved the world” and that that love was not limited to just certain people in certain places. The towering arrogance and colossal ignorance of those who fail to recognize that we are all refugees and immigrants, that we all came from somewhere else, that none of us has a legitimate, exclusive claim to any patch of God’s good earth is beyond my comprehension.

Call me a dreamer if you want. (Today, I’d be delighted to find myself in that company!) But we are living in a land, among too many people who claim to be Christian without demonstrating a shred of evidence that they’ve ever encountered Jesus, the Christ. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh and judgmental, but how can one claim to follow Jesus and engage in the kind of hateful, violent behavior that has flooded our media outlets in recent days? How can you stand before a brave, young “dreamer” and say, “You’re not welcome here”? How can you fail to understand the significance of “Black Lives Matter”? How can you support the continued distribution and ownership of automated assault rifles perpetrated on us by the gun and ammunition lobbies, while blood runs in the streets? How can you tolerate the threat of nuclear war and weapons of mass destruction? How can you support power and privilege that keeps some in a life-long state of poverty and props up oppressive dictators? How can you fail to love and care for God’s good earth? Shall I go on? What we do, what we say, how we live our lives matters. It matters to the creation, groaning for new birth, it matters to God who created everyone and everything, to whom it all ultimately belongs, and it ought to matter to us as followers of the Incarnate One, Jesus the Christ.

One could argue that today’s text (Romans 13:8-14) is a little dreamy. After all, it focuses on love and light, qualities we find in short supply today. It is interesting that this ancient word comes immediately on the heels of Paul telling the church in Rome that they should pay their taxes and ”be subject” to the governing authorities. Volumes have been written on those seven verses of curious exhortation. I remember being assigned a paper on Romans 13:1-7 for my freshman Contemporary Civilizations class. As a good Christian boy, I’m sure I attempted a tortured apology for what Paul wrote so long ago. I do remember that Professor Shea’s comment on my paper was something like, “2000 years of civilization wasted on Mixon.”

Fortunately, we don’t have to unpack that text this morning. In fact, the lectionary skips it all together. Mary Hinkle Shore marks the transition to today’s text by writing that “Many readers of Paul’s letters worry that the first half of this chapter can be easily appropriated by corrupt governments or misguided clergy to silence Christians who might otherwise courageously, faithfully resist systemic evil. In fact, the text has been used in this way. However,” she continues, “Paul is not counseling the Roman Christians to passivity vis-à-vis the Empire. In the second half of the chapter, Paul moves from the language of tax returns to the language of love…This transition,” she claims, “the move from fulfilling one’s obligations to living in love – is the same one Jesus made in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “You have heard it said…, but I say to you” (cf. Matthew 5:21-48)” (Mary Hinkle Shore, “Commentary on Romans 13:8-14, September 4, 2011,” workingpreacher.org).

Sometimes we see things as they are. Sometimes we ask why. Sometimes we ask what can we do. But what if we allowed ourselves to dream a little dream? “Owe no one anything, except to love one another…” There’s a little dream for you. What if our only obligation to others was to love them, simply love them? How would you be different? How would the world be different? Why not live our lives rooted and grounded in love, that Love that makes the world go ‘round? This morning we sang Colin Gibson’s wonderful song,

He came singing love
and he lived singing love;
he died, singing love.
He arose in silence.
For the love to go on
we must make it our song;
you and I be the singers.

What if we chose to be singers of Love’s song? What if we believed that “for love to go on, we must take it as our song? I wonder if Paul doesn’t mean something like this when he urges us to “…lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;” to “live honorably as in the day;” to “put on Jesus Christ…” I know he lists some particular sins that are worthy of consideration, but at another time. Today let’s just focus on the positive. Let’s dream a little dream of what might be.

What if hate and violence were overwhelmed by love and peace? What if today’s immigrants and refugees, dreamers young and old, were welcomed with open arms, embraced by arms of love? What if we truly understood why and how black lives matter and learned to love the beauty of darkness? What if we recycled assault rifles and other guns as scrap metal because there was no real place for them anymore? What if we turned our swords into plowshares, our spears into pruning hooks, and agreed to put an end to war? What if we learned to share wealth and power in the most generous and beneficial ways for all? What if we loved and cared for all of creation the way God does? You see, I believe with all my heart, mind, body, and soul that love, properly seen and practiced, has the power not only to shape our lives but to shape the world. So, dream a little dream with me. Let’s look at what might be, and ask, “Why not?” Isn’t that what lovers do? Amen.

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