In Your Dreams! Dare to Dream

Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, S.C.
Readings for the First Sunday after Christmas:

I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord. (Isaiah 63:7-9)
And having been warned in a dream… (Matthew 2:1-12)

Our first song tonight comes from a British band that saw a lot of success in the ’70s and ’80s. The Electric Light Orchestra racked up some 27 top ten hits in their career, including tonight’s song. “Hold on Tight” peaked at number 10 back in 1981 and was the group’s last major hit. Let’s try it.

Hold on tight to your dream,
Hold on tight to your dream
When you see your ship go sailing,
When you feel your heart is breaking
Hold tight to your dream.

It’s a long time to be gone,
Time just rolls on and on
When you need a shoulder to cry on,
When you get so sick of trying
Just hold tight to your dream

I began playing guitar during my teen years with one dream in mind – to be a rock star! I formed a band with several of my friends from college and we were determined to be famous. Instead of doing the same old cover songs – we wrote our own songs and picked offbeat songs to cover. We enjoyed some moderate success – playing some gigs in Athens, Georgia – home of such bands as the B-52s and R.E.M.

But, alas, my dream of being the next Melissa Etheridge was not to be. Creative differences broke up the band and we went on our separate ways. After that, I put my guitar down. The whole point of playing the guitar, for me, was a means to an end. If I wanted to be a rock star, I had to play guitar. Now that it was clear I was not going to be a rock star, why continue to play the guitar?

Years later, in a therapy session, I mentioned something about playing the guitar, and my therapist said, “Why don’t you play anymore?”

“What’s the point?” I asked.

“There has to be a point?” she replied. “You can’t just play because you enjoy it?”

Well, at that point – no. It would be years after that exchange before I picked the guitar back up. Without an end goal – a dream to realize – I didn’t see the point.

When I did finally pick the guitar back up, it was half-hearted. I played a little, but my skills were, understandably rusty. Then, when we started going to the MCC here in Columbia, I saw this woman who played guitar there occasionally – and it sparked something in me. Hey, I could play my guitar at church sometime – perhaps that would be a worthy goal.

When I started preaching at MCC and later Garden of Grace, I wanted to incorporate a song into a sermon of mine, so I contacted that woman who I had seen play guitar in church. Since my own skills were so rusty, I asked her to play a song with me during the sermon. I liked that sermon format so much, I knew that if I wanted to keep doing that – I’d have to get back to playing the guitar.

So, I may not be a rock star – but finally, my dream of playing guitar in front of an appreciative audience has come true – in a most unexpected kind of way. I may not have held on tight to that dream – but it held on tight to me – and God has blessed it.

When you get so down that you can’t get up
And you want so much but you’re all out of luck
When you’re so downhearted and misunderstood
Just over and over and over you could

Accroches-toi a ton reve, Accroches-toi a ton reve
Quand tu vois ton bateau partir,
Quand tu sents — ton coeur se briser
Accroches-toi a ton reve.

Our ancient Hebrew ancestors knew a thing or two about holding on tight to their dreams. They dreamed of one day being freed from slavery in Egypt. They dreamed of one day living in the promised land. But, even after arriving there, they were conquered and driven into exile, where again, they dreamed of home.

What was it that allowed these ancient desert dwellers – even in the face of such extreme challenges and setbacks to continue to hold on tight to their dreams and dare to dream over and over again? Because they knew the Holy was at work in their dreams.

I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord,
the praiseworthy acts of the Lord,
because of all that the Lord has done for us,
and the great favor to the house of Israel
that he has shown them according to his mercy,
according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

They could dare to dream because they had seen the evidence of the Holy at work in all of their dreams. “I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord.” How would it change the way you lived – how would it changed the way you dreamed – if you took time to recount the gracious deeds of the Holy in your life? Those gracious deeds don’t happen by accident. They happen because we dream – and not just because we dream on our own, but because we dream with the Holy. We are co-creators with God. Our lives are not mapped out in advance by some manipulating god. Instead, the Holy invites us to dream with Her – to envision a the life of our dreams – and not just to dream for ourselves – but to dream the world we want into existence.

Holding onto our dreams isn’t easy though – as our Hebrew ancestors knew well. Sometimes our dreams are deferred, sometimes they seem lost forever, sometimes we get so discouraged we stop dreaming all together. In those times, do as those long ago did “recount the gracious deeds” that the Holy has already brought into your life. Count the dreams that have come true. Look back over those dreams – were they easy to achieve? Probably not – but once they arrive, we tend to forget the setbacks, the heartaches, the pain, and the hard work it took to birth those dreams into reality.

We are God’s people – that means we can dare to dream – and co-create with the Holy to make those dreams come true.

When you get so down that you can’t get up
And you want so much but you’re all out of luck
When you’re so downhearted and misunderstood
Just over and over and over you could

Hold on tight to your dream, Hold on tight to your dream
When you see the shadows falling,
When you hear that cold wind calling
Hold on tight to your dream.
Oh, yeah, Hold on tight to your dream
Yeah, hold on tight… To your dream.

Question: How old will I be by the time I learn to play the piano? Answer: The same age you’ll be if you don’t.

Often we don’t even dare to dream because realizing our dreams take time, and hard work, and hours of practice to come true. We begin to ask ourselves if our dreams are really worth the work, worth the struggle, worth the time. But, think of it this way – no matter how you spend your time – whether it’s daring to dream, and working on that dream, or being too overwhelmed by the whole idea – time will continue to pass. Do you spend that time daring to dream – or do you spend that time wondering whether your dreams are worth it? It’s your choice!

Breathe deeply.

Singer-songwriter James Taylor was born in Boston, Massachusetts, but was raised in Carrboro, North Carolina. He’s had many hits including “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Fire and Rain.” Our second song is not one of his hits. Instead, it comes from his 1988 album “Never Die Young.” The song is called “Home By Another Way.”

Those magic men the Magi,
Some people call them wise
Or Oriental, even kings,
Well anyway, those guys
They visited with Jesus,
They sure enjoyed their stay
Then warned in a dream of King Herod’s scheme
They went home by another way

Yes they went home by another way,
Home by another way
Maybe me and you can be wise guys too,
And go home by another way
We can make it another way,
Safe home as they used to say
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high,
And go home another way

In our Jesus story, we find our guy not doing much at all. Perhaps he’s gurgling, or cooing, or drooling, or pooping in his swaddling clothes, because in this story, Jesus is a tiny baby in a manger in Bethlehem.

He has some very important guests visiting him, however – the Magi, three wise men sent there by King Herod to pay homage to the child. The three wise men, however, had arrived with a nefarious agenda. They were really spies for the King who was afraid that this Jesus kid might one day be a threat to his throne. Instead of a dream come true, Herod was afraid that Jesus would prove to be a nightmare for him. So, he sent the wise men to check him out and report back.

A funny thing happened, though, on the way back to Herod. The wise men had a dream – and in that dream, they were warned to go home a different way, and not to tell the King about the little child they found.

This is wise counsel as we endeavor to hold on tight to our own dreams. King Herod is all around us – trying to root out our dreams and destroy them. Herod believed that Jesus was going to grow up and literally take his throne, but Jesus’ threat was greater than that. Instead, he grew up and taught generation after generation that we can dare to dream – we can dare to be who we are and realize our full humanity and divinity – because we are intimate and loved children of the living, still speaking God. Jesus was not interested in obtaining any earthly throne, instead, he came to show us the mystery of our own royalty – that we ourselves, are God’s dream come true. When we live into that dream God has for us – we become more powerful than we can imagine. We can realize our own dreams – but we can also dream dreams of equality and justice, and change the world in fundamental ways. We overthrow the Herods of this world when we realize our power to dream, and we realize that when we work with the Holy we have the power to make those dreams come true, not just for ourselves, but for the world around us.

So, dream Jubilants, dream amazing and wonderful dreams – but be prepared to go home by another way when King Herod rears his ugly head.

Steer clear of royal welcomes,
Avoid a big to-do
A king who would slaughter the innocents,
Will not cut a deal for you
He really, really wants those presents,
He’ll comb your camel’s fur
Until his boys announce they’ve found trace amounts
Of your frankincense, gold and myrrh

Time to go home by another way,
Home by another way
You have to figure that God’s saying play the odds
And go home by another way,
We can make it another way
Safe home as they used to say,
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high
And go home another way

I distinctly remember years ago, my oldest brother telling me, “You’ll never be able to play the guitar. Your fingers are too small.” I remember being told by many people in my Southern Baptist past: “You can’t be a pastor because you’re a woman.” Or, in a variation on that theme, I’ve been told: “You can’t be a pastor, because you’re a lesbian.”

I was also told that I couldn’t make a living as writer, and that it was a really, really bad idea to start a new church.

King Herod is powerful and he’s all around us – telling us that our dreams are stupid or out of reach. But, all those examples involve a King Herod out here – where other people are telling me that my dreams are stupid or that I have no right to dream them. It’s easier to ignore some King Herod out here trying to discourage us from our dreams.

The most powerful King Herod, however, lives in our own heads. It tells us that we’re not smart enough, not talented enough, not “all that” enough to realize our dreams. That King Herod in our heads threatens to kill the divine within us, because that inner-Herod is afraid that Christ-child within will overthrow him. That inner-Herod hears all those Herods “out there” and takes those messages to heart.

“See?” Herod says, “your dreams are dumb and unreachable – everyone says so. Everyone agrees with me on this.”

And so, you give up. Herod affirms our fears that our dreams aren’t worth pursuing, because after all, what will people think? What will they say? They wouldn’t support me anyway, right? Besides, if my dream comes true, it will change my life, and I’m pretty comfortable right now – I’m not even sure I want my dreams to come true.

Oh, that’s the most persuasive argument old King Herod makes to get us to abandon our dreams. If they come true – it will change your life – and no matter how much you may bitch and moan about how your life is now – are you really ready for it to change? Are you really ready to be tossed out of your comfort zone? Are you really ready for your dreams to come true?

Ask the wise men. They went in fully intending to report back to the King where the baby was so he could have Jesus killed. Then, they got there – they saw that tiny, divine, child and they were transformed. This journey changed their lives in fundamental ways. By going home another way and not reporting back to the king – they became enemies of Herod! They knew where the child was, but they weren’t telling – they withheld information from the king. Talk about getting booted from your comfort zone. We’re never told of what consequences these men faced, but you can bet Herod was not happy with them.

Here’s the reality – when dreams come true, our lives change – sometimes radically. Just ask that little baby – when he grew up he realized his dream – and while his dream still lives on – the cost to him was pretty steep. That very fact is often the biggest obstacle we face in making our own dreams come true.

Breathe deeply.

Home is where they want you now,
You can more or less assume
that you’ll be welcome in the end
Mustn’t let King Herod haunt you so
Or fantasize his features when you’re looking at a friend

What is keeping you from daring to dream, Jubilants? What is holding you back? Fear? Apathy? Discouragement? Self-doubt?

Writer Steven Pressfield has good news: If your dream scares you to death – you’re on the right path. That self-doubt, he says, is an ally. In his book War of Art he writes that self-doubt “reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), ‘Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?’ chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The one is scared to death.”

So, perhaps that Herod in your head isn’t exactly the enemy we’ve made him out to be. That Herod that keeps you guessing, that keeps forcing you to go home by another way, may be doing you some big favors. Real dreamers are never self-confident – they always stumble and haltingly make their way to their dreams.

The hardest part, though, is starting. We want our dream realized now. We want to be the best writer, artist, guitar player, business owner, or whatever else we dream for ourselves, and we want it to be now. Often our dreams die because we’re not willing to be beginners – to start where we need to start and make the mistakes we need to learn to make our dream a reality.

When you’re afraid of starting on your dream, I invite you to remember that baby in the manger. If we believe the notion that Jesus is God incarnate in this world – then that means that even the Holy is willing to be a beginner to make Her dreams come true.

If God is almighty, why in the world would God break into this world as drooling, pooping infant? Why not come as a fully formed human – already fully assured of his humanity and divinity, with a message fully formed and large crowds already following? Why come into this world as a helpless infant?

The Holy gives us the model for daring to dream, Jubilants. We all start as helpless infants – helped along by family, friends, and complete strangers as we dream our dreams and take those first tenuous steps toward them.

Remember the rest of that model, however. The journey to our dreams will not be easy and is often fraught with obstacles, self-doubt, and route recalculations. Jesus – as he struggled to live out the dream for his life – inspired both worship and hostility. Our dreams will do the same. Some people will love our dreams and join us in them. Others will loathe our dreams and, like King Herod, do all they can to demolish them. But, we can’t let either adoration or hostility deter us. We always have to be ready to go home by another way whenever our dreams stall.

I dare you tonight, Jubilants, dream! Dream big dreams, dream small dreams, dream dreams that will change your life – but also, dare to dream dreams that will change the lives of others. Because, as Jesus’ life shows us, the best dreams to dare to dream are those that benefit the most people, not just ourselves. We must bring our gifts to the world and dream of how to best use them to make the world a better place for as many people as possible.

That, Jubilants, is my dream for Jubilee! Circle – that we – dreaming together, will make this world a better place for as many people as possible.

Will you join me in that dream?

Well it pleasures me to be here,
And to sing this song tonight
They tell me that life is a miracle,
And I figured that they’re right
But Herod’s always out there,
He’s got our card on file
It’s a lead pipe cinch, if we give an inch,
Old Herod likes to take a mile

It’s best to go home by another way,
Home by another way
We got this far to a lucky star,
But tomorrow is another day
We can make it another way,
Safe home as they used to say
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high,
And go home another way

Oh, Yeah!