Church and Society / Cultural Critique / Politics / Random Thoughts from an Uppity Negro / Religion / Stuff (This) Uppity Negro Likes / The Color Line / Theology of Preaching

Tell Them About the Dream

widemodern_MLK_072513620x413

Editor’s Note:  Below is an excerpt from the sermon I preached this past Sunday, August 25, 2013 as the country celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  The scripture text was Acts 2:17 through 21 as follows:

In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.  And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.  The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.   Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

I saw the embodiment of the prophecy that Joel spoke some five or six centuries before Peter reinterpreted it yesterday as I watched parts of the March on Washington—50 years later.  As I saw the sons and daughters standing across racial boundaries, across ethnicities and yes across gender barriers, I saw them doing what Peter was asking the crowd to do: to grab ahold of a prophetic dream.

As I was preparing for this sermon, I realized that perhaps we misunderstand prophetic dreaming in our society.  Even today in 2013, we attached the name The DREAMers to a class of immigrants to this country who want to do nothing more than attain that American dream, and yet and still in some circles, that’s a dirty word—The DREAMers.  At least for me, I grew up in an ecclesiastical context where I was told not to share all of my dreams with anybody and everybody.  The story of Joseph has always stood as a cautionary tale of what not to do with dreams.  Joseph’s story found in the book of Genesis was one where he had these dreams of which his brothers were symbolically bowing down to him and as a result his brothers hated him all the more and actually devised a plot to kill him.  Not to mention the story of Daniel includes Daniel being kept captive under Babylonian rule in the 8th or 7th century and kept around the king’s court simply because he can interpret dreams.  What some may see as a divine gift has turned into an earthly curse as it one of the reasons Daniel is being held captive.

Even though the word dreams appears numerous times in Old Testament, the Greek word “onar” is used six times in the book of Matthew and that’s it.  The majority of the usage is in reference to Joseph being visited by the Angel of the Lord telling him about his pregnant girlfriend by the name of Mary.  The Greek word used here in the book of Acts, enypniois, is only found twice in the whole New Testament.  This lets the reader know that this isn’t just any type of dream, a prophetic dream.

In these prophetic dreams, there are no stories about visits from messengers on behalf of the Lord.  The prophetic dreams that we all have are those glimpse of the future, infused with hope and possibility that make our dreams a reality.  Yesterday, Rev. Al Sharpton said “Dreams are for those who won’t accept reality.  So they dream about what is not there, but will make it happen.”

May God deliver me from being around people who don’t dream.

One of the most marvelous gifts that the Almighty has shared with humanity is our ability to create and our ability to dream.  We are all endowed with having an imagination.  It is this basic ability to take our faith and string it on the tightrope hope that carries us into the future.  Peter was issuing a challenge I believe to the elders of the community prophesying that even the old men, the elders, will dream dreams.  Some of us have the tendency to get stuck in our ways after the cold harsh realities of everyday life leave us beaten down.  We may get stuck in jobs that don’t value our creativity, we may find ourselves in relationships that don’t allow us to dream, and one day we wake up and realize we don’t know how to create anymore, and find it impossible to dream again.

While the youth will have visions, the elders will dream dreams.

Are there any dreamers in the house?

The lesson I learned from Joseph in Genesis or the story of Daniel interpreting the king’s dreams while under Babylonian captivity is not that one shouldn’t share the dream, but that by sharing it you place a mark on yourself.  Those stories lifted out of the annals of antiquity let me know that when you dare speak out about your dream that the people around you may not like you, they most certainly don’t understand you and we very well know, they may even plot to kill you.josephs_dreams_wheat

But as Langston Hughes said

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow

Do I have any dreamers in the house?

The prophetic dreams that God wants us to have automatically set us at odds with the status quo.  When the Old Testament prophet spoke “Woe unto those at ease in Zion” he was most certainly not making friends with people in City Hall.  When speak out loud about those prophetic dreams you may find your money drying up and no longer have funding for the project and the dream that God gave you.  But still, hold fast to your dream.

Are there any dreamers in the house?

Dreamers are the one’s that play the long game.  They understand that change is not going to come overnight, but decide to get in the struggle and fight the good fight while they are here.  Joseph had to go down into a muddy cistern, sold into slavery before he ever saw his dream become a reality.  Many of the civil rights fighters had gone on before they saw a Civil Rights Bill passed and a Voting Rights Act become law.  The dreams of our foremothers and forefathers were experienced in the long night of injustice and stood contrapuntal and counterdistinctive to the real and lived nightmares of facing Jim Crow laws, segregation, Ku Klux Klan nightriders and other forms of domestic and institutional terrorism.  Those that fought paid in blood to dream and to help it become a reality.

Do I have any dreamers in the house?

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom culminated on August 28, 1963 and in less than one month later a bomb went off at the 16th Street Baptist church in downtown Birmingham killing four little girls in their Sunday School class.  John F. Kennedy who proposed that Congress should take up a bill to protect the civil rights of all people was assassinated later that November.  The Freedom Summer of 1964 in Mississippi began with violence and hostility that led to the death of civil right workers—all before the Civil Rights Bill was enacted in July 1964.  If those people continued to dream and hope for a better tomorrow, then the God who has not given us the Spirit of fear, but one of power, love and a sound mind has certainly given us the power to keep on dreaming.

Are there any dreamers in the house?

I’m so glad I’m here today around some people who had a dream.  In the midst of death, destruction and despair there were some people who came back to the city of New Orleans after people who never stepped foot of New Orleans, who don’t what a Mardi Gras is and have never heard of a beignet and couldn’t Second Line to save their life decided to offer up commentary that we shouldn’t come back and that we should just shut down the city.  I’m so glad I’m in church with people who came back and who dared dream what a Sunday morning in New Orleans could look like again.  Walking into uncharted territory, there were some who dreamed about what it would look like to meet up at 11:10 am on the corner of Canal Street and Jeff Davis.  Are there any dreamers in the house today?

Hold fast to your dreams, for if dreams die, life is like a broken winged bird that cannot fly.

As the story goes, somewhere beginning in 1960, Martin Luther King had stumbled on the notion of “The Negro and the American Dream” when giving a speech for the NAACP.  And perhaps after hearing the black woman preacher Prathia Hall in down in Georgia in 1962 employ the phrase “I have a Dream,” some have remarked that in his distinct southern cadence gifted only to Baptist preachers it seems, he said “I think I’m going to use that.”  So in June of 1963, at the large march in Detroit, King hit that ever-popular anaphoric phrase “I have a dream” to a crowd of 25,000 in Detroit city.  He closed by saying “And with this faith, I will go out and carve a tunnel of hope through the mountain of despair.  With this faith, I will go out and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.”

The famous gospel singer Mahalia Jackson was known to accompany Martin Luther King at various marches and King very much loved Mahalia’s singing, and her singing was certainly the type of toe-tapping and hand-clapping music that would set the tone for Martin to come behind her and speak to a crowd of people hoping to hear an inspiring word.  So it wouldn’t shock me if Mahalia had heard about Martin talking about having a dream on occasions prior.

Those close to King said that the logistics of the March itself were so great, that King still didn’t necessarily know what he was going to say the day before the event itself.  While King marvelously wove passages of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg address, and even borrowed from Shakespeare.  As King comes to the end of his prepared speech, any orator, particularly that out of the black Baptist preaching tradition understands you don’t leave the listeners with the bad news, but that you have to leave them with some good news, with some hope and celebrate a little bit before you close out your message.

While no one knows what King really planned to say after he was encouraging the faithful to go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia “go back to the slums and ghettoes of our Northern cities knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.  Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.”  The crowd claps politely giving their appropriate acknowledgement of agreement with what has been said.

But as the story goes, somewhere in the crowd, within earshot of King, during this punctuation of applause, Mahalia Jackson hollers out “Tell’ em about the dream Martin” and the rest is history.

I just stopped by today to tell you, that in this journey called life, God has obligated you tell them about your dream.  Let your light so shine, so that they may see your good works and praise God in heaven.  Tell them about your dream.  We may be troubled on every side, yet not distressed—so tell them about the dream; we may be perplexed, but not in despair—so tell them about the dream; persecuted, but not forsaken—so tell them about the dream; cast down, but not destroyed—so tell them about the dream, why, because we have this treasure in earthen vessels.  We have this dream deep down on the inside that we are required to tell the world about.

Do I have any dreamers in the house?

Tell them about the dream.  Tell them about Isaiah’s dream where they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; where every valley shall be exalted and every mountain made low, and the crooked places made straight.  Tell them about the dream.

But don’t just tell them about Isaiah’s dream, tell them about your dream.  Tell them about your hope for tomorrow.  Tell them about dream for a better city.  Tell them about the dream for a better school system.  Tell them about the dream for parks and recreation.  Tell them about the dream for the Church universal.  Tell them about the dream for a better health care system.  Tell them about the dream.

Eyes have not seen, nor ears heard, neither has it entered the heart of them the things which God has prepared for us.  I dare you to dream, and I dare you to tell them about the dream.  Don’t be scared.  Open you mouth and tell them about the dream.

Do I have any dreamers here?

When you open up your mouth and tell them about the dream, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

If they’re any dreamers in the house, open up your mouth and let the redeemed of the Lord say so!

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

About these ads

4 thoughts on “Tell Them About the Dream

  1. Not completely OT, but IMO, worth the 6 minute watch:

    ‘There is no Tea Party only a collection of billionaires’ (RT television)

    Americans of all political stripes and hues, wake up! Register, rally, ID up and vote for Democrats in the 2014 midterms, local, county (Parrish), state and national elections.

    2014 midterms matter. History matters too.

  2. Because it is important, here’s 8 minutes of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaking truth to power:

    We’ve got to vote in 2014. The GOTP’ers, neoBirchers, neoLibertarians, and/or neoConfederates must be kicked to the curb. Now.

    Thanks Uppity. It’s hard out here for voters; we must do the hard work for others and for ourselves.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s