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Nov 28, 2021

To Dream

To Dream

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: November 2021

Today's Scripture: Daniel 2:31-49

Today's Sermon


"To Dream"


(Before we get to the reading, a little context is in order.  At this point in the book of Daniel, the king wants diviners to interpret his dreams, but they are refusing, perhaps because they know what they dreams foretell.  In response, the king is ready to kill them all.  That’s when Daniel steps in, and here is his interpretation…)

Daniel 2:31-49

          31 ‘You were looking, O king, and lo! there was a great statue. This statue was huge, its brilliance extraordinary; it was standing before you, and its appearance was frightening. 32The head of that statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, 33its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34As you looked on, a stone was cut out, not by human hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces. 35Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, were all broken in pieces and became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

          36 ‘This was the dream; now we will tell the king its interpretation. 37You, O king, the king of kings—to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the might, and the glory, 38into whose hand he has given human beings, wherever they live, the wild animals of the field, and the birds of the air, and whom he has established as ruler over them all—you are the head of gold. 39After you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over the whole earth. 40And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron; just as iron crushes and smashes everything, it shall crush and shatter all these. 41As you saw the feet and toes partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom; but some of the strength of iron shall be in it, as you saw the iron mixed with the clay. 42As the toes of the feet were part iron and part clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. 43As you saw the iron mixed with clay, so will they mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay. 44And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever;45just as you saw that a stone was cut from the mountain not by hands, and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. The great God has informed the king what shall be hereafter. The dream is certain, and its interpretation trustworthy.’

          46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, worshipped Daniel, and commanded that a grain-offering and incense be offered to him. 47The king said to Daniel, ‘Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery!’ 48Then the king promoted Daniel, gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. 49Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

To Dream

            This is the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the year in the church calendar.  Happy New Year.  These days it feels like we’re looking forward to new years more and more, the hope of new beginnings.  Hope is the first candle in the Advent Wreath. 

            We begin by picking up a little on last week, continuing in Daniel and its themes. Last Sunday we were reminded of how Daniel as well as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused the royal rations, in effect refusing to feed themselves on empire and the way of being in the world that empire embodies – force, domination, exploitation.  We juxtaposed this with Christ, a right understanding of Christ, grounded in neighborly love.

          When hearing Daniel interpret the king’s dream, you might notice that God doesn’t seem exactly interested in a peaceable kingdom or achieving it by peaceable means.  There is a coming kingdom that will crush those that came before and rule forever. It is violent imagery, which tends to make us uncomfortable.  I have come to notice over the years, however, how quick people are to criticize violence in the Bible and excuse it in their own society. 

            A little context helps us at least understand the violent vision here.  If you’re a Jew in the second century BCE, for whom this was likely written, the promise of a coming kingdom, a kingdom of your people, finally rising up and putting off the oppressors not just for a moment, but forevermore, that would feel like really good news.  It’s like someone finally standing up to the playground bully.  You don’t have to agree with it; I just want you to understand it.  This makes it all the more striking that followers of Jesus have taken to recognize this coming kingdom embodied in him.  Jesus refused to crush others, trusting the work of judgment to God.  Here we are again, with Jesus’s way redefining the notion of king and kingdom, rejecting or reshaping the dreams of his own people.  No wonder he was rejected.

            It’s also worth remembering, lest we give too superficial of a reading of Daniel, that this is a dream.  Dreams belong to the poetic.  Images, drama, wild and fantastical things happen in dreams.  It is the place of metaphor, allegory, so let us not be so literal when interpreting.  Yes, there’s violence in this Old Testament dream, just like there’s plenty of violence in the New Testament prophetic vision of Revelation.  Each is trying to make a larger point about who is in charge, what way ultimately prevails, and the call to endure with integrity. 

            Maybe we would do better to pay attention to our dreams.  I may have told before of my spouse Sherri’s time in Haiti. She said it was commonplace for people at breakfast to talk about what they dreamed the night before.  This is not a Freudian throwback, but rather a recognition that the dream world opens a portal to another consciousness.  Spiritual directors will sometimes encourage you to keep a journal of your dreams.  You start to notice things emerging that don’t necessarily surface in our day consciousness.

            When I speak of dreaming, I’m not only speaking of what happens when you sleep, and we could say much about the problems with denying ourselves adequate sleep. It’s funny that one of the 10 Commandments is to take rest, Sabbath, yet we regularly brag about how much we don’t rest, about how we can’t take time off or away.  How self-important?  Perhaps that’s not fair.  Some people have no choice because they have to work so much to make a living, a full night’s sleep is a luxury they don’t have.  Then, how sad that we’ve denied this of some people.    

          Beyond sleep, there is daydreaming.  I may or may not have heard a third-grader tell me that he…or she or they—I don’t want you to assume whom I’m talking about—likes daydreaming in school, just looking out the window and daydreaming.  “It’s so fun,” this person may have said.  You know, I can’t really argue.  It’s not just fun, it’s critical to a life of self-reflection.

            Do we make enough room for dreaming?.  Next time you go for a walk or a run or however you exercise, try leaving the earphones at home.  Build in some quiet time and notice what emerges.  The other day, I was speaking with a man who attended here for a while before the pandemic and then moved away.  He was talking about how much stimulus he finds he’s fallen into needing, and I’m right there with him.  It’s so easy to do, so we find ourselves unconsciously—there’s a good word for it—filling ourselves with constant stimulus—watching things, listening to things, having two or three screen open at a time.  I will not ask how many of you have been on a zoom call in the last year and a half while scrolling through something on another device.

            Think of the impact and the constant addictive input of social media.  Bruce Reyes-Chow, Presbyterian Pastor in Palo Alto and former moderator of the denomination made this observation the other day:  “Facebook has a terrible impact on culture…Facebook has also…made real a deep well of love, support, and connection.  Serious Q(question): If I left, how would we stay connected?” Bruce is as tech savvy and engaged as they come, yet he is asking serious questions.  Our own church asked an ethical question about being on Facebook as we readied to make a social media push.  We ultimately decided it’s our job to meet people where they are and to try and be a light wherever we can.  That said, I can’t in good faith encourage you to be on social media, at least without setting some serious boundaries. 

            One of the effects of so much external input is that it pushes down what’s in and trying to come out, asking for some attention.  If we just take in data all the time, but don’t integrate any of it, we’re not really maturing.  That’s not even attending to the problem that so much information that is being thrust at us is nonsense, disinformation, misinformation.  I’ve been surprised how much of that I’ve heard regurgitated from sources I wouldn’t have expected.  In that conversation I mentioned the man made a keen observation – there are a lot of people who have a stake in us being anxious and at each other. These feeds are tailormade to our tastes and biases and are effective at riling us up.  It keeps our attention.  It makes for ratings, and it is destructive to the fabric of society. There are those who profit from a frayed society.

            He then asked simply and profoundly:  How do we disincentivize hurry and anxiety production?  When were constantly on high alert, when something that actually warrants our attention, we’re totally tapped out.  He shared a book with me that I’ve yet to check out, but I’m taken by the title, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.  If any of you read it, tell me what you think.  This are not just self-help questions; these are serious spiritual questions.  There’s a sort of sequel to C.S. Lewis’ famousScrewtape Letters, which is a “collection” of letters back and forth between different demons trying to lead people astray and away from the faith.  It features an apprentice demon—how nice they do mentoring in hell—Wormwood.  The sort of sequel—I call it that because it’s not written by Lewis—is a more modern spin.  It’s called The Wormwood File and it is a series of emails between demons.  In it, one demon says, apropos to our subject, “Noise dependency has become one of the most popular addictions, yet so ‘normal’ it isn’t even recognized as an addiction.”[1]  Silence is described as now almost bearable to the population, which is just as the demons like it because they know quiet begets contemplation and contemplation begets reflection, refinement, and creativity.  All of it yields better decision making.

            Reflection shouldn’t be treated as a luxury.  It is an essential quality of a functioning society.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear people resort to cynicism.  We can’t change this.  We can’t do that.  We patronize Jesus and his vision, but we have to live in the real world, which inevitably means resorting to the very tactics Jesus decried.  We excuse it because when the good guys do it it’s not bad.  Really, the problem is we can’t see another way. I can’t remember who said it, but check the usual suspects, Rohr, Newell etc., but whenever we face a problem that seems too big or too intractable what we really have is a failure of imagination. Well, we just have to put up with this level of violence – crisis of imagination.  Well, it’s too expensive to…-crisis of imagination.  There’s no other way…-crisis of imagination.

          Imagination is a spiritual quality and cultivating the conditions for it in your life and in our shared lives is critical to our wellbeing.  Daniel and his troupe of dream interpreters, the prophets, the Christ, all the mystics, the seers, the dreamers – they access visions of possibility the rest of us just haven’t yet seen.  They see it, describe it, and then inspire people to get behind it.  I’m not going to give you the typical anti-consumerism Christmas sermon.  If you  haven’t gotten that by now, one more telling probably won’t do it, but I will lift up for you not one more thing to do, but one invitation to maybe do less, to make room this holy season, as we await the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  Make room for what’s within to come out and what’s from above to come in.  Establish a practice – sit by the tree, take a walk, get practical.  Advent is always meant to be a time not only of awaiting the arrival of Jesus but anticipating the return of Christ, and preparing the way. It’s a new year and it’s time for a new dream.  That’s your work this Advent, to dream. Amen.


[1]Jim Forest, The Wormwood File:  E-Mail from Hell(Maryknoll:  Orbis Books, 2004), 13.