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A Sermon preached by the Rev. Michael Anderson Bullock

2024.0616.B.God’s Dream

[Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17; Mark 4:26-34]

I am told that everyone dreams, and I am inclined to believe this.  Dreams seem to be part of the mechanism by which the body’s own “traffic controller” (our brains) sift through the “stuff” of our lives.  It is in the arena of dreams that the day’s events are reviewed or reordered or worked out -- or allowed to haunt us.  In a sense, our dreaming seems to be the way we “reboot” ourselves, an attempt to realign the fragments of our lives into some kind of working order.  And since dreams and dreaming are not under our control, some of us attest to the tradition that as busy and distracted as we get to be, dreams are often the way – the only way – God can get through to us.  Perhaps it is this uncontrollable aspect of dreams and dreaming that accounts for the fact that many of us claim not to remember our dreams.  Remembering these unconscious pictures might change us, and that might be too costly a reality for us to accept.

I know personally that I often fall into this “unremembering” category.  Often, in my deep, dreaming sleep, I even recognize this tendency in me not to remember my dreams.  So, to compensate for my not remembering my dreams, I often have an internal , dream conversation with my “rapid eye movement” self that confirms that I must remember this dream.  I agree with my dreaming self that I must remember the dream frequently turns out to be a way I fake myself out.  Because upon awakening, all I remember is that I had a dream that I wanted to remember but now have lost!  Call waiting indeed…

It is said that Jesus used parables as if they were dreams, to the extent that parables have been defined as “dreams in search of a meaning”.1  Jesus used parables to communicate the inscrutable faithfulness of God at work among human life.  As such, the parables of Jesus are not neat, little capsules of morality or lyrical insights into enlightenment.  Rather, the parables Jesus offers contain something of the content of a dream – specifically, God’s dream.  And this, I believe, is the reason the parables often leave us scratching our heads and wondering about their meaning and their application.  

I think that we are meant to scratch our heads over the parables.  Like dreams, the content and message of the parables are a bit wild, resisting all domestication.  In fact, their message and content are intentionally coded, fused  with symbols (both historical and mythological), along with metaphoric references that speak with faithful imagination about what God knows; what God sees; what God is doing, what God is dreaming.  

Those of us who expect a clear-cut message from the parables become easily frustrated just as one might become frustrated in analyzing any dream and its meaning – our own dreams included.  Like dreams, Jesus’ parables refuse to be squeezed into neat packets that easily fit into our mental, emotional, or theological file cabinets.  Instead, the parables, being more like the dreams of God, call us beyond our safe familiarities, our expectations, and agendas.  By design, they are meant to cause us to wonder – to wonder and even to dream about the faithfulness of God and what our life, held in God’s fidelity, is calling us to be and do.  

As I say, Jesus’ parables invite us to wonder with a faithful imagination about what God’s dream looks like and what it holds and offers to those who love the Holy One.  The imagination that is suitable for dreams is distinct.  It requires the type of engagement that a poem or a piece of artwork or great music demands, as opposed to listening to talk radio.  Jesus’ parables are expressed in a code about the God-life precisely because, like a dream, God’s life cannot be controlled or managed or commercialized .  This is so because God’s dream is meant to be lived – lived with openness and wonder and reflective trust.

As a bit of a gardener myself, I am pulled by that part of today’s parable’s coding that draws upon the imagery of germination, that is, the life of a seed.  And I love the particular language that Jesus uses to speak of the purpose and role of the seed as an outward and visible sign of the God-life among us and in us.  In particular, this morning’s gospel lesson begins with Jesus describing “the Kingdom of God” with a simple but (may I say?) pregnant phrase: “as if”.  

“The Kingdom of God is as if …”  as if a man scattered some seed on the ground and then went to bed and forgets about it.  The seed sprouts and grows – he has no idea how it happens.  The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a blade, then a ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps – harvest time!"2

“As if…”. Those two words combine to create a phrase that invites us to dream, to wonder, and to hope.  Let me give you an example by repeating one of my endearing (and for some, endless) mantras to you.  Everyone is religious.  The problem is what we worship.  What we worship is what we become.  And here is my point.

My fellow Kingdom of God “seeds”: What if – what if we acted as if   -- as if we were the beloved of God-in-Christ?  What if – what if we dreamed as if we were an intimate part of God’s dream?  What if – what if we oriented our lives as if in God’s Christ we have been given what we need and cannot provide for ourselves?  What if – what if we lived as if we were aware of all God’s mercies and did our conscious best to shape all our days as if our hearts were unspeakably grateful?

You know what would happen.  I do, too.  That seed that is in us would start to germinate.  A new life would start to grow within our soul’s unrequited soil.  And we would start to change – change into what we have seen and known in Jesus.  Good News or Not?!

The Kingdom of God is as if – as if someone would scatter seed on the ground and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.3 

Good news or not?  Our response to this question is the reason that Jesus’ parables are coded and not suitable for “CNN Headline News”.  They are coded out of necessity because of the resistance – the resistance that hides deep within all of us to life on God’s terms.  Again, all of us are “religious”.  We combine “fact, value, and what we deem as ultimate reality – that is what “religion” is.  And this is a tension all of us experience, when what we place at the center collides with God at the center.  Like a seed in the ground, the confrontations that Jesus experiences early on with the religious authorities and the other “experts” of his time will entail a growth and blossoming in the events of the Cross.  Only by eliminating Jesus can this inconvenient message of God’s Kingdom, emerging steadily and quietly among us, be contained.  But this seed and its life is uncontainable, much less eliminated, even and especially by fear and death.

Today’s gospel lesson, reflecting God’s eternal dream, ends with this intriguing picture.  

With many stories like these, [Jesus] presented his message to [the  people], fitting the stories to their experience and maturity.  He was never without a story when he spoke.  [However,] when he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.4

Especially in the wake of yesterday’s discussion about St. Philip’s “Congregational Assessment Tool”, there is one message that I hope all of us experience and absorb.  That message is: “Keep planting!”  Keep planting God’s unending seed of Christ’s new life.  And then, let God be God.  

God dreams.  Jesus is the image, meaning, fulfillment of God’s dream.  With regard to us, dream on!  Amen.


1.  N. T. Wright. Mark for Everyone, p. 42

2.  The Message. Mark 4:26-29

3.  Mark 4:26.  NRSV

4.  The Message. Mark 4:34

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