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“Just Let Me Dream”: A Sermon Celebrating the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Preached January 21, 2009
The Upper Room Chapel
Nashville, TN


Bible Reading: "Joseph the Dreamer" (Genesis 37:1-20)

An old man, frail and sickly, lay in bed -- his body a wrinkled heap. His wife tended to his needs as best she could. She fed him thimbles full of clear broth, mopped beads of sweat from his brow. She ground his pain pills into powder and mixed it into watery oatmeal and honey in hopes that he would try to swallow some of it. He ached. His pain outlasted the medicine.

"Can I do anything else for you?" his wife asked at the end of each day. The answer was always the same. "No love, go rest. You've already done too much. Just let me dream. Just let me . . . dream," he repeated. Then he'd close his eyes and wait for sleep to bring him dreams -- his only reliable elixir.

"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" (Acts 2:17, NRSV).

Children come into the world filled with dreams. But, according to one survey, as they grow out of childhood, "the importance of dreams decreases dramatically." One of my seminary professors declared, "Youth dream wild-eyed dreams . . . until life sobers them . . . and they realize what can actually be achieved."

Just let me dream.

Researchers discovered that people deprived from entering REM sleep, the dream phase of sleep, displayed symptoms of irritability and anxiety. In one dream study, researchers repeatedly woke up volunteers just before they entered the dream state of sleep throughout the night. The volunteers slept the same amount of time as they normally did; they just didn't dream. The next day these volunteers were disoriented, depressed, grouchy, and short-tempered. As the study continued, night after night, the subjects became more agitated. Researchers concluded that dreaming recharges the mind and revitalizes the body. They determined that dreaming is necessary.

Just let me dream.

An online article from Britain differentiates between dreams and goals. Dreams provide a vision of the future. Dreams inspire, dreams motivate, dreams provide one's 'raison d'�tré. Goals are different. Goals break down a major achievement into manageable steps so one's progress can be measured. Goals emerge from cool logic and dispassionate reason.

A person with great dreams can achieve great things, claims one sports psychologist. Despite this claim, the article describes British culture as antithetical to dreaming. "Us Brits are so often discouraged from dreaming as we often value logic and rationality above spirituality and creativity. Our common language . . . describes a dreamer as someone that has big ideas but never delivers . . .Tell others about your dreams of Olympic success . . . and it won't take long before someone criticizes you for having ideas 'above your station.'" ("The Importance of Dreams: The Resonance Performance Model")

Just let me dream.

A seventeen-year-old named Joseph had a dream. He his brothers, and they hated him for it. But Joseph kept dreaming. He told his next dream to his father and his brothers. This time his father rebuked him, and Joseph's brothers resented him even more. The world doesn't always appreciate dreamers.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that many despised at the time. He dreamed that the United States of America would actually treat everyone equally, that it would put its constitution and creeds into practice, that it would practice what it preached. Like Joseph, Martin was despised, outcast by some of his own brothers in the Baptist Convention. Because of his dream, Martin was beaten, stabbed, and jailed. But dreams inspire us to push through opposition. Dreams motivate us to defy the odds. Dreaming is necessary.

According to the Resonance Performance Model, when you dream, you experience the feelings associated with a particular activity. You feel the thrill of achievement as well as the suffering involved with the journey. This deep emotional connection helps you determine the type of preparation you need to fulfill the dream. In the 1960s, black elementary and middle-school children learned through role play how to endure hateful mobs of people who spit and cursed at them. They learned how to block the blow of a police baton directed at their heads -- better to break an arm than fracture a skull. Martin and a generation of people, black and white, kept dreaming, kept suffering, kept enduring, because the dream compelled them.

Just let me dream.

Joseph's brothers plotted to kill him and rid themselves of "this dreamer." Evil factions in the United States plotted to kill Martin. Obstacles to dreams are inevitable. Dreamers have to contend with their own internal fears and doubts as well as external challenges and dangers.

Bill Moyers interviewed Joseph Campbell, a man best known for his work in mythology and comparative religions, and the person who coined the phrase, "follow your bliss." In that interview about myth, dreams, and symbols, Campbell noted the difference between a dream and a myth. "A dream is a personal experience, while the myth is the public dream. . ." He continued saying, "If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn't, you've got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you." Martin's dream did not coincide with that of the society in which he lived, and the path to civil rights led straight through the dark forest.

Bill Moyers drilled deeper, "So if my private dreams are in accord with the public mythology, I'm more likely to live healthily in that society. But if my private dreams are out of step with the public . . ." Then Campbell interrupted, "you'll be in trouble. If you're forced to live in that system, you'll be a neurotic."

To maintain your sanity, Campbell notes, you have to move out of that society and into the dark forest -- an original experience, where nothing has been interpreted for you, and you've got to work out life for yourself.

Sometimes dreams, like Martin's, take on mythic proportion. When a dream carries a mythic theme, Campbell states, "that [dream] is said . . . to come from the Christ within." Sometimes, despite the danger, dreams compel us to leave the comfort of predictable status quo. Sometimes our private dreams tap into a larger dream shared by countless others. Carl Jung reminds us that some dreams have universal meaning for all men and women -- something he called the collective unconscious. Martin tapped into the universal dream that all men and women have -- to be treated equally, fairly, with dignity and respect. His dream was your dream and my dream and the dream of the unborn.

At the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, we saw a sliver of Martin's dream realized. Obama symbolizes the manifestation of a dream that many African Americans never thought would be achieved in their lifetimes. We African American parents often told our children that they could be anything they wanted to be -- and hoped we weren't lying. We hoped we weren't setting them up for devastation when reality came crashing in. We hoped we could instill enough fortitude and healthy pride in our children to help them reject the comments so often made by high school counselors who believed they determined our fate. They'd tell our children, "You're not college material; you probably should go to a technical school, learn a trade; you're good with your hands."

But Martin actually believed his dream, our dream. The day before the inauguration, newscasters pulled file film and played the 1964 clip of Martin saying he believed that it wouldn't take forty years to elect a black man as president. He believed it could happen in twenty-five years. He believed; Martin actually believed the dream.

Now that a black man has been elected and duly sworn in as president of the United States, all of us are beginning to believe the dream. We're beginning to let go of the painful past. We're beginning to hope more earnestly.

People around the world have taken note and are beginning to believe dreams can come true too -- in Africa, in Asia, in Scandinavia. More importantly, children, black children, are now saying, "I believe I can be anything I want to be -- even president of the United States."

We've just seen a sliver of Martin's dream. Now we wait, with our toes curled over the precipice of possibility, daring to dream.

Just let me dream -- it's my only reliable elixir.

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Categories: Worship