"The Power Of Dreaming"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 11/29/1998

Psalm 122; Isaiah 2:1-5

     There is an old rhyming couplet that demonstrates the perceptive abilities of two very different types of people. We have generally labeled them "the realist" and "the dreamer." The couplet goes like this: "Two inmates looked through the prison bars, one saw mud and the other saw stars." Most of us have known people who experience life from these two distinct vantage points. It is how they see what they see that makes the difference in the way the two people develop.

     The person who sees mud realizes how terrible it is to be in prison, an institution that governs his every activity. He has chosen to identify himself with the trappings of imprisonment. He has resigned himself to enduring the experience until the "assault on his freedom" is over. He might even nourish himself everyday with thoughts of bitterness and resentment, further warping and distorting his life.

     The person who sees stars thinks about possibilities. She understands the realities of her crime and is willing to pay her debt to society. But she will not permit her stay in prison to hold her mind and heart in bondage as well. She sees the stars. She dreams of all that she intends to do that day and everyday. She spends her energy learning how limitless her possibilities are. She may pursue a college degree. She may become an office manager in the prison as a Trustee.

     Another example can be seen in how differently parents handle the death of one of their children. Some parents become angry and blame God. Other parents give God praise and thanksgiving for all the wonderful memories and years they had their son or daughter. "Two inmates looked through the prison bars, one saw mud and the other saw stars."

     Since the beginning of civilization these two ways of viewing life have existed side by side. For example, there were those who contented themselves with hauling heavy objects on their backs or on the backs of domesticated animals. They were held prisoner to their limitations of thought. Then one day a dreamer looked at the possibilities and found a better way of doing the same thing. That person invented the wheel. First came the chariots and then the automobile, all because someone was able to see the possibilities.

     For years people contented themselves with cooking on wood-burning stoves and reading by kerosene lamps until someone saw the stars by harnessing and unleashing the power of electricity. As more people dreamed about electricity, the possibilities appeared endless. A new age was born. A new power was released among all people on earth.

     This is the first Sunday of Advent, a time when we prepare for celebrating a new power that was released among us. Our lesson this morning is based on words that Isaiah claimed were from God. The vision those words created was heard and read by the same two people who were looking through the prison bars.

     Undoubtedly, there were those who saw mud. They would have said, "Isaiah is only dreaming. If God really said those words, why did God say, 'In the days to come. . .' If God is going to do this for us, why is God waiting? I will not live to see the day when nations will hammer their swords into plows and their spears into pruning hooks."

     There were also those people who saw the stars. Such persons unleashed the power found in the last verse of today's lesson, "Now, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light which the Lord gives us!" Such people did not have to wait for God to act at some future time. This second view understands that God has already acted. They could live this way now!

     When we dream, we focus on all the possibilities of which we are capable. God created the possibility for peace in the world but God will not impose it. God will not take away our ability to choose simply by commanding that everyone must now live in peace. God has never worked in that manner.

     There is great power in dreaming. Dreaming helps us live in a way that would appear very strange and unrealistic to most people. The wheel must have appeared very strange at first until everyone understood how it could benefit all of them. Electricity first appeared useless until people began to see how its application would enhance the quality of life. Dreaming allows us to experience the possibilities now rather than waiting for someone or something to make what we want happen for us.

     Never before in human history has this concept been illustrated so often as it has been in our day. A number of years ago three people began to put their dreams to work in a garage and they introduced the world to the computer age. As it happened with the wheel and electricity, the invention of the computer has completely changed the living patterns of the world's people. Humanity has made a quantum leap.

     In our lifetime the world has literally exploded with information. We are only now beginning to see the near limitless possibilities of this technology. Governments will no longer be successful in controlling the minds of their people with manipulation and deception. Because of the Internet, information will no longer be controlled by those in power.

     If this is true in our physical world, it must also be true in the world that governs our spiritual lives. Think of this: Isaiah was telling us that the day will come when all of humanity will understand that quality of life is better than the quantity of what we own. Isaiah was telling us that God will teach us that giving is better than getting, that forgiving is better than clinging to resentment, that loving our neighbors is better than fearing them, and that being better stewards of the earth and its resources is better than living as if no other generation will inherit what we have done.

     Advent gives each of us the opportunity to look through the prison bars. How is the chemistry in our relationship with our spouse, our children and our friends? Is there anything happening at work preventing us from seeing the possibilities? Is there anything happening in our experience that prevents us from anticipating the great adventure tomorrow represents? Are we caught looking at the mud or are we staring at the stars?

     How many times have we read the Christmas story and marveled at the faith of Mary and Joseph? Every encounter appeared to be met with a faith that said, "God will provide." Their first crisis came with Mary's pregnancy. Their second came with the long journey to Bethlehem. The third came when the innkeeper rejected their request for lodging. The fourth came with their having to deliver their baby in a stable. And the fifth crisis came when they had to flee into Egypt. It amazes us how Mary and Joseph accepted each experience with trust that it must have meaning.

     Were Mary and Joseph dreamers? Of course they were. God had told them that great things would happen. There was no need for them to give a value to their experiences. Every event was received as if it were a thread in a much larger tapestry they might never live to see. Quite often we cannot see the possibilities in our experiences, but Isaiah wrote that we should live with absolute confidence that God can. Think of all the events in life that would no longer consume us with worry if this were our faith.

     He wrote, "Now, descendants of Joseph, let us walk in the light which the Lord gives us!" We may never see the outcome of living this way. All we are asked to do is to play the hand we have been dealt to the best of our ability. Only when we do that will we lay the groundwork for all that is to follow. "Two inmates looked through the prison bars, one saw mud and the other saw stars." Which one are we?

     Helen Steiner Rice wrote a poem that captured this understanding: "Maybe I'm kind of old-fashioned. Maybe I'm trailing the rest. But somehow I cling to the theory that whatever happens is best. Best if we know how to use it. If we know just what lesson to take. Best if we know what each happening means and out of it just what we make. In looking back down the trail of the years, I can now very clearly see that so many things were not for the best which I wanted heart- breakingly; And, too, I can see where the "bitter pills" with which some phases were filled, were the very cornerstone on which I eventually found I could build. Friends that I thought I would die without, I found in the hard, long run, were not the ones I needed at all, but belonged just to the days of fun. Think back now and see if the hardest days were not richer than all the rest. When you've conquered your fears and learned through your tears that whatever is, is best."

     Sometimes it is challenging to our faith to let go of our desires and allow God to lead. Think of Mary some thirty-three years later cradling her son in her arms. He had just been taken down from the cross and while she held him she remembered the words of the angel, "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end." Imagine what was being required of her faith during those moments.

     What mountains are we climbing today and are we remembering Isaiah's words, "Now, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light which the Lord gives us!"? "Two inmates looked through the prison bars, one saw mud and the other saw stars." Which one are we?


     Eternal and ever faithful God, there are moments when we feel as did the people living thousands of years ago. We feel the struggles when our lives clash against the expectations others have of us. We feel the confusion and fears caused by our uncertain future. We feel the absence of the occasions where we connect meaningfully with others so that new relationships can be born. And sometimes we sense how challenging it is to find you in the midst of what we experience. We are ready to prepare ourselves for the coming of the light into our awareness. Help us during these weeks of Advent to prepare for your coming with earnest and sincere hearts, hearts that can experience the miracle of truth coming in a form we could understand. Amen.


     Thank you God for creating us with the ability to express our thanksgiving to you. We feel so blessed to have received the fruits of so many people who have sown their seeds before us. Not only have we been reflecting on our forefathers and mothers of this country during recent days, but also on that which brought them here -- a search for a place where they could worship you in any manner of their choosing.

     As we enter Advent, our spirits are once again awakened to the joy of preparation. This really is a special time when the church family walks the many extra miles with buying sweatshirts, teddy bears, filling stockings for children and supplying families with turkey dinners.

     We have learned, O God, that as we give, that is who we become. We thank you for the many opportunities when we have to provide your Word with the feet to move around, with the arms to extend, with the hands that give so that love is placed in a form that others can understand.

     Today as we celebrate the new members coming into our midst, bless them with the same spirit that infuses us. May all of us remain bonded to each other, for it is through our combined strength that you become visible in our midst. Thank you for all that you inspire us to do and to be. We pray these things through Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray. . .