(Recording excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr’s, “I Have A Dream” speech)
It’s always humbling to follow the best, which means it’s really hard for an ordinary preacher to follow Martin Luther King, Jr., from the pulpit. Many of you recognize the speech. What you just heard was an excerpt from the Rev. Dr. King’s 1963 I Have A Dream speech. Martin Luther King had a Godly dream: following the teachings of Jesus Christ, a dream of equality, justice, and love. Tomorrow our nation honors the faith and courage of this great man with a public holiday.
In today’s reading from 1 Samuel, Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel! And he said, “Here I am!”
“I have a dream!” thought young Samuel. “I have a dream!” But the dream he had was so real that he thought it must be his master Eli calling. So he ran to the old man, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.”
But Eli was puzzled, because he hadn’t called Samuel, and he said, “Go back to sleep.” Again, Samuel heard a voice in his sleep and ran to Eli, but again Eli said, “It wasn’t I. Go back to sleep.” This happened yet a third time. By this time Eli must have been exasperated, or troubled in some way. Why was Samuel having these dreams?
But Eli, this man of God, eventually realized that nothing was wrong with Samuel. Samuel was of a new generation; just as God had spoken through Eli, now he understood that Samuel’s dream was God’s dream for this new day. The Scriptures say that Eli’s eyesight had grown dim, but his spiritual eyes had 20/20 vision.
One of my pastor colleagues at our Bible study this past week said, “What an amazing story of courage! Both Eli and Samuel pointing to something bigger than themselves.” It’s true! Both are able to hear God’s voice and set their sights on God’s will.
The boy Samuel was a dreamer. When he gave voice to his dream he was ignored—not once, not twice, but three times. And yet, Samuel was persistent. He would not give up even though his dream repeatedly was ignored. This is the lesson of Samuel for those of you who are dreamers. Whether you are young or young at heart, you dream of big things that are possible in this world, this neighborhood, this church, and in your own lives. You dream of what’s possible for this world beyond your own lifetime, and you work to make them happen. These are Godly dreams.
This is the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesus himself. Like Samuel, they dreamed of something much bigger than themselves and their own self-interest. The Rev. Dr. King dreamed of a world in which love and peace and justice for all people becomes a reality. Jesus dreamed of a world in which love, compassion, hope and dignity for all people was a reality.
But these were not just dreamers. These were men who worked hard to make those dreams come true.
And, as we know, they failed. Because although dreamers are sometimes tolerated by the world, if they are persistent they will first be ignored, and then vigorously opposed, and finally, crucified. This is what happened to Jesus. This is what happened to Dr. King. This is what can happen to people whose dream is big enough. This is what can happen to people who say, “I have a dream,” and then work hard to make that dream happen. This is what can happen to people who have Godly dreams.
But we have hope not in the survival of those who dream but in the dream itself. Because as we see in the example of both Jesus and Dr. King the power of the dream is not in the person but in the dream itself. When Dr. King’s life was destroyed by hateful people his dream only grew and became more powerful. It continues to this day to grow stronger. When Jesus’ life was destroyed by hateful people his dream grew to become a world religion, and continues to grow to this day. The encouragement and lesson we receive from Samuel is not results that we can see but persistence. If you have a Godly dream much bigger than yourself and it is not playing out as you had hoped, don’t be discouraged. God will accomplish what we can’t see. Our job is simply to embrace God’s dream and work to make it happen.
We have seen young Samuel’s faithful example of courage through persistence. But what about Eli? Here is a man who was drawing close to the end of his life. And the Scriptures tell us that the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. And yet, here is a young boy who comes to Eli with a dream. If visions were not widespread why would Eli pay attention to a young person who had a vision, a mere child? What could he possibly have to say? At first, Eli dismissed Samuel. But Samuel persisted. And against all odds, Eli wisely listened. Even when the word of God was not what he wanted to hear–even a word of judgment against him—still Eli courageously listened and followed what God was saying through Samuel, and not merely what he, Eli, wanted to hear.
As always, the Scriptures invite us to find ourselves in the story. Where are you? Are you one of those who is young, or young at heart?
What is your Godly dream? Is it so big that it extends beyond your own life and your own lifetime? If you can’t see your dream realized in this lifetime then there’s a good chance that it is worthy of God, who is able to do all things.
Or, maybe you have no dream. That was Eli’s situation. And yet, even though he was old, and tired, and his sight was failing him, still he listened to the dream of a young person and knew that it was the voice of God. But there is another character who doesn’t make an appearance in this story. This is the one who has no dream of God’s will beyond his own life, and actively opposes those who do. This is the saddest one of all.
I have a dream. I have a dream of a joyful congregation whose first concern is those in our neighborhood who have no church home. Yes, I have a dream. I have a dream in which anyone who comes through that door knows that they are loved—regardless of ability or disability, regardless of the color of their skin, regardless of sexual orientation. I have a dream of a congregation whose dream is the church beyond their own lifetime, a church in which children are always welcomed and celebrated, a church in which the Eli’s of the congregation realize that their job is to ask how they can support the parents and other grown-ups who are doing the heavy lifting of that most important work, passing the faith on to a new generation. Yes, I have a dream. I have a dream of a church in which those who have the most financial resources tithe 10% their income. These are a few of my dreams.
I have this dream. And if it doesn’t come to pass, still I know that this is God’s dream, too, because the Bible tells me so. If it doesn’t come to pass, still I celebrate those glimpses of God’s dream among you, among you who are the spiritual heirs of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesus himself. AMEN