READ: Acts 18.1-11
A few years ago, I signed up to take a class in sculpture.
I consider myself semi-artistic — I appreciate art, I am a musician and a writer, and I am a firm believer in the creative mind and creative process.
But as I sat there in the studio around a big wooden work table with six other students and a visiting professor who had just completed an 11-ton, four-story sculpture commissioned by a city i California, I felt a little unsure of myself.
The last time I touched modeling clay was probably in the third grade.
And it probably wasn’t modeling clay, but Play-Doh.
As we sat together and shared our backgrounds and interests,
the professor, whose name is Patrick Beldio, asked the question — or something like it —
“Why don’t adults spend time at play more often?”
I thought about this, and, as the father of two small boys, I thought about how creative my kids are, and how their mom and I encourage their creativity greatly.
We raised our boys in a very Montessori-like environment.
Sure, they had all the typical toys when they were toddlers, but they also had stones, and sticks, and blocks, and fabrics, and metal — very tactile objects.
And they would play for hours with these random pieces, using their creative imaginations rather than following some set instructions on a box.
As they got a bit older, and relatives gave them elaborate Lego sets and Lincoln Logs and board games other pre-fab toys,
my boys would tear them apart and mix them all together with everything else, creating their own games and their own rules.
They were creating their own play.
Often with $120 Lego sets, only a few pieces would ever be used, and the thing that it was supposed to be — a Landspeeder or the Death Star from Star Wars — never was built.
And I thought about all this as I sat there at the table with the small chunk of clay given to each of us by the professor.
I rolled it around in my hands, softened it so that it became pliable.
My hands stained brick red.
And my mind wandering in thousands of directions.
Then the professor asked, “What do you want to create?”
Oh, I had no idea because I had no skills, I didn’t feel particularly adept in this medium, and I couldn’t imagine that my hands could shape anything that anyone or even myself would think was any good at all.
I said this, and Patrick, the professor, and now a pretty good friend, said:
It’s not what you make that counts; it’s the process of dreaming, imagining, and working toward that idea.
It’s the process.
It’s dreaming of what it could look like.
The fun is over after the thing is created.
Patrick said he once had a professor who told him he was too focused on the result and not focused enough on the process.
And so one of his assignments was to make something awesome,
then smash it bits.
When he destroyed his work, he felt liberated and given a new and exciting interest into his work.
Throughout the entire Bible, we see example after example of dreamers, visionaries and prophets.
Sometimes all in the same person.
So this evening, I want to talk about what it means to dream, and what it also means to act on that dream.
Specifically, do we dream only to have a result, or do we learn something in the process?
Now, I know we looked at a Bible verse today from the Book of Acts.
Specifically, Acts 18, verses 1-11.
We could talk all evening about the dreamers in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.
We could talk about Joseph, who dreamed of a fabulous coat that reflected his dream of power and position.
We could talk about about Moses, who dreamed he would bring God’s people to the Promised Land.
We could talk about the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Samuel and Elijah, and even Daniel…
We could talk about the visions, dreams and prophecies of Mary, Joseph, Zechariah and Anna.
And what John of Patmos saw before he sat down to write the Book of Revelation.
Acting on dreams
What if they didn’t act on their dreams?
What if they never shared their prophecies?
What if they ket their visions to themselves?
What if they were afraid?
In our reading, we see Paul early in his ministry, not long after his conversion…
…When Jesus blinds Saul on the way to Damascus?
Saul — whose privilege afforded him a rich and full life.
Saul — once a pharisee who persecuted people for following Jesus.
Saul — who oversaw the murder of Stephen.
He is blind only to “see.”
He is converted and convicted there on the spot,
and he becomes Paul.
And now this former Jewish pharisee, who persecuted Christians, is preaching the Good News and trying to convert Jews to become followers of the Messiah, of Christ!
It doesn’t go so well at first — especially as he’s traveling to dangerous territories…
Territories like Rome, in which persecution of the Christians had begun in earnest..
Where Christians are being expelled — deported — from the city.
And Paul is afraid.
But he has a dream, and God tells him these words beginning in Verse 9:
“Don’t be afraid. Continue speaking. Don’t be silent. I’m with you and no one who attacks you will harm you, for I have many people in this city.”
And Paul goes on to preach for 18 months in Corinth—
longer than he’s stayed in any one place.
And the two letters that we know of to the Corinthians are some of the most profound teachings in all of the New Testament.
Thirteen Letters in our Bible are credited to Paul, and they represent nearly a third of the New Testament itself.
What if Paul didn’t follow the dream?
You know, we tend to look at the Bible and say “Well, these prophets, visionaries and dreamers were all incredible people blessed by God.
“They were incredibly gifted.”
No they weren’t.
I mean, they all certainly had gifts — just like any of us…
But they were as unlikely candidates as the rest of us may be.
Moses was not a great orator. Worse, he was a murderer.
Paul might have been very well-educated, but he was a Jew who persecuted Christians now trying to convert Jews to Christianity.
Joseph was dead last among his brothers.
And so was David.
Elijah, Jeremiah, Samuel, Anna, Zecheriah, Joseph & Mary!
They were nobodies.
What if they didn’t act on those dreams?
Acting on our dreams
Now clearly — and we probably want to get this stuff straight —
We all dream.
We all remember only a fraction of our dreams.
We all have nightmares from time to time.
We’re not so much talking about those routine dreams…
You know, where you’re trying to complete a task and you can’t find the thing you need to complete it…
…or you show up to school unprepared for a test…
No, what we’re talking about is something the Spirit convicts you of — whether it comes in a dream (like at night);
or in a vision through meditation and prayer;
or even in a prophecy — that is, imagining a new reality and dreaming of a way to make that reality possible.
We all have these abilities.
What we don’t all have is a lifestyle that maybe accommodates them well.
What do I mean by that?
The things that block us from dreaming, imagining, prophesying and visioning are:
The distractions in our lives — all the schedules and hamster wheels and shiny things we’ve cluttered our lives with so that we don’t have the time to spend hoping, praying and imagining new realities. Dreaming? It's a waste of time, our culture tells us;
Our lack of faith: Do we really actually believe that the still,small voice inside of us is real? Can we possibly be moved by something we cannot see?; and
Failure to be creative: We’ve forgotten how to be creative. The very thing that makes us like God is that we are created in God’s image. And God is incredibly creative. Why aren't we? When is the last time you played imaginatively? When’s the last time you held a paint brush, a pen, or chalk or a camera or clay — and imagined what could be created with your own hands?
It’s not whether you can create the Mona Lisa or the Venus de Milo…
It’s not whether you can pen “Of Mice and Men” or “Moon over Half Dome,” like Ansel Adams.
For every Sistine Chapel, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of scribblings on sketch pads and napkins.
These are all magnificent pieces that have changed the world, but the process — don’t forget — also changed the person who holds the paint, clay, chalk, pen or camera…
The dream isn’t just the outcome; the process is the very thing that changes us.
God tells Paul not to be afraid; to keep dreaming, to keep pursuing, to keep going…
And we must keep dreaming, too.
Keep striving to make those dreams come true.
What does that look like in our world today?
Well, what kind of dream do you have for the world?
One of the most-noteworthy dreamers who ever lived might just have been Martin Luther King Jr.
He had a dream, and he wasn’t afraid to tell anyone about it.
He wasn’t afraid to work for that dream, no matter than it eventually cost him his life!
Was his dream realized?
No, not completely.
It goes beyond systematic discrimination and aggression toward those of different skin colors…
That hate is still alive and well.
But the needle didn’t just move with Dr. King’s dream; it jumped, and boy, it jumped big.
What dreams do we give our lives for?
Are they the right dreams?
Hey, a lot of us dream of a big house and a shiny new car and the corner office where we work…
We sacrifice hours and hours away from our families in trade to acquire all these things.
We lose sleep worrying about losing a rung on the ladder.
Go to bed too late, get up to early.
There are no dreams of anything else allowed!
Then get to the end of one’s life and look back at all those years spend away from growing kids, and family and church and husbands and wives…
That needle doesn’t really move when it comes to the things God wants for us.
No, God wants for us to live in a wonderful community with people who know, love and trust one another.
Who celebrate God’s wonderful gifts and grace together.
Where we take care of one another and no one goes without.
Where we’re not fearful or hateful because of what we’re afraid we’re going to lose;
but we’re generous and sincere with all that we have been given by God.
In his book, Love Does, Christian author and speaker Bob Goff writes about how his family used to abhor New Year’s Day.
The most boring holiday of the year.
Think of it, what do we do on that day?
Do you know it’s one of the most popular days to go to the movies?
Half the world is hung-over or sleepy from staying up too late.
Most of the time, it’s just us in sweatpants sitting on the couch watching bad football games…
One particular New Year’s Day, Bob’s young kids echoed all this…
They were bored.
Bob dreamed of making the day special.
After all, it was a day off from work and school, and it was a holiday.
Why not make it memorable.
He tells the story of how he and his family came up with an idea to have a neighborhood parade that would culminate in their backyard for a barbecue dinner.
Everyone was invited: The only rule was that you had to partake in the parade — no spectators were allowed.
The family went door to door around their blocks, and invited everyone to the afternoon parade.
Apparently, everyone else was stuck in the same doldrums…
And that afternoon, all the people gathered.
Some dressed up. Some brought instruments. Some brought pets…
And they paraded around their block and had a wonderful barbecue.
It was a memorable time.
So memorable, that the next year, the neighbors all asked if they would do it again.
After several years, the Goffs had to move away.
But the parade still goes on…
What if they never dreamed that something so awesome could happen?
Well, I think we can look outside our windows and see a lack of courage.
A lack of courage to dream and to do.
But I also think that there are still dreamers and doers here in Bellefonte and around the world.
We have wonderful events in town here.
We have festivals and churches and organizations that aren’t afraid to dream big.
We just need more of them.
More Bob Goffs. More MLKs.
More Marys and Annas and Josephs and Isaiahs.
People who are unafraid to hold the clay in their hands and begin dreaming of what that lump of earth could actually be.
People who can hold a pliable neighborhood or community in their hands and dream of shaping it into something more wonderful.
People who can dare to dream and have the prayerful courage to make that dream a reality.
Spend time with whatever clay that’s in your hands.
And as you move it around your palms and work at it with your fingers, be unafraid.
Don’t worry about whether you’ve created anything with it before.
Don’t worry about what others may think.
Because the gift is the ability to dream.
Don’t lose sight of that.
God is the master sculptor, the master builder, the master of the universe.
And we are all made in God’s wonderful image.
Let’s create life, too.