St Andrew’s Parish of Indooroopilly
1 Samuel 3.1-10
Psalm 139.1-5, 12-18
1 Corinthians 6.12-20
Sunday 17 January
Dreaming our own dreams ©Suzanne Grimmett “He had all the wrong dreams, all, all wrong. He never knew who he was.”
These tragic words are delivered by Biff Loman in the Arthur Miller play, “The Death of a Salesman.” He is speaking about his father, Willy, who for his whole life had been deluded by the American Dream of quick success and easy money in a land of financial possibility, where he would be loved and respected by all for becoming the self-made man of family, property and financial prosperity. Such dreams are founded, of course, on a strident individualism, which can only exist when life is perceived as a competition where sometimes you need to stand on others on your way up the ladder. This is heard clearly in the play when Willy’s other son, Happy, objects to Biff’s assessment of his father saying, “It’s the only dream you can have — to come out number-one man.”
Our culture and the point in history in which we happen to be born determines so much of our performed identity. It is terribly easy to conform to a dream that is wrong for us. It is dangerously easy to replace God with some big other in our lives, whether that be a religious or political leader or celebrity, who tells us what is the right dream for us. It is tragically easy to spend a lifetime following the wrong questions, when all the while, there is another more beautiful question to be asked that would help us live into the identity we were always meant to claim.
I am not one generally to quote John Calvin, but I think he is saying something wonderfully important in the opening words of his Institutes of Religion;
Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.
Knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves are intertwined and interdependent. To know one is to know the other because the soul and God belong together. Psalm 139 today tells us of God’s intimate knowledge of us;
1 O Lord, you have searched me out and known me:
you know when I sit or when I stand,
you comprehend my thoughts long before.
2 You discern my path and the places where I rest:
you are acquainted with all my ways.
To think we are completely self-determined is an illusion that may be reinforced by our culture, but is a perilous illusion nonetheless as it is full of pride. Rather, God is the one who formed us in our mother’s womb and in whom ‘we live and move and have our being’. Gratitude and trust are responses which can nudge us beyond our small dreams to our responsibility to share in bringing to fruition the big dream of God. We are invited into a beautiful dynamic of knowing and being known.
This is partly what the epistle of Paul to the troublesome church in Corinth is all about. It is not a diatribe against sex but rather a call to reorder our lives to first and foremost love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. We may have a commitment to career, wealth, power, reputation, sex, nation, church, tribe, family or ethnic group, and many of these are good things, but we are not meant to live solely for them. If we do, we lay ourselves open to being enslaved and addicted when we are called by Christ to a life of freedom. We also can find ourselves, like the salesman Willy Loman, not knowing ourselves and living a life with all the wrong dreams.
To strive for another’s standard of success as an individual, to be the self-made man or woman, is always going to be the wrong dream because it robs us of relationship as long as it pits us against one another. The paradox is that we need others if we are to know ourselves. Loving God and loving one another are two sides of the one coin, and it is the work of faith.
It is this work that Jesus models for us, as he sets out, calling disciples to follow and claiming his identity as the beloved of God. He does not have a mega church auditorium with multiple cameras for the livestream, a high tech sound desk and hundreds of kids in the Sunday School. He begins with what he has, with just a few followers drawn from Galilean fishing harbours and some local town dwellers who like to sit around under fig trees. What I love about the story we have of the call of Phillip and Nathanael is that the call went out through these lines of relationship, with Philip urging Nathanael, “Come and see!” We point the way of God for one another. In the beautiful story from the Hebrew scriptures of the call of Samuel, the young, sleepy Samuel needs Eli to enable him to recognise God’s voice, but Eli needs Samuel to show him the new thing God is doing. How much we need all of the generations together as we listen for the voice of God.
In the Gospel account of calling, Philip does not expect Nathanael to believe on his word, or from his careful theological arguments or expression of accepted dogma. The call is always to experience for ourselves the goodness of the way of Jesus, and our faith to grow from that experience. Too often I believe we think of faith as believing things that are actually really difficult to believe. How much more free might we feel if instead we allowed ourselves and one another the time and liberty to “Come and see”. I wonder if we take enough time to share with one another the experiences we have of the goodness and action of God in our everyday lives.
We need to know ourselves even as we are fully known. We need to take the time for that venture, and this is something that we can and need to do both individually and corporately.
How do we determine what it means to follow the way of Christ in our individual lives and in our life together?
I think to take the lesson of Jesus calling his disciples, we are start close in, from who we are and what we have. We don’t begin with a list of beliefs and try to gather people who will conform. This is not how Jesus began to call his followers. He starts close in, stepping into his immediate surrounds and community and living out his divine path. Then one after another people begin to say, “Come and see.”
What would people need to see in our community that would prompt them to say. “Come and See”? How do we start close in, following Jesus in this place and not seeking to copy some blueprint for mission we have seen elsewhere, or become anxious because we are not meeting some measure of success as determined by culture? Our churches today still so often evaluate success in terms of attendance and the size of a youth group and forget to celebrate the gift of who they actually are and what God is doing already in their midst. How do we stop dreaming the dreams dictated by others and seek instead to live into the unique dream God holds for us? Is the conversation we are holding with ourselves here at St Andrew’s, enlarging or shrinking our vision?
God is always doing something new; always waking us up and comforting us with the knowledge that no matter how dark the day, the light of God still shines. May we learn to turn aside from dreams that are too small for us, and dream instead God’s dream. And may we follow again and again the call to come and see, making our lives the answer to the most beautiful questions and claiming our identity as God’s beloved community. +Amen