A Million Dreams

A Million Dreams

And he said, “Hear my words: When there are prophets among you, I the Lord make myself known to them in visions; I speak to them in dreams.
~ Numbers 12:6 (NRSV)

 

A Million Dreams

Friends, as Pastor Kelly has said, up until now we pondered the dreams that have made the church what it is today. Today, we start talking about how each of us dreams and envisions ways of “being church.” Eventually, we will talk about how to bring all of our dreams together, but for today we each get to dream our own dreams. I’m even going to encourage to dream not only dream one dream but to dream a million dreams. But first, let’s remember where we started.

As Pastor Kelly reminded us two weeks ago, back in September, we centered ourselves on scripture from Pentecost: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.” We talked about how overwhelming it must have felt for the disciples to start the Christian church. We discussed how the disciples did not envision the church building with tall steeples, but instead, they dreamed of community. As they reflected on their faith in Jesus, the disciples dreamed about relationships and how they could work together and support each other. The disciples knew they were called to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth, but boy was that a huge job! That dream felt enormous, and the disciples knew they had to start with smaller dreams. They started local. They dreamed small, saw where that took them, and expanded their dreams as they saw the fruits of the efforts grow. Because of incremental dreams, more than two thousand years later, the story of Jesus is still being told, reaching new generations today. As Pastor Kelly reminded us, the job was too big for the disciples alone. It took all of the followers of Jesus—including us!—to continue sharing the stories and teaching others by their own example, just as Jesus had taught the disciples long ago.

A couple of weeks ago, Pastor Kelly also reminded us of the dream of the founders of this church. In 1712, our church was founded by a group of hard-working pioneers who came to settle in this area. But it was the words from the 1894 sermon given by the Rev. John Whitehill, who served this church for over fifty years, that enlightened us to the vision for the future of Oldtown and his challenge for this congregation.

The early settlers who came hither put time, thought, labor and money into this religious institution, which we have as an inheritance from them. And what is there of all that they did which is now yielding richer results? These precious results are not confined to the present. All generations in the town’s history have been reaping them. Let the visible fruits of the effort of the pioneers be an inspiration to us. What they accomplished, they accomplished through a whole-hearted devotion to the interests of religion. We claim to be in some things more enlightened than they. But if we are, or if we so regard ourselves, then our responsibilities are greater than theirs. How can we meet those greater responsibilities unless we give ourselves as fully as they did to the service of the Lord?”

Lastly, we discussed the dream of our denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC). The UCC formed when the Evangelical Reform Church and the Congregational Church merged under an organic dream. The dream of the UCC is heard in the motto: “That they may all be one.” “That they may all be one” was Jesus’ prayer for the church universal, and it is our prayer as a denomination that we may all work together to be united and uniting. You may remember that part of the dream of the UCC is that every church holds its own autonomy. In other words, every church owns its own building, has its own governing structure, and is able to make its own discernment of how its congregation responds to God’s still speaking voice within it. The UCC is an organic covenant born out of the dreams of the many churches that are a part of it.

With all of those dreams fresh in our minds, let us now turn the topic of our dreams. After all, if the original disciples hadn’t shared their own dreams, we wouldn’t even be here having these discussions today. What is a dream? And what does it mean to dream? And once we have dreamed, what does it mean to share our dream? Because until we first dream our dream and in turn share it, we may never see it come to fruition.

Our Scripture today, Numbers 12:6, tells us that “(God) said, ‘Hear my words: When there are prophets among you, I the Lord make myself know to them in visions; I speak to them in dreams.’” God speaks to us in dreams. We prophesy through our connections to God made known to us in our dreams. A dream is a series of thoughts, images that occur while a person is asleep. To dream is to contemplate the possibility of doing something or what something might be. A dream is a vision which God bestows upon our heart and mind, and then it is our job to share those dreams and discern among others how our dreams intertwine to make one vision.

In the 2017 musical, “The Greatest Showman,” which happened to make its debut in the cinema, we follow Hugh Jackman’s character P.T. Barnum from his childhood through the trials and tribulations of seeing his ultimate dream of creating a place were, no matter who you are or how much of a misfit society tells you that you are, you are welcome. In a song rightfully titled “A Million Dreams,” written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, P.T. Barnum reminds us that:

We close our eyes and we can see
The world that’s waiting up for us,
That we call our own.
Through the dark, through the door,
Through where no one’s been before,
But it feels like home
They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy.
They can say, they can say we’ve lost our minds.
We don’t care, we don’t cate, so call us crazy.
We can live in a world that we design.
‘Cause every night we lie in bed,
The brightest colors fill our heads.
A million dreams are keeping us awake.
We think of what the world could be,
A vision of the one we see.
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take.
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.

As the song goes on, P.T. Barnum reminds us:

However big, however small,
Let us be part of it all.
Share your dreams with us
You may be right, you may be wrong,
But say that you’ll bring us along
To the world you see,
To the world we close our eyes to see,
We close our eyes to see.
Every night we lie in bed,
The brightest colors fill our heads.
A million dreams are keeping us awake.
A million dreams, a million dreams,
We think of what the world could be.
A vision of the one we see.
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take,
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.
© 2017, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, WMG, Atlantic Records

Ok, so I’ve changed the “I’s” to “we’s”, but friends, the idea remains the same. Every Christ-follower, from generations long before us to generations long after us, has dreamt and will dream a million ways to be the church God, under the guidance of how Jesus Christ has called us to be. But in order to see how those million dreams work together and fit into one, we have to not only dream but share our dreams with each other.

Sharing our dreams is the scary part. What if no one understands our dreams? What if everyone laughs at our dreams? What if my dream is completely different from someone else’s? There a million “what ifs” that make it scary, but what about the million “what if’s” that make sharing fruitful? What if a small piece of your dream sparks a dream in someone else? What if your dream fills in the missing piece of someone else’s dream? What if…? What if…? What if…? There are a million “what ifs,” and I’m sure in the coming weeks, as talk about each of our Million Dreams, we will talk about ways to share our dreams, we will talk about holding onto each others’ dreams as well as our own, and we will talk about the “what ifs” that come up. But for today, my friends, I want you to know that it’s ok to dream a million dreams of what our community could be. It’s ok to come back excited to share each and every dream because it’s all of our dreams that will form into one large dream going forward.

As we move out into the week, dreaming our million dreams, I would like to read something I wrote a couple of years ago for a class assignment. Some of you know I wrote this, and others of you never knew about it. My assignment was to read an article by a contemporary theologian, Walter Winks, called “The Angels of the Churches.” In the article, Winks talks about how he believes every church has a spirit, an Angel, and by simply spending time observing every aspect of the church, from the parking lot down to the coffee stirrers at coffee hour, you can experience the church angel working in the congregation. My assignment was to observe a church when minimal people were there and in which I had little to no experience. At that time, I had only preached here a couple of times, and I had never been to any other worship, church supper, church fair, or event. I knew Pastor Kelly pretty well, and I heard through the grapevine that is the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC that amazing things were happening here, but I hadn’t been immersed in it yet. By sharing this, I’m not trying to sway your dreams one way or another. I hope it is simply a way to get you thinking about your own experience and dreams for this community. So here goes. Talk about the scary side of sharing your dreams, I’m about to tell all of you, from my heart, what I think of our church:

After reading Walter Winks’ “The Angels of the Churches,” I was inspired to spend a little time seeing if I could discern what the church angel of First Congregational Church, UCC, also known as Oldtown, in North Attleboro Massachusetts, may be like. Oldtown is the mother church of my home church, Second Congregational Church, UCC, in Attleboro, Massachusetts. As a young child, my family and I would drive by Oldtown’s building, and it always seemed to call out, “Come on in! We have warm cookies and friendly faces inside!”

Earlier this summer, I had the honor and privilege of guest-preaching for two weeks at Oldtown, and I discovered just what type of cookies and smiles everyone in the congregation was offering. What I discovered is that everyone inside was as warm and friendly as the welcoming facade of the building and that Oldtown is a church that embraces family. The congregation is not only proud to say that they are the mother church of a large family of churches, but they are also a church that embraces “doing and being church” as a family.  Oldtown proudly displays their family lineage on a “family tree” mural painted prominently on a wall in their fellowship hall. The mural displays the names and founding dates of all eight of its daughter churches, along with Newman Congregational Church, UCC, which is the mother church of Oldtown. With their congregation firmly rooted in family traditions, Oldtown “does Church” as a family.

Each time I walked into the Church, I was welcomed with an amazingly warm, cozy feeling. Like that warm “I’m home” feeling you get when you walk into your parents’ house for Thanksgiving when the house is filled with the sounds of family banter and the warm smells of turkey and apple pie baking in the oven. As you walk through the church, the evidence of family is everywhere—from matchbox cars left on pews waiting for young friends to come to play, to cat-ear headbands hanging from hymn bookshelves calling for youngsters to come with imaginations. First Congregational Church’s church angel, like a grandmother, awaits the weekly visits of her family. She is always prepared to welcome everyone through her doors.

Based on my observations of First Congregational Church, UCC, the Church Angel is a thriving “motherly-type” angel. The angel, much like a mother, is always sitting proudly among her family, listening, encouraging, and gently reminding her congregants to welcome everyone warmly and lovingly into their family. The Angel of Oldtown enjoys reveling in the achievements of her congregants. And when family tiffs crop up, the angel sits patiently among feuding members as a listening ear and a gentle presence, reminding everyone involved they are doing God’s work, that family still loves each other even when they don’t agree.

I can imagine that one of the Oldtown Church Angel’s favorite moments is the same as mine: at the end of each service when the benediction begins, the pew doors fly open and the children go running up the stairs to “ride the rope” and ring the church bell, ringing the Good News of God’s love out into the community. I imagine that at the first sound of the pew doors unlocking, the Oldtown Angel is radiantly beaming Grandmotherly pride. (Just as a side note: as a person leading worship, this moment in the service can be both exciting and a little unsettling the first time you experience it. Oldtown has a reverse pulpit, meaning the pulpit is at the front of the church between the doors where you traditionally would enter the church. As you begin the benediction, the pew doors fly open and all the children run directly at you to get through the doors next to you as fast as they can!)

It is my observation that the Church Angel is flourishing at First Congregational Church, UCC, in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. The Angel of Oldtown is a very motherly Angel who likes to be surrounded by her family. She welcomes everyone with wide-open arms and is ready to give anyone great big warm hugs. You know the type: where the head of the person being hugged fits nicely under the hugger’s chin and the hugger’s entire upper body wraps around the shoulders of the person being hugged, the kind of warm hug we all need sometimes when we are feeling overwhelmed or lonely.

While First Church’s Angel does not like to see her family in disagreement, she is always at the table with a guiding hand to help point to an agreeable resolution.

Oldtown, under the gentle guidance and steady direction of their church Angel, has had a long history of family-centered Christian community and outreach that has fostered and continues to foster hope and love in and beyond its four walls. Oldtown is, in my opinion, a church that lives out the teaching of Jesus Christ in a loving, compassionate, family-centered way.

Now, if I was to give a name to Oldtown’s Church Angel I would name her “Apple Pie,” because when you’re present at Oldtown, it is the same warm, sweet, “at-home” feeling you get when you eat a piece of warm, freshly-baked apple pie.

Peace and love to all of you today.

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