Dreaming in Difficult Times

Dreaming in Difficult Times

July 18, 2021 • Rev. Nicole Caldwell-Gross

Over the last several weeks, we’ve been connecting the dots in the story of Joseph. And after week one “it doesn’t make sense” and week twos “ I’m a survivor” we’ve come to the week on dreams. This is what my Princeton preaching professor would call “good muddy preaching ground”. The kind of preaching ground where you could talk until your red in the face, where you could tell story after story, five biblical examples and historical examples of a God who dreams, who gives us dreams that change people’s lives, that change the course of history, that change the world! So, if there’s a week that a preacher would volunteer themselves to preach this would be it!  

And so on Monday afternoon, I sat down with my commentaries, iPad and hot coffee ready to write the best sermon that’s ever been written on the subject of dreams! I arched my wrists on the keyboard and my fingers wouldn’t move. Try as I might, hour after hour the blank page stared at me, and not a single sentence would come. At first, I thought it was just writers block but when the same thing happened Tuesday and Wednesday, I realized I had a problem. I realized that if preaching is really just telling the truth, then the truth is that I’m not sure I know how to dream anymore. 

Over the last several months I’ve watched dreams turn into nightmares: I’ve planned socially distanced funerals, prayed with parents whose child was in the throes of addiction, counseling a couple contemplating divorce, spike vigils for mass shootings, hate crimes and am still hoping against hope that a single parent with 6 children would find a new job.  

This global pandemic has been dream-shattering and for so many of us and it doesn’t yet seem like the nightmare is over. Because we may want to connect the dots, to imagine a bigger, more blessed, and more beautiful picture God has for our lives but it’s hard to connect the dots when they’re still written in pencil. It’s hard when every “when” is accompanied by an “if” in parenthesis. It’s hard to dream when sometimes it still feels like the nightmare may never end. 

If you’re there today-you’re not alone, in fact it’s where we find Joseph in the 40th chapter of the book of Genesis: a dreamer in the midst of a nightmare.   

You we first met Joseph he was a coffee toting, colored coat wearing, tattle telling dreamer. My scriptural imagination lends me the license to suggest that when he spoke often he flipped his hair like this. I have no scriptural evidence to support this but in my mind that’s Joseph. But then we moved to another dot, the dot where he was out of pulled of the pit his jealous brothers had thrown him. The dot where he survived what tried to kill him and the sold into slavery in Egypt. Its there in this dot, that it seems like the other ones are starting to line up. Like God’s dream for Jospeh’s life is starting to take shape. Joseph is sold as a slave in the household of an Egyptian official named Potiphar.  

The dots just keep connecting and Joseph rises through the ranks until he’s managing the entire household. Genesis 39 says that Potiphar didn’t even know what was happening- he had full trust and confidence in his Joseph. And I’m sure that when Joseph laid down at night, he couldn’t help but feel like his dreams were on schedule. He dreamed he’d be a leader, he dreamed he’d be ruling over others and look at him now! Leading the household of an officer in the court of the most powerful country in the ancient near East!  

Dreams do come true! Dots do line up ….until they don’t. Without warning the dots began to disconnect and what looked like like a dream became a nightmare. Potiphar’s wife relentlessly pursued Joseph and when he wouldn’t agree to an affair she framed him for assault. And Now, Joseph finds himself in jail beneath the very officers home where he used to be in charge. Perhaps, hearing the padded footsteps of the people he used to lead and moving on and moving forward on top of him.  

Now this may seem extreme because hopefully none of us are living in an episode of the young and the restless or have had cause to frequent dungeon jails.#no judgment. But that doesn’t mean that life hasn’t disconnected the dots for us. Because while God gives us dreams, God doesn’t guarantee living them will be easy. For each of us have had those seasons where it seems like all the dots are lining up, where things are finally falling into place, where the picture is coming into view and that’s when we get the call about the accident. That’s when we leave the doctors office with the diagnosis. That’s when the marriage starts heading towards divorce. That’s when the job begins downsizing.That’s when the variant begins to spread. That’s when the dream becomes a nightmare.  

And if we’re not careful we can forget how to dream. We can descend into dungeons too dark for us to see the dots connecting. We can forget that there was once a time where we imagined the impossible and expected God to make it happen.  

And that’s where some of stay. That’s where some of us are right now. But not Joseph. Joseph teaches us through this text 3 ways to keep dreaming through a nightmare and the first is this: don’t let your conditions determine your character. Joseph is in prison. You might expect him to assimilate to the reality of his condition. After all he’s around people that may have committed heinous crimes and this sheltered youngest son may not have the street smarts to navigate a dungeon jail. Maybe he ought to change the way he walks, out a little bass in his voice or try to orchestrate some demonstration of his strength so that other prisoners wouldn’t think he’s someone to mess with. In prison, its survival of the fittest and to make it you may have to make yourself over.  

But not Joseph, at the end of chapter 39 we have a déjà vu moment where we learn that Joseph has been appointed to leader of the prison. Like he was appointed the leader of his brothers, like he was appointed leader of Potiphar’s house.   

Wherever he goes he’s like cream in the coffee rising to the top. And while we often talk about the dream of Joseph and we fail to remember the character of Joseph. Because when the dots seem disconnected- the temptation is to let where we determine who we are. To let our condition determine our character. But Joseph is a leader no matter what, no matter where, no matter who is watching. You put him in a palace, a pasture or a prison and Joseph is consistent in his character.  

And perhaps the question for us today is not are we holding on to our dream but are we holding on to our character?  

If God said we are a leader, are we leading only when we have the power?  

If God said we are a builder are we building only when we have the position?  

Or are we who God says we are no matter where we are?  

Because the key to holding on to our dreams is not all the dots being connected but our character being consistent.  

There’s just one challenge- there always: If we are not careful we may stop being consistent because on the surface the dream looks dead. Stay with me- it’s easy to be consistent when we can see results. It’s harder to maintain our consistency when it looks as if our dreams have died. Because what we don’t see on the surface of our text is that biblical scholars contend that the time that has passed between the end of chapter 39 and the beginning of chapter 40 is ten years!  

Joseph has been languishing in this dungeon prison longer than he was employed in Potiphar’s house! And each year, his dots haven’t starting connecting. Each year, he’s still in the same place. In the darkness, in the dungeon is where dreams come to die.  

But here it is here the second lesson of this text: we can hold on to our dreams through a nightmare if we don’t mistake dormancy for death.  

Now pastor Jevon told you that we had a landscaping company come to our home a few weeks back but what he didn’t tell you was this was in an intervention. I should be in a dungeon prison- not Joseph. Beach’s I’m guilty of multiple homicides- murdering plants in the first degree. So many young plants thought they had their whole lives ahead of them until they met me. It’s hard to admit but I’ve killed plants in pots. I’ve slaughtered entire garden beds. I even managed to plant a tree that’s the nursery owner said it was impossible to kill and it too died. But there’s one plant that has survived even my murderous green thumb.  

In our first home in New Jersey there were hostas. Some people love hostas but to me they took up so much space in the garden that I planned for more colorful flowers. So, one spring- I took a shovel, dug up the hostas and ans planted rows and rows of my beautiful, colorful flowers in its place. A few months later, when I came to the crime scene of my garden- every flower I planted had gone on to be with the Lord, except one: I was in shock to find a blooming hosta! 

I couldn’t understand it! How could this plant still be alive? Unlike every other one, I had tried to kill it and it was alive! I had dug it up and thrown it on the trash myself! So, I called on my neighbor- a far more experienced gardener than I am to explain this resurrection plant phenomena. He said that I when I dug it up-I only removed what I could see on the surface but I had missed the roots underneath.  

And the roots were not dead- they were just dormant. So when the season changed, new shoots of hosta leaves emerged because what I thought was dead life was living underneath the surface. And I wonder if that’s a message God wants to remind somebody here today? I know it’s been months, I know it’s been years, I know it doesn’t seem like anything is happening on the surface. But if you hear nothing else hear this: 

Your dreams aren’t done- they’re just dormant. 

Your dreams aren’t denied- they’re just dormant.  

Your dreams aren’t dead- they’re just dormant.  

Underneath the surface, where you and I cannot see, God is still working. God is still tilling the soil, God is still nurturing the roots, God is still is digging out the weeds -so that our dreams can breakthrough to the surface! We just can’t mistake dormancy for death.  

And here it is: what helps us see the life in dreams that look dormant is hearing the dreams of others.  

When we pick back up with Joseph in our text, his dream looks dormant. It’s been over a decade since he was put in prison. But because he is who is, no matter where he is- Joseph has been appointed an attendant to other prisoners, royal prisoners. The cup bearer and the chief baker of pharaoh. They had done something to offend his majesty and found themselves in this dungeon jail too.  

And one night, they both have a dream- a dream that disturbs them. They’re not sure what the dream means and they’re so upset that the text says that their faces are downcast.. And Joseph does something that many of us struggle to do when the dots aren’t connecting. Joseph does something that many of us struggle to do when our dreams look dormant: Joseph says tell me your dreams .  

And I know, I know what you’re thinking: that sounds like torture! Because when the dots aren’t connecting in our life, when our dreams look dormant- the last thing, the very last thing that we want to do is listen to the dreams of somebody else! We don’t want to hear about the promotion when we’re still looking for the job! We don’t want to hear about baby number two when we’re still struggling to conceive! We don’t want to hear about the dreams being fulfilled in someone else’s life because it’s a painful reminder of the unfulfilled dreams in ours.  

But not Joseph. Joseph says tell me your dreams because he realizes that God is not limited to fulfilling one dream at a time.  

Jospeh says tell me your dreams because God has not placed us in a zero sum game against one another, where only one person can win! 

Jospeh says tell me your dreams because God promises us life and life abundantly. Not abundant life, one person, one dream at a time.   

Joseph says tell me your dreams. Because, in God's economy- there is enough. Enough dreams to go around. Enough dreams to be fulfilled. And what If, what if listening to other people dreams helped us to fulfill our own?  

When you get home keep reading chapter 40. Because when Joseph listens to the dream of the cupbearer, he interprets it. He lets him know that own day he’ll be released and once again serve Pharoah. The one person who has the power and authority to being joseph out of prison. He asks the cupbearer that when he gets to pharaoh to remember him. He’s not sure if he will, you’ll to wait til next week to find out! But he sure that there’s a possibility. There’s a possibility that this man's dream could wake up his own.  

And we see this not just in the life of Joseph but we saw this 2 weeks ago on the stage of the Scripps national spelling bee. Two weeks ago Zalia Avant Garde was one word away from being crowned the first African American champion.  

When Zalia was interviewed by reporters, she said that in the seconds before being asked to spell her last word, she thought she thought of Macnolia Cox. A woman she’d never met but a woman whose dreams she’d heard of. 85 years earlier Macnolia was the first African American to advance to the finals. But she, was segregated from the rest of the competition and knocked out in the fifth round when was asked to spell a word not on the official list.  

And Zalia says that when she remembered her dream, that’s when she calmly put her head down and spelled the winning word.  

And maybe that’s what Joseph remembered when he listened to the cupbearers dream. He remembered a dream that was dormant but not dead. He remembered what was still might be possible. His dream was awakened in hearing someone else’s.  

So I ask you what Joseph did thousands of years ago: tell me your dreams.