On August 28, 1963 a speech was delivered that would forever change the course of America. The speech was given from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington DC, and heard live by more than 250,000 people. It was then broadcast, heard and read by millions more.
The language this address conveyed proved to be pivotal, coming in the middle of the civil rights movement, and played an important role in our national dialogue. The speech later led to a slew of new legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
The 1,667 words this speech contains was later rated the top American speech of the 20th century. That’s according to a 1999 poll of scholars fluent in public addresses.
The results, societal change and accolades this speech garnered have elevated its author into the stratosphere of beloved American orators, right alongside Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.
Most importantly, these words continue to influence millions in the here and now. These days you can easily watch it online via Youtube. Personally I try and fire it up every January to get re-inspired all over again.
From school-aged children to adults well into their twilight years, it’s almost impossible to not know the author and title of this famous speech by name.
We’re talking, of course, about the I Have a Dream speech, delivered by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The speech is a look back, at ideals we know and love, that all people are created equal.
The speech is a look at the present, a realization that these ideals have not yet been entirely realized.
And the speech, above all else, is a look forward. It’s a look forward to a time when King’s high ideals shift from far-off dream to present day reality.
These ideals are conveyed brilliantly in that simple, yet elegant turn of a phrase:
I have a dream.
King’s is a message of hope, and of joy. It is a glimpse beyond our current challenges, into a peaceful utopian future when, according to the dream, all will be as it should.
What a big, big dream.
Isaiah 65:17-25 is a shining example of a grand scriptural dream.
Like Martin Luther King’s famous speech this text too is distinguished. One theologian concludes there is nothing like it to be found anywhere else in the Old Testament. Another describes it as one of the most remarkable passages in all of Scripture. I tend to agree; the language this passage contains simply soars.
Like the famous 1963 Dream speech, the prophet Isaiah takes a look back. Things were good back at the time of creation, we’re reminded. All was well.
Like King’s Dream speech, the prophet speaks to current reality. God’s people find themselves in exile, needing to rebuild a broken culture, a broken land. All is no longer well.
And, like King’s Dream speech, most importantly, the prophet speaks to the future. The Oracle of the Lord conveys a divine revelation about this new, bright destination that is to come. All will be well again.
And that’s something we can get seriously excited about.
What I’d like to do next is to retell this text using the language of dreams. Martin Luther King’s dream, as relevant as it continues to be, is but a part of God’s vast, vast dream for all of creation. Here we go.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties, of today and tomorrow, God *still* has a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the dream our Abba Father has had, for humanity, from the very beginning.
God has a dream, of creating new heavens and a new earth, one that will hardly resemble the one we presently inhabit.
God has a dream, so strong, that when finally realized, the former world we see today won’t even be remembered. Instead, these new heavens and new earth will seem they’ve been as they should be, and have been, the entire time. God has a dream.
So vivid, that when we reach for it God’s people can’t help but be glad. God’s people will rejoice forever in this new creation, filled with unending delight, everlasting joy. God has a dream.
That no more shall the earth be filled with weeping, no more will cries of distress be heard. God has a dream today.
God has a dream, that no more shall infants live but a few days, but instead, they will prosper for all their days. No more, in God’s dream, will there be any person who does not live a full and complete life. In God’s dream, one who dies at a hundred years will be considered quite young. God has a dream today.
God has a dream, that those who build houses shall make enough to inhabit those same houses. And those that plant vineyards will no longer struggle to provide for their families. Instead, those workers will fill the stomachs of all in their care with the fruits of their labors.
God has a dream, that not one soul shall labor in vain. In God’s dream all are compensated fairly, enough that all their earthly needs are met.
God has a dream, that no longer will parents birth children born into calamity, fearing a future unknown. Instead, in God’s dream, each inhabitant of our lands are abundantly blessed by the Lord, along with their descendants, their descendants descendants, and for all generations to come.
God has a dream, so complete, that our needs will be met, even before they are given voice! Before we call to the heavens, the answer will already be in hand.
God has a dream, so incredible, that the wolf and the lamb shall feed together. The lion and the ox shall both eat straw. In God’s dream there is no kill or be killed. There is no domination of one part of creation over another. God’s dream points us to pursue peace, among people, and nations. In God’s dream there is no room for warfare in our lands. God has a dream.
And God has a dream powerful enough that the serpent, the symbol of original sin in the garden of Eden, is relegated to dust. Left to a state of nothingness. The separation from God and each other this serpent wrought on our world is now no more. God has a dream.
Back to Now
These are the dreams of God, ripped from ancient scripture written over 2,500 years ago.
Reflecting on the words of Isaiah I can’t help but feel inspired, energized by this glorious future reality. Hopefully those words inspire you too.
But at some point, we have to step back from this future, look around and see how far we still have to go.
I find myself really excited that God has a dream so grand. But it makes me wonder, God has a dream, yes, but does God have a partner? Does God have a trusted ally to help turn this dream into reality?
Because being a partner with God, in fulfilling God’s dream, requires something.
To be a partner in God’s dream asks us to consider what it would take, for infant mortality, to be a thing of the past. From this vantage providing adequate healthcare and prenatal care to all is part of God’s dream.
To participate in God’s dream suggests that meeting the health needs of our most senior of citizens is a priority. Remember, in God’s dream, getting to 100 years of age is still quite young.
To partake in God’s dream encourages us to ensure all of humanity has enough to eat, and that a day’s wage is enough to provide for a family. Anything less and God’s dream remains unrealized.
Earlier this week I had the honor of attending the 2018 Story County Philanthropy Awardsluncheon along with a group from our congregation. This event highlights individuals, couples, families and organizations that give back to their local community in some significant ways. We went to celebrate two of our own, Pat and Louie Banitt, who won the award as this year’s Outstanding Philanthropists. Louie, a retired doctor spent his entire career healing others, helping thousands. I listened as the presenter shared all this couple does in supporting healthcare, education, innovation and the arts, giving generously of their time and financial resources, in ways that impact thousands more.
That is to say nothing of all that Pat and Louie do here at Bethesda. Hearing of this award was a great reminder to me that God has some amazing partners that help realize God’s dream.
Christian disciples take their faith public. Both Martin Luther King Jr and Isaiah did, sharing their dreams with a people desiring so much more. They both spoke to the dream. They both participated in the dream. And they both encouraged the dream among others.
God has a dream. And egad is it an idyllic one. But does God have a partner?
May it be *you* Amen.