When we are growing up, we all have dreams. Perhaps they were the same dreams as those that Joseph had, seeing his brothers all bow down before him or latter the dreams that would prophesy the seven good years of harvest followed by seven bad years. Perhaps they were just dreams of what we would like to be. But we had dreams. We also had visions as well; we saw what things could be or, more likely, what things were.
Growing up and living on Air Force bases, I saw the B-52 bombers parked at the end of the runways, ready to takeoff within 15 minutes of the order to do so and carry their bombs into the heart of the Soviet Union. Growing up in the South in the 1960’s, I saw and felt the effects of segregation and racism. If you are going to keep one part of society oppressed, you must enact rules that will affect all of society. Segregation is not simply something that affects blacks and minorities; it affects all. This was a vision that I saw growing up.
And I saw the effects of having the dreams of our youth and the hopes that we saw in our dreams shot down in cold blood. 1968 was the year that I graduated from Bartlett High School in Memphis, Tennessee.
It would have been one thing if the visions of that year were only that of a single item such as the Tet offensive. That would be enough to bring into question the hopes for the future when it seemed that a war that did not seem to have a conclusion was now a war that seemed dedicated to the killing of this country’s youth. But that was also the spring during which Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis and Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. It was the summer in which the hopes for peaceful protests were beaten down on the streets of Chicago. The hopes that came from the dreams were beaten and destroyed in the visions of violence and oppression of that year.
Joseph’s brothers reacted to his dreams by selling him off into slavery, never knowing that their act of hatred would be the vehicle that would enable the dream to become a vision. The ten older brothers let their vision of a world of tradition and rules prevent them from seeing the possibilities that Joseph’s dreams allowed. It is the same with us.
We can allow other factors to block our dreams and prevent them from becoming visions of the future. During that fateful political campaign of the spring of 1968, Robert Kennedy often quoted George Bernard Shaw, “Some people see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not?”
Shall we be those who simply ask why things are or shall we dream of things that never were and dare to ask why not? We seem to have become a nation of cynics, only interested in tearing down the efforts of others. We have become a nation willing to let others put their dreams into action, no matter what the consequence will be to us. Is it not time that we begin to act?
Peter and the other disciples are in a boat in the Sea of Galilee when they see Jesus walking across the water. Peter reacts by jumping out of the boat and walking across the water to meet Jesus. It is only when Peter takes his eyes off Jesus and realizes what exactly it is that he is doing that he falls into the water.
Where are we looking? Are our eyes focused on Jesus so that we have a new vision of the world? Or are we so rooted in the ways of life that we cannot believe what is possible? And what of those who have fallen into the sea? What happens to those who are drown in a sea of woe and trouble?
Jesus response to Peter was to say that Peter’s faith had let him down. If he had continued to believe, he could have walked on the water forever. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, asks how others who do not believe will ever achieve that same result. Paul asks how others are to believe if they never hear of Jesus and what the Gospel message is about.
Our vision of the world changes when our focus changes from the world around us to Jesus. And when our focus changes, so too does our life. It is not enough to simply change our life, accept Christ as our Savior, and then proceed down the road. And it is not enough to get others to hear the Word.
The problem today is that too many people are forcing others to hear the Word. Or the Word that is being broadcast by countless TV evangelists is one that limits the vision to the single person. I think that if we are to have a vision of a world in which the Gospel message is alive, then we must work towards that vision. We must work to feed the hungry, house the homeless, heal the sick and free the oppressed. We cannot say that we believe in the Gospel but then act against what we say we believe.
It has been said that Patrick Henry had a vision of his wife enchained and locked away in the basement of their home in Virginia when he arose before the Second Virginia Convention on March 20, 1775 and spoke of freedom and the need for action. We all have memorized his concluding remarks, “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” But we were not aware that Patrick Henry’s wife, Sarah, was being treated for mental illness at the time of this speech. The treatment for mental illness then was nowhere near the humane treatment that many today receive; rather, the facilities where Sarah lived were more like a prison than a hospital. Faced with that choice, Patrick Henry elected to keep his wife at home, though he was obliged by law to keep her in chains.
So to speak of life in terms of chains and slavery was not simply a metaphor but a vision that was in Patrick Henry’s mind and life. Are we not much different today? Should not the dreams that we have, should not the visions that we see for this country drive our actions?
But like Peter trying to walk across the water and falling into the sea, our vision will only fail if we fail to focus on Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Our vision for this world will only become reality if we take heed of our Savior’s words and put them into action. We all have dreams but can we make the dreams become visions? If our vision is on Christ, I think that we can.