Genesis 28:10-18 Matthew 13:44-45
This is a sermon I'd ask you to think of as the preacher thinking out loud. I suppose that is what every sermon actually is. But I ask that you take my words in the spirit of being for your consideration and questioning.
This Genesis story of Jacob's Ladder, and the gospel reading today, are like a 'dream' (no pun intended) for me for they give examples of some of the ways I have come in recent decades to view the nature of scripture. And ways I think Sacred text can be more successfully used as a resource-- to open up opportunities for experiencing the Divine other, or God. So I will seek to share how, especially the story of Jacob's ladder dream, strongly supports some of these ways of hearing and using scripture; ways which I think are being rediscovered in many quarters. Such changed perceptions I think are more likely happening in faith groups like the UCC for many of our pastors have pointed out to our people that much of scripture is symbolic rather than literal , inspired mythical story rather than historical. So we can have this kind of conversation in a UCC church whereas I might not be invited back in many other places. But I hope these topics are being more discussed in many places in recent years.
- The text clearly shows that ordinary human nightly dreams, even when a stone is one's pillow, are potentially a rich source of spiritual transformation. After the dream Jacob declares, "Surely the Lord is in this place, I just did not know it." The dream gave him needed wisdom he did not have before. If you read through the Bible time and again a person is led to an elevated spiritual insight, a genuine repentance, a transformation by a dream. A few whose lives and commitments were transformed by dreams include Joseph and the youth prophet/king Samuel. Interestingly, Eve is spoken of metaphorically as coming from Adam's rib while he slept. So for Adam we might say, Eve is pictured as his dream come true. In the NT both Peter and Paul were converted and transformed by dreams or visions. The whole book of revelation claims to be a dream like vision. So many of the major players in the Bible story were given wisdom and direction by their dreams.But I think we all know that no prominent church today, conservative or liberal , shows signs of taking dreams seriously as a spiritual resource for transformation or enlightenment. This is primarily because our materialistic , over rationalistic culture has actually influenced us more than the Bible on this subject. When someone says 'I had a dream' most people even if interested are saying to themselves . 'Well its only a dream' so should not be worked with conscientiously. Fortunately many people were able to believe the prophetic Martin Luther King Jr, that his dream was substantive, an agent of social transformation. But where is the church that advertizes a 'dream class' where people are empowered in their effort to receive their dreams? That would be a very sound Biblical kind of class to have would it not?
- I believe the word 'inspired' means that someone has written words or music or done art that is timeless in its application and its potential to transform persons at the level of their soul, spiritually transformational. This is because it comes from the deep well springs of inner collective unconscious energies. Creative persons often confess that something came out of them that was more than their hard study, training or thinking. Something from another place was moving them as they worked. Break through scientists and mathematicians often give such reports. If the creative minds who wrote scripture knew what we know now they would surely write a very different story and so must we in order to be faithful in our time. We learn from the inspired giants of the past but we should not copy them. For that is not truly us. With inspired material ,whether the Bible or Dante,it thus means we are free and maybe obligated to find meaning that was completely foreign to the author and its first readers.
It perfectly fit the ancient Hebrews' world view for Jacob's ladder to reach heaven , for heaven to them was just right there, the other side of the clouds, just beyond those tiny stars. But you and I distort and abuse our post-modern personal and collective knowledge to think of it that way. We understand the universe continues endlessly. And that heaven is not a physical place but a reality that is a mesmerizing state of mind and heart. So we distort this text if we fail to ask ourselves, 'What , for us, is the ladder connecting the earth to?" I'd suggest that we all do have convincing reasons that there is a 'great unknown', a world beyond the world of our senses, an 'other world.' The best word I have heard to describe all that we do not yet know, that we are unaware of, that remains undiscovered is the Unconscious, the Collective Unconscious which is a term from analytical psychology. The idea perfectly fits our now expanding mentality and is not in conflict with our present day minds. Thus the Collective Unconscious can be as real and mysterious and as close to us as 'heaven' was to Jacob and his friends.
- So for the dream to have living application for us it can be saying , ' The known world and the unknown other world are connected, not split apart from each other, not strangers to each other. And just as angels have always been depicted as messengers of things otherwise unknown, we too can receive urgent hints, intuitions and dreams carrying to us important personal and collective natural wisdom. Wisdom so needed in our confused and hostile world. This then becomes a living dream and when we let that sink in might just cause transformations in us.. Suddenly our dreams, our hunches and intuitions become valuable and looked for treasures of wisdom. We begin to realize we are not only connected to all that is in this seen world but also to that unseen world. This might cause us to have our own spine tingling sense that , ' The Lord is truly in this place but I just did not know it. How awesome, this dream is the gate to the Unknown.” God is not only in majestic nature though God is there, God is not just a part of the unknown world though God is there, not just in temple , synagogue, mosque , church or cathedral -though God is there. God, because there is rich communication happening continuously now( the angels on the ladder never stop their information process) between this world and the unknown world , is always right here, right now. Such is the potential power of a transforming dream, hunch or intuition arriving at just the right time.
- Finally, the best open minded Biblical scholarship for the past century informs us that this whole story may very likely not be literal history. But instead is primarily inspired symbolical story. If we emphasize or insist that it is history it becomes frozen in the past and only a 'once upon a time' event with little present relevance. The power of this story, and most others in scripture, lies not in its history but in its symbolism. When taken symbolically it can potentially live today and even be trans-formative just as the story says it was for Jacob. Interestingly, when Joseph began to have his dreams as a child (people today might say with raised eye brows.... when he was crazy.) his brothers mocked him and called him the silly dreamer. Unlike Joseph's brothers, Jacob is not shown ridiculing his youngest son. Why? Perhaps Jacob, from his own dreams like this one, had learned that the strongest and most needed wisdom does not come from rational logic and common sense(though how very important these are), but it comes from the unknown world.... like a flash, fully irrational, just like your own dreams. It comes by dreams, visions and timely intuitions or just from out of the blue. But is it not far more likely to come if we take with genuine seriousness there is a Great Unknown(How can we deny that humbling confession?)? A Great Unknown we can name the Collective Unconscious, the source of everything that has been, is or can be? And when we are convinced by inner and outer realities there are indeed messenger processors continually bringing back pearls of great price and buried treasures more valuable than the fields where they were found?May God bless and strengthen our natural longings to trust that the Great Unknown seeks our open hearts and minds where she can bring the much needed wisdom into everyday individual and collective human life. Amen.