What happens [asks the poet] to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Those are, of course, the words of Langston Hughes, and we know the dream to which he refers, the dream he fears has been deferred.
Peter, too, speaks of dreams, when he addresses the crowd which has just witnessed the explosion of the Spirit – the rushing of wind, the fire blowing the people out of the house and into the streets, babbling and dazed.
“But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:16-18)
I remember as a child reading a biography of Charles Dickens, and he described the universal recurring dream of walls closing in. It blew my mind. It was the first time that I realized that dreams are not just individual, idiosyncratic events, but that they are a shared phenomenon, a common and even communal experience. Some dreams resolve in the morning; some recur night after night, defying resolution; some may divide us, but others bind us together in our common hopes and fears, our shared humanity.
The dry bones of Ezekiel’s valley had died for their dream. And you don’t get much more deferred than dead. And yet all was not lost. “Prophesy!” God told the prophet, because prophesy is a prophet’s stock in trade. Prophesy loudly enough, and even the dead will hear the word of the Lord.
Pentecost was, as we heard last week, an annual festival for the Jews, as it is for us today. Happened every year. And the falling of the Spirit upon all flesh is a theme repeated throughout the book of Acts; wherever the gospel goes, the Spirit falls, confirming the dreams of the apostles and verifying their visions, anointing with fire the new converts, setting fire to their souls so that their own dreams burn with the passion of Christ.
We see the cycle of dreaming and the deference of death; we see the cycle of prophesy and pain; we see the cycle of vision and the violence done unto it; we see it on the cross.
But we see, too, the resurrection. We see the awakening. We see the Spirit falling upon all flesh, and we do not know how many times it will take, how many Pentecosts, how many dry bones before we awaken to the kingdom of God. But we know that God is faithful, and so we dare to keep dreaming.
Another poet, a newly planted local, wrote this yesterday, after the verdict was read in the case of the officer who has been acquitted of criminal action in the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Rachel G. Hackenburg wrote “Awaiting the Return of Pentecost”:
At long last,
O Mighty God,
will you mercifully set on fire
all that is yours,
reducing to ash & coals
the injustices, the impurities,
while emboldening to brilliance
truth-telling tongues & fiercely-loving lives?
At long last,
O Raging God,
will you set ablaze
complacent hearts & dry bones
until there is an wholly unprecedented
conversion of stubborn perspective,
a confession of false gods,
a radicalization of love?
At long last,
O Most Wild God,
will you break mountains and send whirlwinds,
will you send us into the streets with shouts;
will you toss & turn us with nightmares,
make us blush & burn with daydreams,
make us alive in defiance of death
even now while we groan in despair?
The repetition of Pentecost, the reason it has to come back year after year after year, can be for us a sign of despair or one of hope. Either it drives a nail into the coffin of those dry, dry, tinderbox bones, or else it breathes into our dry dreams new, wet, living breath, sets fire to our souls, lifts us once more to keep living forward, looking for the kingdom of God.
It is not my place to ask anyone for patience when their dream is deferred, their vision clouded by tears, their prophecy unheard.
It is not my place to ask anyone for patience, but it is my place to preach hope, holding on to the promises of God: “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live,” not once, but every time that it is needed to resurrect those defeated dry bones, bring colour to washed-out, worn-out visions, bring sweetness back to our children’s dreams.
Even as we remember this Memorial Day weekend those who lost their lives to their dreams of how the world should look and live, too many times over, in too many wars, still we who dream of peace hear God’s promise: “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”
As we remember those charged with keeping the peace, and pray for peace in their own hearts, for the safety of their souls, we hear God’s promise: “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”
As we remember the mothers who have lost children, their dreams of a future for their daughters and sons denied by the violence of systemic sin, do we dare to proclaim God’s promise: “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live”? Do we dare not to?
As we celebrate with those in Ireland realizing the dream of marriage, lifting up love [Ireland of all places! What’s next – the Vatican?!], we hear God’s promise: “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”
As we pray for the peace of our city – the peace that passes all understanding, not the paper-thin rustling of people looking the other way when injustice walks by – as we pray for the peace of our city, we hear God’s promise: “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”
And so it is with hope that we remember on this Memorial Day weekend and this Pentecost Sunday our own death and burial with Christ, our own resurrection into new life, our own anointing with the Spirit of God, our baptism, which is not in the past but a present and daily call to the life of the kingdom of God; a present and daily reminder of the faithfulness of God, who puts God’s spirit within us, a recurring dream of the dignity of all people, the justice of God, that peace of Christ which passes all understanding, and the explosive tendencies of God’s holy Spirit.