Dreams and Baptism: October 24 Sermon

Joel 2:23-32

O children of Zion, be glad
and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the later rain, as before.
The threshing-floors shall be full of grain,
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

I will repay you for the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent against you.

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again
be put to shame.

Then afterwards
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.


I have had the weirdest dreams throughout this pregnancy so far: Anything from giving birth to the babies early – only they turned out to be our cats – to taking trips to the Dominican Republic and bringing home a couple of our group’s beloved kids – Guimi and Nini. I have dreams about going on runs (which I haven’t actually done since early July), missing flights from another city back home, living in the house with my parents again (ahghghggh!), and…eating doughnuts (mmmmmm doughnuts…). I woke up that morning and made a stop to Dunkin Doughnuts – and the Boston Cremes hit the spot. We could spend time delving into my psyche to mine my subconscious for all sorts of issues that I’m sure would reveal way more than I would want you to know about me…Instead, I’ll let you do that on your own. Or you can talk to Andy.

Dreams are common enough, though I know that if I were to ask anyone here what they dreamt last night, I would probably get the response, “I don’t remember.” Still, I’m sure there are some of you that might remember dreams that have stayed with you maybe because they recurred numerous times, or they evoked such a strong emotion, or they were connected to something meaningful that happened in reality. They have the power to reveal something perhaps hidden deep in the caverns of our soul…and they have the ability to move and change whole structures of society (think Martin Luther King Jr.).

Many of the prophets in the Old Testament were dreamers, too. Sometimes they were called through their dreams, some haunted by their dreams, and others were emboldened to speak out about certain injustices because of their dreams…many all of the above. God’s word may have come to Joel as a dream, but what is important here is that he was God’s mouthpiece – calling the Israelites to not despair at the disaster of locusts that came on them, but to hear and remember what I am calling “God’s 3 P’s.”

“Now it may be difficult for us to imagine the impact of locusts swarming over and consuming every green tree, shrub and crop in Israel. Invasions of locusts still happen today, but in Joel’s time they were capable of eliminating a region’s total food supply. This was a major disaster in the ancient world, and the Bible freely acknowledges the compelling force of locusts’ disruptive power. Locusts became the eighth plague used by the Lord to bring about Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt and in the Book of Revelation, we encounter what are literally the locusts from hell, torturous creatures led by a demon named Destruction.

Nevertheless, as Rev. Dr. Harvard Stephens continues, “…Joel’s prophecy was announced to a people who had endured a great disaster in the form of [these] swarming, crop-eating locusts. Actually it is this experience of disaster that makes the promise of an outpouring of God’s spirit so remarkable, because this is a word to the devastated, a word that anticipates with great clarity that the God of Israel would remain active and accessible to the people despite their suffering and in spite of their sin. We receive Joel’s words eagerly today, because they speak of the same God who works in our hearts through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

As the Israelites were invited to receive – we are called to receive what I’m calling the first P – God’s promise – the day of the Lord is near. This phrase is often associated more with scary doctrines of end times – apocalyptic images of judgment in those final days – but it also holds a promise of a God that is near – that is, in very real solidarity with humanity in Jesus Christ, no matter what the storm or disaster or insect infestation.

But, God’s promise also leads us to the second P – that God will provide what is necessary for complete restoration in the here and now, just as he promised the Israelites – simply, water, abundant water and rains so that the land can yield food – food that fill the storehouses and wines that overflow from our vats.

We have a taste of that restoration this morning – in the baptism of little Katherine Ann Harburda. These waters proclaim to us the promise that God is near, and no matter the disaster or the day, Katherine’s very life is sealed by God’s abundant love, as experienced in Jesus Christ, and given to us by the Holy Spirit. And, what it will produce in her will be a harvest beyond our wildest dreams.

And God doesn’t stop there, neither does Joel – because part of God’s promise and God’s provision lead us to the third P, that is, God provoking us to something more. In the middle of the passage today we have a text that is used by Peter at Pentecost in the Book of Acts:

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

I love these verses. It speaks of a kingdom initiated by God’s Holy Spirit – where ALL FLESH, young and old, men and women, even those marginalized and oppressed in our society will receive God’s very spirit. At the time of the Pentecost, we get a sense of God saying, “We’ve only just begun,” – Peter’s sermon “signals a beginning: Empowered by the Spirit, these earliest Christians began to take the story of God’s mighty deeds to the ends of the earth. These words invite those who hear the good news to continue in the task, driven and fired by the Spirit, of taking that good news to the ends of the earth.

Visions, and these dreams, particularly, prophecy – they are not about predicting the future – It is, as Luther Seminary Professor Matt Skinner continues, “…truth-telling. It is naming the places and ways where God intervenes or initiates in the world. It is a component of proclaiming the word of God and identifying God’s salvation at work. From Peter’s reference to Joel, we see that prophecy speaks to the present time.

…This is what prophets do; they show how present events might connect to God and God’s purposes.”

In this wonderful moment in which we witness Katharine’s baptism, the promise of the pouring out God’s Holy Spirit, we have an opportunity to let her prophecy and speak to us as someone once said, “A new baby is like the beginning of all things -wonder, hope, a dream of possibilities.” Her journey is beginning in so many ways, and can reveal much to us about our own journeys. As she receives this morning, we may receive the sign of God’s love to her and to us. It speaks to us of God’s purposes, and remind us of the ways we’ve experienced God’s promise, God’s provision, and God’s gracious provocation.

I’m reminded of the words of one of my favorite Psalms, one that seems appropriate to the context of Joel’s words to a people once devastated by a disaster but remembering God’s restoration and asking for God to do this work once again. From Psalm 126:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.

In the end, whether we rely on dreams or prophecies, preachers, teachers or babies to speak to us, may we discover that it is ultimately God who is leading us and loving us, and restoring us and saving us. May we be like those who dream good dreams, and be filled with laughter and joy, and proclaim the great things the Lord has done for us. Amen.