I have a friend who has a catchphrase that he often uses when I ask him how he is. He says, “I’m living the dream.” Now I know that he’s being ironic (or maybe just sarcastic), but that phrase sticks with me, and I thought about it as I was preparing to write this sermon.
We all want to “live the dream,” but we may have very different dreams. When I was a little girl, living the dream meant getting married, having a couple of kids and living in the suburbs. It’s a common enough dream, but one that has changed a lot for me over time. I imagine each of us had an idea of what living the dream meant when we were younger – for some of us it has changed, for some not, perhaps. But I would guess that there are some common elements to the dream for each of us. I imagine that living the dream includes some happiness. What brings happiness to each of us is different, but I think we all think that a life well-lived would be one with happiness in it. And I think each of us dreams of being successful. Again, our measures of success are different, but we want to feel as if we have accomplished something with our lives. We want to leave something behind us that people will remember.
But in today’s lessons, we hear about a different kind of dream, a radically different definition of what a well-lived life looks like. We start with Moses, quietly tending the flock of his father-in-law, a priest of Midian – probably, by the way, NOT a priest of the God that Moses is about to deal with. But Moses is living the dream in his own way and is not prepared for the voice of God to interrupt it with a flaming bush that doesn’t burn up and with a command that Moses can’t even imagine following. Moses objects: Who am I to go to Pharaoh? I’m just country shepherd. And if I go, what god am I supposed to say sent me? But God has heard the voice of suffering people, and that is enough to send this uncultured, inarticulate man off to confront Pharaoh and bring justice to his people. Moses has been called from living his own dream into living God’s dream.
And then we have this alarming conversation between Peter and Jesus. Remember, Peter has just recently been the one to name Jesus as the Messiah, the anointed one of God. But then Jesus starts talking about suffering and dying. This is not what Peter had in mind. His idea of living the dream is living in the glory of a conquering hero. He wants to be part of the army that drives the Romans out and brings a glorious new political reign. But Jesus slaps him down hard. “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Living the dream in Peter’s mind is very different from what Jesus is calling him to. Jesus is calling him out of the life where the glory of this world is all there is and into a life where living the dream has to do with letting go of the world’s glory. Living the dream in Jesus’ terms is living in love for others, letting go of everything, even life itself, so that others might live.
So how do we make sense of this? We are so completely immersed in our human values that it seems impossible to make any sense of what God might be calling us to. It would be nice to believe that what God said to Moses and what Jesus said to Peter have nothing to do with us. We can live the dream however we want to. We don’t have to imagine that God might be calling us to something different. Unfortunately, we call ourselves people of faith, and we have showed up here because we are Christians. And the minute we do that, we open ourselves to the possibility that God is calling us to live a very different dream from the one we would like to follow.
So what might that dream look like? What is the well-lived life according to God? Well , it starts with the fact that God hears the cries of suffering people. “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” And God still hears the cry – of suffering people in the Middle East, of children who fear the police shooting them in Ferguson, Missouri or on the streets of any city in the United States, of those who are vulnerable to hunger and disease anywhere. And God still dreams of bringing those who suffer out of their captivity and into a place where they can be safe and free from fear.
We are called by God, as much as Moses, as much as Peter, to give up our own security, our own dream in order to be part of God’s dream and to help God’s dream come true. It may mean letting go of things – starting with our ideas about what the well-lived life looks like. And it may mean sacrificing things we thought we could not live without. And there are people doing this all the time. It isn’t just the superheroes of the faith, like Mother Theresa, who give up their own dreams to become part of Gods’.
Let me tell you the story of a man I knew when I first started out in the ministry. His name was Pete. He was an engineer and worked for a defense contractor in Connecticut. He was very successful by most standards – he was good at his job, had a very nice wife and three kids, one of whom was in high school and getting ready for college. Pete had been going to church for a number of years, but, as he tells the story, one day, he suddenly found himself thinking about what he did for a living. He realized that his company manufactured weapons, and as he thought about it, he became more and more uncomfortable with that. He realized that, as a person of faith, he believed that killing was wrong, that war was wrong. He started a conversation with this wife and children about that, and over time, they decided together that Pete had to change what he did for a living. And so, without another job to go to, Pete resigned. Now it would be great if I could tell you that they all lived happily ever after, but that would not be true. Pete’s family struggled financially for several years, and there were times when they second-guessed the decision. But in the midst of that time, I had a conversation with Pete’s wife. She said something like this, “We are so grateful that Pete made the choice he did. Thinking about making the decision and following through has completely changed us as a family. Our life together is richer and happier than any of us could have dreamed was possible. It has been really hard from time to time, but we know that we are being faithful to what we believe, and that means everything to us.”
Pete was called from living the dream that he had always known and into living God’s dream. And in doing that, he found real life, for him and for his family. He discovered that the life well-lived is the life that is lived in tune with God’s dream. And Jesus gives us the promise of following God’s dream: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? “
And so God continues to call. Each of us is invited to live God’s dream.